Riot police didn’t fire a shot, but propaganda artillery in full barrage

Just like what happened in the days following the Chinese bus drivers’ strike November last year, the government is bringing out the artillery to pound Singaporeans’ minds with their preferred framing of the riot that occurred in Little India 8 December 2013: It’s wanton mayhem, monstrous criminality, pure and simple. The small riot (blown up big for its usefulness as bogeyman) is entirely a law and order issue. No sociological enquiry should be entertained, the message insistently says, especially any that asks questions whether the prior behaviour of the the ruling class (both government and business owners) contributed to the state of mind of the underclass.

It won’t be long before anyone who asks such questions will be accused of “excusing” and “condoning” rioting, and cast as a fifth-column threat to Singapore’s prosperity and stability. “Prosperity” and “stability” are the preferred terms for “money-mindedness” and “political control”.

Let me say this here: Of course people who can reliably (and I stress: reliably) be proven to have committed acts that endangered others’ (e.g. first responders’) lives and safety by throwing objects at them, or damaged property (e.g. the bus involved in the fatal accident), or arson (the torching of police cars and an ambulance), should face the judicial consequences of their acts.

But just as someone driven by penury and hunger to steal merits enquiry into why he was driven thus, a rioting incident too is a good launch pad for a similar enquiry into conditions faced by foreign workers. We shouldn’t pre-judge if these conditions led directly to riot behaviour. As I mentioned in my previous essay, a riot is a complex series of events, committed by many parties, each with slightly different, personal motivations. It cannot be credibly reduced to any simple explanation, and I honestly do not think that whatever employment conditions faced by foreign workers led directly to the incident. But in the same vein, for the government to insistently dismiss any possibility that employment conditions — or for that matter, the resentment built up by harassment by auxiliary police in Little India — had a part to play in workers’ frame of mind is precisely the kind of simple reduction that intelligent people know is more propaganda than reason.

If not for the fact that a man and breadwinner died at the start of the incident, I would be amused how the government’s  attitude mirrors everything I have been saying about the attitudes and methods of some, bad-apple, employers. The government insists on framing the incident as a form of unwarranted insubordination: a challenge to their control of the streets and society, an insult to their status as authority, a refusal of the lower class to know and keep to its place. The response shall be nothing but the big stick. Expecting the government to reflect on its own prior actions is not only out of the question, it is yet another form of insubordination: How dare you even suggest that we should shoulder any fraction of the blame?

Low-wage workers come up against such attitudes in their supervisors and bosses all the time. To speak up is to step out of your place in the hierarchical order of the workplace. To suggest that management can do any wrong is a form of blasphemy. Reprisal shall be summary and swift. Sack the worker. Send him home. Use goon-like repatriation agents to get the “job” done, if need be.

So I ask again: Might it be possible that the state of labour relations in Singapore takes the cue from the state of government-people relations?

* * * * *

Road crew repairing road where the accident, riot and arson occurred

Road crew repairing road where the accident, riot and arson occurred

What is particularly sickening is how the propaganda machine is highlighting how the deceased, Sakthivel Kumaravelu, was inebriated when he tried to board the private bus for the journey back to his dormitory slightly after 9 pm, and how he was so far gone from self-control that he lowered his trousers. This exercise in character assassination is being used to subtly communicate how unjustified the riot was, and on the flip side, how justified the authorities will be in making an example of the arrested men.

I see it differently. I see the state machine dehumanising a man to serve its less-than-honourable aims. By the same token, it can be said that when bystanders reacted strongly (and unfortunately violently) to the death of Kumaravelu, however drunk he was, they were reacting with concern for Kumaravelu’s humanity. That said, this must be balanced against the reported attacks on the bus driver and bus co-ordinator (sometimes reported as the “bus assistant” or “ticket-seller”). But even so, it strikes me as a poignant contrast between an uncaring state that callously resorts to character assassination as a tool and a group of people who reacted with emotional concern.

However drunk Kumaravelu was, nobody deserves to die.

* * * * *

Speaking of alcohol, a ban is being imposed on all alcohol sales in the vicinity this weekend. This comes after Lui Tuck Yew, minister for transport and lead member of parliament for Moulmein-Kallang Group Representation Constituency, which encompasses Little India, speculated that the riot was fuelled by drink.

“In my mind it was quite evident that alcohol could have been a contributory factor,” said Mr Lui, who is also the Member of Parliament for the Moulmein ward in the Moulmein-Kallang GRC.

He also noted also that rioters hurled beer bottles and cans at police cars and ambulances during the incident…

— Today newspaper, 9 December 2013, Little India riots: Booze could have been a factor, says Lui. Link.

Again more irony. The government says there is “no evidence” that employment grievances factored into people’s state of mind, and should not be taken into consideration. But other than seeing beer bottles and cans used, there is no evidence that alcohol factored into their state of mind either. In many parts of Singapore, if you want to reach for an object to throw, e.g. against a menacing wild animal, you’d quite likely find a handy beer can in a nearby trash bin.  This is flimsy reasoning.

