Tuesday 10 December 2013

Little India Riot on 8 December 2013

No evidence workers in riot unhappy with employers or govt: Shanmugam
By Dylan Loh, Channel NewsAsia, 10 Dec 2013

There is no evidence to suggest that the foreign workers involved in the Little India riot were unhappy with their employers or the government, said Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.

He was responding on Tuesday to various comments made which implied that such unhappiness was a cause for the riot.

Mr Shanmugam said: "Looking at what the majority of Singaporeans want, they will want us to treat the foreign workers in a humane way.

“You know, the majority, they recognise that many of them are needed. They recognise that many of them are good people, they are here to earn a living. But we must make sure the minority don't create trouble."

Mr Shanmugam said there was no excuse for the violence.

However, swift and decisive action will be taken against those who break the law, where the full force of justice has to be meted out.

He acknowledged that violence cannot be completely eliminated, even among Singaporeans, but rules are there to reduce it to a minimum for a peaceful and orderly society.

Mr Shanmugam said Singaporeans accept the norms of societal behaviour, and foreigners working in the country should do the same.

He said it was premature to say if any laws need to be tweaked as a result of the riot.

Eight more riot suspects held, 24 workers charged
3,700 workers from 10 dormitories interviewed; investigations in full swing
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 11 Dec 2013

EIGHT more suspects were arrested early yesterday morning for their alleged involvement in Sunday's mayhem in Little India, on the same day that 24 other foreign workers were charged in court.

The suspects and those charged are Indian nationals. Those produced in court are work permit holders aged between 22 and 40. Dressed in identical bright red polo tees, they did not bear visible injuries except for one, whose head was bandaged.

The Straits Times understands that the red shirts are standard attire for persons-in-custody. The alleged rioters were silent and had their hands behind their backs as charges were read to them in Tamil.

Although their court appearance had been scheduled for the morning, proceedings were delayed till afternoon for the Indian High Commission to provide legal assistance to the suspects.

After charges were read to the men in two batches, lawyer Amarick Gill told the court on behalf of the Law Society that the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) was available to the suspects. He added that the CLAS office was working with the Indian High Commission "on securing a number of lawyers to provide legal representation to all accused persons".
At a briefing for the media yesterday, the police said investigations were in full swing, with 3,700 foreign workers from 10 dormitories across the island interviewed so far. Of these, 176 had their statements taken at the Criminal Investigation Department, including those who were subsequently arrested.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is in South Korea for an official visit, posted on his Facebook page yesterday: "Keeping track of follow up to the Little India riot. It is in good hands."

Giving his update, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean said details of the Commission of Inquiry ordered by the PM into the unrest would be ready by the weekend.

In a statement on the Indian nationals who were charged, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it would work closely with the Indian High Commission to ensure consular and legal access to the 24 men, who will be remanded at the Police Cantonment Complex for a week while further investigations take place.

Four others originally arrested - two Bangladeshi nationals, an Indian and a Singapore permanent resident who is Malaysian - were released yesterday after police determined via photos and videos from the public that they were not involved in the riot.

Following yesterday's court proceedings, the CLAS lawyer, Mr Gill, had a brief stand-off with social activist Vincent Wijeysingha.

Outside the courthouse, Mr Wijeysingha asked him whether there was a "nefarious plot" by the Law Society to prevent activist lawyers like Mr M. Ravi from representing the alleged rioters.

Brushing him off by saying it was an unfair question, Mr Gill said: "We don't know... anything is possible."

Committee of Inquiry to probe Little India riot
26 to be charged today as details of Sunday's events emerge
By Francis Chan, The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2013

THE Prime Minister yesterday ordered a Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the cause of the unrest in Little India, as police gave a detailed account of the previous night's fiery riot that left a nation stunned.

The bus driver involved in the fatal road accident that is believed to have sparked the violence has been arrested, and is facing a charge of causing death by a negligent act.

The 55-year-old driver, whose surname is Lim but is known as Ah Huat to friends, is out on bail, pending further investigations.

A total of 28 men, aged between 23 and 45, were arrested in relation to the rioting. Some 26 of them - 25 foreign and one Singapore permanent resident - are due to be charged with rioting today. Two others were not involved in the fracas.

Yesterday, eyewitnesses and police gave details of the events that led to the rioting by 400 people, who attacked first responders and set emergency vehicles on fire.

The descent into chaos apparently began over a bus ride. Construction worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33, had tried to force his way on board a shuttle bus that was already full for a ride back to his dormitory in Tuas.

The Indian national was told to step off the bus by a timekeeper, whose job was to keep track of the bus' arrival and departure times. He dropped his trousers before he staggered off the bus.

Police said preliminary investigations indicated he was drunk.

Eyewitnesses said that, soon after he got off, he fell onto the path of the bus and was run over.

Videos uploaded on social media within the hour of the accident show the bus being set on by a mob, as Mr Sakthivel's body remained pinned under it.

One man in the mob was seen in a video hitting the windscreen and windows of the bus with a pole, while another smashed a litter bin at it from close range, shattering the front windscreen.

A fast-growing crowd cheered them and began hurling vulgarities in Tamil, before turning violent in a matter of minutes, said eyewitnesses.

The authorities said first responders to the accident, including a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) ambulance and a police patrol car, arrived 16 minutes after they received a call for help at 9.23pm.

The SCDF rescuers were trying to free the victim from under the bus with hydraulic tools when the crowd began attacking them. "Projectiles were thrown at the SCDF rescuers while they were extricating the body," said a spokesman.

The mob spiralled out of control quickly after that, turning on the police, including the reinforcements who had arrived by then.

Police officers used riot shields to surround the SCDF rescuers as they evacuated the bus driver, timekeeper and Mr Sakthivel's body to a nearby ambulance.

They were pelted with assorted items, from concrete slabs to dustbins. Some 25 emergency vehicles were badly damaged.

"Some of the men lit beer bottles with fire and threw them at the police, I saw them throw more than 10 bottles," said Mr P. Kannan, who was waiting for a friend at the Little India MRT station.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lu Yeow Lim said the sight of the shields did appear to heighten tensions, adding that this was something they would probe further. "That somehow angered them, we don't know why."

