berthahenson

Posts Tagged ‘riot’

Little India COI: We DO have a hero. Yay!

In News Reports on February 27, 2014 at 11:39 pm

Finally, we have a police officer who threw caution to the wind and decided to “engage’’ the rioters. Sergeant Fadli, just 27, a traffic cop, charged the crowd three times until he was told by his supervisor to stop. Or he would have continued charging. He said he would actually have made the crowd move towards Buffalo Road instead of driving them into the Little India MRT station which his earlier efforts resulted in. So he was also thinking furiously at the time….

It looked like his training or his cop instincts kicked in. He doesn’t seem to have been trained in crowd control (not reported) nor was he holding on to a shield. Maybe he thought his motorcycle helmet was a good enough shield. I think we should never under-estimate our traffic cops again. Maybe his encounters with irate motorists have stiffened his spine so much that he knew and acted like “the law’’.

He was asked by ex-Commissioner Tee Tua Ba if things would have improved if more officers acted with him. His reply: “I don’t know Sir. You just need maybe one officer or 10 officers to disperse the crowd.’’

Said Mr Tee: “I agree’’

Said COI chairman Pannir Selvam: “A few good men, as they say.’’

Seems like the other cops who took the stand were really, really grilled, especially the leading officer who was among those who got out of an ambulance and, errrrm, ran away.  Senior Station Inspector Adil, 42, the same person who told Sergeant Fadli to stop charging, made much of holding on to the rear door of the ambulance to prevent rioters from entering and how he was the last man to get out. Seems that didn’t cut much ice with the COI who kept returning to the question of the police asserting control instead of letting the rioters lead.

One thing I noticed: There are photographs of Sergeant Fadli but none of SSI Adil in the English-language newspapers. How come? He gave the media the slip?

Give Sergeant Fadli a medal! And give us a picture of SSI Adil… 

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A Sunday problem

In News Reports on December 18, 2013 at 3:39 am

We have a problem. We have hundreds of thousands of foreign workers – and we don’t know what to do with them on Sundays. And they probably don’t know what to do with themselves on Sundays either.

The foreign maid can stay “home” and be paid for not taking the day off. And even if they are out, they’re not likely to get into a drunken stupor and throw pieces of concrete around. They’ll just crowd somewhere until someone shoos them somewhere else.

The foreign worker can stay in his dorm – except that he won’t get paid because he is not working. In the better dorms, he can play basketball and watch cable TV. In the lousier dorms, well, he will have to find his own entertainment. Maybe, he could sneak in a beer can or two…

It looks as though for all our masterful planning of Singapore’s infrastructure, we neglected to think about what we should do about guest workers when they are not working. It’s not enough to house them, although some people still think “housing’’ is too good a term for cramped dorms. It’s not even enough to make sure there are more trains and buses so that Singaporeans won’t complain about overcrowding.

No one quite thought about this question: Where do they go on their day off?

I’ll wager that most of us plan our precious weekends carefully. Some of us have got it down to a routine; visit parents, in-laws, take kids for enrichment classes, attend church service, get together with friends, watch a movie or read a book at home. How do foreign workers plan their weekends? For those from the Indian sub-continent, it’s probably a routine as well: take bus, go to Little India, send back money, eat, drink, meet family, friends and then return to dorm.

Will Little India go back to normal after the riot? It was definitely not business as usual last weekend. Businesses grumble about lost takings. It wasn’t just the foreign workers who gave the place a wide berth (as they have been encouraged to),  tourist numbers dwindled too. Of course, liquor stores were most affected given the alcohol zone. Little India became a dry zone in more ways than one. But you know what? Residents there are probably happier.

And now, the rumble is that the ban will hold in some form, perhaps modified to restrict the hours of sale. It is likely that you can’t swig a beer along five-foot ways or in open spaces, at least in Little India.

Whatever the action taken, there will be consequences and questions. One good thing is that minds are now directed at another part of a foreign worker’s life – not about pay or abuse or working/living conditions but about their Sundays.

Their dorms are situated in remote spots far away from Singaporean eyes. Amenities are lacking. They want ingredients from home for cooking and other essentials that dorms do not provide. They need them cheap because they know how much/little they’re paid. In any case, they need to save money to send it home. Already they say that it’s worthwhile paying for a shuttle service from dorm to Little India because they can do a one-stop shopping, eating, drinking and everything else.  

But some people think they should be in a “gated community’’ or be provided with amenities far away from residential areas so as not to ruffle Singaporean feathers. To be sure, some would probably say that they just “stay in’’ like some NSmen do in camp. After all, they are here to work, not play. It’s an uncharitable view and you could even argue that this is the price to pay for maintaining law and order.

The Committee of Inquiry will be looking into the causes of the riot, and it appears to have framed it in large part as a law and order matter. Others have suggested that riot was the result of pent up tensions arising from bad treatment of foreign workers. Then the G weighs in to assert that working conditions had nothing to do with the cause. Provide evidence, it says. The G would have done better and kept mum about its conclusions/assertions – and let the committee do its work.

