Singapore – It was on December 8, 2013, when a riot took place in Little India after a foreign worker was knocked down and killed by a private bus. Around 400 rioters attacked police and left 49 Home Team officers injured while 25 Singapore Civil Defence Force vehicles damaged. Because of this, 57 participants were deported and prohibited from returning to Singapore while 25 were imprisoned.
Series of temporary measures such as a ban on alcohol sale and consumption and the suspension of private bus services for foreign workers that transport them from their dormitories to Little India was implemented.
A Liquor Control Act was passed in April 2015 transforming Little India into a Liquor Control Zone meaning it has time limits on alcohol sale and a strict ban on public consumption.
Five years later, the streets of Little India are safer and more orderly, especially on weekends.
Unfortunately, not everyone benefited from the changes in policies.
Businesses in Little India have not been able to recover ever since. Some have even expressed that sales have decreased by as much as 80 percent. Liquor stores are now only allowed to sell alcoholic beverages until 7 pm on weekends and 10:30 pm on weekdays.
More recreation centres have also been established near dormitories resulting in a decrease of workers visiting Little India.
Chairman of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association (LISHA), said: “No one could have ever expected Little India’s businesses to be in this scenario. We used to see thousands sitting on the field and drinking in groups, but all that has disappeared.” He added that it may be good for visitors but the businesses took the hit.
Because of this, shop owners are forced to sublet their spaces, close down, move elsewhere or operate illegally.
Past curfew time, there are numerous transactions involving alcohol sale that occur underhandedly. With assistants on a lookout for police, customers can enter a store, purchase alcohol handed underneath newspapers and wrapped in plastic bags and quickly exit the premises to consume their purchase elsewhere.
Such scenes have become a common occurrence in Little India although not all were successful in upholding said practices. If caught, a business is fined for the violation while a second offence leads to its liquor licence being revoked.
Police reports show that advisories issued to individuals for consuming alcohol in public during restricted hours fell to 55 this year from 266 and 264 in 2017 and 2016 respectively.
Amidst relief towards safer streets brought about by the Liquor Control Act, some migrant groups are expressing their concern regarding the unnecessary restrictions on those who do not cause any trouble. It is feared that increased police presence will only create a bigger division between the locals and foreign workers.
“The activities and presence of Cisco-hired officers (auxiliary police and protection officers) around the area has increased and reinforced the ‘us versus them’ divide between Singaporeans and migrant workers,” said Stephanie Chok, Home’s advocacy and communications manager.