Alcohol behind Singapore`s Little India riots: Committee of Inquiry

The probe into last December`s riots in Singapore, the worst in 40 years, on Monday cited alcohol as the "major contributory factor" that triggered the unrest.

PTI| Last Updated: Jun 30, 2014, 22:20 PM IST

Singapore: The probe into last December`s riots in Singapore, the worst in 40 years, on Monday cited alcohol as the "major contributory factor" that triggered the
unrest.
The riot on the night of December 8 in Singapore`s Little India precinct was sparked by the death of an Indian national in a bus accident and saw violent reaction from a crowd of some 400 migrant workers from South Asia.

It left 54 police and defence officers injured and 23 emergency vehicles damaged.

Citing alcoholism as one of the causes of the riot, the Committee of Inquiry (COI) recommended strict enforcement of rules against public drunkenness and called for alcohol restrictions in hotspots where large crowds typically indulge in heavy drinking, and therefore which are more susceptible to trigger events that could spark a breakdown of public order.

Dissatisfaction among foreign workers with their jobs and living conditions in Singapore was not a cause of the riot, said COI in its report released today.

But there were other causes for the riot, it said.

It was misunderstandings about the accident and response; the culture and psychology of the crowd in addition to alcohol and intoxication.

The COI also found that several misunderstandings about the fatal bus accident that sparked the fracas.

Evidence and eyewitness accounts indicated that the "triggering cause of the riot" was a road traffic accident that killed construction worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu, the COI said that the mob`s "misperception about what followed ignited further fury that led to an escalation in violence and scale of the riot". Sakthivel was an Indian national.

These included wrongly holding the driver of the bus responsible for the death of the worker from India, when investigations later ascertained that the latter had in fact
fallen under the bus by his own doing.

The crowd also misperceived the intentions of the first responders, added the report, and the workers were enraged that public officers were shielding rather than handcuffing the driver and the bus time-keeper.

Interviews with workers revealed that rumours about Sakthivel being pinned under the bus alive - when he had in fact died upon impact - led the crowd into thinking no rescue efforts were being made.

The COI said it spent much of the inquiry looking into the suggestion-put forward by media commentators overseas and locally-that one of the underlying causes of the riot was the allegedly poor employment and living conditions faced by foreign workers here.

But "nearly every foreign worker who the COI spoke to - including those who were involved in the riot - testified emphatically that they were happy with their jobs and living quarters in Singapore", the committee said.

"The COI`s finding is that labour issues were not involved proximately or remotely."
The COI added that "attempts to frame the riot as a racial issue are completely unfounded when compared against the facts".