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Little India riot: Man says he is the 'hero' in video, but later retracts his claim

Published on Dec 13, 2013 9:43 PM
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An electrician stepped forward on Friday, claiming to be the valiant hero seen on camera trying to fend off two rioters who were attacking a bus during Sunday night's Little India fracas.

But by the end of the interview, as questions were raised over the authenticity of several points in the account, he denied that he was the hero as was filmed.

"This was the first time I saw such clear footage of the video," said Mr Thangaval Govindarasu, 38, from Chennai, India.

He added that he had called Tamil Murasu after he saw a screen capture of the man in a plaid shirt published in Thursday's newspaper, which he thought was him.

An electrician stepped forward on Friday, Dec 13, 2013, claiming to be the valiant hero seen on camera trying to fend off two rioters who were attacking a bus during Sunday night's Little India fracas. -- ST PHOTO: WALTER SIM

He then offered to wear the same shirt that he was wearing that evening, which bore more than a passing resemblance to that of the video - it was also checkered, but had smaller squares.

Despite retracting the claim, however, he insisted he was at the scene on Sunday, and that it was all a misunderstanding. He said that he had helped to ward off the rioters and assist the injured bus timekeeper, Madam Wong Geck Woon, to safety.

Mr Thangaval has been in Singapore for 11 years doing electrical work with CPN Engineer. He has a wife and a three-month-old daughter at home.

Speaking in rather fluent English, he said that he was alone that evening, eating at a restaurant along Dunlop Street when the violence erupted. He had gone to develop photographs of his daughter at a film studio in the vicinity.

But as he was walking to take a private bus back to his dormitory, NCL Housing at Yishun Avenue 6, the riot erupted after Mr Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33, an Indian national construction worker was run down by a private bus operated by BT&Tan.

A sea of onlookers near the bus surged forward at the crushing sound of the accident, and began pelting stones, beer bottles and sticks at the vehicle's windscreen. Madam Wong was not spared from the attack.

Mr Thangaval said he saw Madam Wong crouching near the ground and shielding her face with her hands. "I could not control myself. I kept shouting at the crowd 'Let the policemen settle this', but they did not listen," he added.

"I was definitely scared, but I saw the girl and I wanted to remove the people from the girl. I thought to myself: 'What if this was my mother or my wife?' Too many angry people were there," he added.

After he ensured Madam Wong got to safety, he walked away uninjured, he said. He added that despite the burgeoning anger, nobody came after him for interfering.

He then boarded the private bus back to his Yishun dormitory, reaching home at about 10.30pm.

Mr Thangaval said he did not know of the search for the hero as he hardly has access to the newspapers. He had only come across the screen capture on Friday when his boss, upon reading the papers, had asked if he was the man in the picture. None of his friends had also asked him if he was the man in the video. He had said: "Yes."

He added that the police has not contacted him to give any statement of the scene.

The electrician visits Little India about once every two months, to remit money and to buy new clothes. He said he works six days a week, from 8am to 7pm every day, and saves enough to remit about $600 a month. He added that he calls home twice or three times daily.

"I chose to come to Singapore because it is a very safe place to work. The laws are also very strong," he said, adding that he approves of the move to ban alcohol in the wake of the riot.

Shopowners who have come forward to say that they recognise the man in the video denied that Mr Thangaval was the one.

Mr Mateen Ahmed, owner of coffee shop Spice Box, had said that it was the first time he had seen Mr Thangaval. He had earlier said that the man in the video was a regular customer from Chennai was around 35 years old, married and had a two-year-old daughter in India.

But Mr Mateen did not know his name nor his occupation, saying that they call each other 'Brother', and that he only packs food to go.

Mr Jagwinder Singh, manager of Jaggi's Authentic Punjabi Cuisine, too said it was "definitely not him", and that the man in the video has not been seen in the area ever since the incident.

"The man in the video is very nice and really friendly. He greets you, and I used to see him around four to five times a week, both on weekdays and weekends," said Mr Singh. "He is very civic-minded, and on Sundays I have seen him trying to break up minor scuffles that may occur, even if it is not his problem. Even if he has a few drinks, he won't cause any trouble."

Bus timekeeper Madam Grace Wong told The Straits Times that Mr Thangaval is of similar build to the man filmed in the video. But she is unable to ascertain whether he was there, because it was chaotic and her vision was blurry at the time.

She is sure, though, that Mr Thangaval is not the man in the video because her hero, she said, was injured in the incident's aftermath.