Little India riot: Most Singaporeans remain calm and call for restraint

Fresh flowers left at the road divider along Race Course Road on Monday as a blessing for the worker who died.

SINGAPORE - Singaporeans remained largely calm on Monday as they sought to make sense of Sunday's riot.

Some people took the chance to spew racist and xenophobic slurs online against Indians and the foreign workforce in the country, but these were quickly quashed by opposing views.

Instead, many people both online and on the ground called for calm and restraint in the reaction to the rioting.

A typical response was a post by Facebook user A.R. Balamurugan, who noted that video footage showed one of the workers had tried to stop his peers from damaging a vehicle.

"Not all of the nationals were involved in the protest," he said, adding that "only a few instigated the damage, so it is just not wise to stereotype". His post garnered more than 100 likes.

Some Singaporeans went a step further to try and stop potential fault lines from opening.

Technology consultant Adrianna Tan, 28, who goes to Little India several times a week to shop and eat, said she plans to start a free monthly walk there to help dispel fears that Singaporeans may have about the area and its people.

In September, Ms Tan also launched the Culture Kitchen, a roadshow featuring the food, culture and histories of the nations of Singapore's migrant workers.

A group of Singaporeans including Mr Wally Tham, 36, also plan to hand out flowers to migrant workers, residents and shopkeepers in the neighbourhood as a gesture of peace and solidarity.

"We wanted to show our support for the community," the director of a content production firm told The Straits Times.

National Solidarity Party politician Nicole Seah and several others suggested raising funds for the family of the Indian migrant worker who died in the accident that seemed to have sparked the riot.

"It would be great if we could show our solidarity, support and condolences for the deceased and also donate 'white gold' (what the Chinese call funeral expenses) to his family," she wrote in a Facebook post.

 

Migrant worker advocacy groups issued statements that condemned the rioters, but cautioned people against making scapegoats of foreign workers.

Transient Workers Count Too said it was concerned about the online vitriol and xenophobia against foreign workers. "This can only perpetuate a vicious circle of hatred that can lead to more violence and may even cost lives," said president Russell Heng.

The Migrant Workers' Centre said it had obtained details of the worker who died and contacted his employer to offer help, such as making funeral arrangements.

"The events of (Sunday) clearly show that peace and harmony should never be taken for granted," said chairman Yeo Guat Kwang, who is also an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC.

Researchers and academics told The Straits Times that more needs to be done to understand and prevent the causes of the riot.

Sociologist Mathew Mathews said: "It will be important for us to continue to bring the message of tolerance, social cohesion, and good law and order to migrant workers who may come from societies where norms and values may be different from ours."

The Culture Kitchen's Ms Tan added that a brighter spotlight needs to be shone on troubles faced by workers. Reports of their not being paid or, in one extreme example, being left for dead in an alley, may have led to simmering resentment, she said.

All agreed, however, that the culprits have to be brought to justice. The Singapore Business Federation denounced in a statement "the unwarranted violence and blatant lawlessness displayed".

Echoing the views of many, it said: "The images of (Sunday's) incident spread though the social media shattered Singapore's image as a peaceful and harmonious city."

zengkun@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Kash Cheong


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