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Riot Reveals Cracks in Singapore Society


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Filed: Timeline

Sakthivel Kumaravelu was killed last Sunday after being run over by a bus ferrying migrant workers from Little India – a messy, diverse and vibrant part of Singapore with a large number of South Asian shops and restaurants – back to their dormitories. The details of the accident are still murky, but the death of the 33-year-old man triggered the first riot seen in Singapore in more than four decades.

Police cars and ambulances were attacked, some even torched. Eighteen people, including police officers and other emergency service personnel, were injured.


In recent years many events that might not be considered “the Singapore way” have begun to occur. In November 2012, more than a hundred bus drivers for public transport company SMRT went on strike – the first in 26 years. In February 2013, a protest against the Population White Paper drew over 3,000 people, and organizers dubbed it the largest political protest in Singapore’s independent history. A follow-up protest in May again drew a significant crowd. The riot in Little India is simply the latest in a series of surprises.

These occurrences ... all draw attention to the possibility that there’s more behind the city-state’s carefully manicured image of wealth and order.


Singapore has one of the highest inequality levels in the developed world. The country’s eager dependence on importing cheap foreign labor has kept wages low especially for blue-collar workers, and there is no minimum wage. Although there is no official poverty line, the country also has a significant number of people considered as the “working poor,” struggling to make ends meet despite holding down jobs. Segments of society – both citizen and non-citizen – are beginning to feel disenfranchised, underserved and neglected, while the ultra-rich party on.

Migrant workers, who provide the manual labor which props up this shaky system, face huge struggles. Housed apart from the main population, these imported workers are expected to clean the streets and work on Singapore’s many construction sites, while remaining largely separate from mainstream society.


Blogs and social media networks have been buzzing with commentaries demanding more introspection and reflection. Even if the everyday alienation of migrant workers was not a direct cause of the riot, the possibility of it being an underlying cause has not gone unnoticed.

The streets have been cleared and it looks like business as usual in Little India. But the effects of Sunday night’s uproar linger on. Regardless of the official narrative we have once again caught a glimpse of the complexities lying beneath Singapore’s achievements.


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Filed: IR-1/CR-1 Visa Country: China

migrant workers != Singapore Society. Tis impossible, check the passports.


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