Yesterday, Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran said that while it was too early to say definitively what caused the riot, it was "plausible that alcohol consumption was a contributory factor".

That is why the authorities are planning to enforce a complete ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol this coming weekend in the Race Course Road area "in order to stabilise the situation".

The details of the ban, such as what time it will apply, will be worked out by police, he added.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, who is the MP for the ward in Moulmein-Kallang GRC, said he had wanted curbs on the sale of alcohol in the area for some time, after seeing the proliferation of liquor licences there.

"I know my residents will fully support this immediate measure," he said, after touring the affected area with Mr Iswaran last night.

PM Lee Hsien Loong described it as a very serious incident, but called for calm. "We must not allow this bad incident to tarnish our views of the foreign worker community here."

'Conscious decision not to use deadly force'
The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2013

THE police yesterday answered some key questions on how they handled the situation on Sunday.

When did the mob become really angry?

It appears they got angry when the police resorted to using shields to protect themselves, said Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Police Lu Yeow Lim, Tanglin Division Commander. "That somehow angered them, we don't know why," he said.

Why did the police respond in a non-violent way even if their lives were at stake?

The officers who arrived at the scene first were neighbourhood police officers armed with revolvers. There were people jeering, throwing stones at police, and overturning vehicles.

"Their standoff distance was 40 or 50 metres, revolvers are not designed for that," said DAC Lu. "You may end up shooting somebody who is just jeering."

The officers waited for specialist troops to arrive. "It was a conscious decision not to use deadly force because training and experience from overseas suggest that a baton and shield tactic would be sufficient," he said.

Why did the police officers not use warning shots?

The workers appeared drunk and clearly violent, said the police. There was a chance that doing so would enrage them.

Special Operations Command (SOC) took about 40 minutes to arrive. Why did they take so long?

SOC officers had in fact arrived at the outskirts of the riot area, but could not get in as the roads were congested with buses coming to fetch foreign workers back to their dormitories, said DAC Lu. The heavy gear they were armed with also "does not allow for sprinting", he said. "I would think the delay is about 15 minutes."

How did police go about identifying and arresting the 27 individuals?

"Some of them were involved in hurling projectiles at us, so we were able to recognise them either through their attire or in some cases, because they still had weapons in their hands," DAC Lu said.

Could more have been done to quell the violence earlier?

Police officers were initially responding to a traffic accident, but the situation progressively grew worse.

It takes time for the SOC officers to arrive, and they had to enter the area on foot.

Why have only 27 suspects been arrested so far?

The rioters began to flee after the SOC was deployed. Police are talking to workers at several dormitories. Given the scale of this incident, it will take time.


Worker was drunk when he got on bus: Witnesses
He fell and was run over by the bus, sparking a mob attack
By Walter Sim, Lim Yan Liang And Lee Jian Xuan, The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2013

INDIAN national Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33, was so drunk he could barely stand up straight, according to witnesses.

When he was told to get off the bus that had come to take him and others back to their dormitory in Jurong as it was full, he dropped his pants in annoyance.

Citing two Bangladeshi eyewitnesses, Bengali newspaper Banglar Kantha editor A.K.M. Mohsin told The Straits Times the construction worker fell over at the junction of Race Course Road and Tekka Lane.

Shortly after, in front of a crowd of other workers, he was run over by the bus, operated by BT&Tan Transport.

The 55-year-old Singaporean driver, nicknamed Ah Huat, was turning onto Race Course Road when he heard a bang on the left side of the bus.

He got the timekeeper on board, Madam Wong Gek Woon, 38, to check what had happened.

From then on, the situation descended into chaos. A group set on Madam Wong when she got off the bus, initial investigations by the police showed. She was shepherded back on board by the South Asian passengers.

Shops shuttered and bystanders fled as the mob turned its attention on the bus with the victim still pinned underneath.

Not expecting anything more, the first to the scene, at 9.40pm, were two policemen from the Kampong Java Neighbourhood Police Centre and paramedics with the First Division of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

They were met by an unruly mob, which pelted the paramedics with objects while they worked to free the trapped man. The police immediately radioed for reinforcements.

The paramedics got his body out at about 10pm. At the same time, Special Operations Command (SOC) officers were being called in.

As more police arrived, the crowd grew more agitated, attacking them with dustbins and chairs, among others.

Eyewitness P. Kannan, who was at Little India MRT station, said: "Some lit beer bottles on fire and threw them at the police. I saw them throw more than 10 bottles."

As tensions rose, the mob cheered, whistled and yelled vulgarities in Tamil.

Officers from the SOC, Gurkha Contingent and SCDF could not get to the area because of the jam of people and vehicles, Commander of the Tanglin Police Division Lu Yeow Lim said last night. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lu said the officers needed to suit up into their thickest gear and make their way to the scene on foot. They arrived at 10.30pm.

Residents of Block 661, Buffalo Road, who had a bird's eye view of the riot, initially dismissed it as a normal noisy Sunday evening.

But then at least three patrol cars were turned on their sides and five vehicles were set on fire, triggering a few explosions before firefighters put out the blaze. One ambulance was razed.

Bartender Lim B. S., 50, said: "The explosion was so loud my mother and I fell off our chairs."

Mr Rohit Sodhi, 25, an employee at Jungle Tandoor Restaurant, said: "I heard what sounded like bombs going off. Three times. Then I saw a huge mob running towards my restaurant and down Upper Dickson Road. The police chased them."

Others wanted more than a front-row seat. Retired army officer Lee C.K., 65, went into the fray to photograph rioters to assist police in identifying them.

"Some men saw me taking pictures and said 'Uncle, uncle, cannot take'. They wanted to see what was on my phone, but I walked away quickly but confidently," he said, adding the men followed him until they realised he was walking towards police.

About 320 law enforcement officers were deployed. They were told not to use excessive force.

As officers charged at three pockets of resistance in the vicinity of Race Course Road, the mobs started to disperse towards the MRT station and Serangoon Road.

The officers patrolled Little India to ensure the mobs did not reform. All streets leading into the trouble area were sealed off.

The situation was contained at about 11.30pm. By then, 25 emergency vehicles had been wrecked.

Taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital with minor injuries were 22 policemen, 12 SCDF and five auxiliary police officers, the bus driver and Madam Wong.

Police have arrested 28 people, aged between 23 and 45. The bus driver has also been arrested, and is being investigated for causing death by negligence.



The initial size of the crowd when police and paramedics first reached the scene at about 9.40pm on Sunday, after a private bus had hit a 33-year-old Indian national


The crowd size at about 10pm, around the time police successfully extricated the victim's body. The crowd began attacking the bus, smashing its windscreen with rocks and metal rods


The number of police officers deployed to the scene, consisting of regular police officers and full-time national servicemen


The number of injured police officers


The number of injured civil defence personnel


The number of injured auxiliary officers


The number of police and SCDF vehicles damaged by rioters


Of the above, the number of police and SCDF vehicles that were set on fire


The number of suspects arrested so far in connection with the riot and vandalism of police vehicles. They include one Singapore permanent resident, 25 Indian nationals and two Bangladeshi nationals

Accident victim was sole earner in family
By Nirmala Ganapathy India Correspondent In New Delhi, The Straits Times, 11 Dec 2013

INDIAN accident victim Sakthivel Kumaravelu, whose death sparked Sunday's riot, was the sole breadwinner in his family. Three years ago, he had travelled abroad for the first time in his life, arriving in Singapore to earn a living to support his family back home.

Yesterday, the 33-year-old's death and the riot were reported in several main newspapers in India, including The Hindu and Times of India, but there was no commentary on the incident.

Mr Sakthivel is survived by his mother Rajalakshmi, 53, and younger brother Ramesh, 25.

In his village of Chattiram, 400km from Chennai, Mr Sakthivel's death was met with shock and disbelief. Friends and neighbours wonder how the family, poor and without any other source of income, will cope.

Five years ago, his father died from an illness. Three years ago, his younger brother Ramesh, who was working as a driver, was involved in an accident that left him with a brain injury and unable to work.

Then three months ago, his sister Maheshwari, 22, for whose marriage the family sold off a small piece of land, died under mysterious circumstances in her in-laws' house in Kerala state. The case is still under investigation.

It was at the sister's funeral three months ago that his mother and younger brother last saw him.

"Sakthivel's mother is in bad shape. She is crying. Both she and the younger brother are refusing to eat. We are all very worried," said Mr Bala Sundaram, 22, a next-door neighbour. "She keeps saying she wants to see her son."

The main source of income in Chattiram, a village of 50 families, is from growing rice. But times have been tough with rains being scarce, and many are forced to work as daily-wage labourers.

Mr Sakthivel was the only person from the village working abroad, though many in nearby villages have gone overseas to work.

Families in his village believe that some of the workers arrested after Sunday's riot were from nearby villages and districts. Villagers have banded together to help Mr Sakthivel's family.

Mr Sundaram and two friends have travelled over 400km by road to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state, to take Mr Sakthivel's body, which was flown out of Singapore yesterday.

"It is not like the city where neighbours don't know each other. We have all grown up together. If we don't help the family, who else will?" Mr Sundaram said by phone while on the way to the airport in Chennai.

Friends remember Mr Sakthivel, who did a course as a mechanic after finishing school, as a serious man who did not talk much.

"He was very quiet. He would speak only when you asked him a question," said Mr Kaliyappan Karthick, 28, a neighbour who broke the news of Mr Sakthivel's death to his mother.

On Monday, a rumour had started circulating from nearby villages that a man from Tamil Nadu had died in Singapore.

The same day, Mr Karthick got a call from an acquaintance in Singapore that the dead man could be Mr Sakthivel.

He and his friends drove 2km to the nearest computer centre in a larger village to check out the reports.

"We did a search and went to The Straits Times website to read the reports and then saw the photograph," he said.

"From a report on the site, we got the name of the company and then called them up. They confirmed it. That's when we were convinced Brother was dead."

The family is now left with a cow, a house, some land - and an uncertain future.

"God knows what they will do now," said Mr Sundaram, who had been planning to go abroad but has dropped the idea.

"This has happened in a next-door house. I don't want to go abroad. I am going to look for a job in Chennai."

Man 'still in state of shock' after attack
He is being investigated for causing death by a negligent act
By Joyce Lim, Walter Sim And Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2013

PEOPLE threw stones at her father. They smashed glass onto him, leaving him with injuries to his head, arms, back and legs.

"If you were attacked by so many people this way, wouldn't you be in shock?" said the daughter of the driver of the bus at the centre of the riot, in a brief phone interview with The Straits Times yesterday.

"My father can still walk and my mum is taking care of him, but he is still shaken by the incident," added the teenager, who declined to be named.

The 55-year-old driver, whom his daughter identified as Mr Lim, had been ferrying foreign workers from Race Course Road back to their dormitories in Tuas for years, said his colleagues at transport company BT&Tan Transport yesterday.

They know him as Ah Huat and described him as a quiet man who kept mostly to himself.

"Ah Huat has been with the company for over 10 years. It is the first time that such an incident has happened," said a co-worker who declined to be identified.

"We were all so shocked when we came to work this morning and found out the driver is from our company," he added.

He said that even though he and Mr Lim have been with the company for more than 10 years, they rarely meet as they spend most of their time on the road.

He added: "Not everyone would want to ferry foreign workers from Little India as they can be rowdy."

Mr Lim was discharged from hospital yesterday afternoon and was arrested.

He is being investigated for causing death by a negligent act and has been released on bail.

When contacted, his company's secretary, Ms Neo Poh Hiok, declined to comment on the incident. She would only say that Mr Lim "is well and resting at home".

The bus Mr Lim drove had allegedly hit Mr Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

The accident sparked a riot in Little India by 400 people, who burnt emergency vehicles and injured dozens of Home Team officers.

Yesterday morning, a man who declined to be named was at Singapore General Hospital's mortuary to identify Mr Sakthivel's body. He said the dead man had been working in Singapore as a construction worker with Heng Hup Soon, a scaffolding company, for about two years.

A spokesman for India's Ministry of External Affairs said Mr Sakthivel was from the district of Pudukottai in Tamil Nadu.

