Police too soft on foreign workers in area: Shopkeepers

Police too soft on foreign workers in area: Shopkeepers

A group of shopkeepers in Little India who witnessed the violence unfold on Dec 8 told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) last Friday that the police have been too soft on foreign workers who congregate in the area.

Testifying at the inquiry last Friday, they said that foreign workers who congregate in the area have been getting drunk in public, littering and jaywalking for years.

If the police had been more assertive during their usual patrols, the riot could have been avoided, they suggested.

A chef of a restaurant at Race Course Road, who asked not to be named, told the COI that police should "give troublemakers two tight slaps" and a night in lock-up instead of just warning them when they are caught committing offences.

"Right now, there is no one who is scared there in Little India... The laws in Singapore are very strict, but then together with the laws, the police should also become more strict and firm in dealing with such situations," said the S-pass holder from India through a translator.

This was completely opposite from views raised by migrant worker activists who came forward to testify in previous hearings that they had heard reports of auxiliary police officers in the area cracking down too harshly on foreign workers in Little India.

Mr S. Rajagopal, vice-chairman of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association (Lisha), said there should have been a stronger police presence in the area from the very start.

He and COI member Tee Tua Ba agreed that excessive drinking and massive crowds made for a "volatile situation".

"The riot was waiting to happen... It was a bomb waiting to explode," said the 74-year-old.

Mr Rajagopal, who was in his shop at Kerbau Road on the night of the riot, said he heard some of the rioters shouting "Let's teach them a lesson!" in Tamil.

When committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam asked what that meant, Mr Rajagopal explained that rioters, upon seeing police officers moving off, saw them as weak and wanted to give them a "show of force".

Witnesses said the unrest could have been quelled sooner had the police acted in a more decisive manner from the start.

The chef also said that if police had used lathis, rubber bullets or tear gas, rioters would have stopped.

"But from what I had sensed, the police were completely out of control," he said.

A restaurant owner, who had been standing outside his restaurant as violence raged, heard from onlookers that some rioters had taken off their shirts, drenched them with whisky and set them aflame it an attempt to burn the bus that ran over and killed Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu.

Their attempts failed, but they later set police vehicles on fire, which he felt could have been stopped if police had been tougher.

Mr Rajagopal, who owns a security company, said that if he had a loudhailer, he could have helped calm the rioters.

Said the former superintendent in the Internal Security Department: "So, if I had gone in front and... reminded them, we are all Indians in Serangoon Road and we will help you, why should you do this to us?

"It would have helped them to contain the whole incident. Now, we have a bad name for Little India."

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