On a different night, a peaceful street in Little India

On a different night, a peaceful street in Little India

More to the point is the fact that beer sales and drinking have been going on every night for years and years in the area. Let’s say twenty years multiplied by 365 nights a year: that’s 7,300 nights. In 7,300 nights, how many riots have occurred? One.

Scientifically, if the supposed causative condition occurred 7,300 times, and the supposedly caused event occurred once, how strong is your cause-effect argument? If rain fell 7,300 times and during one storm your guitar string broke, would people laugh if you said it snapped because it was raining that very moment?

Moreover, there are countless corners of Singapore where people gather to drink in public. Every suburb has a coffeeshop (or two) that stays open late into the night keeping patrons tipsily happy. How many riots have occurred in those places?

The argument about employment conditions has arguably better evidential support. Repeatedly, we have had workers massing in front of the Manpower ministry, climbing cranes in protest, downing tools, and running away from their obsessively controlling employers (sometimes with tragic consequences, e.g. when domestic workers try to escape by climbing out of windows and falling to their deaths).

Lui’s quick reach for the alcohol explanation comes uncomfortably close to the stereotypical view, held by many Singaporeans, that Indians love their drink. Beneath that view is a racist, accusatory charge of moral weakness. I find it disturbing that Lui’s speculation, even if unconnected with such a view which he may not share, is finding resonance, because so many Singaporeans do hold such an opinion.

Yet more irony: Government machinery is going all out to stress that there is no racial dimension to this affair — I don’t think so either — but the explanation they are frantically waving is coloured by racism!

The state response, banning all alcohol sales in the area, is not only poorly founded, it is also excessive. There are people who enjoy their beer or whiskey, the vast majority of whom do so responsibly and moderately. For foreign workers especially, it is one of the few pleasures they can enjoy after a hard week’s work before they go back to their cramped dormitories. There aren’t a lot of recreational amenities or even welcoming spaces for them. Sitting with friends by the kerbside, chatting over a drink or two is what they can rightfully look forward to each week.

This ban, with its killing a mosquito with a shotgun approach, is disproportionate. Compared to the thousands, maybe tens of thousands who were having a drink that Sunday night, there were just about 50 to 100 (at the very most, judging from eye-witness videos) who took part in the violence. And now these tens of thousands are going to be penalised for something they did not do?

Politicians the world over need to be seen doing something in response to events. Ours are no different. But wouldn’t it be better if they did something right, e.g. soul-searching, than going around blasting propaganda, shouting at dissenters, assassinating the character of a deceased and punishing the innocent?

70 Responses to “Riot police didn’t fire a shot, but propaganda artillery in full barrage”

  1. 1 niki 11 December 2013 at 12:26

    Isn’t this the PAP that the 60% voted for? The PAP is at fault. But who voted them in?

  2. 3 Ah Lek 11 December 2013 at 12:26

    Foreign workers provided CHEAP labor and this keeps business costs down and this of course makes big business happy. A narrative which suggests the riot was caused by pent up fury at worker exploitation will imply the need to improveme salaries and in living conditions for workers. And this will not make big business happy.

    • 4 Anon mczm 11 December 2013 at 21:34

      Let’s see this from another angle – Improving salaries will mean more disposable income for workers to spend in Little India. This will make big business happy.
      As it is, businesses in Little India are now affected by the riot.

  3. 5 Jason 11 December 2013 at 12:30

    That’s why I stop buying the SPH news propaganda sheet. I rather read blogs which are more factual, accurate and analytical than the bullshit dished out by political anal-ysts.

    • 6 Jake 14 December 2013 at 09:12

      I’ve just stopped mine 🙂 It’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. Reading it on you iPad or other devices defiles your pixels. Hahaha.

  4. 7 Sam 11 December 2013 at 13:21

    “To suggest that management can do any wrong is a form of blasphemy. Reprisal shall be summary and swift. Sack the worker. Send him home. Use goon-like repatriation agents to get the “job” done, if need be.”
    This the crux of all that is wrong with this government and the various sticks that it employs to get its way: law on scandalizing of the judiciary, excessive administrative powers given to the ministers instead of judges, detention without trial, no ombudsman, control of the msm, control of the social media, state-owned companies, non-transparency of sovereign funds, and the list goes on.

  5. 8 sonny 11 December 2013 at 13:26

    So far, from what I read that there is no official report to highlight that 24 of those involved and caught are drunk themselves, so how can alcohol be the cause of the riot ? If they are drunk, surely the state media will waste no time to highlight that to support the Liu’s remark on the alcohol cause.

