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

Report: $60 Billion Leaves Africa Illegally Each Year

Report by a joint UN and African Union panel says African countries need to take concrete measures to stop billions of dollars from illegally being moved out of continent each year More

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Some analysts say Russian Tu-95 bombers were flying near British airspace to warn Britain about an inquest into a murdered Russian spy More

Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

He rejects concerns about how the West might perceive his leadership, saying he's focused on African development More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relationsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
January 31, 2015 10:50 PM
Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Neighborhood Divided Over Conflict

People in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts find themselves squarely in the path of advancing Russian-backed rebels, who want to take back the territory they held at the beginning of the conflict last year. Many local residents are afraid, but others would welcome the change, even when a rebel shell lands in their neighborhood. From the Luhansk district, 15 kilometers from where the Ukrainian government marks the front line, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid