Lathi: A stick for crowd control

The Committee of Inquiry into the Little India riot raised the question of whether the Singapore police should be equipped with the lathi, which is commonly used in India to handle rioters and unruly crowds.

What it is: A long, heavy bamboo stick of varying length with a blunt metal tip.

Its origins: The lathi has long been used in the traditional South Asian martial art of lathi khela, and the Hindi proverb "jiski lathi uski bhains" - which roughly translates as "He who wields the stick controls the buffalo" - attests to its long history in the region. Award-winning film Gandhi and other Bollywood movies show the lathi in use since the time when India was under British rule.

Who uses it now: Police in India use it primarily for crowd control. A Times of India report says that the police lathi comes in two sizes - a 60-90cm piece made of bamboo or cane used in central and southern India, and a 1.5m wooden stick studded with metal that is more common in the north-east region. A "lathi charge" is commonly used by Indian police to disperse rioters or unruly crowds.

What it can do: Lathi blows can be very painful and even fatal, particularly if aimed at the head.

Its history in Singapore: It has never been used here, said Mr Lionel de Souza, a 71-year-old retired police officer who joined the force in 1961 and was one of the officers who tackled the riots in the 1960s.


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