Recently, a traffic accident in Little India (part of) Singapore boiled up to become a riot in the entire nation. This was one of Singapore’s first riots in four decade which highlighted the reliance of the city on foreign workers.
The violence began after a local bus mercilessly ran over a 33-year old Indian national worker, Sakthivel Kuaravelo who died on the spot. The traffic accident sparked off a riot, which engaged over 400 people. In order to control the situation, the police officials arrested 24 Indian nationals and 2 Bangladeshis and a Singaporean resident who were believed to be actively involved in the situation. Also, 52 Indians have been deported from Singapore while 200 others have been issued warnings. Furthermore, out of the 300 police officers who came to control the situation, 22 officers and 5 auxiliary officers were critically injured by the mob.
Moved by the uncontrollable series of actions, Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong issued a statement which emphasized that there was no excuse for such violent and criminal behaviour. He also ordered a Committee of Inquiry too look into the possible reasons for the riot and investigate how the foreign worker congregate areas were being managed by the government.
It is not for the first time that Singapore nationals have expressed discontent over foreign workers, who are believed to be contributing to infrastructure strains and congestions, and wide income inequality in the nation. As a result, a four- year government campaign was also launched to discourage overseas workers from migrating into Singapore.
The 55- year old Singaporean who was driving the bus has been arrested for causing the death of a pedestrian due to negligent driving. Also, the 16 vehicles damaged during the riots were removed in order to ensure smooth movement of traffic. A need has also been expressed to limit the liquor licenses within the Little India area.
Foreign workers make up about 20% of population of nearly 5.3 million. The riot has also brought into limelight the miserable living conditions of foreign workers in Singapore. Large-scale demonstrations, similar to those witnessed during 1964 race riots were seen.
The Statistics Department reports that the city’s income inequality has widened since last year, which might lead to an inflation of 2.5% to 3% in the coming year, making Singapore the third most expensive city for living in Asia.
Apart from levying a ban on sale and consumption of alcohol in the affected areas of Little India, the government has also decided to suspend the shuttle bus service that used to carry the workers from their dormitories, which are located far from the main island.
52 Indians have been deported from Singapore for being involved in December 8 riots and they have been prohibited from ever entering Singapore. Also, the acting Manpower minister Tan Chuan Jin has assured that there were about 3,700 pending employment related disputes recorded last year, which would be settled within a period of thirty days.
The riots are a wakeup call to the Singapore authorities, highlighting the fact that quick measures need to be taken to improve the condition of migrant workers, and not just deport them.