17 December 2013

Little India Riot — Was Response Consistent With Words?

The Government's statements about the 8 December riot in Little India

▪ The riot was an isolated incident.

▪ The riot was spontaneous and arose from the unlawful actions of an unruly mob reacting to a fatal traffic accident.

▪ The Government had not seen any evidence of pent-up tensions among foreign workers resulting from existing employment and workplace issues erupting.

▪ There were some signs that alcohol was a factor.

The Government's response leading to the weekend of 14-15 December

▪ More security cameras were installed in Little India, which had been previously suggested by residents there.

▪ 33 people were charged for their alleged participation in the riot. An individual convicted of rioting with a dangerous weapon faces up to 10 years' jail plus caning.

▪ Dormitory operators and major employers' associations were advised to urge vigilance and calm among their foreign workers.

The Government's response for the weekend of 14-15 December

▪ Police and Special Operations Command police conspicuously patrolled Little India, Golden Mile and Geylang, where foreign workers usually congregate in large numbers.

▪ Sale and public consumption of alcohol was banned in Little India. 374 establishments in an area of approximately 1.1 square kilometres, including restaurants, coffee shops, food centres and sundry shops, were affected by the ban on sale of alcohol. A hotel reportedly removed alcoholic drinks from the bar fridges in its rooms.

▪ Private bus operators that transported foreign workers to/from their dormitories from/to Little India were not allowed to operate.

Other response for the weekend of 14-15 December

▪ The Singapore Contractors Association urged its members to advise their foreign workers to refrain from revelling in Little India to avoid any unpleasant encounters.

The outcome for the weekend of 14-15 December

▪ Trains and public transport buses arriving in Little India were less crowded than usual.

▪ Significantly (70 per cent according to some reports) fewer foreign workers were present in Little India.

▪ There were no incidents. There were no violations of the sale or public consumption of alcohol in Little India. Presumably, it was simply common sense to avoid getting into trouble with the law.

The outcome was never in doubt.

The private bus ban was quite enough to dissuade many foreign workers from making the trip to Little India unless they really needed to. The alcohol ban curtailed the merriment often associated with socialising in some cultures. Little India was no fun (I mean genuine fun, not violent "fun" like a riot) last weekend.

Based on what the Government had said about the riot, there was little need to implement any of the exceptional measures.

The arrest and charges laid against the 33 foreign workers and the punishment if they are convicted are more than enough deterrent to anyone other than individuals who are foolhardy, insane or suicidal.

Perhaps, the Government was over-reacting, preferring to err on the side of caution.

Perhaps not. As Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew wrote:

"[I]t was clear how much quieter the place had become [during the weekend evening].
The measures that MHA [Ministry of Home Affairs] imposed on a temporary basis have helped to restore a sense of calm and order to the place. Going forward, we will have to tweak these measures so that, for everyone involved, Little India does become a better PLACE (Police presence enhanced, Less Alcohol and Congestion, Enforcement tightened)."

It appears likely that weekends in Little India will not be allowed to be the same again. Mr Lui foresees that the recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry will help the Government reach "a more appropriate, steady state" in Little India, and possibly in other areas where foreign workers congregate in large numbers. There will be changes.

But will these address the human congestion in Singapore in general and Little India and other places where foreign workers congregate in particular, or the aggravation felt by foreign workers in a high power-distance work environment?

1 comment:

  1. Workings are happy with their pay and living conditions, but, hey, let's build more dorms for them.