Little India Riot COI: On India street culture and 'law of underdog'

CROWDS in India have a tendency of ganging up to take on bullies and a "law of the underdog" may have escalated the violence during the Dec 8 riot.

This was according to a projects director who was born in India and said he often witnessed such altercations in his homeland.

Mr Rintu Chakravarthy, who is now a Singapore citizen, told the Committee of Inquiry on Tuesday that he had experienced several riots when he was growing up.

There was usually a "hierarchy" of reaction where passers-by would gather and gang up on the perceived bully, he added.

"In street culture in India, a pedestrian crossing the road wrongly, if hit by a scooter, the mob would attack the scooter," he said.

"If the scooter is... hit by a car, the mob would attack the car. If the car is hit by a bus, the mob would attack the bus."

This meant the riot was neither pre-meditated nor a result of any pent-up frustration among foreign workers here, but rather an expression of what Mr Chakravarthy calls "the law of the underdog".

The 47-year-old projects director at Lum Chang Building Contractors said such incidents were common in India - where most of the workers in the riot here were from - and could be explained by the mob mentality that night.

"There is this huge wave of sympathy towards a fellow brother or a comrade, and whether the other people know him... it becomes immaterial," he added, stressing that his views were a "personal feeling".

Touching on other matters, Mr Chakravarthy suggested that regulations on noise pollution here could be relaxed to allow for "minimal work" to be done on Sundays and public holidays. This will keep workers occupied as his experience showed many workers were keen to do overtime.

"My general impression is, those workers who come for the first two to three years, they are very keen to make money," he added.

Committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam asked Mr Chakravarthy if Lum Chang retained its workers' passports - a common practice among employers of foreign workers here but one that angers the workers, according to the evidence given by a union representative to the inquiry last week.

Mr Chakravarthy said his company does so to prevent workers from absconding, noting that besides forfeiting a security bond, the firm would suffer a "bad impact" on work permit allocations if an employee was found moonlighting.

But none of the workers from Lum Chang have raised any objections to the practice so far, he said, adding that a worker's passport is promptly returned when the man informs the company of an emergency, a policy that remains even though seven workers have lied in the past and did not return.

"That should not make us pessimistic in depriving the eighth worker of not handing him a passport in an emergency, because his may be a real case," he added.

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