The Indian High Commission in Singapore has got in touch with the family and is working out the procedure for repatriation of the body.

Crowding, alcohol are ongoing issues being tackled
The authorities will have to see what more can be done, says Iswaran
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2013

EVEN before Sunday night's riot in Little India, overcrowding and alcohol consumption in the area by foreign workers were in the authorities' sights, two ministers have said.

Measures have been taken over the years to manage crowds of foreign workers, Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran told reporters yesterday evening.

These include patrols by auxiliary police officers, police deployment, and engagement both at the community level and with operators of worker dormitories.

Transportation arrangements were also made so foreign workers "can come in and leave without creating much disruption", added Mr Iswaran.

"So a series of measures have been taken on a whole-of-government basis."

The authorities will have to assess what more can be done. In this, he said, they will be informed by findings of the Committee of Inquiry into the incident.

He was speaking to the media after visiting shop owners along Race Course Road, Chander Road and Kerbau Road, together with Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew.

These included the bosses of several shops selling hard liquor - an issue Mr Lui has long hoped to tackle. "I have always expressed, on behalf of the residents, that we think there is proliferation of alcohol licences," he said.

He has been pushing for tighter alcohol rules there along with fellow Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Denise Phua. He noted that a Ministry of Home Affairs consultation on this issue had begun before Sunday.

"We have given our views. We look forward to fewer licences, we look forward to stricter guidelines on where alcohol can be consumed and the hours that people can consume alcohol," he said.

In the meantime, the upcoming ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol there this weekend is a "very, very good" idea, he said.

"I know my residents will fully support this immediate measure."

Calling the riot "a catalyst to achieve what the MPs have been advocating", Ms Phua said it underscored the need to expedite measures.

Could stricter rules on alcohol have averted the riot?

To that, Mr Iswaran said thorough investigation was still needed before coming to a conclusion.

"However, it is plausible that alcohol consumption was a contributory factor," he said. "And that is why we have taken this step, in the first instance, in order to stabilise the situation."

Most remain calm and call for restraint
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2013

SINGAPOREANS remained largely calm yesterday as they sought to make sense of Sunday's riot.

Some people took the chance to spew racist and xenophobic slurs online against Indians and the foreign workforce in the country, but these were quickly quashed by opposing views.

Instead, many people both online and on the ground called for calm and restraint in the reaction to the rioting.

A typical response was a post by Facebook user A.R. Balamurugan, who noted that video footage showed one of the workers had tried to stop his peers from damaging a vehicle.

"Not all of the nationals were involved in the protest," he said, adding that "only a few instigated the damage, so it is just not wise to stereotype". His post garnered more than 100 likes.

Some Singaporeans went a step further to try and stop potential fault lines from opening.

Technology consultant Adrianna Tan, 28, who goes to Little India several times a week to shop and eat, said she plans to start a free monthly walk there to help dispel fears that Singaporeans may have about the area and its people.

In September, Ms Tan also launched the Culture Kitchen, a roadshow featuring the food, culture and histories of the nations of Singapore's migrant workers.

A group of Singaporeans including Mr Wally Tham, 36, also plan to hand out flowers to migrant workers, residents and shopkeepers in the neighbourhood as a gesture of peace and solidarity.

"We wanted to show our support for the community," the director of a content production firm told The Straits Times.

National Solidarity Party politician Nicole Seah and several others suggested raising funds for the family of the Indian migrant worker who died in the accident that seemed to have sparked the riot.

"It would be great if we could show our solidarity, support and condolences for the deceased and also donate 'white gold' (what the Chinese call funeral expenses) to his family," she wrote in a Facebook post.

Migrant worker advocacy groups issued statements that condemned the rioters, but cautioned people against making scapegoats of foreign workers.

Transient Workers Count Too said it was concerned about the online vitriol and xenophobia against foreign workers. "This can only perpetuate a vicious circle of hatred that can lead to more violence and may even cost lives," said president Russell Heng.

The Migrant Workers' Centre said it had obtained details of the worker who died and contacted his employer to offer help, such as making funeral arrangements.

"The events of (Sunday) clearly show that peace and harmony should never be taken for granted," said chairman Yeo Guat Kwang, who is also an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC.

Researchers and academics told The Straits Times that more needs to be done to understand and prevent the causes of the riot.

Sociologist Mathew Mathews said: "It will be important for us to continue to bring the message of tolerance, social cohesion, and good law and order to migrant workers who may come from societies where norms and values may be different from ours."

The Culture Kitchen's Ms Tan added that a brighter spotlight needs to be shone on troubles faced by workers. Reports of their not being paid or, in one extreme example, being left for dead in an alley, may have led to simmering resentment, she said.

All agreed, however, that the culprits have to be brought to justice. The Singapore Business Federation denounced in a statement "the unwarranted violence and blatant lawlessness displayed".

Echoing the views of many, it said: "The images of (Sunday's) incident spread though the social media shattered Singapore's image as a peaceful and harmonious city."

Business as usual amid some anxiety
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2013

A PARTLY melted "No entry" sign, three broken lamps outside an exit of the Little India MRT station and large, black patches on the road where vehicles had gone up in flames were the few signs in Race Course Road the morning after of the Sunday riot that shocked many Singaporeans.

By 9.30am yesterday, most of the glass shards, beer bottles and trampled vegetables had been cleaned up and the skeletal frames of an ambulance and wrecked police cars, removed.By late morning, almost all the shops in Race Course Road were open and shoppers streamed in. At Tekka Lane, small groups of Indian foreign workers chatted quietly about the previous night's violence.

By noon, the restaurants began to fill up with the lunch-time crowd, surprising their staff.

"We were quite sure business would be bad today, because people would be scared," said Mr Manikandar Ramalingam, 36, a waiter at Banana Leaf Apolo.

"But this is the usual crowd, if not bigger. Maybe people want to see what's happening here."

One of the worst-hit shops in the disorder was Guru's Marketing at the corner of Race Course Road and Buffalo Road.

Crates of vegetables, left unattended after the police advised people in the area to leave, were overturned.

"The loss is at least $1,000," said shop assistant Abdul Hakeem. But by 11am, shoppers were greeted with fresh produce.

