News / Asia

Calm Returns to Singapore’s Little India After Rare Riot

Vincent Wijeysingha, right, a former opposition politician, gives a marigold to a stranger as part of an effort to remind people of the peace that prevails in Singapore despite last week's riot.(VOA Lien Hoang)
Vincent Wijeysingha, right, a former opposition politician, gives a marigold to a stranger as part of an effort to remind people of the peace that prevails in Singapore despite last week's riot.(VOA Lien Hoang)
One week after rioters tipped police cars and torched an ambulance in Singapore, citizens sought to reclaim the city-state’s peaceful reputation using a colorful tool: marigolds.
 
Activists handed out the yellow flowers Sunday night while walking through Little India, where the death of a foreigner crushed by a bus the previous Sunday sparked Singapore’s first riot in decades.
 
“Brother, let me give you a flower for peace,” Vincent Wijeysingha, a former opposition politician, told a passing stranger as he reached out his arm.
 
The marigold campaign comes as Singaporeans criticize media reports that the riot exposed unacknowledged racial divides. The man who died on Dec. 8, Sakthivel Kumaravelu, was a laborer from India. So were most of the 400 rioters, including more than 30 who now face criminal charges that could end in prison terms and caning.
 
As an air of calm – and a ban on alcohol, which a Singapore government official said may have contributed to the riot  – fell over Little India this weekend, some called the unrest an anomaly based on circumstance. It did not signal systemic faults or underlying tensions in society, they said.
 
“In Singapore, you don’t do these things,” said Bilveer Singh, a political science professor at the National University of Singapore. He blamed the media for calling the incident a “race riot,” because it did not pit one race against another. Rather, he believed the violent cocktail likely had three ingredients: alcohol, seeing the death of a compatriot, and population density.
 
Singapore banned alcohol sales and consumption in Little India after the riots. One convenience store estimates it lost $2,000 in revenues due to the ban. (VOA Lien Hoang)Singapore banned alcohol sales and consumption in Little India after the riots. One convenience store estimates it lost $2,000 in revenues due to the ban. (VOA Lien Hoang)
x
Singapore banned alcohol sales and consumption in Little India after the riots. One convenience store estimates it lost $2,000 in revenues due to the ban. (VOA Lien Hoang)
Singapore banned alcohol sales and consumption in Little India after the riots. One convenience store estimates it lost $2,000 in revenues due to the ban. (VOA Lien Hoang)
Little India is infamously clogged on Sundays, when South Asian workers use their day off to eat and drink with friends there. Not so on this first weekend after the riot. The 48-hour alcohol ban left many businesses shuttered, while others stayed away out of fear or lack of transit as private bus service was suspended.
 
Srividhya Kannaiyam said her convenience store on Race Course Road, where Kumaravelu died, typically collects $2,000 every Sunday. Under the ban, it made $50.
 
“We’re usually really busy and packed, but today I’m very free,” she said, standing in front of a liquor wall covered with tape. “The past week has been fully dead. We are facing so much loss.”
 
The Dec. 8 clashes shocked observers because tightly-controlled Singapore keeps a lid on civic unrest. Indeed, the police’s agility in quelling the riot without casualties was proof of the state’s authority. But the news also surprised people into questioning whether this society of 5.3 million, including 1.3 million foreign workers, is really so harmonious.
 
“If the riot reveals any deeper divisions – and most reasonable Singaporeans know that it does – those divisions are probably ones of nationality and class, not race,” Cherian George, a popular academic, wrote in a blog post last week.
 
George argued that the real precedent for the recent turmoil was not Singapore’s race riots in the 1960s, but the Chinese bus drivers’ wildcat strike in 2012. People are debating whether Dec. 8 opened a relief valve for foreign workers with limited rights, which affects their pay, holidays, treatment by employers, and access to public services.
 
But Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Saturday the riot was spontaneous and did not reflect foreign resentment.
 
“There is no tension, there is no sense of grievances or hardship or injustice,” he said.
 
Some say that, even if race and citizenship were not catalysts, the incident can be a teachable moment as Singapore grapples with a diverse populace. Last year, talk of increasing immigration to buttress an ageing population sent citizens to the streets with signs reading, “Singapore for Singaporeans.” It is unclear whether citizens begrudge foreigners who take high-paying jobs here, or look down on low-paid foreign workers who do not live up to local culture. Racist responses to the Little India riot appeared on social media and online comments sections last week. That would suggest unresolved hostilities, though others were also quick to decry the racism as unrepresentative of Singapore.
 
Some have tried to combat the friction and instability, not just with the marigold campaign, but by sharing ice cream with migrant workers and signing placards pushing solidarity.
 
Arumugam Kaliyamoorthy, a construction worker from India, said he gets along with all ethnicities, including his Chinese boss, who celebrates Indian holidays with him and his crew. This Sunday, Kaliyamoorthy  was in Little India, which he said he visits often to wire money home or drink with friends.
 
“Everybody’s cooperating,” said Kaliyamoorthy, his pants still stained with paint and dust from the job site he’d just left. “People are friendly in this country.”

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid