‘Little India’: Diverging Destinies in Heritage Spaces , pp. 7 of 10

The comprehensive Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India Riot on 8 December 2013 (COI)  was submitted to the Minister on 27 June 2014. Its findings stressed that the event which sparked off the riot was the traffic accident which killed Mr Sakthivel Kumaravelu, a 33-year-old construction worker from Tamil Nadu. It concluded that alcohol was not a direct cause but a major contributory factor, among others, to the nature and escalation of a “purely criminal riot with no motivation which some might find legitimate. What the rioters did on the night of 8 December 2013 was clearly illegal and uncalled for, and abused the freedom that Singapore had afforded them as transient workers in the country” (point 146, p. 46). Furthermore, the COI was satisfied “that foreign workers’ employment and living conditions were not the cause of this riot” (point 147, p. 46). This verdict, brought down after some seven months of deliberations, appeared to add little substance to the immediate post-riot reaction of PM Lee on 9 December 2013 while at the same time vindicating the restrictive measures promptly put into place by the LLB. Singaporeans looking for the “new normal” in the principles of governance might have expected more nuanced insights into the economic and social realities confronting the South Asian foreign worker in Singapore. Instead the COI refused to countenance any notion that labour issues were involved “either proximately or remotely” (point 144, p. 45).

The COI’s  Behavioural Analysis Group of experienced psychologists, commenting upon the incident in terms of crowd psychology, stressed the likelihood of “misperceptions” on the part of foreign workers and a consequent desire for “street justice” (points 119 &120, pp. 39-40). On the basis of such professional advice, the COI determined that the riot was neither an instrumental nor an expressive riot resulting from either discontent or dissatisfaction (points 134 & 135, pp. 43). This finding, however, fails to adequately explain the apparent escalation which led to the second phase of the riot “where rioters became bolder in their attacks” (point 97, p. 32). Such a phenomenon may be attributed to an “extended social identity” in which a  group’s anger is fuelled by a web of pre-existing factors such as poverty and unemployment. Trigger events such as the beating of Rodney King (Los Angeles 1992) and the death of Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri 2014) led to wide scale rioting which reflected a history of racial tension in the United States The instigating factor being a shared identity based upon perceived deprivation, disempowerment and diminished status (Jarvis, 2011; Scott, 2014). Shared identity among the elite or governing class calls for no such recourse, hence public outcry following the apparent leniency in the sentencing of Oscar Pistorius provoked no riot in Pretoria’s gated community of Silver Woods, or in the upmarket beachfront suburb of Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth where his victim had previously resided (Baker, 2014).

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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