The riot, however, worried some would-be tourists. Manager Vinoth Kumar of Vintage Inn along Race Course Road said about 15 people had e-mailed to ask if it was safe to visit. "We assured them it is safe here and that our guests enjoy seeing the crowds of workers relaxing - it is part of the charm of being in Little India," he added. There were no cancellations so far, he said.

While many business owners did not suffer a steep drop in takings yesterday, residents in the neighbourhood felt anxious.

Housewife Poongkoothy Govinderaju, 56, said her husband told her not to make her usual trip to Tekka Market yesterday. "But I needed to buy my prayer leaves."

It was comforting to see police on patrol, she said, but added: "I am a little scared, but at least the stalls I go to are all open."

Accounts clerk Nisa Mohamed Maideen, 23, who lives on the 18th floor of Block 661 in Buffalo Road, which had a direct view of the riot, said she was "a little traumatised" by what she saw.

She had felt the blast when a burning ambulance exploded and confessed she had yet to summon the courage to go out. But she added: "Little India is actually very peaceful, as long as you don't venture out too late on Sundays."

Another resident, an engineer who wanted to be known as Mr Raja, saw cleaners removing the debris at 4am yesterday.

By the time the 28-year-old set off for work, it looked like "nothing had happened" the night before.

"Last night was a scary Sunday. But today, Monday, it feels almost the same as last Monday."


Foreign workers gather to relax with food and alcohol

By Amelia Tan And Maryam Mokhtar, The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2013

IT IS a common sight on any Sunday night along Serangoon Road - empty beer cans are strewn on the ground and unfinished food packets litter the pavements.

Many foreign workers, with bellies filled with alcohol and food, talk and laugh loudly. Sometimes, their boisterous banter degenerates into insults and punches.

Shopkeepers and foreign workers say scenes of disturbance, due mainly to spats among the workers, are common on the weekends but never on the scale and intensity seen during Sunday's riot.

An angry mob of about 400 South Asian workers turned on police officers after an Indian national was hit by a private bus.

Bengali newspaper Banglar Kantha editor A. K. M. Mohsin, whose office is in Rowell Road, said: "Fights happen every Sunday. But things are settled quickly when other workers stop the fight or the police come."

Foreign workers who were interviewed said their spirits are at the highest at about 8pm. By then, they would have indulged in food and alcohol for a few hours.

For thousands of Indian national and Bangladeshi workers, their Sunday jaunt to Little India starts at around 4pm. They descend on the district in shuttle buses that ferry them from dormitories in remote areas of Singapore such as Tuas and Changi. The buses drop them off at the distinct areas in which Indian and Bangladeshi workers typically congregate.

The Bangladeshis alight at the streets near Mustafa Centre in Syed Alwi Road. The area around Race Course Road, where the riot took place, is the "home ground" of the Indian national workers.

The first thing the men typically do once they are in Little India is to send money to loved ones at home. Indian national workers head in small groups to money- transfer companies. The Bangladeshis turn to hundi or remittance men stationed outside Serangoon Plaza, who promise to send the money but do not issue receipts.

The men proceed to provision shops to buy groceries. By about 6pm, they are usually done with their errands and start to unwind.

Beer cans are seen as must- have items, and the workers pick these up at the ubiquitous liquor stores in the neighbourhood.

Shop owners say the beer of choice for Indian national workers is Kingfisher, and they can easily consume three to four 500ml cans costing $3.50 each. They carry food and drinks to open fields and relax in groups of about four or five. Bangladeshi workers prefer Tiger and Heineken beer costing around $2 a can, and drink in discreet alleys to avoid upsetting their more conservative friends.

Mr M. Sekaran, 37, owner of a grocery store in Rowell Road, said: "The workers are usually drunk after about four beers. Some lie on the side of the road, sleeping and vomiting."

However, things get rowdier at the start of the month when the workers receive their pay and buy more potent and expensive alcohol like whisky, said Ms Diana Suresh, 32, who runs a provision shop in Race Course Road. For instance, they splurge on 750ml whisky bottles made by Indian spirits company McDowell's costing $35 each, she said.

Indian national construction worker Pobulareddy Pandarelapalli, 38, said: "When money comes in, it's a habit - must drink."

Many of the men are sober by 9pm when shuttle buses arrive to take them back to their dormitories. Others who have had too much to drink can be seen sleeping by the roadside. By the time they wake up, the buses would have left and they would have to take taxis to return to the dorms.

Bangladeshi worker Mohd Jony, 22, said: "Many won't be able to wake up in time the next morning and get scolded. But they will forget by the next Sunday and drink again."

Little India riot: 18 injured, 27 arrested
By Neo Chai Chin and Ashley Chia, TODAY, 9 Dec 2013

Chaos broke out in Little India last night (Dec 8), after a crowd of hundreds surrounded a coach at the junction of Race Course Road and Hampshire Road that knocked down and killed an Indian national.

The riot, which the police said involved about 400 people, broke out around 9.30pm. The police said 27 South Asians have been arrested. More could be hauled in as investigations continue. The case has been classified as rioting with dangerous weapons.

In total, there were 18 casualties including 10 police officers, four Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) personnel, as well as the coach driver - whom the police said is Singaporean - and his assistant. Six remained at Tan Tock Seng hospital overnight but their conditions were “not serious”, the authorities said.

Writing on Facebook at close to 3am, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the riot was a “very grave incident”. “Several police officers were injured, and vehicles damaged or destroyed. The situation is now under control, and investigations are underway.” he said.

“Whatever events may have sparked the rioting, there is no excuse for such violent, destructive, and criminal behaviour. We will spare no effort to identify the culprits and deal with them with the full force of the law.”

The incident began after the SCDF was alerted at 9.25pm to a road accident in Little India. In a statement, SCDF said that a man was trapped under the bus when its officers arrived on the scene and a paramedic pronounced the man dead. While SCDF rescuers were extricating the body using hydraulic rescue equipment, “projectiles” were thrown at them, the statement said. 

