LITTLE INDIA RIOT: ONE YEAR LATER

Little India Riot: One Year Later - The buzz is still there, but...

Auxiliary police officers patrolling an HDB block in Chander Road. Foreign workers patronise the area for its cheap haircuts and affordable passport photos. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Auxiliary police officers patrolling an HDB block in Chander Road. Foreign workers patronise the area for its cheap haircuts and affordable passport photos. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
A vegetable stall in Buffalo Road. The stretch of shophouses selling fruit and vegetables has seen a drastic decrease in the number of foreign workers. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
A vegetable stall in Buffalo Road. The stretch of shophouses selling fruit and vegetables has seen a drastic decrease in the number of foreign workers. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
A foreign worker downing a can of beer at a beer garden in Chander Road. The cordon tape behind him was put up in recent months to mark the boundary between the no-alcohol zone and the area where people can consume alcohol, and is now a common sight
A foreign worker downing a can of beer at a beer garden in Chander Road. The cordon tape behind him was put up in recent months to mark the boundary between the no-alcohol zone and the area where people can consume alcohol, and is now a common sight at food and beverage establishments in the area. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
A worker from Bangladesh with a load of blankets at the bus terminal in Tekka Lane. About 200 buses call at the station from 2pm to 9pm on Sundays. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
A worker from Bangladesh with a load of blankets at the bus terminal in Tekka Lane. About 200 buses call at the station from 2pm to 9pm on Sundays. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Foreign workers lining up to board a shuttle bus at the newly built bus terminal in Tekka Lane. The station is fenced up and workers enter from a gate at one end, and are helped by ushers to their respective bus queues. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Foreign workers lining up to board a shuttle bus at the newly built bus terminal in Tekka Lane. The station is fenced up and workers enter from a gate at one end, and are helped by ushers to their respective bus queues. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Foreign workers perched on the railing opposite Yeo Buan Heng Liquor Shop in Chander Road last Sunday. The shop’s manager, Ms Irene Yeo, says this is a far cry from the days before the alcohol ban, when big groups of workers would hang out outside
Foreign workers perched on the railing opposite Yeo Buan Heng Liquor Shop in Chander Road last Sunday. The shop’s manager, Ms Irene Yeo, says this is a far cry from the days before the alcohol ban, when big groups of workers would hang out outside the shop. Ms Yeo and her brother, David, were there on the night of the riot, even pulling a Singapore permanent resident into their shop for safety when chaos broke out. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Riot police standing guard in Little India on Dec 8 last year when 400 foreign workers turned unruly after a worker was knocked down by a bus. Vehicles were overturned and torched. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Riot police standing guard in Little India on Dec 8 last year when 400 foreign workers turned unruly after a worker was knocked down by a bus. Vehicles were overturned and torched. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Workers hanging out at the playground at Block 661, Buffalo Road. One worker said there has been a decline in the number of workers in the area on weekends. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Workers hanging out at the playground at Block 661, Buffalo Road. One worker said there has been a decline in the number of workers in the area on weekends. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
A worker finding privacy to make a phone call among a stack of lamp posts in a field in Race Course Road. Others go there to watch cricket matches. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
A worker finding privacy to make a phone call among a stack of lamp posts in a field in Race Course Road. Others go there to watch cricket matches. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Workers in Chander Road. The area near the void deck of the HDB block is now quiet, with workers sitting in groups enjoying snacks and talking on the phone. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Workers in Chander Road. The area near the void deck of the HDB block is now quiet, with workers sitting in groups enjoying snacks and talking on the phone. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
The Singha Guys in action at the field in Race Course Road. The “bunch of foreign guys playing cricket in Singapore” sport a Merlion on their shirts. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
The Singha Guys in action at the field in Race Course Road. The “bunch of foreign guys playing cricket in Singapore” sport a Merlion on their shirts. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
An auxiliary police officer putting out a restraining hand as foreign workers carrying shopping bags rushed to catch the last shuttle bus in Tekka Lane last Sunday. The once-chaotic crossing is now manned by several auxiliary police officers and poli
An auxiliary police officer putting out a restraining hand as foreign workers carrying shopping bags rushed to catch the last shuttle bus in Tekka Lane last Sunday. The once-chaotic crossing is now manned by several auxiliary police officers and policemen, with barricades set up to contain the flow of human traffic. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Foreign workers lining up to board a shuttle bus at the newly built bus terminal in Tekka Lane. Initiated by the Land Transport Authority, the bus station is fenced up and closes at 9pm, when the last shuttle bus leaves to the various dormitories. --
Foreign workers lining up to board a shuttle bus at the newly built bus terminal in Tekka Lane. Initiated by the Land Transport Authority, the bus station is fenced up and closes at 9pm, when the last shuttle bus leaves to the various dormitories. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

