A Dec. 8 riot in Singapore’s Little India district, the city’s worst violence in more than four decades, damaged at least S$650,000 ($515,000) of government property, a public inquiry was told.
Twenty-three vehicles including patrol cars and an ambulance were toppled or set ablaze, Senior State Counsel David Khoo said today at the opening of the inquiry in the Subordinate Courts. Rioters hurled stones, smashed bottles and flung bins at police and civil defense forces, he said.
The incident involving about 400 people broke out the night of Dec. 8 after a fatal traffic accident, where 25 people, all Indian nationals, were charged and 57 workers deported. The police was given more power to maintain public order and alcohol was banned on weekends in the area, known for its Hindu temples and Indian eateries.
“Viewed with a mixture of alarm and disbelief, the riot captured the nation’s attention, triggering introspection,” Khoo said. “As news of the riot spread internationally, the central question on everyone’s mind: what had caused a public order incident of this scale in Singapore?”
The inquiry is not to determine guilt or liability and will be focused on fact finding, Khoo said. The hearing is scheduled to last about six weeks and 117 people are expected to testify.
The Committee of Inquiry visited the riot scene, an area which attracts migrant workers on their days off, where they were interviewed for views including their living conditions.
The four-member committee including former judge G. Pannir Selvam and ex-police commissioner Tee Tua Ba will look into the causes of the riot and how it was managed. The group will also examine if measures to manage such incidents in areas where foreign workers gather are sufficient. A report of the inquiry and recommendations will be submitted to the Home Affairs minister within six months.
An unlawful assembly is a gathering of five or more for illegal purposes, which is also termed as a riot, Khoo said in response to a committee query on the characterization of the incident as a riot instead of another word, such as a protest.
Of the 213 who were issued warnings, 179 were Indians and the rest were from Bangladesh, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Investigators took statements from about 300 people, according to the inquiry secretariat.
Singapore had 306,500 foreign construction workers as of June, according to data from the Ministry of Manpower’s website. Indian nationals make up the biggest group of migrant workers living in the city’s dormitories, or about 30 percent to 40 percent, according to Dormitory Association of Singapore.
“Are foreign workers discriminated against? Do they face social exclusion? Are they exploited by their employers?” Khoo said. “These are but some of the many questions that have arisen in the aftermath.”
There’s no basis for assertions that worker conditions led to the riot, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin told lawmakers last month.
The inquiry is Committee of Inquiry into the Riot in Little India on Dec. 8, 2013, appointed under section 9 of the Inquiries Act. Singapore Subordinate Courts.
To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Tan in Singapore at firstname.lastname@example.org