  6. 10 Kesamet 11 December 2013 at 15:07

    There is a good and sympathetic report on the deceased in today’s ST.
    It also mentions that the ‘time setter’ (I think that’s the term they use), or rather bus coordinator, was not on board the bus (as erroneously reported in the Mon e Tue editions).
    Still many more open questions on the unfolding of events. Your photo of the accident panel above suggests the accident occurred at 9.22 – not sure why I failed to see this reported in the Mon, Tue, Wed editions.
    At least some more clarity on the accident, as the deceased followed the bus and apparently got under the left back wheel when the bus turned into the aptly named Race Rd. Specialists on traffic accidents could probably provide a more or less definitive account on the physics and mechanics of the accident (perhaps a professional growth branch for Sgp and the region?).
    Still, quite a few open questions on the sequence of events.

  7. 11 Terence 11 December 2013 at 16:12

    EPIDEMIC – Exploited People In Distress Earning Meagre InCome

    A drunken brawl involves some broken bottles, overturned tables, maybe 10 to 20 persons and scatters at the first sound of a siren. Drunks do not overturn and set fire to police cars in a stupor. These people are angry.

  8. 12 DP 11 December 2013 at 18:12

    What next after the ban on alcohol, revoking and non renewal of WPs or even looking for other source of cheap labour.South Indians workers here are worrried and concerned . Employers have already started using this threats after listening to the goverenment;s rhetoric

  9. 13 Eternal 11 December 2013 at 18:49

    When I first read LHL’s FB post in the morning after, I had thought that the riot was over employment issues because that is a long-standing, underlying unhappiness that hasn’t gone away.
    After catching up with some main stream news, I didn’t think that “riot” is a suitable word because it was obvious that the chaos was not premeditated.
    Also, throwing stones (or what term they used today? “hardened cement” or something), beer bottles, beer cans, and railings (although alarming), do not constitute to “weapons”. I think in the midst of a chaos, the workers might have just used whatever portable items to throw; unfortunately, with the intention to cause mayhem, injury, harm and damage.
    May I ask, IF the people had behaved dangerously under the influence of alcohol, doesn’t it then lessen the liability?
    And lastly, it was very cruel to report about the victim and his trousers. Yes, he was drunk and got himself killed. Why shift the heat over to a dead man.

  10. 14 Duh 11 December 2013 at 19:02

    By Mr Lui’s insinuations, then if there was a riot due to a ‘staring’ incident, then we should all be blind because our sight might be a contributing factor.

  11. 15 CC 11 December 2013 at 21:47

    Lui : Alcohol could be a contributing factor.

    Shanmugam : No evidence to suggest FWs are unhappy with G or employers.

    COI : Thank you for the forgone conclusion.

    Remember how they treated Dinesh’s death in the prison? Are we supposed to think they will treat a FW’s death in a foreign land any better?

  12. 16 ling 11 December 2013 at 21:59

    My heart sank when I read a comment that there is no evidence that the workers involved were unhappy with their employers or the government.

    Is it denial or are we so removed from the reality after being in our ivory towers for too long?

    Jesus said ‘The poor you will always have with you’. Perhaps he was not referring to a persistent and therefore acceptable social norm, but that there are always us who will oppress and take advantage of others, and cause them to be poor.

    Are we now so blind sided that we congratulate ourselves, say ‘well done, we have kept law and order, we have banned alcohol, we have locked them up, sent them home’. After that, we go back to our ivory towers. If so, we might have lost our soul.

    There is an article about the Debts and Dreams of migrant workers here

    Can we put our hand on our heart, look at the migrant workers in the eye and say ‘we have treated you well, I am sure you have no reason to be unhappy’.

  13. 17 Jeff Dickey 11 December 2013 at 23:11

    This, in the company town that prides itself on the principle that “the truth is no defence”. Of course the riot was political, and to pretend (and papagandise!) otherwise is to guarantee that there will be more unrest, not less. The more force is brought to bear, the more citizens afflicted with something resembling a “conscience” will notice, and ask questions. Those questions may not be out loud, but they will be there, hanging in the atmosphere like pollution from a poorly-maintained SBS bus. And if those questions aren’t answered satisfactorily, comprehensively and transparently, look for the exodus of talented, hard-working Singaporeans to grow from its current steady stream to a raging torrent that no Population White Paper, no daily planeloads of instant citizens from the homeland of the carefully-maintained ethnic majority, will be able to staunch for long.

    Do we want a Singapore for all her people? Or do we want the Lee dynasty to take us from First World to the Third that we never have been in since before Independence?

    Majulah Singapura!

    • 18 markx 13 December 2013 at 13:56

      Alas laddie, ye know not what ye do. Say farewell to old Singapore, then. For p’raps Ye’ll soon be movin’ on… some things are p’raps best not said…. especially by foreigners.

      My two cents worth? The author above, and many in here are leaping to their own conclusions, more so than is the government.

  14. 19 KAM 11 December 2013 at 23:30

    I may be crucified for saying this, but I still do not see any concrete evidence linking the riot (reaction to the bus killing the man) and employment or housing conditions of these Indian foreign workers.
    TBH, it looks quite correct to say Alex, you are speculating and taking an opportunity to hose down the government or authorities about the bad conditions of these migrant workers. We all can emphatise with the bad state of their working contracts and bullying tactics of police or employers, but sadly I still cannot find any evidence (and neither can you provide) from behind the keyboard.
    As much I would like to support you and your cause, I ask you to be wary of the mold you are casting yourself into, by insisting your speculations and assumptions as “truth” or “fact”.
    Good luck.

