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

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

During a conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs