News Reports

Little India COI: Would you want to live in Little India?

Those poor auxillary police officers who patrol Little India are being bashed from both sides. By NGOs who say they’ve been too rough on foreign workers and by residents who say they’re not tough enough.

Actually, the number of summons issued could show if they’ve been rough or tough. And it hasn’t gone up. That’s always struck me as kind of funny because littering and peeing – which one group say they do naturally at home because it isn’t the law over there – should have seen the numbers go up. But we have one officer who told the COI that he only gives out like two summonses a month. Well, maybe he prefers the soft approach of “talking’’ to them. He’s Tamil-speaking.

The NGOs are out in force holding the ground for foreign workers. So we’ve heard appeals for understanding their different culture, the state of their life here and even to learn a bit of their language. Well, at least a few of auxillary officers were Tamil-speaking – so it is not as though the need for a fluent Tamil speaker was disregarded by the cops.

But it’s good to hear from the residents there and I must say they’re making their displeasure loud and clear. Their representatives have zero sympathy for the foreign workers who loiter near their homes on weekends. The picture they paint would resonate with most people. You wouldn’t like to be barred in your home on weekends too, because you don’t want to navigate round drunks or people who sleep at your void deck and staircase landings. You wouldn’t like to be accosted by prostitutes as well – or be mistaken for one.

I mean, that’s one of the reasons people don’t like dormitories in their backyard right? The current dormitories are now located in isolated areas, out of sight and probably out of mind.

There was a very pointed question raised at the COI about how residents should know what they were getting into, especially if they’ve moved in over the past 12 to 15 years or so. It’s the same sort of question that gets posed to residents who live in Geylang. You know you are moving into the red light district, so why complain about the “girls’’ and their customers flocking the area?

The answer from Mr Martin Pereria, a long time resident: “But this is still Singapore. My point is this..When in Rome, you should do as the Romans do, not expect the Romans to adjust to you.’’

So, Houston, we have a problem.

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That problem is what to do with the hundreds of thousands of foreign workers who get the same day off every week? One NGO has set up a place for foreign maids making the pointed comment that they will no longer have to disturb mall owners and retailers. Again, it’s an out of sight, out of mind problem.

If only Singapore was bigger, but it is not. So we have more recreation areas for them? And disperse them round the island? I won’t put it past people to complain if pockets of foreign workers suddenly emerge near their homes to throng recreation areas set up for them. Then we’ll hear a different tune: That they should be “contained’’ in Little India.

Put the lid on liquor licences? That’s one solution and the officials in charge have a lot to answer for for the number of licences awarded to Little India traders.

Take a tougher line on drunken behaviour in public places? How tough is tough? Want to get tough in Boat Quay and other water holes also? We’ve got to remember that whatever laws apply to foreign workers will probably apply to locals as well. Then the complaint will be about a paranoid police, rather than a protocol police.

Actually I haven’t heard anything about CCTV cameras in the Little India area. Parliament yesterday heard that even more will be put up, to capture litterbugs, for example. I happen to think that this is too much of Big Brother approach if this was mainly to nab litterbugs. Imagine if you’re busted because you’ve been caught on candid camera and there is some facial recognition programme that traces you to your residential address…I would say: “Sure I left the bag on the ground, so yes I littered. But how in heaven’s name did you trace me like that? Is this such a big crime as to warrant this kind of time and energy? What else do you know or have on me? Who else knows about me? Go reinforce the Woodlands checkpoint instead lah.’’

Sorry, I couldn’t resist that last line…

But you know, having CCTVs galore at large gathering areas for the purpose of maintaining law and order is something I would be extremely comfortable with. So far, we haven’t heard very much about the “monitoring’’ of Little India. Maybe the presence of cameras would prompt better behaviour among the visitors to Little India. Just a small suggestion.

Of course, the best way is not to have such a large foreign worker population. But that would mean the construction and shipping industries had better get on with finding more efficient ways to do work than to rely on masses of cheap labour.

Sigh. What to do? This is a “small country’’ problem.  

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© 2022 Bertha Henson

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