Eye witnesses told TODAY that they heard shouting before a crowd that had gathered at the scene started hurling bottles and rubbish bins at the police and SCDF vehicles. The crowd became more rowdy and threw more items including metal grates, baskets, vegetables and pieces of road dividers at law enforcement personnel.

Several police cars were overturned and five vehicles - three police vehicles, an SCDF ambulance and a motorbike - were burnt. In total, five police vehicles and nine SCDF vehicles were damaged.

A press conference was held after 2am at the Ministry of Home Affairs. It was chaired by Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean, who was flanked by Second Home Affairs Minister S Iswaran, Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee and Deputy Police Commissioner T Raja Kumar.

Mr Teo, who visited the scene with Mr Iswaran after the riot was brought under the control, noted the riot started after a crowd reacted to the fatal accident. “The Government will not tolerate such lawless behaviour. I have asked Police to deal with all aspects of the incident, including the traffic accident, what happened immediately after the traffic accident, and all ensuing incidents,” he said. “Police will investigate the matter thoroughly and deal with all the persons involved strictly, firmly, and fairly according to our laws.”

Noting that this was the first case of street rioting in three or four decades, Mr Ng said that in the days ahead, the authorities will pay “extra attention” to Little India as well as foreign worker dormitories and areas where they congregate.

The police deployed 300 officers - from the Special Operations Command and the Gurkha Contingent - to quell the riot and no shot were fired, said Mr Ng. The situation was brought under control within 1.5 hours.

Twitter and Facebook were abuzz over the incident, with witnesses posting photos and videos, leading Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin to write on his Facebook page: “Stay calm. Don’t speculate. Singapore Police Force is on the ground. This is not a game. Nor time for politicking. Our guys are on the line. Support them please.”

Throughout the riot, the police also advised the public to stay away from the area.

One eyewitness told TODAY he saw an ambulance arrive and paramedics attempt to extract the man who was pinned under the coach. When they were unable to, the crowd became incensed and began throwing things at the ambulance, shattering the windscreen.

Ms Faith Su, 31, who was at her relatives’ home near Race Course Road, said she heard the commotion around 9.45pm, when crowds began swarming around the coach, shouting and throwing things. “The situation escalated into a riot, there was overturning of the police cars that had arrived, and it looked like one of them caught fire and it was burning. Things only settled down a bit after the riot police arrived. I (could) still smell the smoke (around 11pm).”

Let’s not riot online about a riot
While some fear Singapore’s safe image has been tarnished by events, the real danger would be any racist, over-the-top reaction by Singaporeans
By Devadas Krishnadas, Published TODAY, 9 Dec 2013

The incident at Little India yesterday evening was regrettable but not improbable. This is for two reasons: One environmental, the other sociological. Both conditions were necessary for the incident to occur but the latter is more significant.

First, the environment at the scene of the incident. The conditions for the riot could be said to have been in place for years. It becomes a highly dense environment on weekend nights, filled with workers out for recreation before returning to another week’s labour. Historically, small-scale incidents of affray, disorderly conduct and loitering without intent are not unknown in the area, but the numbers have always been low.

Never previously though, despite the decades in which Little India has been the gathering place for workers, have we seen anything remotely similar to the events of last night.

The oft-made observation that many jaywalk across the roads should not be interpreted as lawlessness in the district nor of workers’ carelessness about the law. The overwhelming evidence across a long stretch of time is that the workers have been generally well behaved and orderly.

Second is the more important sociological factor. In an emotionally-charged crowded situation, it is very easy to trigger a mob phenomenon. All that is needed is a spark to dramatically blow the scale of events outwards.

The spark in this case was provided by the death of a worker when he was hit by a ferry bus at the junction of Race Course Road and Hampshire Road — the busiest junction in the area. His death was unfortunate and does not justify the events that followed.

Once a few begin to overreact and behave violently, it can become quickly contaminative. Unlike individual actions, a mob situation creates the opportunity to be relatively anonymous. It is also akin to a fever, where the energy level can quickly inflame otherwise well-balanced and orderly people.

The dramatic escalation of events last night was succeeded by an equally quick de-escalation, once Police presence was reinforced. This demonstrates how effective counter-action can quickly deflate bravado and cool the crowd fever by returning most to their senses.


As worrying as the incident is, it is important that we retain perspective. Indeed, the continuing concern is not about the incident but the reaction — often racist vitriol — shown by Singaporeans online.

If anything, such behaviour is as much mob-like as what happened in the night.

Addressing some of the common comments, there are several important insights to be registered this incident.

First, the restraint shown by the Police should not be interpreted as axiomatic of general response to incidents of this nature. Police were proportionate in their response and maintained a situational awareness of the operating environment. However, no one should come to the conclusion that Police are not prepared to operate with force if and when the conditions are assessed to be justified.

In other words, the calibrated response in this incident should not tempt any group — foreign or domestic — to test the limits of the Police.

Second, this is not an incident about “us versus them”. Based on the available information, this was an isolated incident where a variety of factors combined to blow matters out of hand. The fact that it involved foreign workers is incidental, not central, to the events.

Those involved will face the full force of the justice system. There is no justification to generalise the blame across any group, any race or any gender.

Third, while it is inevitable that the incident would be perceived by some as tarnishing the image of a safe Singapore, what would really blight our good reputation is the unrestrained, race-based and over-the-top reaction by Singaporeans.

This would show us to be xenophobic and unbalanced — totally incongruent with our claim to be a First World city with a highly educated population.


Fourth, there are some who draw inferences between the infrastructure challenges facing Singapore and the riot. This is unsubstantiated. The workers are not housed in Little India. They frequent the area for recreation and to socialise.

Little India is a historical place and thus does have sub-optimal characteristics when having to absorb, albeit temporarily, a large amount of human traffic. However, this is not a reflection of infrastructure lag but of historical circumstance meeting modern demands.

Fifth, some may be tempted to link the large presence of foreign workers at Little India to the population augmentation strategy. Again, this is a far stretch. Foreign workers, on work permits, have been a presence in Singapore for decades. They are essential to the urban renewal effort in Singapore. Their numbers today are not much larger than the historical mean.

Finally, it is not helpful for anyone to speculate wildly about the events of last night. Reason should be the master of our thoughts and actions. This is not a small incident but neither is it a sign of Armageddon.