    • 20 melvin 12 December 2013 at 00:21

      wow, big words. So what is your name and address so that we can put you on a cross? Anyway, Alex is just giving a hypothesis. Did he classify this the “hard truth”? You can take it or leave it. Nobody is forcing you. Why dont you direct the question to LKY? His words are the hard truths right? Do you agree? Evidence? Did you ask him to prove to you? Or did you swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Can you prove 1 +1 = 2? Good luck looking for proof.

    • 21 SN 21 December 2013 at 12:44

      I am inclined to agree with KAM. To put the point more broadly, I disagree with commentators who wish to make the riot a metaphor for what is wrong and undesirable about Singapore – in this case the mistreatment of foreign workers.

      The true metaphor for what is wrong and undesirable about Singapore is not the riot, but the racist and xenophobic reaction that we witness in its aftermath.

      P/S: melvin, you might do yourself a world of good by taking things (perhaps even yourself) less seriously. As we say in this part of the world, take a chill pill.

  15. 22 KAM 11 December 2013 at 23:32

    …and please use the same yardstick before someone even suggest that I am pro-PAP or pro-government. Far from it. :p

    • 23 Tan Tai Wei 12 December 2013 at 10:49

      Alex, rather, is concerned that government is ruling out employment conditions, etc., as possible contributive factors. At most, he is advancing such factors as probable, and asking the “commission of enquiry” not to exclude them. It’s government that seems to him to be “speculating” towards the exclusion, without duly considering.

    • 24 Lye Khuen Way 15 December 2013 at 08:33

      Kam, granted you are neither pro-PAP nor pro-Government . When LKY insisted that those rounded up in Operation Coldstore were Marxists, were there any concrete proofs ? Not that I am aware of.
      The PM is still denying any evidence of discontent among these migrant FM. The sand are sure thick and heavy.
      Not the least surprised as most of us had given up on these over-paid political leaders whose only objectives beside accumulating more wealth is to fix the opposition.

  16. 25 Ben 11 December 2013 at 23:33

    Some of the construction workers are paid $400 per month with a levy of $450 to the gahment ! An increment of 15 cents to 40 cents after 4 years of service.10 pax into a 6 pax room is very common.Package Meal at $1.50 consist of just rice and watery Veg Curry.Inhumane,but Yet they labor on for the family’s debt back home.They are trapped knowing if they go to seek redress,,just like their friends,they will be put on a merry go round.If alcohol is a big issue,the Dormitory operator would have addressed it with eviction long ago lest they are being blacklisted by the police for too many 999 fight calls!

    • 26 ftg 14 December 2013 at 15:57

      For more than twenty years, I have been asking what has the Government do with the levy collected (at least $2 billion a year)? Why was not some of the collection diverted to those worker for their welfare?

  17. 27 George 11 December 2013 at 23:33

    The immediate trigger is the accident itself and what transpired that led to the smashing of vehicles and subsequent torching of police and SCDF vehicles.

    The UNDERLYING REASONS may be multi-factorial – disenchantment with employment conditions, emotions relating to the death, impaired judgement and emotional control from the effects of alcohol, mob mentality brought over from home country, etc are all possible contributory factors.

    • 28 Anon Lwry 12 December 2013 at 09:26

      “Mob mentality brought over from home country…”

      That was exactly what I commented in Alex’s other earlier piece. It’s culture, not race or alcohol.The relationship with pay, working conditions etc. is also tenuous. The transient workers have been congregating in Little India for many years without any trouble.

      There are hundreds of drunks in Clarke/Boat Quays on weekend nights. How many riots have occured there?

  18. 29 John DVS 12 December 2013 at 00:08

    I wonder why till now the gov hasn’t reported the monetary lost in this riot, since they always like to tag a $$$ value for disastrous situation. I think the ambulance which was burnt is easily in the tune of $100k with all the expensive medical apparatus. Hopefully I don’t have to pay more tax next year.

  19. 30 Rabbit 12 December 2013 at 00:48

    i fell off my chair again when shanmugam said there was no evidence suggesting those rioters were unhappy with their employers or the govt. With such note, it is conclusive that COI will not accept any reason of employer causing pent up grief or MOM being dragged in to discuss workers’ complaint statistics.. Thus the COI will be narrowed to just the finding of alcohol, jaywalkers that led to bus accident and thus the spark off riot. This is called thinking within the box and not outside it, otherwise it will strain the mind of our million dollars ministers who wanted to close this “isolated” case as quickly as possible and bring the rioters to task. Everything will be back to normal leaving TWC2 to continue solving the workers’ woes for many years to come until, who knows when, the govt will wake up to another “night light” and realised they left something unsolved behind.

  20. 31 adam 12 December 2013 at 02:27

    Drunk people tend not to have the capacity to riot, don’t you think?

