Statement: Working Towards Peace And Unity After Yesterday’s Riots

It is unfortunate that the riot – the first in 44 years – occurred in Singapore yesterday.

For many Singaporeans, the riot took some by surprise, used to the restrained and subdued environment.

Indeed, the riot is not a small matter – a foreign worker of South Asian descent was fatally knocked down by a bus, which triggered an outrage to the sense of grievance of those who had witnessed it.

This is a challenging episode, not only for Singaporeans, but for our foreign friends as well. The actions of some cannot be seen as representative for the actions of all, as Singaporeans and foreigners alike have expressed concern for the fervour of the actions.

For the people who live in the area and were at the venue where the incident took place, their safety is of utmost importance and it is a relief that the incident did not take a more malevolent turn.

The question on many people’s minds now would be – why did the commotion take place? What had engendered such feelings of sorrow and injustice as to begrudge the actions of those who had participated in the riot?

Indeed, this is a time for our nation to take a step back to introspect and reflect on what had happened yesterday. How has the state of our country become, such that the anger and unfairness that has swept our land have caused emotions to increasingly flare up?

Perhaps, it is to be expected that when we pay such pittance wages to people who have helped built our country – our buildings and roads – and yet expect them to toil in the most tiresome conditions while receiving such piecemeal compensation, that the stress that has built up has finally boiled over.

Is it not that when we look at the stresses that we go through in our own lives and understand how our hands feel tied, that we can thus empathise with the lives of others who live in the doldrums.

The inequality that has taken root in Singapore has dire consequences and they are beginning to show. The peace and happiness that we have so hard-fought can be easily dismantled by the divide that threatens to tear our society apart. Our people – Singaporeans – are trying our best to hold our society together, to carry on with the smiles and the cheers, while we do our best to fight back the tears.

Now, in the time of change, in the major turning point in our country’s history, Singaporeans need to take a stand. Violence is not the option. But neither is inaction. We cannot let our country run into the ground. And we cannot let the efforts of our forefathers go to waste.

We need to take a stand against the unfairness that we do not believe our people need to go through. And we need to be fair to others, if fairness is to come to us. We can no longer sit back and watch the inequality drive wedges into our society.

The peace that our country and Singaporeans have enjoyed for decades can and must be protected. The peace that our forefathers have fought for their future generations must be a responsibility that we take on for our next, and theirs. For the peace in Singapore to continue and for our people to continue to flourish, our people – Singaporeans – we need to believe that the rights of ours, and not just that, but for everyone that we bring into this country, has to be protected. We have to stand with one another, fervent in our commitment to one another. We need to protect and enshrine the rights of the person next to us – our family, our neighbours and our friends. Only then shall our society continue for decades and centuries more, in peace, and in contentment.

What happened yesterday need not have happened. But it did, and it was a reminder that the peace in our country is something that we need to constantly work together for. If we can believe and work together towards unity for our country, and for equality, the peace that we have always pride ourselves on will continue to be the hallmark of Singapore’s success as a country and as our people.

Yesterday, Singapore saw one the first riot in many years. Today, we will embark on a path towards a new learning, and a new tomorrow. Let’s continue to support and give thanks to our civil defence for protecting our safety, as they had done yesterday. Today, let’s journey together to work towards a more equal, and peaceful society for Singapore, for Singaporeans, and our future.

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6 comments

  1. Roger White

    Hi Roy – I watch and in many ways admire Singapore, but from afar (UK). As the news of yesterday’s disturbance came over the web I searched to find out more. Sadly, many comments were being made on social media that jumped to immediate conclusions – about what was happening, who was involved and why, and sometimes their perceived stereotypical characteristics and deficiencies. Exactly the same thing has happened in my country when we have had disturbances. Yours is the first commentary on yesterday’s events I have seen that seeks to ask ‘Why?’ in a deeper sense. I don’t have the understanding to know if what you say is correct but at least you’re asking the question. The root causes of problems often lie below the obvious surface of events. I do hope that your government and country has the courage to commission a genuinely independent review that asks ‘Why?’

  2. Pingback: Daily SG: 10 Dec 2013 | The Singapore Daily
  3. advisory opinion

    Why is it always “root cause: inequality!” for you hippies?

    What maudlin drivel.

