‘Little India’: Diverging Destinies in Heritage Spaces , pp. 5 of 10

By extending the mantra of a segmented workforce into the foreseeable future it would appear that the Singapore government has missed an opportunity to adjust some sensitive policy settings that have become a source of friction to HDB “heartlanders”. The steady annual increase in Singapore’s non-resident population spiked to 14.9% in 2007 and 19.0% in 2008, adding further to the day-to-day congestion on pavements and in malls, on crowded buses and trains, and in time spent in longer queues. Disturbing media reports of unacceptable behaviour at HDB void decks (Sunday Times, 25 November 2007) and revelations of overcrowded, squalid and unsafe workers’ accommodation (Straits  Times August 2014) in violation of fire safety and land use laws (Straits Times, 18 May 2010), resulted in uncomfortable public debate with racist and classist undertones. In 2009 a burst of NIMBYism over the proposed housing of foreign workers within the privileged upper middle-class neighbourhood of Serangoon Gardens seized public attention until the offending premises were fenced off (Straits Times, 11 December 2009). However, such problems of behaviour, congestion and illegal dormitories were overshadowed by the tumultuous events and aftermath of the Little India riot on 8 December 2013, an event that heralded a much broader discussion on Singapore’s national multiracial resilience in an era of hyper-globalisation.

Little India: Riot and Reaction

Compared to recent confrontations in London (August 2011) and Ferguson, Missouri (August 2014) the Little India riot which began in the late evening of Sunday 8 December 2013 was a short lived disturbance. But, for Singaporeans, shocking media footage of an unruly group confronting riot police amidst overturned police cars and a burning ambulance were disturbing reminders of earlier, more volatile times. While the Maria Hertogh riots (December 1950), Chinese Middle School riots (May 1956) and subsequent race riots of the mid- and late-1960s were much more destructive of both people and property, the Little India incident was a wounding assault on Singapore’s self-assured national multiracial resilience. Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong immediately called for a full investigation into the incident promising that the culprits would feel the “full force of the law” and directing a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to “look into the factors that led to the incident and how the incident was handled on the ground”. In the same statement PM Lee went on to pre-empt the findings of the COI by asserting that the “riot was an isolated incident arising from the unlawful actions of an unruly mob reacting to a fatal traffic accident” (PMO, 9 December 2013).

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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