  21. 32 KAM 12 December 2013 at 02:35

    I dare to believe (with all my limited ground knowledge) that this was an incident sparked by an Indian (south India) mentality where the people will attack the “killer” of a road accident.

    Many moons ago, while I contemplated motorcycling in India, experienced bike tour guides told me that in the event of a road accident (no matter who was at fault), to pick up the bike and get the hell out of there because the rider (vehicle operator) will usually be hamtam to death by the angry mob.

    This has totally nothing to do with housing or employment conditions. This is rather the “common practice” of local exercising their rights to punish the “killer” or troublemaker.

    I am more inclined to believe that this was the root cause of the riot. When police vehicles appear (as in South India and most part of India), the agitated mob (numbers rule), will even go against the authorities (not that they are SPF or Indian Police, but just because they represent the “masters”) and that they attack the Police. And yes, with alcohol and numbers in people, people can be emboldened and do crazy stuff.

    Banning alcohol is, however, a knee jerk reaction. I expect nothing less from our incompetent govt and police force. That part, I totally agree.

    Case closed.

    • 33 Sgcynic 14 December 2013 at 15:57

      I may be crucified for saying this, but you allege Alex’s write-up based on his ground knowledge as “speculating and taking an opportunity to hose down the government or authorities”. On the other hand, you are free to “I dare to believe (with all [your] limited ground knowledge)”?

      This has totally nothing to do with housing or employment conditions. (Where’s your supporting evidence?) This is rather the “common practice” of local exercising their rights to punish the “killer” or troublemaker. (How definitive is your conclusion?)

      Just trying to use the same yardstick here…

  22. 34 yuen 12 December 2013 at 03:04

    There are different aspects of “stop it happening again”; you obviously want to look at more fundamental, “sociological”, issues; the police, by deliberately going to the worker dorms, questioning thousands of occupants, bringing more than 100 into stations for detailed investigation, and identifying/charging a few of them, is giving out a message “dont you dare to join riots; we will pursue you”; both kinds of investigations are necessary; they just have different urgencies

  23. 35 john lim 12 December 2013 at 07:20

    There is literally no view on the 24 arrested side of the story, making the PAP stories even more questionable

  24. 36 Lye Khuen Way 12 December 2013 at 07:37

    I cannot help but remind all that our PM was from the Artillery ! Big Guns , loosely translated from the dialects, no ?

  25. 37 vt 12 December 2013 at 08:14

    Why is the government I.e. PAP ALWAYS at fault no matter what happens????

    • 38 JG 13 December 2013 at 02:19

      “No matter what happens” ??
      Hello .. a riot just happened!!!

    • 39 for our future's sake 13 December 2013 at 10:47

      Because they really are!

    • 40 Billy Joe 13 December 2013 at 13:01

      Because govt tend to disclaim responsability, never apologise and always have a smart answer to any suggestion that they might be responsible for some of the ills which plague society.

      As a reaction people will therefore tend to blame govt when bad things happen!

    • 41 yuen 13 December 2013 at 13:21

      actually that is normal – 2600 years ago AEsop already had the story of father son and donkey – politicians need to be motivated to work for people’s welfare despite this

      maybe some politicians prefer to be in opposition because of this

    • 42 Duh 14 December 2013 at 01:19


      I think there is a typo in your response and it should be — why is it that the PAP is NEVER at fault no matter what happens?

      Hell, even when there is a flood, God, rather poor planning from the PAP, is blamed instead.

      According to the PAP, 8 million population projection/target/worse case scenario is correct, it was just the way it was communicated.

      The PAP is never ever wrong. LHL admitted if they didn’t get things right, they will try harder. One thing he didn’t mention then was – there wasn’t anything the PAP had ever done wrong. So there is no reason to try ‘harder’.

      If you want to create an autocratic or dictatorial style of governance then EVERYTHING wrong becomes your fault – bcos you had total control. Total control comes with responsibility too – the PAP want the power with total control but is just too chicken to face the music of their incompetence.

    • 43 Jake 14 December 2013 at 09:08

      Because they claim that all that is good with Singapore is their credit. You can’t claim all the credit without also taking all of the blame.

    • 44 Sgcynic 14 December 2013 at 15:59

      Because they always only claim the credit no matter what happens…

      Eg. economic growth, their credit, downturn, external factors.

    • 45 Cynics 15 December 2013 at 17:36

      When a govt credits itself for singapore’s stability and good security and hence rewards itself handsomely, then when some serious events happen that threatens stability and security how can the govt then claim it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with it. Illogical. You cannot claim credit while the going is good and when going gets tough you shake off accountability.
      Just my 2 cents.

  26. 46 Hardeepak 12 December 2013 at 08:51

    Unhappy at work? Probably. Alcohol? Likely. Cultural? Has a role to play. Social resentment? Possibly. All these create a potent cocktail which is waiting to explode. You need to address all of these issues.

