SINGAPORE — The police had acted too slowly in arresting some of the “troublemakers” when the riot broke out in Little India on Dec 8 last year, which led the situation to spiral out of control, said an auxiliary officer who was caught in the chaos that day.
Mr Nathan Chandra Sekaran, who was one of two Certis CISCO officers to testify before a Committee of Inquiry (COI) hearing yesterday, also said some of the foreign workers gathered in the crowd had shouted in Tamil that they wanted to burn the vehicle and kill bus timekeeper Wong Geck Woon.
“As I can understand Tamil, I heard the foreign workers shouting words to the effect that the timekeeper had caused the death of the deceased because she had asked him to depart the bus earlier. They wanted to kill her and they wanted to burn the bus,” said Mr Nathan.
“These shouts were coming from some foreign workers who were standing at the back of the crowd and throwing projectiles at the bus.”
That night, a bus that ferried foreign workers back to their dormitories ran over Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33, and the fatal accident sparked off a riot.
And in contrast to Madam Wong’s testimony last week that she had never physically or verbally abused the foreign workers, both Mr Nathan and Mr Raymond Murugiasu, the second CISCO officer who testified yesterday, said they had seen her do so previously.
Mr Nathan said Mdm Wong had to shout at the foreign workers to get them in line as there was no proper queue system for boarding the buses and she had used words such as “stupid” and “idiot” previously when interacting with the foreign workers.
“She would also push them from the road to the pavement and at one time, I saw one male Indian fall after she pushed him,” said Mr Raymond.
He also told the hearing that the riot could have erupted due to the police’s “late response” in controlling the crowd.
When asked by COI member Tee Tua Ba, who is also the former Police Commissioner, to elaborate on what he meant by “late response”, Mr Raymond said despite having alerted the police about the incident, their delayed arrival led foreign workers to ask him why he had not taken any action yet. He added that he had to ask the crowd to be “patient”.
Mr Nathan also told the hearing that police vehicles might not have been set on fire if those in the crowd who were threatening to burn the bus had been hauled up more swiftly.
“In my opinion, the police reacted too slowly to the riot … and more police officers should have been sent to the scene earlier,” he said.
“The police officers who came early, I only saw them reporting the incident and waiting for backup. I truly believe that the riot would not have gone out of control if the police had arrested some of the troublemakers early.”
Auxiliary police officers, Mr Nathan added, are trained in crowd control, traffic control and the issue of summonses, but not in riot control, and it was “very difficult for my fellow CISCO officers and me to manage such a big crowd”.
Stiff summonses that are issued to foreign workers might also have caused them to feel anger towards uniformed officers, said Mr Raymond.
If foreign workers are caught urinating in public, he said, they are fined S$150, but half the toilets at the bus boarding area are closed on Saturdays and all of them are closed on weekdays.
Mr Nathan also opined that there were “too many shops selling alcohol in Little India” and the many “drunk” foreign workers in the vicinity could have fuelled the melee that night.