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

China Announces Corruption Probe into Senior Ex-Leader

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, being probed for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid