Differing views on role alcohol played in riot

Mr Solaimalai Krishnan was one of three workers who said it was clear to them that alcohol was behind the escalation of the violence.

THREE foreign workers who saw the riot unfold in Little India, said public intoxication was a key element that led to the mayhem.

A local Tamil group, however, disagreed, saying there could be other aggravating factors for the violence besides alcohol.

"If it was the case... then there should be a riot every weekend," said Mr P. Raveentheran from the Singapore Tamil Community, who was testifying at Monday's Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the unrest in the Indian enclave.

"I spoke to a lot of friends... it's a joke," he added. "If alcohol was the cause, then every weekend there should be a riot."

The Singapore Tamil Community is an online group that focuses on the welfare of all Indians living or working here. They have about 3,900 members.

The group's other representative, Mr M. Govindaraju, told the COI that the situation on Dec 8 was inflamed because first responders to the fatal traffic accident that sparked the riot, did not have the "right approach" when handling the crowd.

"One person got crushed under a bus and those surrounding him were thinking of how to save him," he said. "They wanted, if possible, to move the bus forward, and retrieve the man from underneath (but) the first responders who came on the scene, they chased the crowd away instead of asking them to help."

He said the workers grew rowdy only after their attempt to help their countryman was spurned by rescuers. Many workers from India, he added, also had unpleasant brushes with the law; often being scolded and fined for actions like littering - not an offence in their hometowns - by enforcement officers who were disrespectful and did not speak the same language.

This, he explained, was evident because rioters chose to focus their violence on both the police officers and their vehicles, instead of members of the public.

But when the COI asked how he had come to those conclusions, Mr Govindaraju - who was not at the scene that night - said it was mainly hearsay from members of their community and shopkeepers from Little India - none of whom was willing to give evidence.

Earlier, COI chairman G. Pannir Selvam asked the Singapore Tamil Community to share only information in line with the terms of reference - such as factors leading to the riot - because reports it had submitted covered issues "beyond our power and function".

The three workers who appeared before the COIon Monday said it was clear to them that alcohol was to blame for the escalation of the violence.

Mr Solaimalai Krishnan, 37, from India, said rioters behaved badly because they had been drinking and were angry after seeing their countryman being run over.

It was also not uncommon to see workers "creating trouble" in Little India after having had a few drinks, said a 30-year-old site supervisor from India, who asked not to be named.

Mr Alagarsamy Rajasekar, who has worked here for five years, agreed: "I believe the riot was caused by people who were under the influence of alcohol because my countrymen tend to get unruly when they drink."

The 24-year-old from India witnessed a mob lobbing glass bottles at the bus that ran over and killed his countryman Sakthivel Kumaravelu earlier that night.

"Even in India, they do this: Drink and fight, and they also destroy the cars," he said, adding violence also often breaks out after road accidents, including cases where drivers would get into a tussle. When Mr Selvam asked if they would fight with the police, Mr Alagarsamy said: "Yes, they have. Many people have died."

Two more foreign workers, witnesses from migrant workers group TWC2 and representatives from a construction firm and the Singapore Contractors Association were expected to testify when the public hearing resumed on Tuesday.

asyiqins@sph.com.sg

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