Sunday 16 March 2014

Little India Riot COI: Day 16

Private bus operator hopes services will be fully restored
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2014

THE operator of private bus services which take workers back to their dormitories from Little India hopes the authorities will reinstate the number of buses allowed, which were cut as a cooling-off measure after the riot on Dec 8.

Representatives from the Singapore School Transport Association (SSTA) told the Committee of Inquiry yesterday that more vehicles were needed to accommodate the big crowd of workers arriving to catch the last buses by the new cut-off time of 9pm.

It now takes up to 45 minutes after 9pm before the association can get all workers on board the buses, said SSTA chairman Wong Ann Lin, even after redirecting buses on other routes to help.

The fleet size allowed to serve the enclave on Sundays was cut by half to 75 buses after the riot. Pick-up times were also shortened from between 2pm and 11pm to 2pm and 9pm.

But fewer buses, together with the many workers who want to stay in Little India till the last minute, meant that the crowd can double to as many as 800 workers in the Tekka Lane waiting area after 9pm, added SSTA's timekeeper supervisor Tan Jwee Tuan.

The problem is made worse because some bus drivers do not return to Little India if they think they will be there past the pick-up time, and go home instead.

"At present, (9pm) is an anxious time for us because we don't know whether there will be buses coming to ferry these people," said Mr Tan, who added he sometimes felt a little threatened when workers got annoyed and restive.

"If you don't ferry 800 people home, if they get angry, then it may give rise to another riot."

Mr Wong said the shorter operating hours and reduced bus numbers have affected drivers' livelihoods, as they now work alternate weeks instead of every Sunday.

Added Mr Tan: "You should not limit the number of buses taking them back, because if they go back earlier, it would improve the situation (in Little India)."

'Not easy handling crowd of workers'
Some are drunk, behave badly; language also a barrier, says bus group
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2014

IT IS not easy handling crowds of workers in the hundreds jostling for a ride back to their dormitories, especially with some among them highly intoxicated after a night of drinking in Little India.

The task is made tougher for bus drivers and timekeepers - who are not even employed to marshal the workers in the first place - because of the language barrier and ugly behaviour from some passengers, said representatives from the Singapore School Transport Association (SSTA), which runs the service at Tekka Lane.

SSTA chairman Wong Ann Lin yesterday told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) looking into the cause of the riot on Dec 8 that the timekeepers' main role was to coordinate the movements of buses on different routes according to a schedule, while a supervisor managed three timekeepers and ensured bus operators obeyed the rules.

None of the timekeepers or supervisors is trained to speak Tamil or Bangladeshi, and all communication with the workers is in English.

"We are not supposed to manage workers. We have instruction signs so the passengers will have to queue at the right place," said Mr Wong, although staff do guide workers who ask for directions, and remind them to cross the road safely.

Mr Wong said workers would ignore reminders and rush towards an arriving bus, preventing it from stopping at its designated point.

On one occasion, a worker's foot was crushed even though the bus moved forward "inch by inch". Police subsequently obtained CCTV footage from the bus that exonerated the driver, he said.

"Actually, it is not our fault because the crowd - you cannot control," he said. "They want to go back early, so they just rush forward."

The problem of workers vomiting on the buses also came to a head about two years ago, said Mr Wong, and after seeing more such cases, both the drivers and SSTA together decided they would no longer ferry intoxicated workers.

Police sometimes had to be called in when workers who were refused passage would kick up a fuss, added Mr Tan Jee Tuan, a supervisor of the timekeepers, including Madam Wong Geck Woon, who was injured on the night of the riot.

Asked by committee member John De Payva if he was aware of allegations made by earlier witnesses that bus drivers and timekeepers used vulgarities and racist language against the workers, Mr Wong said he had not observed this nor had he received any such feedback.

Some witnesses had testified that workers may have been angry with Madam Wong because she had verbally abused them, with auxiliary officer Nathan Chandra Sekaran telling the committee he had personally heard her use words like "stupid" and "idiot" on the workers.

But while Madam Wong "speaks louder than most people", Mr Tan said he had never heard her use rough language on the workers. At Little India, said Mr Wong, the "environment is different", and sometimes required timekeepers to speak loudly.

