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Time for self-reflection after Singapore's Little India riot

Publication Date : 14-12-2013


The decisive handling of Sunday's Little India riot, and the swift follow-up action taken with investigations and arrests, helped to contain the incident and manage its immediate aftermath. The first imperative, to stabilise the situation, has been achieved. The Committee of Inquiry announced by the government will have the opportunity to look into the operational details of the handling and examine whether anything could have been done differently and better. The fact that normality has returned to Little India is testimony to the firmness and tact with which the police went about controlling a situation whose nastiness was accented by the fact that nothing like it had occurred in decades.

It is necessary now for Singaporeans to pause for a moment of self-reflection. Foreign workers who broke the law will be dealt with firmly and fairly. But Singaporeans would do both the migrant worker community and themselves a disservice if they stigmatised an entire group for the misdeeds of a few. The number of people involved in the rioting - 400 - is large no doubt, but constitutes a minuscule portion of the nearly one million foreign workers here. Quite apart from the services they provide - from building homes and roads to tending the city's greenery and cleaning our neighbourhoods and parks, without which the landscape of Singapore would be unimaginable - justice demands that the innocent are not penalised.

That is why the xenophobic and racist comments that have emerged on the Internet reveal a disturbing underside of Singapore life. There have been attempts to tar an entire ethnic community of foreign workers with supposed vices merely because the rioters were drawn from that community. Apparently, there are Singaporeans who would like to have Singapore without these workers. Their labour is welcome, but their presence is not - an argument that militates against reason and grates on morals.

Thankfully, such Singaporeans are in a minority - much like the rioting workers are in the foreign worker community. For the vast majority of foreigners, as for Singaporeans, certain common recognitions are in order. The former must recognise that they must obey and respect the laws of the host country, and not import norms and modes of behaviour to which they might be accustomed.

Singaporeans, on their part, must understand that foreigners must not only feel protected by the law but also feel a sense of welcome and comfort in the everyday norms and practices of the host society. Singapore's laws are clear in their impartial reach. Singaporeans must now play their part in telling foreign workers that those who abide by the law have no reason to fear.


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