  27. 47 skponggol 12 December 2013 at 09:37

    Although it may be sickening to report that that the victim was drunk and had indecently exposed himself, it may be even more sickening to the driver and the female coordinator if this information is not clarified.

    People may assume that the victim was kicked off the bus over a petty issue and may even blame the driver and the female coordinator for being racist and discriminating against foreign workers as suggested by India’s Sun TV.

    This may spark an angry backlash in India against Singapore as well as attacking Singaporeans living there. It may also anger foreign workers here and cause further riot. So this news, though sickening, helps to quell any potential incidents. The driver and female coordinator have to be justified for asking the victim to leave the bus and not over any minor or bigotry discrimination which had cruelly caused the victim to be killed.

    The foreign workers have made important contribution to Singapore. So are the driver and the female coordinator, who have also served the foreign workers well by fetching them weekly to Little India. One also has to appreciate their contributions. How many locals would actually want to serve the foreign workers? Everybody is feeling sorry for the victim, but who is feeling sorry for the bus driver, who owns the bus and depends his sole livelihood on the bus which is now so badly damaged, and who was almost lynched and beaten to death and had to hide under a stinking rubbish bin to save his life? And who is feeling sorry for the female coordinator who dares to work in an environment where the customers are almost all foreign male speaking in unfamiliar language and some probably drunk, and who was almost lynched to death as well?

    If the media were to suppress this news, it would be very sickening to the driver and female coordinator, making them to appear very petty and perhaps bigotry, and who should bear the main responsibility of this riot. And who would want to serve the foreign workers in the future if the public were to sympathise more with the foreign workers and lesser with the local workers?

    Moreover, when one hear that the male victim had indecently exposed himself in front of the female coordinator, one has to feel embarrassed as well as outraged for the female coordinator. But it is now clarified that the female coordinator was not on the bus when the incident took place. Nevertheless, one has to feel unfair and sorry for the female coordinator who has to work in an environment where male customer has indecently exposed himself. If this news is deliberately suppressed to protect the integrity of the victim, it would also be sickening to the female coordinator, her husband, her family, and most women. Should the right and modesty of a woman be sacrificed in order to protect the integrity of the victim?

    Also, this news also explains why the driver ask the victim to get off the bus as he also has to protect the modesty of the female coordinator who was also working there. If everybody on the bus were men, it may be too harsh for the driver to ask the victim to leave simply because of indecent exposure. But if there is one single female worker or passenger on the bus, then it is the responsibility for the driver to remove the victim so as to prevent any outrage of modesty against woman. In a way, the driver was also protecting the victim as he could be arrested and punished if he were to indecently expose himself again, this time in front of the female coordinator.

    And who can question the bus driver his right to remove anyone who is drunk and removing his trouser, whether local or foreigner, whether the bus is full or empty. He is the owner of his one and only bus, and has to bear the full burden if any drunken man were to vomit or urinate or fight inside his bus.

    To show understanding and sympathy for foreign workers is good. But to do so at the expense of local workers may backfire and cause sickening backlash against them among the locals.

  28. 48 The 12 December 2013 at 09:42

    Sham-mugan visited the workers for a few hours and concluded that they are happy with their working environment. What did he expect them to say? In fact, Sham had earlier already concluded that work grievance is not a factor. Are the gov ministers in denial? And their minions echoing their masters.

  29. 49 Peter Tan 12 December 2013 at 12:00

    One thing i observe is the business in the area were NOT touched during the riot. Only government vehicles were impacted. So what does that tell us??

    Time for us to put on the thinking cap!

  30. 50 beowulf222 12 December 2013 at 13:37

    I have noticed this trend, too. Quite worrying. The absence of any discussion of the sociological issues is sad.

  31. 51 Robin 12 December 2013 at 13:49

    Whatever you said is based on conjecture also. To suggest that there must be some grievances other than the accident on that day is also pure guess work.

    People riot for all sorts of reasons. In fact, some people riot when they are happy, eg, when they win a football match or championship. Overall, I believe alcohol is the main factor and am just surprised something big didn’t occur earlier when you have a huge crowd congregating and drinking. Also, where sports places eg football grounds have banned alcohol, there is then much less crowd trouble.

    I don’t think anybody is finding excuses or stereotyping. If anything, they are stating the obvious where alcohol is concerned IMHO.

  32. 52 Daniel 12 December 2013 at 15:44

    Just a thought- wouldn’t it have been a manipulative distortion of the truth if the ST had NOT reported about the victim dropping his trousers? It’s a material and substantial fact that would have emerged when reporters interviewed eyewitnesses to reconstruct the sequence of events leading up to the riot.

    In 2005, the Australians covered up the criminal cases pending against drug mule Nugyen Tuong Van’s brother, to prevent opportunistic character assassination. To play the devil’s advocate, the truth is the truth, and that was manipulative, even if for the right end.

    • 53 yawningbread 12 December 2013 at 21:49

      I’m not saying that the report of the deceased having been drunk and dropping his pants should not have been reported; I am saying this nugget should not have been played up the way it has been in the mainstream media . . . doing so strongly reeks of trying to make it deflect attention from something else.

