Last night, as we left the cab we were in, the cab driver asked us ” Hey were you two at Little India just now? I just got news that there is a riot happening there. “We told him no, both trying to process the information. ” Avoid Little India. A riot occurring.” roughly read the words off the taxi telcom monitor.
We spent the rest of the evening catching up on social media. Settling into the reality that Singapore had just been hit with a real life riot.We laughed at the memes and funny updates that alleviated the sense of unease.
Still, it was a deeply sobering moment to witness SPF vehicles get overturned like that. The Singaporean in me, conditioned to believe that the country, in spite of its flaws, is impermeable to such massive acts of violence, felt the familiar crack in my wall of faith. Something that began in 2006, when I realised that Straits Times had failed to report truthfully about WP rallies.
This all sounds pretty grim. And it is. But maybe, breaking that illusion once and for all may not be a bad thing. Singapore is changing. The occupants are different, the values among the young are different. It may be delusional and harmful to ignore the changes or refuse to adapt.
I think it’s fair that people are speculating, because this is not a country where riots are common. And questioning minds indicate a thirst for more than the run of the mill answers that we are accustomed to receiving. Just because there are questions, it does not mean that people are necessarily rooting for more chaos, or justifying the acts of violence. When drama occurs, some will want to smooth it over and pretend it’s no big deal, some will latch on to the emotional effects and respond evocatively. While others, will question and reflect. Could there have been tension brewing that we do not know of? Could it have been avoided? There is nothing wrong with asking questions and have a desire to be more aware. But often, we too fall under the influence of our very own mob, and allow these questions to remain unanswered.
A and I discussed the possible reasons for the riot. Could it have been the culture ingrained in some of the rioters? Most of whom I assume are from the poorer regions of South India. While it would be unfair and elitist to say that the poor are more prone to violence, it throws up the question of how the powerless in the world find power in the mob and how that force acted out against the authority figures of this country last night. Inebriated senselessness or otherwise, it forces even the most passive of Singaporeans to be aware of the a growing sector of society that most I know would not even acknowledge.
I’ve long been of the opinion that we are climbing up a class ladder on the shoulders of migrant workers. Having them do the work that Singaporeans would not do and often not paying them due wages, on the pretext that for them, it’s sufficient. We use the word “Bangla” to describe any brown skinned worker we see, not in an irreverent way, but with genuine viciousness and prejudice. Their body odour from a hard day’s work offends us. The crimes committed by individuals define their ilk, making them an effective “bogeyman” that parents use to scare their young with. The way they populate Little India on the weekends, are the butt of many jokes among Singaporeans who say it with such a disturbing sense of ease.
I’m not here to defend or justify the acts of violence that occurred last night. I for one don’t wish to see my beloved country degenerate into a state of familiar chaos. It is, as some netizens have coined, “Not the Singaporean way.”
But I also hope that xenophobia, classist snobbery and a sense of entitlement over the perceived powerless will not continue weaseling itself into the ” Singaporean way.”
Because as long as the demand for cheap foreign labour continues here and around the world, we will be faced with with the repercussions that come when we render a group powerless – socially and financially on our shores. And we’d do better, if not well, to not take them for granted, or disrespect them. Since you can only ignore them for so long.
As usual, in this age of impasse, there is no easy solution.
In the meantime, if you can’t be kind, at least be fair.