Riots broke out in the Little India neighborhood of Singapore on December 8, 2013 after a bus hit a 33-year-old Indian man, killing him. Hundreds of people, mostly men of Indian and Bangladeshi decent, surrounded the bus at the intersection of Hampshire Road and Race Course Road, and the situation escalated. Paramedics tried unsuccessfully to extract the man who was pinned under the coach, and then the angry crowd began to throw objects at the ambulance and its driver. The accident took place at about 9:20 p.m. Singapore time. After two or three hours, police were able to bring the area under control.
In this amateur video, South Asian men can be seen smashing the windshield of the bus with a variety of objects. One man can be seen pleading with them to stop.
Special Operations Command and the Gurkha Contingent, a counter-terrorism unit consisting of specially-trained Nepalis, were deployed to quell the riot. A statement from Singapore police said about 400 people were involved in the riot and around ten police officers were injured. The bus driver and his assistant were injured, as well as several other civilians who are being treated at a nearby hospital but are not in serious condition.
In this video, the mob can be seen surrounding the bus, the ambulance, and a fire truck:
Five police vehicles and one ambulance were set on fire as the mob cheered. Several private vehicles were damaged as well. In this amateur video taken from a high-rise apartment across the street, rioters can be seen tipping two police cars on their sides.
Later, here is the view of the burning wreckage from an apartment above:
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean tells Reuters:
This is a serious incident which has resulted in injuries and damage to public property. Police will spare no efforts to apprehend the subjects involved in the riot.
At a Ministry of Home Affairs press conference held at 2:00 a.m., Mr. Teo said:
The Government will not tolerate such lawless behaviour. I have asked Police to deal with all aspects of the incident, including the traffic accident, what happened immediately after the traffic accident, and all ensuing incidents. Police will investigate the matter thoroughly and deal with all the persons involved strictly, firmly, and fairly according to our laws.
27 people have been arrested by police and investigations will continue. No shots were fired.
Singapore does not see riots like this very often; this is the first such incident in over three decades. Rioting carries a sentence of up to seven years in prison and possibly corporal punishment. People in Singapore are sometimes punished by being repeatedly hit with a rattan cane that is four feet long and an inch thick.
The congested streets of Little India are busiest on Sunday nights, when thousands of migrant workers, mostly from India and Bangladesh, enjoy eating, shopping and taking casual strolls with friends on their day off. The neighborhood is also popular with foreign tourists, as the guesthouses and hostels are far cheaper than in other parts of the city. People are drawn to the colorful charm, street life and spicy cuisine.
The riot will potentially raise concerns about the disgruntlement of foreign workers. Last year in Singapore about 170 bus drivers from mainland China went on an illegal strike. Singapore tries to evoke an image of perfect ethnic harmony, but its labor shortage requires a large number of foreign workers who often complain of unfair treatment. According to the department of Statistics, 75 percent of people in Singapore are ethnic Chinese, 13 percent are Malay, 9 percent Indian and 3 percent other. The four official languages of the city-state are English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil.
The People’s Action Party is currently in power in Singapore and they have been calling for greater social harmony due to tensions over the recent influx of migrant workers, mostly from India. On the same day as the riots, the PAP had an annual political convention. It is unclear whether this was a factor in the riot after the bus hit the man in Little India.
By K. Elsner