ON LITTLE INDIA RIOT
FROM READER RAM RENGACHARI
"Singapore for Singaporeans" is by now a familiar slogan for those who followed the passionate White Paper on Population protest at Hong Lim Park.
As an ethnic minority, born and bred in Singapore, I wondered, just who is a Singaporean?
And as articles and opinions about the Little India riot appeared online, I now wonder what the Singapore way is.
Towards the end of 2008, I made an amateur documentary for a college project about the attitudes towards migrant workers in Singapore. It was inspired by the reaction from residents in Serangoon Gardens who opposed the proposal to convert a vacant school into a workers' dormitory in the quiet estate.
Admittedly, I was motivated to investigate the marginalisation of our migrant workers based on my own biased assumptions and speculation, but I swore to myself I noticed a deep-seated resentment for the "other" in my fellow countrymen. I simply had to uncover a hidden element of racism in the core of our Singapore society. Five years on, and after the events that unfolded in Little India, I can't help but think Singaporeans have played a passive role in the self-destruction of our clean reputation. Reports of the riot had inevitably found its way to news sites in neighbouring Malaysia and Australia and even as far as the United Kingdom.
What caught my attention was the Forbes coverage of the incident, which suggested that our cosmopolitan island was experiencing racial tensions at its worst, and Miss Nicole Seah's (a Singapore politician) immediate call for caution in reacting to the incident. At the time the Forbes article was published, there wasn't any evidence to suggest the riot was due to racial tensions. And Miss Seah's surprising plea for Singaporeans to maintain calm led me to believe she foresaw a reaction that was expected, even if not an appropriate one. The reactions of many Singaporeans online weren't any better than the actions of those responsible for the riot.
Many Singaporeans have been lucky never to have dealt with such chaos in our own backyard, but when the incident occurred in an area dominated by an ethnic minority, from overseas no less, I feared the worst. And true enough, many comments suggest a bias towards the "other". Some were blatantly racist while others merely attempted to justify the racism with anecdotal evidence.