Soul-searching needed on first reactions: NGO chief

Soul-searching needed on first reactions: NGO chief
Ms Mathi said initial reactions to the violence ranged from "being bigoted to being compassionate", with some labelling groups of foreign workers as a mob.

SINGAPOREANS should do some soul-searching on whether some of the initial responses to the riots showed latent prejudice against guest workers here, said the president of human rights group Maruah, Ms Braema Mathi.

Ms Mathi was sharing her views yesterday with the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Dec 8 riot in Little India.

Foreign workers are here to stay, she added, and a healthy and open approach must be developed to deal with this reality, including at the level of schools.

Taking the committee back to the immediate days following the violence, Ms Mathi said reactions to the violence ranged from "being bigoted to being compassionate", with some labelling groups of foreign workers as a mob.

"We cannot fluctuate from a moment of dehumanising them, and then suddenly... we humanise the person," she told the inquiry. "It has to be consistently borne from a value system."

The law to enforce public order that was subsequently implemented in Little India, was also a case of "too fast, too quick, to quickly put it all on alcohol", said Ms Mathi, who asked what this signalled to migrant workers.

Instead, she recommended that frontline officers who deal with foreign workers regularly be given soft-skills training, such as an understanding of South Asian cultural norms, language and behaviour.

She cited the example of an incident that happened in January at Rex Cinema, which is located near Little India.

She said police officers responding to a case then had used the word "dey" (Hey, in Tamil) to address the crowd of South Asian foreign workers, rather than "thambi" (younger brother) or "annai" (older brother).

Some 150 angry Indian movie-goers had refused to leave the compound that night, after a Tamil movie's premiere was postponed.

Some had been workers who had taken the day off specially to catch the movie.

"I think the guys in uniform will be the most important folks, the most neutral folks, to help us in bridging (communities) because they are walking the streets every day."

 
 

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