      • 54 The 14 December 2013 at 10:34

        The presstitutes are at it again. For 5 days after the riot, it was reported as 400 rioters. From today, it is now reported as 400 DRUNK rioters. Wow, the ministers suggested that alcohol may be a factor in the riot, and now the press is taking the cue and labeling the rioters as drunks.

        They are drunk. They are happy with their pay and living and working conditions. So, the results of the COI are out. No need to waste time and money on the COI.

        Official COI findings and recommendations:
        1) Rioters are drunk.
        2) Foreign workers are happy with their pay and working conditions.
        3) Recommend banning alcohol in Little India – problem solved once and for all.

        And they live happily ever after …..

  33. 55 Pinkie Pants 12 December 2013 at 16:14

    Once again, if Singaporeans want the real news they have to to get it from Alex Au. No wonder the PAP are trying to shut him up.

  34. 56 Jaberwocky 12 December 2013 at 16:36

    AiYAH, Too Late ALready, The Road ALready Repaired. All Evidences Buried.
    ConcLusion : – the rioters and The Victim Were Drunk and
    There’s No Evidence that the rioters were unhappy with the Government.
    This is an isoLated Case. The Script has Already been written so PLease Do not Try to SpecuLate anything eLse.

  35. 57 Tamilian 13 December 2013 at 02:49

    Looks like the govt will now start mass import of cheaper than indian workers from lanka. Apparently they will be paid only 13 dollars a day compared to 18 for indian workers (a tamil worker told me).

  36. 58 humph 13 December 2013 at 13:01


    Yes the propaganda has been really disturbing. And what for reasons? I don’t understand why the government refuses to acknowledge the obvious. If alcohol had been a possible “contributory factor”, what more employment and social grievances?

    Yes, you couldn’t smell the grievances in the environment but least you could do was ask the rioters. Lot of good asking those not involved in the riot whether they are happy does.

    The G (borrowing from Bertha Henson) -knows- it of course, they’re just refusing to -admit- it and spinning something different in the media. I wonder if admittance would really have had the disastrous effects they feared. Does pragmatism not go hand in hand with the Truth?

    Off the tangent, Indians DO love their drinks. If you have acquaintances working as cabin crew in the airlines they will tell you the bar is prepped differently for the Indian routes. Consumption is double.

    Generally (to even have to make a disclaimer of generality is silly) Indians love their drinks, Middle Easterners are misogynistic, PRCs will likely cheat you in business, etc. If this makes me a monstrous racist/ sexist, if Truth is somehow in competition with being a good person, then regrettably I am very, very bad.

    Ironically this is even flimsier reasoning than the flimsy reasoning it purports to call out:
    “In many parts of Singapore, if you want to reach for an object to throw, e.g. against a menacing wild animal, you’d quite likely find a handy beer can in a nearby trash bin. This is flimsy reasoning.”

  37. 59 Howard W. 13 December 2013 at 16:49

    Your last paragraph is in sync with my thoughts about the current method used to resolve the problem. Too focus we are on the surface, and losing sight on the priorities.

  38. 60 swh 13 December 2013 at 20:45

    Responding to your point on playing up the factor of the deceased dropping his pants, perhaps I could offer another angle of explanation? In most news reports, the most obvious occurrences would be reported – visceral stuff which was witnessed (throwing beer bottles, overturned vehicles, dropped pants) followed up the most direct short-term causes (drunkenness). I agree with your hypothesis of harsh working conditions and unfair labour laws being a contributing factor, but such a factor is not immediately obvious, and therefore the press would most naturally report the foremost factors first. Time has to pass for people to see underlying causes, as the spreading of your previous article illustrates, but in the short term i don’t think you can blame people and the press for overlooking such a factor.

    To dismiss underlying bitterness and frame this as a drunken riot alone is simplistic reporting, I agree, but at the same time no one is God who knows all contributing factors leading up to the case all at once.

  39. 61 Jake 14 December 2013 at 09:05

    Heck, they even got the India High Comm to say that everything is fine with work conditions here. Good on them 🙂

  40. 62 Zheng SX 14 December 2013 at 10:08

    I suspect this could be a culmination of the increasingly tightening of policy against foreign workers.

    If you’re in a company (in this case a country of SG) that is retrenching ppl big time, every one in the co would be stressed and felt their rice bowl being threatened for no good reason except for govt policies tightening (as per SG citizens’ desire)..

    So I see this to be as much a necessary burst out of frustration (although in the most unexpected form).

    That’s at macro level. At micro level alcohols make one lose inhibition eg in holding down lurking frustrations lying within one’s subconscious.

    Whichever way we go someone gonna get it and reactions/outburst could be expected, just that we didn’t expect the form, severity, timing and venue.

    Again all IMHO.

  41. 63 ftg 14 December 2013 at 15:59

    You said “Compared to the thousands, maybe tens of thousands who were having a drink that Sunday night, there were just about 50 to 100 (at the very most, judging from eye-witness videos) who took part in the violence. And now these tens of thousands are going to be penalised for something they did not do?”