Police too soft on foreign workers in area: Shopkeepers
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2014

A GROUP of shopkeepers in Little India who witnessed the violence unfold on Dec 8 told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) yesterday that the police have been too soft on foreign workers who congregate in the area.

Testifying at the inquiry yesterday, they said that foreign workers who congregate in the area have been getting drunk in public, littering and jaywalking for years.

If the police had been more assertive during their usual patrols, the riot could have been avoided, they suggested.

A chef of a restaurant at Race Course Road, who asked not to be named, told the COI that police should "give troublemakers two tight slaps" and a night in lock-up instead of just warning them when they are caught committing offences.

"Right now, there is no one who is scared there in Little India... The laws in Singapore are very strict, but then together with the laws, the police should also become more strict and firm in dealing with such situations," said the S-pass holder from India through a translator.

This was completely opposite from views raised by migrant worker activists who came forward to testify in previous hearings that they had heard reports of auxiliary police officers in the area cracking down too harshly on foreign workers in Little India.

Mr S. Rajagopal, vice-chairman of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association (Lisha), said there should have been a stronger police presence in the area from the very start.

He and COI member Tee Tua Ba agreed that excessive drinking and massive crowds made for a "volatile situation".

"The riot was waiting to happen... It was a bomb waiting to explode," said the 74-year-old.

Mr Rajagopal, who was in his shop at Kerbau Road on the night of the riot, said he heard some of the rioters shouting "Let's teach them a lesson!" in Tamil.

When committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam asked what that meant, Mr Rajagopal explained that rioters, upon seeing police officers moving off, saw them as weak and wanted to give them a "show of force".

Witnesses said the unrest could have been quelled sooner had the police acted in a more decisive manner from the start.

The chef also said that if police had used lathis, rubber bullets or tear gas, rioters would have stopped.

"But from what I had sensed, the police were completely out of control," he said.

A restaurant owner, who had been standing outside his restaurant as violence raged, heard from onlookers that some rioters had taken off their shirts, drenched them with whisky and set them aflame it an attempt to burn the bus that ran over and killed Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu.

Their attempts failed, but they later set police vehicles on fire, which he felt could have been stopped if police had been tougher.

Mr Rajagopal, who owns a security company, said that if he had a loudhailer, he could have helped calm the rioters.

Said the former superintendent in the Internal Security Department: "So, if I had gone in front and... reminded them, we are all Indians in Serangoon Road and we will help you, why should you do this to us?

"It would have helped them to contain the whole incident. Now, we have a bad name for Little India."

Fiery and funny exchanges
The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2014

THE Committee of Inquiry (COI) has heard from 73 witnesses since the hearing began on Feb 19, including eight who took the stand yesterday.

Here are some of their exchanges with the committee:


COI chairman G. Pannir Selvam to court interpreter: Does he remember me talking to him?

Restaurant owner in Little India: I cannot remember.

Mr Selvam: I came to your shop, and I met you, and then you said: "The police have spoken to me already, you go away."

Restaurant owner: Yes, I remember now.

Mr Selvam: He now remembers?

Court interpreter: He remembers.

State Counsel John Lu to the restaurant owner: You are not in any trouble, I hope.


COI member John De Payva: Are you aware (if your bus timekeepers) have been rude, that they have gone on to racial lines?

Singapore School Transport Association chairman Wong Ann Lin: No, no, no.

Mr De Payva: They have used vulgarity in their language?

Mr Wong: No.

Mr De Payva: You are not aware?

Mr Wong: We are not aware, and we didn't get any feedback about this.

Mr De Payva: So, your timekeepers will tell you they are all goody two-shoes?

Mr Wong: Yes, yes, yes.


Mr Selvam to a chef from another restaurant in Little India: Do you have any other suggestions or recommendations which you would like to bring to the committee?

Restaurant chef: In my opinion, if the police spot any person who is a troublemaker, I think the police should catch hold of the person, give him two tight slaps and impose a certain fine or penalty or maybe take him away for one day, and then release him at a later point in time. Such an act will deter others from creating any trouble in the future.

So, right now, there is no one who is scared there in Little India...

The laws in Singapore are very strict, but then together with the laws, the police should also become more strict and firm in dealing with such situations.

Little India Riot COI: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12, Day 13, Day 14, Day 15

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