    A drunken mob went on a rampage. Sounds like what takes place in the vicinity of football grounds up and down the country on any given English weekend. Projectiles and property damage? Sounds like handbags at 50 paces. Nobody died (from the riot). A storm in a very small teacup.

    This pearl-clutching, hand-wringing alarm is out of all proportion to what actually took place: drunken loutishness by migrant workers giving the locals a culture shock (Singaporeans are probably the most sedate people in the world). You have to laugh at the international press making it seem like a big deal when it isn’t.

    The insufferable socio-political ‘analysis’ of what is essentially a bar fight writ large made me LOL.

    I suggest you pearl-clutchers man up.

    • Roger White

      Dear advisory opinion – I don’t who you’re advising but I can certainly see what your opinion is! It’s up to ‘The Heart Truths’ to defend himself, if he wishes, but since you have a snipe at the phrase ‘root causes’ and I used it (THT doesn’t) I assume you’re having a go at what I said. Can I ask you – don’t you want to know what the root causes of this problem are? If you don’t get to the root causes of a problem you will never solve it. Perhaps drunkenness and loutishness as you suggest are the root causes of the disturbance. In which case the solution may be easy. Good luck. I must say that as I watched Twiiter, Facebook and the Singapore media on Sunday many people seemed to have reached the same conclusion as you even as the trouble was going on. I hope their analysis, and yours, is deep enough.

      Incidentally, you’re a bit out of date (twenty years?) on trouble ‘in the vicinity of football grounds up and down the country on any given English weekend.’ Those days are long gone, but not without a lot of trying to understand what the many root causes of the vandalism were. Sad to say, I was never a hippie, although my hair was rather longer in my youth than it is now, And I don’t even know what a pearl-clutcher is.

      • Roy Ngerng

        Hello Roger,

        I think this article surmises the causes for the riot quite nicely:

        “Tensions have been brewing for quite a while, and I believe these were sparked off by this bus accident. There have been tensions between migrant workers and bus drivers who ferry them from the industrial areas in the north and west to Little India every Sunday, where they do their shopping and hang out on their day off. I have taken these buses on a few occasions during my research and discovered the drivers tend to be very rude to the migrant workers.

        The drivers – some are Singaporeans while others are Malaysian or Chinese – tend to be overworked and underpaid. They have trouble collecting fares from workers and stopping those who try to board buses that are full. They sometimes push workers off buses and verbally abuse them.

        There have also been tensions between migrant workers and auxiliary police in the Little India area for quite some time. In response to complaints from residents living in the area, the local parliament member called for a more stringent policing of the area in order to keep migrant workers from “loitering”. The auxiliary police officers, which are from private firms, are, once again, poorly paid and not properly trained. They often respond to migrant workers in an abusive and aggressive manner.

        At the same time, migrant workers are also unhappy that while the authorities are quick – and aggressive – in policing their community, they are slow to respond when the workers themselves are in need, for example when they’re injured in a fight or traffic incident. [According to some witnesses, ambulances took a long time to arrive on Sunday.] Their negative impression of emergency services could have contributed towards the aggression shown towards police and emergency vehicles at the scene on Sunday. It’s worth noting that meanwhile, none of the shops or restaurants in the area were looted.

        South Asian migrant workers face many problems here. They can be deported back home any time by their employers; they’re not legally allowed to change jobs; and they’re usually in debt due to high recruitment fees, which can include kickbacks to their employers. And since there are no independent trade unions here, these workers struggle to address the issues at work that plague them – low or unpaid wages, poorly managed or unreported work injuries, heavy work regimes, etc.

        There’s a growing antipathy of Singaporeans toward them, and I am sure that this incident, as well as the state-controlled media’s coverage of it, will breed even more.”

        http://observers.france24.com/content/20131209-little-india-riots-tensions-singapore

  4. Kit

    Hi Roy,

    Like many people, I have been trying to read and find out more about the recent riot. I personally found your piece interesting and thought provoking.

    To try and make sense of the incident as well, my friend, Eugene and myself have put together a real-time media feed to share the various reactions and responses. If you are interested, please do take a look. We would also be grateful for any feedback or comments.

    The link for the feed is: https://littleindiariot.squarespace.com/riotfeed#.UqcC4vQW2Jp

    Keep asking the tough questions.

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