By Daniel S. Fletcher
Sparks fly in the seemingly sterile Singapore, as Little India erupts in a 400-strong demonstration with tipped police cars, unrest and an evening of anarchy in the UK(‘s most orderly former colony) – in a sleepy, slow-paced land lies madness in one direction!
Little India erupts in spontaneous rage after a private bus accidentally, but fatally, knocked down a Bangladeshi or Indian labourer at the junction of Race Course & Hampshire road. The ensuing madness saw one of the world’s least utilised or needed police forces called in to dispel what quickly transformed from verbal expressions of dissatisfaction into full-blown arson and carnage, as close to four hundred protesters overturned and burned cars, launched missiles and vented in a vitriolic outpouring of apoplectic anger.
But as this piece will argue; it makes sense. There are reasons behind this shock malfunction at the junction; its eighteen injuries and the unfortunate death of a man. Is it not the case that either side of the bridge that connects Singapore and Malaysia; first world and third; financial enclave/western exclave and Islamic southeast Asia, there exists an extremely disenfranchised, unprotected labour force and underclass of labourers, maids and more? Last night, sparks merely lit the fuse of existing tension.
Sociologically fascinating to the outside eye in Asia; rather more aggravating to the hundreds of aggrieved Singaporean spitting their vitriolic anger at this spontaneous eruption of fury. The riots of Singapore on the eve of December 8th 2013 may well irritate the melting pot of Chinese, Malay and various other racial groups that became properly populated and unified under the Union Jack flag of the British Empire, on which the sun famously never set, and ultimately separated from the Malaysian mainland and the rest of continental Asia, becoming its own Brave New World on a fiercely separatist quest for self-identity during the rise of communism in the East.
What followed polarises opinion; is the clean, safe, orderly enclave of world finance and global player in the money markets that is Singapore a Triumph Of The Will, a triumphal achievement of the people populating a small, then-war ravaged island no more than twenty-six miles wide and fourteen miles from north to south, with no discernible “racial” blood type of its own having been the British Empire’s Malaya trading port, and then a post-colonial semi-autonomous part of the new Malaysia from which it promptly separated … or, a sterile, grandiose monument to drudgery and the encroachment of world corporatocracy into Asia?
A bit of both; beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and while sometimes sterile, and [reportedly] a den of depression, Singapore can certainly be fun. And, what what, t’is about company and mindset; positivity breeds positivity and belief is transcendental!
In this environment, the riots of 8/12/13 have knocked many for six.
But was something like this not imminently possible to the masses?
In the ethnic melting pots that these nations – Malaysia, and the island of Singapore are comprised of – and the class diversity and disparity existing elsewhere as a globally common symptom of the human inability to create egalitarian societies – is it really so unforeseeable that sparks could fly?
Why, even as a first world enclave of commerce, is Singapore exempt?
Or in their version of “the rat race”, per se, did the potential for grievance bypass the sensibilities of the average suit and tie?
The current situation is one of shock, and many are calling for action; that being the standard euphemism for discriminate but significant force.
Eighteen human beings are injured – supposedly, ten of them are the police officers who rushed to the scene to quell the crowd disturbance – and one is dead, the labourer struck by the bus. Now, many in Singapore are calling for the police to engage in full blown internal security mode and squash any lingering dissidence with malevolent force.
But with a disenfranchised class – even in orderly, clean Singapore - is this not the kind of periodic reaction a class society can expect?
I have travelled, over the course of two calendar years, by the count of my passport, at least twenty times to Malaysia and Singapore to cover sporting events, and while both must of course be separated by their very modern nature; one being a predominantly Islamic, technically third world country, and the island to which it remains connected via bridge is an all-but western cultural exclave of mostly Chinese blood and powered on the desire for orderly peace and mass capital. However, one thing definitely still connects the two countries beyond its irritating bridge; the two races that suffer (the most, and worst) in both countries both begin with “I” – Indian, and Indonesian.
Tales are shared casually of the predominantly Indonesian maids being mistreated; beaten, used as sex slaves or worse. Of course, it would be a gross injustice to suggest that many or most engage in such callous behaviour – that would be a ludicrous suggestion, as there are many wonderful people in both nations – but consensus has it that Indonesian maids -often sleeping in the kitchen-side maid’s room and the one non-air-conditioned room in many houses and apartments – frequently get a raw deal, complete with confiscated passports, little pay and no days off.
Indians consist of the “third” ethnic group of Malaysia and Singapore, after Chinese and indigenous Malay. They are the least financially secure (my my, what diplomatic language – the Foreign Office should sign me up) and have all-but second class citizenship in Malaysia… though so too do the Chinese, not that they, as the richest race, could care less.
Other groups from the region that separates Middle from Far East – such as Pakistani and Bangladeshi, of whom it is believed a majority of the protestors and current cheap labour force consists – make up the rest of the ethnic “underclass”.
Now, this is not to denigrate two nations in the wake of rioting; that would be cheap and sensationalist, a transparent and tacky ploy on my part. But, with Indian labourers reportedly working all week in less-than-brilliant conditions, being reportedly badly paid in the extreme – let us remember, this is not Thailand with the shack-dwelling Burmese refugee workforce, this is first world,commerce driven, pricey Singapore – and in light of the conditions for certain ethnicities – the “have nots” – in stark comparison to the “haves”, when one of them gets run over by a bus, and a large group of them witness this act, is it really surprising that a degree of anger and unrest occurred?
A culture of Indonesian slaves – controversial wording, but I stand by it – and underpaid, underprotected underclass slash illegal workforces with no rights, will ultimately lead to inevitable unrest. It only takes one accident to light the fuse, as last night so starkly demonstrated.
Observing some of the reactions is fascinating; it’s as though this riot was an impossibility, improbable in the extreme; unforeseeable, ludicrous, how dare they disturb the tranquility and Singaporean peace!
As an outsider, with an egalitarian heart and a fully-fledged citizen of the universe, I would instead suggest that Indian and Bangladeshi workers get paid better, treated a little fairer, have some labour protection enforced, have legislature drafted granting them certain rights as workers and while we’re at it, that Indonesian maids in Malaysia and Singapore could be allowed the ONE day off PER MONTH that they quite recently appealed for.
Let humanity prevail, and the zeitgeist capture a positive and loving energy of the people in these dark, apathetic and savage corporate times.