Little India riot: The aftermath

Singapore's first riot in over 40 years came as a shock to many. The authorities have been quick to work out strategies to bring back confidence and order to the area.

Three Indian nationals were charged in court on Dec 11 with rioting, bringing the total number of accused persons facing charges for Dec 8's melee in Little India to 27 (correct at press time).

This after the first group of 24 were hauled up to court on Dec 10.

Even as a Committee of Inquiry has been set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs to look into the factors that led to the unrest - details of which will be out by the end of this week - a ban on the sale and consumption of alchohol this weekend in the Race Course area has been imposed.

This ban was announced by Second Minister of Home Affairs S. Iswaran.

tabla! spoke to some restaurant owners, residents and a liquor shop owner on the ban. Some welcome the idea of a permanent ban in the area while others are hoping for a different solution.

Residents of the area say they have long faced problems due to the presence of foreign workers on Sundays.

These workers tend to overcrowd the area, make a lot of noise and often leave behind a mess of liquor bottles and beer cans.

"This ban will be a good change for all the residents. We feel that when the foreign workers drink, there is some kind of violence, though not as bad as the one last week," said a resident who lives at Blk 662 Buffalo Road who wanted to be known as Mr Ary.

"On Sundays, residents, especially women and children, do not usually go down due to foreign workers sitting in the playground and void decks.

We do not mind if they drink in open fields or in coffee shops, but they are all over the place. I feel there should be a permanent ban in this whole area," he added.

Not only residents, but businesses in the area welcome the ban too. On Sundays, restaurants such as Jaggi's and Kashmir tend to face a drop in their business by as much as 50 per cent.

Mr Jagwinder Singh, catering manager of Jaggi's in Race Course Road says the number of foreign workers visiting Little India on Sunday has increased tremendously.

"In the past decade, the number of liquor shops in this area has grown."

He says the foreign workers are generally well behaved till the afternoon, but by the evening, they are vomiting and making a mess of the area as they are intoxicated.

"Most of our customers on Sundays are usually foreign visitors, while locals and expats mostly like to come on other days. It is a day when families do not want to bring their children nor do they want to come into Little India," says the 28-year-old.

"The foreign workers also tend to walk in groups across roads, cutting across cars. Hence, fewer people decide to drive in and some decide to boycott this area on Sundays."

Mr Singh adds: "In my view, it should be an alcohol-free zone here on Sundays so that everyone can enjoy Little India."

A similar view was presented by Kashmir Restaurant's manager Rohit Razdan. Mr Razdan says that his business has always been affected on Sundays.

"Many people avoid this area on Sundays. It is an unpleasant sight to see any fighting either verbally or physically and hence families avoid bringing their children. Our main customers on Sundays are tourists or a few local families," says the 42-year-old Singapore permanent resident living here with his family.

"There should be a permanent ban of drinking alcohol on the streets," he adds.

However, not everyone thinks that having a ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol in this area would be beneficial. Instead other alternatives should be explored to solve this issue, they said.

"Liquor is not the cause of the problem, it is a contributing factor. By having a ban on the sales of liquor in this area, it would not be fair to the businesses which are trying to make their earnings, unless the ban is applied throughout Singapore," says technical officer V.R. Veera.

There are many shops along Chander Road that make their living through selling liquor on the weekends. One such shop is New Arasi Trading, owned by Mr Kailasam Sadhasivam.

Mr Sadhasivam, 41, is not in favour of the ban as he makes most of his profits on Sundays where he sells from about $6,000 to $8,000 worth of alcohol to foreign workers, compared to about $3,000 on Saturdays and less than $1,000 on weekdays.

Instead of banning the sale of alcohol in this area, Mr Veera said it would be better for the workers to have a designated place where they can drink.

"If they are not able to buy alcohol from this area, they will buy from somewhere else. Instead, they should have proper places which allow them to gather and socialise," he added.

A Chinese resident who lives at Blk 661 Buffalo Road, who did not wish to be named, was not in favour of a permanent ban, even though he said he has been woken up by the noise the workers make when they congregate below his block. He said: "A permanent ban is not fair to those who sell liquor as this is their business and they need to make money. There should be controlled time periods where liquor can be bought."

Even Ms Serena Krishna, owner of Tulasi Vegetarian Restaurant and Cafe which does not serve alcohol, thinks that many businesses will suffer if there is a long-term ban in place.

"Everyone is doing business here. It would not be fair for restaurants to be banned from serving liquor, where these foreign workers do not go," said Ms Krishna.

"One thing is that there needs to be crowd control. People do not bring their children on Sundays and some are not able to drive out due to the workers walking on the roads."

She suggested a restriction to the number of bottles the workers are allowed to purchase or telling the workers a certain time to leave the place.

"Little India is a happening place on Sundays where everyone should have an equal opportunity to enjoy."

Meanwhile, a video circulating online on the riot shows workers helping police officers and paramedics to escape the mob. A video posted on Facebook on Dec 10 shows rioters pelting the police and paramedics with objects as they fled from an ambulance where they were taking cover. Some workers nearer the ambulance, however, were helping the officers out.

The good samaritans were seen approaching the ambulance amid the chaos and gesturing for trapped paramedics and police officers onboard to flee.

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