30 recall Little India riot in new book

When photographer Zakaria Zainal went to Little India the day after the riot there a year ago, he was trying to make sense of how things had spiralled out of control in a neighbourhood he always thought was safe.

"I thought the best way was to ask people who were in the area what they saw and heard," said Mr Zakaria, 29.

He pieced together the stories of those living and working along Race Course Road, where a commotion among foreign workers had erupted into Singapore's first riot in more than 40 years.

Among them were the owner of an alcohol shop along Race Course Road, a restaurant staff member at a nearby restaurant and a worker from Tamil Nadu.

On Dec 8 last year, a foreign worker died under the wheels of a private bus, sparking the riot by about 300 men. Fifty- four responding officers and eight civilians were hurt, and 23 emergency vehicles were damaged, including five that were torched.

The eyewitness accounts and photographs of the 30 individuals have been condensed into a book, Riot Recollections, which was launched yesterday, ahead of the one- year anniversary of the riot.

Mr Zakaria roped in writer Prabhu Silvam, who also wanted to hear what those affected by the violence had to say, to help him out with the interviews.

"People tend to remember only the images of the burnt or overturned ambulances, but humans were involved too and we wanted to unearth the stories that probably never made it to print," said the 25-year-old who works in a publishing firm.

Both men pounded the streets in Little India almost every day for more than a month, and approached about 50 people.

In the end, only 30 agreed to be interviewed.

Mr Zakaria said: "Initially, they were a little cagey but opened up eventually when they realised that their stories added value to the narrative."

While the 80-page book is not a blow-by-blow account of what happened that night, Mr Zakaria hopes the personal stories will resonate with readers.

Riot Recollections will be available in major bookstores from tomorrow, and costs $22.23 before GST.


This article was first published on December 8, 2014.
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