Blame Alcohol for Little India Riots: Singapore Dy PM
By Vinod Mathew | Published: 21st January 2014 08:23 AM |
A month-and-a half after Little India in Singapore was hit by riots, the country’s Parliament on Monday moved a bill proposing to make the area, largely populated by Indians, a special zone where prohibition would be enforced and police would be given powers to pre-emptively and decisively deal with potential threats to public order in the zone. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also Minister for Home Affairs, came out with a special statement at the Parliament Session, on what transpired on the fateful day last month and went on to reiterate about “what happened that night as against what could’ve, but luckily, did not happen”.
The statement by the deputy prime minister and the elaborate manner in which he fielded questions from MPs clearly reflected the deep concern of the government regarding criticism that it was not sensitive while handling the 7,00,000 work-permit holders, out of its 1.1 million strong foreign workforce. Following the riots, 25 workers were identified as the primary instigators and have been charged in court, while 57 persons of foreign origin were repatriated. The deputy prime minister, putting things in perspective, told Parliament that 13,000 workers had been repatriated in the past three years.
While being categoric in his assessment, on the basis of evidence, that alcohol was one of the main reasons for the outbreak of violence on December 8, Teo Chee
Hean said he would leave it to the inquiry committee headed by retired justice G Pannir Selvam to conclude whether there were other factors at play, including a simmering anger against the establishment.
Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin, the only other minister to make a statement, said, “Foreign workers in Singapore are, by and large, treated decently by their employers and Singaporeans, though the situation may not be perfect here. We should therefore not generalise that there is widespread and systemic abuse of foreign workforce, nor conclude that to be the underlying cause of the riots.” Singapore has been, for some time, doing a balancing act between keeping its outright dependence on foreign workforce in check and not compromising on its growing infrastructure requirements. Teo Chee Hean clearly had this in mind when he concluded his statement. “Foreign workers contribute positively to all our well-being and the vast majority of them are hardworking and responsible. It would be wrong to make negative generalisations about the foreign workforce from this incident. Neither should we generalise about their chronic and poor treatment.”
The fact that Singapore viewed the Little India riots seriously was evident from the presence of Prime Minister Lee Shaen Loong and founder Prime Minister and father of the nation Lee Kuan Yew when the ministerial statement on the riots was made before Parliament.