    Sad to say, the govt has always used any means to justify their action; just like they withhold the CPF just because they said one or two old men went to Batam to squander their CPF after collecting it.

  42. 64 Constance Tan 15 December 2013 at 19:26

    “Scientifically, if the supposed causative condition occurred 7,300 times, and the supposedly caused event occurred once, how strong is your cause-effect argument? If rain fell 7,300 times and during one storm your guitar string broke, would people laugh if you said it snapped because it was raining that very moment?”

    I think your probabilistic argument is flawed. Imagine a drink driver who was caught with excessive alcohol content in his blood, but argued that he had been drink-driving for the past 20 years and had never been involved in any traffic accident. Would you let him go on drink-driving?

    A sounder argument would be based on this probabilistic question – given that a riot had broken out, how often was alcohol a factor? If you could gather historical data on all riots and show that in very few instances, alcohol was a causal factor, you would be on firmer ground.

  43. 65 uncle daniel 16 December 2013 at 07:55

    It’s the method used to manage situation.
    We’ve to blame something for diversion.
    For Riot we blame alcohol and impose a banned of sales.
    When Singaporean start drawing money out of CPF, China ladies get the blame. Even Singapore women who by at large don’t fancy China lady for entertainment is also penalized.
    As for the government, it’s just another day at work using the world most advanced management system “protocol”.

  44. 66 raja 16 December 2013 at 11:45

    yah lah, alcohol has nothing to do with it. funny how no one who has made this assertion has come forward to say “by all means, sell all the alcohol you like and drink and be merry under and around my void deck.” perhaps alex, you could be first to make an invitation?

    i’m a resident of li. i’m far from lui tuck yew’s fanboy but i must say something in his defense. he is merely echoing what residents have noted week in and out – “south asians” (lol) get drunk and misbehave every sunday. shouting and fights occur on a weekly basis. as do urinating and vomiting. now really, all this has nothing to do with unhappiness at work. i tink it is quite a stretch to say these ppl are urinating, rowdy, drunk, getting into fist fights and jaywalking because they are unhappy with their accommodation. but who says the oppies aren’t capable of their own full-on propoganda?

    obviously alcohol is a problem, though not the only problem. if you disagree, state your grc or district so we know where in spore the businesses can set up shop.

    the simple fact of the matter is that if you ban alcohol in li, li’s problems will go away.

    a riot has occurred and suddenly oppies are all experts in li and know the ‘real’ problem. give me a break. how many of these know-it-alls have actually visited li on weekends and talked to residents? zilch. i lol-ed when i read nsp’s press statement. never ever saw an nsp member in my area and please correct me if i’m wrong but to my knowledge, no nsp member visited li after the riots. for a party that is non-existent in li, jeannette chong aruldous sure has a lot to say.

  45. 67 Anon gXZ7 17 December 2013 at 12:16

    Every line hits home. Not to mention that Lui took all of a single morning to return his verdict of alcohol being a “contributing factor”. Such good, efficient MPs we have!
    The saddest thing about this whole incident is all the nodding heads agreeing with the policy, silently grateful they don’t have to make any sacrifices themselves, never mind what restrictions are placed on the others.

  46. 68 FromthePeople 19 December 2013 at 14:44

    I don’t see why foreign workers should not educate us on the ridiculousness of our racial stigmas. They perceived the situation as an injustice to a co-worker being knocked down by a bus, and other repressed issues, while we (or some in the government) saw it as a racial and cultural riot, further casting aspersions on their character by banning alcohol. WE ARE ALLERGIC TO BS!

    The failure to negotiate and compensate them duly with proper living conditions is a great shame to our nation and judiciary’s wage laws. What is MOM and Ministry of Law doing to rectify this situation? Is there anything besides touch-and-go comments like “We ban alcohol, because it is the cause” or “The rioters have been arrested”. I think ‘feeling safe’ is no longer the issue here as everyone knows how badly these people are treated, and knowing so I am ashamed of the PAP to be the representative of the people and I hope many blinded supporters of the PAP like me in the past will change their vote in the GE2016 as the real terrorists are the people in the judiciary and government now.

  47. 69 Thor 21 December 2013 at 09:46

    “Earlier this month, more than 400 migrants rioted after a bus hit and killed an Indian worker in Singapore, where large numbers of low-skilled migrants are employed under deplorable working and living conditions. ” New York Times, Friday 20 Dec 2013

    Lets see if the PAP government contests this statement and takes on the New York Times in a jurisdiction they have little control over.

    In all the responses so far, do not remember any minister assuring the workers that the case will be investigated and the person responsible for the death will be brought to justice. The very thing the workers feared and reacted viscerally seems to have come to pass.

  48. 70 Chanel 21 December 2013 at 18:08

    “In 7,300 nights, how many riots have occurred? One.”


    There is a term for this. It is called “spurious correlation”.

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