But here’s one suggestion: The committee shouldn’t just be looking at causes but also answers to this question: What CAN foreign workers do on Sundays. And where?

 

A Conversation over Beers

In News Reports on December 11, 2013 at 11:14 pm

Four friends decided to pry themselves off high-priced bar stools in Marina Bay to “slum it” in a Little India coffeeshop – before the no-alcohol ban kicks in over the weekend.

Dramatis personae

Frank D’light: An American expatriate banker

Lim Tau Keh : Local construction magnate

Paragswamy Khannakena: Strategic consultant, resident in Singapore

Chin Jiak Eng: Some time civil society activist.

———————————————————————————-

Frank: Can’t think why we haven’t been here before. Beats the prices in town.  You reckon they sell champagne here?

Tau Keh:  Eh, Frank. Coffeeshop.  No champagne. Just Tiger, Heineken and Carlsberg.  With ice. Where’s Khannakena?

Jiak  Eng: He went to the mama shop to get some Kingfisher or something. Said good Indian beer; can knock you out quickly. Think he misses home.

Tau Keh: How come you didn’t follow him? Scared ah? Don’t be. See that red van over there? Full of riot police….Up there got new CCTV. And that next table? All plain-clothes policemen. Have faith in the Home team!

Frank: So, this really is a police state eh? Guess all those international reports are right. You guys really take the fun out of things. My chaps back home were all wondering what’s happening in Singapore and whether they should take up jobs here. I told them to come on over! It’s getting exciting here! And nothing will happen where they’re gonna put up. Not in Bukit Timah.

Khannakena (huffing and puffing with armloads of beer): Like any cosmopolitan, global and capitalist city-state, those shopkeepers have put up the price. A can costs $5 now, not $3.50. So much demand and they getting rid of supply. Pure economics. It makes the globe go round.

Frank (looking around): What’s this? A penile colony? Where are the girls?

Jiak Eng: This is Little India, not Geylang. Tomorrow, I take you there. But seriously, these foreign workers are very pitiful. Abused by employers.  No place to hang out. Sleeping with bed bugs…

Tau Keh: Eh, don’t exaggerate. I treat my workers very well. Nice dorm. Good food catered. Buses to take them on excursions.  Sometimes I forget to pay them. But they never complain.

Jiak Eng: What’s the name of your company again? I go report to MOM. Or better still, I tell Alex Au. Or M Ravi. Or that Vincent Whatshisname…  

(The two Singaporeans eyeball each other over the beers. Frank is delighted. Khannakena is staring into his beer, trying to read the future in the froth.)

Jiak Eng (blinks first): Okay, okay. We’re Singaporeans. We don’t fight. Not the Singapore way. Put the bottle down. Dangerous things.

Khannakena: It’s the normal condition in any developed nation, Tensions will arise because of differing socio-economic conditions. A sense of alienation. A feeling of dis-enfranchisement. But I still say we can fit 8m people in Singapore.

Tau Keh: You mad or what? Already can hardly move through Race Course Road… I’m worried about my Merc getting scratched. See that group over there looking at my car? I paid $120,000 COE for that. Hope the cops are watching my car.

Khannakena (not listening):  I postulate that such dislocations are endemic in any society that claims to be developed and civilised. The Government’s moves to restore law and order are to be commended but it does not guarantee that there will be future conflagarations. Singapore should study Dubai which manages its huge foreign population with aplomb.

Jiak Eng: Ya…just house them on some offshore island right? Take away their rights as human beings right? Take away their alcohol. Restrict their movements. Run police checks.What sort of civilised society is that?

Frank (smirking): Hey, you guys can’t crow about Singapore being a safe haven now. Even your bank account statements can be stolen. I’m really raking it in now…StanChart’s clients are moving over to my bank. I’m minting money. By the way, I was told the netizens are going nuts. They won’t have anything against me right? I’m a western foreign talent but Khannakena…

 Jiak Eng: Ignore those unhappy people on the Net. The right thing to do now is to tackle the root causes of the riot. It’s not just about law and order, it’s not just about alcohol. It’s about how we treat the less well-off, the distribution of incomes in society, the manifest discrimination against the poor and down-trodden, including those people who labour 12 hours in the hot sun for so little pay…It’s about…

Tau Keh: Stop it already la, Jiak Eng… I pay my workers more, you pay more for your house. You didn’t read about the URA Masterplan ah? More construction. More workers needed. More business for me. Don’t come destroy my rice bowl. And by the way, I’m paying for drinks tonight.

(Silence. All four deep in thought. Their reverie was interrupted by the kopi kia who warns Khannakena about consuming beer that wasn’t bought on the premises. Because they are law-abiding people, they pay and leave. Tau Keh’s Merc has been towed away because it was parked in a No Parking Zone. They tried to flag down a bus…and almost got run over. This, however, will not deter the intrepid foursome from checking out Geylang tomorrow night.)

 

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.