At this point, it is not insignificant that the incident occurred — but it is most significant that the incident is over and was handled with professionalism and firmness by the Police. Hence, order has prevailed.

Things happen, but how we respond to them define us. Let us allow the authorities to conduct the necessary investigations and take the lawful actions to ensure that law and order is maintained.

But it is up to each Singaporean, no matter how upset they may instinctively feel about the incident, to hold themselves up to a model of conduct which would exemplify why Singapore deserves the sobriquet of being a First World city.

Devadas Krishnadas is the Managing Director of Future-Moves. For ten years, he was a senior officer in the Singapore Police Force.

Learning the right lessons from this episode
By Russell Heng, Published The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2013

ON SUNDAY night, in Little India, a bus involved in an accident was smashed by a crowd of angry men; 16 police cars were damaged; one ambulance was completely burnt and two ambulances and other support vehicles were badly damaged.

It was as shocking as it was unacceptable. Whoever was responsible for the damage must be apprehended and punished according to the law.

That much was clear but many questions are also crying to be answered.

Chief among them was what led to this outbreak of violence.

At the time of writing, the authorities have not provided a definitive answer and investigations are ongoing. But the media and online chatter have thrown up a host of speculation and charges that I would like to offer some observations to as a response.

One common refrain I hear is how such behaviour is un-Singaporean and these foreign workers have wilfully violated our norms. Others point to the possibility of underlying issues afflicting foreign workers.

For a start, I would urge that everyone be careful not to read too much into this incident until we get a fuller picture of what happened.

From the experience of TWC2 (migrant workers' group Transient Workers Count Too), we do not find foreign workers any more prone to violent, criminal or anti- social behaviour than Singaporeans.

Singapore crime statistics also bear this out. In fact I sometimes marvel at how stoic the foreign workers are in the face of a bullying employer or a rogue agent or an unresponsive bureaucrat.

A Singaporean in that situation might have become far more confrontational. So I would appeal to Singaporeans not to jump to conclusions that foreign workers are an unruly lot.

TWC2 has always emphasised the importance of observing the law here, because that is the only way foreign workers here - or local workers for that matter - can avoid trouble and be protected when they are in trouble.

We always tell migrant workers we work with to raise their grievances with the Ministry of Manpower while seeking the help of non-governmental organisations like us. And that advice has always been followed.

Was the rioting an expression of bottled-up grievances with their working life in Singapore?

My thinking is we should not play sociologist too readily. At the present moment, little is known about how exactly the rioting started. All we have heard is that the crowd was upset with the bus driver, and for some yet unclear reason started lobbing objects at the police and ambulance first responders.

But why were they directing ire at the first responders? What interaction took place between the gathered crowd and first responders that might have led to misunderstanding?

It is a well-known fact that riots are complex events, often triggered by some minor dispute.

The minor dispute could be one where an authority figure, for example a police officer, may be trying to do his job, but in doing so, was perceived by a crowd as being excessive, rude or overbearing.

It is also well known that when a community harbours an underlying grievance, the threshold for tipping into anti-social acts is lower.

The foreign worker communities here have been at the receiving end of employment unfairness for a long time. Many do not receive correct salaries, or have no way - in the absence of payslips - to check whether they have been correctly paid. Some have not been paid for months; TWC2 sees a regular stream of such complaints.

Other workers have seen their friends injured at work, but denied proper medical treatment by their employers. Yet others have seen their friends repatriated suddenly without receiving full salaries or injury compensation.

But while we can understand there are festering grievances, it is not possible at this stage to say what part these feelings played in the explosion of random violence.

Nonetheless, it would still be good for the authorities to pay more attention to such grievances. Doing so would reduce whatever sense of resentment may exist, and thereby raise the threshold of the tipping point, to better prevent another incident from happening again.

And this is what I want to stress.

Singapore, its Government and its people, should not see this purely as a law and order problem. It should not be just a case of find the culprit, mete out the sentences and then the punished would not dare do it again. I am hoping, and it is more important, that we learn the right lessons from this episode.

Finally, I find the online xenophobic comments targeting foreign workers offensive. My TWC2 colleagues and I believe that generally foreign workers do not face xenophobia here. They very rarely complained about xenophobic treatment. On the contrary, they find Singaporeans generally treat them reasonably.

If a majority of Singaporeans are reasonable fair-minded people, then I would urge every single one of us to rebuke, rebut or ignore the nasty xenophobes among us. This is the time to take a stand against ugly values that sow dissension.

The writer is president of migrant workers' group TWC2 (Transient Workers Count Too).

Climbing down the Ladder of Inference
By Linda Heng, Published The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2013

AS THE situation in Little India unfolds, I cannot help but feel a sense of dread, but also a sliver of hope for what is to come.

Dread arises from the fast and furious poisonous arrows that have been shot from members of the public. People have a habit of looking at a limited set of data, interpreting this limited data from their beliefs, assumptions and experiences; and drawing from them conclusions that they verbalise.

This is widely known as the "Ladder of Inference", a term used to describe how people can draw vastly different conclusions from different, limited or even the same set of data.

I have seen comments online to the tune of: "We should not condone such behaviour… If we do, they will get more brazen… and I'll say good luck to you and our future generation."

The author of this comment made observations hours after the event, interpreted that the actions were unacceptable and concluded that the future of the country was at stake. He has climbed his ladder of inference.

Contrast this with a different comment - "It is easy to hate. But these guys are human beings too. I wonder if they feel they're not given any respect at all because of their job scope." This person has seen data from the event, but included external data and made a tentative interpretation, where he then expressed reluctance to draw a conclusion.

After some time, as more news came in, a number who watched online footage of the mob overturning police cars left comments along the lines of "The video shows it all… the police are a disgrace to their uniform and their oath… Moral of the story - the police will not be there to protect anyone of us."

Contrast this with a comment from someone else who has watched the same video: "The riot police should be congratulated for showing restraint and not deploying tear gas and cannons."

Same video. Different observations. Different interpretations. Vastly different conclusions.

As conflict resolution professionals, we often see parties perch themselves at the top of the ladder, adamant that their conclusion is the only valid one.

