Little India riot: Big bucks...blues if there's a ban

Five years ago, Little India had fewer foreign workers - and fewer shops selling liquor, Mr John Yeo, 55, recalls.

"Things were peaceful then." Today there are 30 shops selling alcohol within a 10-minute walk in Little India, based on a count by The New Paper on Tuesday.

Less than 10 such shops existed back then, said Mr Yeo, owner of the 50-year-old Yeo Buan Heng Liquor Shop at Chander Road.

The economics is simple: More customers (mostly foreign workers) means more shops catering to the demand, up to 40 per cent more such outlets in the last two years, he estimated.

Along Chander Road, seven of 23 shops sell alcohol - on a stretch of a mere 400m. Along Race Course Road, 17 of the 38 shops there sell alcohol.

Some shop owners said they sell as much as $6,000 worth of alcohol every Sunday, and up to $1,000 on weekdays.

Foreign workers make up at least 70 per cent of their customers, they said, adding that these workers tend to go for Indian brands like Kingfisher, Knock Out and Haywards 5000 beers and McDowell's whisky.

"Some workers buy one or two cans, some a minimum of five," said a sales assistant who wanted to be known only as Mr Thiru, 27, at Pradeep International Trading at Buffalo Road.

While Scotch whisky brands like Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker Black Label go for $55 for the 750ml bottle, Indian brands go for $35, said Mr Thiru.

Heineken and Tiger beers are priced from $4, but Indian labels cost $3.50.

Yet, the latter is stronger stuff: Kingfisher and Knock Out beers have 8 per cent alcohol content.

By comparison, both Heineken and Tiger beers contain 5 per cent alcohol. Over at Arasi Trading which sells mainly liquor at Chander Road, owner Sadhasivan Kailasam, 40, said a small number of his customers buy drinks even when they are already drunk.


"But they don't cause trouble in my shop," he said.

Shopkeepers also said they were worried about the impending ban on the selling and consumption of alcohol in the area this weekend.

Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran said on Monday that the ban is a temporary measure to stabilise the situation on the ground.

"It will give the police time to assess the situation, engage stakeholders and then decide on the next appropriate steps to be taken," he said.

Apart from rental woes (he pays $6,000 a month), Mr Kailasam said he had also borrowed about $70,000 and pawned some of his gold to set up his shop in March.

"I make $600 to $700 in sales on weekdays, with a maximum $1,000.

"I've had no appetite the last two days. If I can't do business on Sunday, how can I settle my debt?" he asked.


Drunk Workers Shout, Fight

For residents at Block 661, Buffalo Road, booze-filled Sunday nights are never peaceful.

Retiree Chew Buay Lim, 70, said foreign workers often shout, fight and jaywalk.

"They tend to leave their litter on the field and every Monday morning, cleaners have to clean their mess up," he said.

A housewife, who wanted to be known only as Madam Wee, 60, said several thousand foreign workers gather in the area every Sunday night.

"When they gather at fields and void decks, they get very noisy. But I still go out - I have to go about my life."


Food seller, Madam Chen Mei Ling, 61, said she is sometimes unable to sleep due to the noise.

"I tell my 80-year-old mother to stay at home because it's always so crowded downstairs.

"I'm afraid she may get pushed and fall as many of them get drunk at night," she said.

A retired civil servant who wanted to be known only as Mr peh, 66, said he tells his wife and four children to be careful whenever they return home on a Sunday night.

"We try to avoid leaving the house then. Fights are common," he said.

Get The New Paper for more stories.