berthahenson

The big Little India clean-up

In News Reports on December 9, 2013 at 11:38 pm

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Just testing.

I’m back.

Crazy huh?

After trying to get readers of this blog to move over to Breakfast Network, I’m now trying to get everyone back here…What’s the difference you say? Well, when I blog, I can get “personal’’. I tried to write differently for BN, adopting a more business-like, professional-sounding tone. Now I am going to be entirely MYSELF! Yeehaaaar.

So what’s the news today?

Well, if you are thinking of going drinking in Little India this weekend, don’t. No alcohol will be served – or sold over the counter. It’s an expected move by the G, after it proposed curbs on alcohol sales hours and the establishment of no-alcohol zones last week. The G twisted itself into knots trying not to pre-empt the police investigations into Sunday’s riots by saying that alcohol could be’ a “contributory factor’’ leading to the riot on Sunday night. What it made clear was that the 33 year old Indian national who died after being knocked down by a private bus was stone drunk. As for the 400 others, or 27 arrested….

The intoxicated man had boarded the bus and dropped his pants when he was told to get off. When he did, he was knocked down somehow and pinned under the bus. Not decapitated, as some people have been saying. That was when all hell broke loose.

So is the G doing a knee-jerk by banning alcohol? It’s only for this weekend though, before it finalises what it wants to do about alcohol sales. The G and MPs for the area said too many liquor licences have been given out to the shopkeepers in the area. No number was specified and you would have thought someone in the liquor licensing department had been keeping count…

It seems, however, that Little India has been a messy, chaotic space for some time, going by what residents there say. One resident penned a letter published in TODAY citing the number of times news reports have surfaced about the state of the area on weekends, with jaywalking and jammed-up roads. Some 20 private buses would unload foreign workers there on weekends – and park along the roads as well. It’s like a weekend excursion: from dorm to Little India, and back to dorm. It seems that the G response has been to step up policing, checking for identification and so forth.

So should the G have acted earlier in response to residents’ grumblings and foreseen that a powder keg was in the making? If it did and tried to impose curbs on activity, it would have been attacked for high-handed treatment of those who do hard labour in Singapore.  Residents might chafe, but for others, Little India is neither chaotic nor messy. It is spontaneous and exotic. It bustles with a different sort of life every weekend, not at all like other parts of Singapore. And that is because it is brimming over with foreigners of a different culture. Can you imagine Singaporeans dancing in the streets unless they are specifically allowed to, like the South Asians did on Deepavali?   

Maybe the announcement of an impending alcohol ban or the constant police checks are what got their backs up. Others point to different cultural attitudes towards authority. Singaporeans are respectful towards those in uniform, and wouldn’t dream of hurling dustbins at them, much less pelting them when they are trying to rescue someone. They might brawl in coffeeshops after several beers and even resist arrest, but you won’t get others joining in the fray against the cops.

So is an alcohol ban of sorts in Little India going to help? It will be a “contributory factor’’ in the pursuit of peace, methinks.

The Prime Minister has convened a committee of inquiry to look into “ the factors that led to the incident and how the incident was handled on the ground’’. “It will also review the current measures to manage areas where foreign workers congregate, whether they are adequate and how they can be improved.’’

It seems that the G is looking at the riot as a pure law and order issue. Presumably, the “factors’’ are immediate factors and the “measures’’ are intended to ensure safety and public order. So no deep probing on possible root causes? A very self-contained probe?

What I know is that I got angry reading The New Paper which has the best on-the-ground coverage of all the English language newspapers. It had an interview and a picture of the female bus co-ordinator who was attacked. The 38 year old  had a wound on the left side of her forehead, her left eye was swollen and her limbs bruised. The poor woman was trapped on the bus with the driver as rioters smashed windscreens and ripped off  whatever they could. Six policemen later escorted them to safety.

Then there was the account of a resident who had a bird’s eye view of what was happening and gave a blow-by-blow account of how the riot unfolded. How the police couldn’t hold back the rioters and disappeared into a fire engine which sped off, along with an ambulance. How rioters flipped a police car against an ambulance and paramedics opened the back door to flee. How they cheered and danced around a burning police bike.A TNP photojournalist was almost attacked. Restaurants pulled down their shutters, with diners still inside. Shopkeepers had their goods used as missiles.   

This should never happen again. Ever.

So I say: Dear G, do whatever it takes.

 

 

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  1. Hi Bertha,

    While I agree with everything you wrote, there is also the issue of contributory negligence.

    As you pointed out in your blog, did the government issue too many Liquor Licences for the area?

    Should there be a new regime of licencing? For example in Australia, there is the ‘responsible service of alcohol’ regime where the vendor is held liable for selling drinks to intoxicated individuals.

    No alcohol zones are good – we should encourage people to drink in an establishment and not on the streets.

    A lot of the bad behaviour that has been going on in bars pubs and other entertainment areas can be attributed in some way to the influence of alcohol.

    Its time the government, who reaps in the benefits from alcohol excise, do something about the negative effects of the product.

    Regards

    Irvin
    Sent from my BlackBerry® from Optus

  2. I live in Little India with my family for around 8 years. Yes, there are tons of jaywalkers. Yes, driving around can be pretty irritating. Yes, the pavements are overflowing with people. Yes, it’s inconvenient especially on Sundays.

    But so what? If you don’t like it, don’t stay here. Don’t come here. This is the flavour of Little India. I wouldn’t want Little India to turn into another Ang Mo Kio, another Toa Payoh, another Bedok. I wouldn’t want Little India any way else except as Little India.

    Here’s me hoping against hope that the investigation dives deep into root causes and not the superficial ones. Here’s me hoping against hope that there’s transparency and accountability. Perhaps I’m asking for too much here…

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