Why the booze problem persists in Little India

Why the booze problem persists in Little India
Partitions have been put up at Tekka Market to deny spaces to drinkers, police patrols have increased, alcohol sale hours have been curbed and retailers have been asked to stop selling bottled beer. But Little India’s booze problem remains.

Noted social theorist and professional beverage consultant Homer Simpson once gave a toast, saying: "To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems."

Today, both sides of the Simpson alcohol paradox are in full effect in Singapore. Men gather in Geylang and Little India to find comfort in hops and malted barley. The authorities see that as a problem.

This is a problem made up of three factors, namely the number of people, where they gather and the amount of liquid refreshment involved. The three ingredients together can make for a lively art gallery opening or, as feared by the Committee of Inquiry that looked into last December's Little India riot, a full-blown street riot.

In recent weeks, the cup of good cheer has been running a little low in Little India. Partitions have been put up at Tekka Market to deny spaces to drinkers, police patrols have increased, alcohol sale hours have been curbed and retailers have been asked to stop selling bottled beer to prevent their use as weapons.

Instead of turning the whole of Little India into a dry zone - which would have been impractical, given its status as a tourist spot and the number of licensed restaurants there are in that food paradise - the law has been given the trickier, more labour-intensive task of stamping out potential flashpoints.

Their targets, however, are proving to be wily. For instance, men are smuggling their own bottles of liquor into Tekka Market, according to unhappy vendors. Also, as the inquiry report noted, a reduction in the number of liquor licences in recent years has not brought down the number of cases of public intoxication in the area.

And unless the ban on sales is islandwide, as some retailers around Serangoon Road have said, the money just changes hands elsewhere and the booze is brought in.

So it appears that thirsty men are a lot like certain shady Sim Lim Square shopkeepers: They seem to get what they want no matter how hard the law tries to stop them.

While the Government is carrying out the "boots on the ground" approach through increased policing, employers and non-government organisations, such as the Migrant Workers Centre, are trying to see if workers can let off steam in other ways.

They are setting up purpose-built recreation centres or locating more facilities in dormitories.

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