One year after riot, Little India has most definitely changed

On Dec 8 last year, at around 8pm, I was in Little India at a Housing Board block in Chander Road, adjacent to Race Course Road, shooting pictures for a story about alcohol consumption which was slated to be published the following day.

The place, albeit noisy with big groups of people drinking and spilling out on to the void deck, was vibrant and extremely welcoming.

I approached several foreign workers who were enjoying a beer and they were more than happy to talk to me - taking photographs was not a problem, either.

I left the place after getting my shots but got a call from a supervisor to return to the area because of a reported riot.

Just after the junction of Bukit Timah and Race Course roads, I was greeted by the unusual sight of tall flames and a line of Special Operations Command personnel facing off against a mob in the distance, men who periodically threw projectiles towards the policemen.

Shortly after, a burning ambulance in the distance exploded and I headed to Tekka Centre to get closer to the scene.

While making my way towards the fire, I couldn't help but notice the severity - and surreality - of the situation and the vast difference in atmosphere a mere two hours made.

As the night passed, I snapped pictures of a very different Little India - a far cry from the picturesque tourist attraction that it had been.

Vibrancy had turned to chaos. Shouting by policemen and rioters echoed through connecting lanes, with the ambulance still burning eerily a short distance away.

I could sense the dilemma of the policemen as they manoeuvred around the scene, strewn with debris and rubbish from overturned dustbins.

At the end of the night, I was still trying to grasp what I had just witnessed - scenes I had seen in news photographs from everywhere else but Singapore.

The riot being the biggest piece of local news last year, many stories followed this year, and I had the opportunity to revisit and observe how the stretch of Race Course Road had changed.

While the number of foreign workers frequenting the area on weekends in the aftermath of the incident declined sharply, the police presence increased dramatically.

The sale and consumption of alcohol in the area became a sensitive issue, with bans put in place. Barricades were set up on weekends and auxiliary policemen helped to direct vehicular and human traffic along busy junctions in Race Course Road.

Little India had suddenly lost its original "character".

 

One year on, the hustle and bustle is still a far cry from what it used to be. While the crowds may be returning, the area in Race Course Road is much more "tame" and less vibrant than before.

Two things stood out for me when I was there last Sunday - the newly built bus terminal for shuttle buses ferrying foreign workers to and from their dormitories, and the cordon tape put up at restaurants and beer gardens to mark the boundary between the no-drinking zone and the area where alcohol may be consumed.

The fenced-up bus terminal in Tekka Lane looked to me almost prison-like, with several members of the Singapore Police Force around the outskirts when I visited the area.

The establishments surrounded by cordon tape made for an interesting sight. To me, the area had become tightly controlled and extremely cautious.

That said, many things remained unchanged. The grassy fields in Race Course Road are still frequented by cricket enthusiasts who are mainly from Tamil Nadu in South India, with small crowds turning up to watch.

Foreign workers patronising barber shops and photo parlours there still turn up in force, drawn by good deals, and popular areas around Chander Road are bustling with people, most using their phones to call home, or hanging out with friends who might live in different areas of Singapore.

One year on, the buzz around Race Course Road isn't the same. Little India has most definitely changed.