Little India: Home away from home

Little India: Home away from home
Landscaper Sundaraj Arumugam (left) and site engineer Karthick Muthuraman hail from the same village in Tamil Nadu, India, and they say they like working in Singapore because the pay is good. Little India is a place where they meet friends and unwind, and both say the Sunday riot is not representative of their community.

SINGAPORE - Childhood friends Karthick Muthuraman and Sundaraj Arumugam are leaning against two traffic bollards along Kerbau Street in Little India having a chat on Wednesday night.

It is three days after a riot broke out in the area, in which an estimated 400 people, most of them foreign workers from South Asia, threw stones, rubbish bins and beer bottles lit like fire bombs at police cars and ambulances. The mob left a trail of destruction in the largest display of civil unrest in Singapore since the 1960s.

The last known riot took place on New Year's Day in 1985. Drunken brawls broke out between South Korean and Thai construction workers at two worksites at Hougang Avenue 3 and Ubi Avenue 2. Seven workers were injured.

Arrests and investigations into the cause of the Little India riot continue, but the streets are clean, orderly and quiet now.

Life for these two workers - Indian nationals from the same sleepy village in the city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu - appears unchanged in the immediate aftermath. Mr Sundaraj, 35, is a landscaper entering his 13th year in Singapore, and has worked his way up from being an electrical technician on $400 a month to a landscaping supervisor on $1,800.

He watches Vasantham Central on TV and reads the Tamil Murasu newspaper over kopi every morning, just as many local Indians do. He has even picked up Malay. His friend, Mr Karthick, 29, whom he calls "brother", came to Singapore just four months ago to work as a site engineer at a construction firm.

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