And if they look hard enough, they will often find others who have climbed that exact same ladder to commiserate with (and vice versa, leading to different camps and power struggles). Our job is never to judge, but to alert warring parties that they have, inadvertently or not, climbed their individual ladders of inference.

For people who seek genuine solutions to their disputes, what we endeavour to do is to assist them to climb down their ladders of inference - leave the perch for a minute, examine the facts again, and in a safe place, question one's assumptions. Not because the facts can be so easily verified, nor that truth can ever be so easily ascertained, nor that basic beliefs and assumptions well-honed from past experiences can be so easily eradicated. But simply because the willingness and the process of climbing down the ladder of inference is that critical turning point at which parties can even begin to ask themselves what they really want out of the dispute.

Some of those unfamiliar with my profession may wonder: "Who cares about this Ladder of Inference? It is just an academic exercise that is irrelevant to the real world. In the real world, people have different thoughts, feelings and opinions. Why analyse this to death?"

Well, I started this post with what I described as a feeling of dread, because I have seen how words when verbalised and dosed with heightened emotions can take on a life of their own. Words linger long after they have been uttered. Their intent may be forgotten, but their effects continue to multiply.

What starts out as a single event, because of the shocking halt to the daily routine of a peaceful nation, has the potential to escalate if people do not take care to examine their own as well as others' responses.

What I pray and hope for is that Singaporeans will take care to examine the Little India riot carefully before they speak. What data have you have observed versus what other facts might you not know about? Which are facts and which are assumptions and feelings?

Reflect on your own interpretation - is it with one set of facts or a hypothetical set of facts? Consider if someone else would interpret this differently. Go through a thorough exercise before you draw your own conclusion and take care to consider the effect on others when you verbalise these conclusions.

Researchers in this field have observed that the exercise of repeatedly climbing down and up the ladder of inference is an act of self-mastery observed in mature and successful individuals.

As a relatively young nation, our collective response will show if we have a measured, well-considered and even gracious response to this incident. As in many disputes I've had the privilege to attempt to resolve, events like the Little India riot (and other national incidents) will strip us down to our very core and exhibit to the world our true maturity, a maturity that is not necessarily measured in years.

Which brings me to the sliver of hope. The heart of a mediator is a peace-making heart. What drives us is the ideal that we should always strive for a better way to resolve differences.

While I am not naive about the competition for scarce resources, the need for the rule of law and the dignity of the country, I also choose to believe in the best of human nature. In all things, I hope and pray that as a nation, we will have the good sense and gracious hearts to speak only if it is constructive, and to do unto others what we would have them do unto us. This incident will reveal what we are made of.

The writer is an accredited mediator with the Singapore Mediation Centre and the managing director of Harmony Mediation Group. This article first appeared as a blog on the website harmonymediation.com.sg

A look in the mirror
By Tan Wu Meng, Published TODAY, 10 Dec 2013

We do not yet know the full reasons for Sunday night’s riot. But our early reactions have shown us something of ourselves.

During and after the riot, many voices spoke online, with many views. Some worried about friends and family in the area. Others spoke out in support of our emergency responders and law enforcement.

As a doctor, I wondered about the man who died, trapped under the bus. Was he the breadwinner working to send money back? When was the last time he spoke to his family? He did not have a chance to say goodbye.

I was also troubled by the image of a burning ambulance. Front-line staff in many areas of work face abuse from time to time, especially when people are distressed and emotions are running high. Healthcare is no exception. But this was something completely different — rescuers coming under attack and on Singapore soil.

It was worrying to read some of the comments, which bordered on being racist. Some stereotyped entire communities. A few dragged religion into the mix. These are people who would pounce on an incident to fan the flames of xenophobia and racial hatred, provoking friction and tension between fellow Singaporeans.

We need to seek the better men and women within ourselves — better natures, such as the resolve and courage which kept ambulance crews, firefighters and police officers doing their duty in the face of life-threatening danger; their restraint in avoiding an unwarranted escalation of force, despite knowing that if things went badly, they might never see their families again.

The police were able to bring the situation under control within an hour, without firing any weapons or further loss of life.


We live in an era when every person with a smartphone can send photos from the ground, where each Facebook and Twitter account is a miniature publishing press. This confers power, choice and responsibility upon every one of us.

Do we feed knee-jerk fear with baseless accusations and stoke anger with rumours? Or do we call for calm and due process, even as we seek facts?

Do we let racist and religiously offensive comments pass? Or do we share our concerns with the person who posted or shared them? When we keep quiet, we effectively assent to what has been said.

Do we misjudge an entire community by a single incident? Or do we recognise those in the same community who put themselves at risk to stop the violence?

What we say — and do not say — online and offline about this riot reflects who we are and what kind of society we want to build. Our choices shape the kind of Singapore we and our children will grow old in. We decide whether challenges will enlighten and bring us together, or if there will be market failure in the marketplace of ideas.

Last night’s events and Singaporeans’ responses show we have some way to go. But we must never give in to hate, anger and fear.

Showing the way, many Singaporeans have spoken out against the mob mentality, online and offline.

We have pledged ourselves as one united people — and through our words and actions, we can pledge ourselves anew each day. The future of Singapore depends on each and every one of us.

Tan Wu Meng is a medical doctor working in a public sector hospital.

Police press conference on Little India riot, Dec 9 -RazorTV
Riot in Little India -Talking Point
Bracing for the Debate
The Little India Riot and the Ladder of Inference
My thoughts on the riot last night
Learning the right lessons from this episode
South Asian foreign workers react to Little India riot
Litte India Riots: Has the Population White Paper Also Gone Up In Flames?
Little India riot: Responsibility is a two-way street
Riot – and the bottoms of it
Crossing the divide of us and them
A time to ask: Are we compassionate enough?

Man in plaid shirt saved my life, says bus helper
Shanmugam gives assurance to foreign workers in S’pore
PM Lee: Singaporeans have reacted calmly to Little India riot
Authorities introduce cooling-off measures following Little India Riot
Appointment of a Committee of Inquiry into Little India Riot on 8 December 2013
Little India - home away from home
No evidence riot reflects workers' unhappiness: PM

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