By Augustine Low
We still know nothing about the culpability of one man in the Litle India riot – the driver who ran over the migrant worker. But we already know about the culpability of the 300 Little India rioters.
The facts are staggering. In just over a week, the authorities have decided with seemingly pinpoint precision: 28 “active participants” to be charged in court with rioting, 53 to be deported and banned from entering Singapore, and 200 to be given advisories to obey the law, with no further action to be taken.
The swiftness of the investigation and the assignment of degrees of culpability is astonishing. More than 4,000 workers had to be interviewed by over 500 police officers. Considering that Singapore has not seen a riot in over 40 years, the machinery kicked into action was super-efficient.
The message to everyone out there is clear: Do not mess with us. Obey the law and stay out of trouble. What makes it such an awesome feat is the sheer number of people involved, not just rioters but onlookers, plus the fact that many speak only a smattering of it. So the police officers either had to speak Tamil/Hindi or had the help of an army of interpreters.
We cannot fault the urgency to act swiftly. But the authorities must leave no room for error and misjudgement. Remember, those deported go home in disgrace and may be condemned to a life of debt because most of them borrowed heavily to come here. Their families will suffer greatly.
Let’s compare the swiftness and decisiveness of the Singpore action to the British riots of 2011 which swept across a few cities. One year after the riots, it was reported that investigators were still checking surveillance footage to identify rioters, and there were people who were charged only after many months.
Recall too the example of plastic surgeon Woffles Wu whose case regarding abetment in speeding offences only came to a conclusion after more than six years. Yes, it took that long to convict one man for speeding offences, and it may take months before we know about the culpability of the bus driver in the Little India riot.
But the fate of 300 migrant workers have been decided in little more than a week. What about that of the bus driver?.