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Little India COI: The violence that night, according to the first responders

Certis Cisco officer Nathan, a Tamil-speaking Malaysian, has been patrolling the Little India area on weekends since he joined the security firm in 2010. On Little India patrols, he works between 2pm and 1am on “foreign worker management’’,  and is empowered to issue summons for littering and to disperse loiterers. He said it was a difficult duty to discharge not because the foreign workers would not listen or resisted. Rather, they listened and reverted to whatever they were doing earlier when security officers were out of sight. The huge numbers also meant that one group would be quickly replaced by another. He said he issued just one summons a month and no, he had no orders to go easy on the workers from his superiors.  He had seen just one fight during his patrols.

The action

Mr Nathan and two other “protection officers’’, also Certis Cisco men, were in Northumberland Road when another three-man Cisco squad patrolling Tekka area radioed for help. Why “protection officers’’? They were there to protect Mr Nathan, a Malaysian who is Tamil-speaking and who was armed with baton and a revolver and empowered to issue summons. How the duo are supposed to do this when they themselves were not armed was not raised.  

When his team got to Race Course Road where the accident took place, a small crowd had gathered. With three or four foreign workers, the two squads formed a human shield round the bus which was being pelted. It seemed that the temperature climbed quickly, with more foreigners crowding around and some troublemakers at the back instigating the crowd in Tamil to “kill the timekeeper’’ that is, the female conductor. And to “burn the bus’’.

He estimated about 20 to 30 “active’’ troublemakers among the 200 or so people then. The crowd kept growing…

More Cisco officers arrived later, also police officers. A red Rhino arrived as well, followed by an SCDF ambulance. But the SCDF officers started getting pelted when they tried to extricate the dead man from under the bus. Missiles started getting larger, with beer bottles, drain covers and dustbins being thrown. From aiming at the bus, the rioters had started aiming at the people instead.

One Cisco officer was seen on video getting hot under his collar – there was some scuffling and pushing as the crowd tried getting near the bus. Mr Nathan was seen talking to the crowd – a less than useful gesture, as the COI members pointed out, since he didn’t have a loud hailer and was talking to the front rows which were not hostile. (Guess the “foreign worker management’’ teams will have a loud hailer with them from now on).

The crowd had  reached about 1,000 or so, according to Mr Nathan.

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 After they extricated the dead men, the SCDF officers got on the bus to get the driver and the female conductor to safety. There was a lot of animosity directed at the female conductor, who seemed to be well known for “scolding’’ foreign workers. Also, she was pinpointed as the person who got Mr Sakhiteval off the bus which later ran over him.

Although she had denied using words like “stupid’’ and “idiot’’ on them last week, Mr Nathan refuted this and even said he had heard her uttering more than that. (The COI did not want to hear what other choice epithets she used though…sheeesh). Other conductors weren’t as harsh, he said, although he acknowledged that some scolding was needed to get the workers in order.

When the bus driver and conductor were got to safety, the crowd started leaving the accident area…only to appear at other parts of Little India.

When the SOC arrived, the crowd started dispersing and offered no resistance. They were “scared’’, he said. Then the police started arresting those who were still milling around. He himself arrested three people, including two him he described as “heavily drunk’’.

The questions:

Why didn’t he use his gun or make an arrest?

Mr Nathan said he was pelted on the back of the head by someone in the crowd but decided against arresting the man because it would be dangerous to make his way through the crowd. Also, they might wrest his revolver from him. Replying to ex Police Commissioner Tee Tua Ba, he said he didn’t think making an arrest would deter the rioters. More policemen and more arrests were needed to make an impact on the crowd, he said.

What were the policemen doing while waiting for the Special Operations Command staff to turn up?

“Calling and taking instructions’’ – the phrase was repeated three times. From what Mr Ganesan Nathan said, it appeared that the policemen were standing around and making phone calls while watching cars being over-turned and burned. A group of 100 or so policemen including Cisco and plain clothes formed lines across one part of Race Course Road but the crowd never made its way towards them. They were creating havoc (my word) elsewhere in the area.

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What was Little India like before and after the riot?

There was little order in terms of alighting and getting off the buses. There were too many foreign workers on the weekends and too many shops selling liquor. Even vegetable stalls were selling liquor. There were just 60 Cisco officers patrolling on weekends, and police presence was minimal. Now, the bus area is so well-lit that “no one sits there’’ and the presence of policemen were “too many to count’’.

Mr Nathan’s conclusions were pretty scathing. His view was that the police acted too slowly and there weren’t enough of them. More arrests of the troublemakers  made earlier would have helped the situation. Except that they seemed to be doing “reporting’’ and waiting for backup in the form of the SOC.    

* I think I covered everything. I am sorry to say I didn’t cover the third witness…but I have to leave something for MSM to do!!!!    



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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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