Workers stay in, hang out near dorms

It was not a typical Sunday in Little India last Sunday as migrant workers, particularly those from South Asia, stayed away from their usual weekend haunt.

As expected, many chose - or were ordered by their bosses - to remain in their dormitories to avoid trouble in the wake of the Dec 8 riot in Race Course Road.

Others spent their time near their quarters in areas like Jurong and Jalan Kayu, as an alcohol ban and a suspension of private buses heading to the Indian enclave were in force.

Some 50,000 of them, according to the Migrant Workers' Centre, attended events organised by the centre across the island to celebrate International Migrants Day, which is on Wednesday.

Many usually flock to Little India on Sundays to run errands, shop, eat and drink. But only pockets of workers were spotted there on Sunday, a far cry from crowds that could swell to the tens of thousands on a typical Sunday - the only day off for most of them.

Construction worker Saravana Kumar, 31, one of the few in Little India, was there for a game of cricket with his friends. "We didn't know if we could come but my friend said the police are catching only those who drink," said the Indian national.

Alcohol was banned in the area over the weekend as it is believed to have played a part in the Dec 8 unrest. The Land Transport Authority also suspended 25 private bus services that usually ferry workers there on Sundays.

The measures were meant to let the area recover from last week's violence, in which some 400 South Asian workers turned on police and emergency service officers after a foreign worker was killed in an accident involving a private bus.

Businesses were entertaining mostly local customers Sunday morning. They said their takings had plummeted since the riot, with one claiming that his receipts were down by 70 per cent.

Workers trickled in later but most congregated around Mustafa Centre, avoiding the open fields near Race Course Road, where the fatal accident and riot happened.

Police presence was strong throughout Sunday, with many officers seen conducting checks on people and establishments for breaches of the alcohol ban. But as at 10pm, police said there were no breaches of the alcohol ban detected, and no one was caught for consuming alcohol in public.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, who is an MP for the area, said the crowd was better behaved compared to a normal Sunday. "Speaking to the grassroots, some residents, they are happy about the situation," he said during a visit to the area last night.

"A number of the shopkeepers, especially those who are not selling alcohol, pointed out that they have seen an increase in business patronage from Singaporeans who would otherwise not be coming out on a Sunday night."

Mr Lui said the measures were temporary and there is a need to "look at how we can evolve them to a more sustainable state, whether it is for alcohol, liquor sales and consumption, trips made by private operators and so on".

Some residents living near dormitories and industrial estates had expressed worries that foreign workers avoiding Little India may begin crowding near their homes on Sundays. But the police said it will step up patrols in those areas to "deter and look for any potential public order incidents".

zengkun@sph.com.sg

ameltan@sph.com.sg

roysim@sph.com.sg


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