Rethinking the Little India riot


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To be honest, I was less horrified watching videos of the Little India riot than I was reading the online reactions of some Singaporeans. Singaporeans blamed the government for not keeping country safe and for their lax immigration laws, they accused the response teams of cowardice and some even dared to attribute the violence to the nationality of the foreign workers. Government officials promised justice and to provide specific areas for drinking within Little India.

How did we become a society whose first unthinking reaction is to point fingers? The lack of compassion displayed online makes me despair for the future of our country and people.

1. The government does its part to keep Singapore safe. In fact, Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Doing any more than this would require copious amounts of surveillance and would most likely violate human rights. Blaming the government for the riot is akin to blaming a parent for their 30-year-old son/daughter committing murder, assuming, of course, that at age 30, he/she has a fully functioning mind.

As was expected, Singaporeans pointed fingers at the government’s previously lax immigration laws. Some also commented that riots are frequent in India, so it was expected that our foreign workers would react this way. These comments from the small-minded people travelling along this particular blame highway didn’t surprise me. I’d like to point out that in 1969, Singaporeans managed to riot all on their own. In fact, those riots lasted 7 days, 3000 were arrested and 568 were injured. A list of riots in India can be found here and according to that list, there were 10 riots in 2001, five in 2002 and two in 2003. As a point of reference, the largest two riots in world history happened in UK and USA. People also riot over soccer, apparently. Any human being who feels discontentment, frustration and anger has the ability to express it if given the right stimulants and conditions. What happened in Little India is simply a result of human behavior, and can’t be attributed to nationality or birthplace.

2. I’m sure response teams did the best they could, taking into account that this situation is new for our generation. I imagine it would take a lot of courage to go up against an angry 400-strong mob without any means of defense save for shields and batons. They managed to contain and diffuse the mob without using their firearms, and the end result is commendable.

3. What has race got to do with habits, personality and actions? I know there’s a stereotype of Indian people that exists in Singapore, but surely this flimsy conception should not be raised in the debate? Unless they find a gene that increases chance of drunken behavior and violence in Indian people, and can prove that it has a strong impact on habits, personality and actions despite nurture and environment 100 per cent of the time, stereotypes should never be used as an explanation. To anything. Ever. It’s a pathetic way to argue a case that’s undignified and lowbrow.

4. Alcohol was just the fuel to a growing fire caused by a fatal accident. Measures to curb the sale of alcohol and areas to drink may curb the actions and/or reactions of foreign workers in Little India but I doubt it solves the real issue at hand.

If any of the people who commented online had empathy for the human spirit, they may have considered another element that may have also added fuel to the fire after that fatal accident: perhaps foreign workers’ deeper resentment towards being treated in an undignified manner? These men build the roofs over our heads, the comfortable office spaces we work in and the parks and places of attraction that we enjoy. They live and sleep in less than acceptable conditions, far away from their family, friends and home. The result of their labour and sacrifice is a pittance salary and locals who pretend as if they don’t exist. I mean, when was the last time YOU showed kindness (through a smile or simple greeting) to a foreign worker you passed in your estate?

Do not misunderstand me. I do not condone violent behavior. In fact, I believe there is a right and wrong way to express dissent, and violence should never be used as the means to an end, regardless of the situation. But just like how a fever and nausea are symptoms of stomach flu, I believe that the riots may have been an indication of other issues. After all, we should never underestimate the depths of human emotion. It’s my hope that we try to understand these factors and practice a little compassion, instead of pointing fingers of blame or simply providing stop-gap solutions. An alternative point of view I find commendable is available here and here.

3 thoughts on “Rethinking the Little India riot

  1. At most, alcohol provided the courage to stand up against a highly legal repressive society exploiting her mostly dim witted citizens/foreigners. These migrants workers strength lies not in the gab nor wit(easily bullied). Like most indignant people who have been unjustly managed (their subconscious intelligence is their source of enlightenment) the fist is their ultimate resolution.

    The trigger point was just an excuse. The authority narrative on the uneventful night actually is quite insulting to the lowly laborers.

  2. I am disturbed by the arguments of some people who have risen in defence of the rioters themselves. Some common excuses include their poor working conditions, unfair treatment by employers, and the prejudice they face in society. I do not dispute that these factors may, in fact, exist. But absolutely nothing can reduce the rioters’ blame for what they did.

    Insofar as they are human, adults and with the capacity to reason, they should take full responsibility for the consequences of their actions. These consequences are substantial: injury to our civil servants, property damage, loss of Singapore’s reputation and puncturing our shared sense of security. For all these harms they have inflicted upon us, these rioters must be punished with the fullest severity that the law can muster. This is justice, in the form of retribution, and in sending a clear message that we have zero-tolerance for any violence.

    On the other hand, I am heartened by the rational responses of Singaporeans towards this terrible incident. All sectors of Singaporean society have called for justice to be done, while rejecting discrimination against any demographic group. This is an isolated event that should not be used to infer that any group is inherently inferior or uncivilised (though this may change if such an event is repeated).

  3. Pingback: VIDEOS: Singapore’s First Riot in 40 Years | Freedom, Justice, Equality News

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