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Litle India COI: A fellow bus passenger testifies

 Okay, I saw the video at the Little India COI. Parts of it anyway. Saw the Indian foreign worker board the bus for his Jalan Bahar dorm. Saw him get called to get off the bus. Saw him walking and then running alongside the bus when it started moving. Saw him place his palm on the bus, slip on the wet ground and go under…

My eyes shut at that point.

So was Mr Sakthivel drunk? He didn’t seem so as far I could tell from the video. I mean, he wasn’t swaying, swerving, staggering or falling over his feet. The video had no audio so no one could tell if he was slurring (not that I would understand Tamil anyway). And no one asked about his breath either. The 33 year old was gripping an umbrella and a bag of something with one hand while the other hand seemed to be holding up his pants. The video didn’t show him dropping them deliberately but it seemed his trousers were suffering from some kind of zipper malfunction.

Bits and pieces of the video were replayed this morning for the benefit of his fellow Indian national, a Mr Ganesan, a welder, who was on the bus as well. Mr Ganesan said he thought the man had “some alcohol’’ in him; because of what he did before he boarded the bus. Apparently, Mr Sakthivel didn’t like it that the female conductor had asked a Bangladeshi to get the Indians in line before boarding the bus. He was asking those in the queue if they thought Bangladeshis were better than Indians.

That appeared to be the main commotion he caused, going by what Mr Ganesan said. But the female conductor, who seemed to be very much a battleaxe, told him to get off the bus anyway.  He said the female conductor ordered Mr Sakthivel off the bus – or the bus wouldn’t move. Mr Ganesan thought she seemed to have noticed the earlier commotion he caused. He wondered why she ordered him off, when he was already on. With many pairs of eyes trained on him, Mr Sakthivel alighted. Unmolested.

 It took close to three hours for Mr Ganesan  to go over his statement and respond to the COI’s questions, because he needed an interpretor (Have to ask this: Does it take twice as long to render in Tamil what is said in English?)

In fact, there was a point when it seemed that he was about to recant his statement, when asked to positively identify Mr Sakthivel as the man who was making a fuss before boarding the bus. The man seemed at pains not to say anything incriminating about either the dead man or his compatriots, especially on whether drunken behaviour and fights were a common sight in Little India.

Maybe he wasn’t quite the right man either. He goes to
Little India once every two months, usually to meet friends. He’s a teetotaller and that Dec 8 night was the only time he had half a bottle of Knockout Beer, he said. He goes to Boon Lay to remit money home, about $750 of his $1,000-or-so monthly paycheck – not Little India. And he prefers to rest on his days off or at least be back in the dorm early. In fact, he legged it to the next bus after the accident because he had to start work at 8am the next day.

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The COI didn’t just grill him about what went on that night. It seemed to be on some kind of fact-finding mission on what he and his fellow country thought about Singapore as a place to work in. Such as whether they get harassed by Cisco officers while in Little India and whether pay and working conditions were acceptable. He said no to the first question and yes to the other two.

In case you’re interested in a glimpse of his life: He shares a dorm room with 10 others and they have a television set, although they would rather watch television in a communal area. But he did complain about the disparity in pay across companies and asked for a $2 rise in pay. He started with $20 a day with his first company 10 years ago and his second company paid him $25 a day. He  said he had to make his third company pay him the $24 it promised rather than the $22. He is happy with his current company which pays him $32 a day and also because it pays him “on time’’.

The cynical would probably wonder if Mr Ganesan could ever say anything nasty about his workplace or Singapore while he is still in the country. He was also asked if he agreed/disagreed with other foreign workers if Singapore was the best place to work in compared to the Middle East or Malaysia. Something was lost in translation causing the question to be repeated. The bottomline: Singapore is best, although how he could come to that conclusion since he had never worked anywhere else wasn’t asked. Perhaps, the COI considered that  that he was making his fourth work trip to Singapore, a place which his mother had recommended, and this was evidence enough of his contentment with place.

His testimony wasn’t as exciting as the next witness, Certis Cisco officer Nathan, a Malaysian who has been patrolling in Little India on weekends since he started work as an auxillary police cop in 2010.

That’s the next instalment. Coming up in half hour.





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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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