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The Little India Triumph? Oh, the Lies We Tell Our Children in School as “Social Studies”

RONALD LEE: Alas, the Little India riot of 2013 will be etched in history as the triumph of Singapore’s efficient law enforcers over a rag tag bunch of troublemakers, rather than the shambolic display of law enforcement that it truly was.

It was with very great dismay that I chanced upon this excerpt from a Social Studies textbook regarding the 2013 Little India riots. The thing about falsehoods is there is the act of lying, and the sin of omission.

In this regard, the text clearly fabricates as much as it leaves out, and appears to do so for the all-important purpose of saving face.

(1) The Big “Swift Actions” Lie

The text says that “within minutes”, the police were activated, then the SOC came and arrested rioters, leading them to disperse. All very quick and rosy. But what really went down was vastly different.

Our policemen on the ground and paramedics were very quick, arriving at the scene within minutes according to the findings of an independent inquiry.

The “forceful” SOC? You know what happens when you come late for a party – the champagne’s drunk and everyone’s ready to go home and watch Arsenal vs Spurs.

“At 10.42 pm, the first troop of 29 SOC officers arrived at the scene, followed by other SOC officers within the next few minutes. As a result of poor traffic conditions and a delay in deployment, it took in total 50 minutes for the SOC to arrive at the scene from the time of notification. By that time, the number of rioters had declined.”

The “ang chia” chaps were an hour late, and it took them another half an hour upon arriving to group and move.

Not exactly as our textbook writer would want you to believe.


(2) Of “Rowdy” Rioters and Running Cops

They weren’t just rowdy, our rioters, they were damn bloody mad! And how did the mad mob swell in size? Because of the failure of police to act resolutely and quickly (ah, back to the “swift actions” lie we go) to disperse the crowd when it was in its early stage of being formed.

By that time, it was too late. Our gallant policemen were simply outnumbered although pictures and footage show that many did their best to quell the riot.

On the flipside, we have this – CISCO officers hiding in an ambulance (CISCO officers are tasked with patrolling the Little India area for the purpose of maintaining order).

So bad was command and control over the situation that the independent inquiry even gave the police commander the metaphorical stick up the arse for being so terribly useless, which you can read more about here.

<but this guy was a damn hero lah>

(3) The Knee-Jerk Destruction of Rice Bowls

Missing the forest for the trees? No link was found regarding alcohol and the riot, though the independent inquiry purported that it was a “major contributing factor” to the escalation of the riot because, erm, alcohol intoxication, which can lead to increased aggression.

What was glossed over: testimony from a foreign worker witness who said that it is the culture of the working class in Tamil Nadu to be rebellious and disobey law enforcers.

Another cause acknowledged by the independent inquiry: psychologists’ testimony that the rioters had a desire for street justice (which again speaks about the culture of the foreign workers involved).

What did we get? Alcohol curbs that crushed close to 400 businesses in Little India, which became a “proclaimed area” under the Public Order Preservation Act.

(4) Innocence is a Privilege

The one area where action was swift and decisive was the deportation of migrant workers – 57 of them. Four workers who had their charges dropped and were not found guilty of anything were acquitted by the court, but were also sent home.  So much for innocent until proven guilty.

When questioned why they were deported, the police said their involvement was deemed serious enough. No further explanation was given regarding that involvement. And as mentioned, they were acquitted.

In Sum

As you can see, this wasn’t as rosy as the picture painted in our children’s Social Studies textbooks. Far from it.

We would have done better to present to kids the facts, and involve them in critical thinking discussions so they can understand the nature of the incident and know better than to take Singapore’s security for granted. We’ve similar examples such as the Hock Lee Bus riot and the Maria Hertogh riot presented all raw and gritty, so why not this case too?

But history is written by the victors, as the old saying goes, and our kids are the true losers in this game of smoke and mirrors.

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