Little India’s wake-up call

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By Tan Bah Bah

The Committee of Inquiry devoted quite a substantial part of its investigations and findings to the cultural aspect of what took place on Dec 8, 2013.

It saw the Little India riot as a symptom of the Indian street culture of revenge. The death of Sakthivel Kumaravelu, a foreign worker, was an accident but was wrongly interpreted as caused by a callous act.

The crowd also felt a desire for “street justice” to mete out punishment.

It reacted in a primeval fashion, with drunkenness as a possible aggravating factor.

The fact was that no one was at fault, except possibly the victim.

With that put right, the COI was on an even keel and could devote much of its time looking at the other important aspects of the riot.

As far as members of the public were concerned, they wanted to know three things.

Was alcohol too freely available in Little India? Was the Singapore Police Force up to its job? What could be done to prevent such riots from happening again?

The COI made eight recommendations which covered them quite thoroughly.

It wanted drunkenness to be brought under more control. Such measures would include ensuring there was better lighting for large-scale socialising It also recommended that more be done to make sure foreign workers had proper places for recreation and shopping.

The COI reserved some of the more critical comments for the police force.

It more or less implied the force had been out of practice. It suggested getting more frontline officers out in the field. It spoke about quality being more important than mere quantity, with a lot more to catch up on crowd control than the force had been used to.

The effectiveness of the police had been called into question by the COI.

When out on the ground, cut down on red-tape for better and faster communication. As the COI pointed out, the scenarios tended to change rapidly and could be overwhelming.

One senior officer testified at the COI, he would be worried about such areas as Geylang. Let Little India be a wake-up call. He should be.