A riot erupted in central Singapore last Sunday, December 8, after an Indian worker was killed in a bus accident. Hundreds of rioters attacked 16 police cars and burned down an ambulance in the area called Little India. It was Singapore’s worst riot since 1964.
The death of Sakthivel Kumaravelu which ignited the riot also generated an intense online discussion about Singapore’s policy of hiring foreign workers which many local residents blamed for the country’s rising social woes. Singapore has more than 1.3 million foreign workers or about 25 percent of the total population.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong appealed for calm and insisted that the riot was an isolated incident:
This was an isolated incident caused by an unruly mob. The vast majority of foreign workers here obey our laws. We must not let this bad incident tarnish our views of foreigner workers here. Nor should we condone hateful or xenophobic comments, especially online.
This video shows the bus which killed Sakthivel.
Below is a video documenting the burning of several government vehicles:
And another video of the burning of an ambulance:
Kirsten Han hit news reports which highlighted the drunkenness of the victim:
Revealing and dwelling on the fact of Kumaravelu's drunkenness in isolation suggests that he was somehow responsible for his own demise. He could very well be, but it also smacks of victim-blaming, and doesn’t explain anything about what really happened on Sunday night.
Focusing on Mr Kumaravelu’s drinking reveals a lack of concern for a man who met a tragic end, reducing him to little more than a random drunken Indian who was probably somehow responsible for all this trouble.
Cherian George urged foreign media not to describe the event as a ‘race riot’:
The instinct of some foreign media to frame the Little India Riot as race-related may reveal more about their own prejudices than about the reality of what happened on Sunday evening. It is of course true that ethnic minorities here occasionally face subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination, but it would be a stretch to assume that the riot had much to do with that. The existence of racism doesn’t mean that the racial lens is always the right one through which to view events. 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. Not that this would be a less serious social ill; but it is important to get the diagnosis right if we are to treat it effectively.
Urban geography, not race, explains why the riot was an all-South-Asian affair.
Alisa Writes noted that riots are worse in other countries and that the Little India riot in Singapore should not be attributed to nationality or birthplace:
People also riot over soccer, apparently. Any human being who feels discontentment, frustration and anger has the ability to express it if given the right stimulants and conditions. What happened in Little India is simply a result of human behavior, and can’t be attributed to nationality or birthplace.
anyhowonly praised Singapore police for quickly restoring order in the community:
…I am especially proud of those troopers who demonstrated not only their specialist training but also their discernment and restraint! No shots were fired despite the chaos. The mob was dispersed with nary a shot or tear gas fired.
yawning bread analyzed some factors which led to the riot:
These three factors likely came together Sunday night: Brooding frustration from perceived injustices at work creating hostility to authority, resentment at auxiliary police patrols in Little India, and congestion on a damp night with nowhere to sit.
Vernon Chan advised the government to improve the welfare of foreign workers, especially the need to ease the public transportation woes experienced by workers:
…increase the fleet of public buses servicing Little India, and most importantly, institute heavily subsidised rail and bus passes for the more than 300,000 migrant workers in Singapore’s construction industry.
Yan Naung Oak, a Burmese in Singapore, probed deeper into the situation of foreign workers in the country:
The alienating forces that keep people in their shells of political correctness and civility are the same forces that make people violently break out of them. When the disenfranchised are confronted with something that violates their already narrowed turf, like the death of one of their own, the pent-up anger congeals into a mob.
Jentrified Citizen asked the government to draft a better plan on how to improve the living conditions of foreign workers:
When you have such a large number of lowly paid and over worked transient workers here, you must plan for them as human beings and not as mere digits to fulfill an economical need. Did the government work to ensure that their well-being and welfare is taken care of? Are these poor and powerless workers housed in decent lodgings, fed decent food, and given enough time to rest? Did our government plan for sufficient recreational outlets and facilities to cater to the workers’ interests and different needs?