Posted by Cassandra T. in Updates on December 9, 2013
Singapore is well known for its many achievements, with our fantastic airport, low corruption rates, low crime rates and being a clean and green city. However, today we were thrust in the limelight all over the world for something we are not proud of.
Last night, a Singaporean bus driver hit an Indian national at Little India, killing him on the spot. This accident sparked off a riot of about 400 people at the scene. Police cars were overturned, with three police cars and an ambulance set on fire, fights ensued, vehicles nearby were damaged, and there were even two explosions.
I’m not saying that these foreigners were right in starting a riot. They will have to face the charges for what they did. What I am saying is: let’s put ourselves in their shoes.
How desperate and helpless they must have felt, watching one of their own get killed right before their very eyes. How desperate and helpless they must have felt to use a baseball bat and take it out on the bus that caused the accident, bashing it and breaking its windows. How desperate and helpless they must have felt to start a riot in orderly, peaceful Singapore.
As low-class foreign workers in Singapore, these people are subjected to multiple conditions that they do not have a voice against: cramped and dirty living quarters, meagre pay, high commission fees by their agents, unscrupulous companies who delay wages, and employers who don’t give a damn about their work safety risks. On top of that, they are shunned by Singaporeans, looked down upon and made to feel unwelcome here.
An example of foreign workers’ living quarters in Singapore (to read more about their living conditions, click here)
All these conditions have created deep-seated frustrations and resentment in the foreign workers over time. Also, as xenophobic tensions become increasingly worse, things were building up to a boil. Last night’s accident was merely the tipping point.
If I were in their shoes, I’d be miserable. Frustrated. Resentful. Angry. Angry enough to explode if I see a fellow national killed right before my eyes? Probably.
Singapore’s population is at its highest yet, with 5.4 million people living on a tiny red dot. Of this number, 40% of them are foreigners. And it is no secret that xenophobic tensions in Singapore are at an all-time high.
While it is a Singaporean thing to complain and demand that our Government do something about it, Singaporeans need to realize that we do have the power to make a difference. It starts from the ground, from us.
About six months ago, I was queuing for bubble tea at a shop in Toa Payoh. In front of me was a Singaporean Indian man. When he stepped forward and gave his order (“One cappuccino, with less milk”), the server, who was a young Mainland Chinese girl, just gave him a blank, confused look. Turns out she didn’t understand English. Realizing this, the man got pretty pissed off and said loudly, “What’s the point of hiring you if you can’t speak English?” Hearing the commotion, I stepped in and translated his order in Mandarin to the staff. As she hurriedly prepared his order, he went on his rant to me about how service staff should all understand English. I smiled and nodded sympathetically. When he left and it was my turn to order, the girl smiled gratefully at me and thanked me. The act of translation was small, but it did help to smooth things over.
I admit, it is really tough adjusting to this many foreigners in our country, to see unfamiliar faces and hear unfamiliar accents on public transport, in restaurants, shops, everywhere. But, let’s try to have a little empathy for these people who have come a long way from home in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Try to be friendly, and step in to help if you see a situation where you can help.
After all, the unavoidable truth is that Singapore cannot survive without them.