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Anti-riot exercise for South Asians draws flak from activists

PTI 13 Nov 2014, 11:18:35 AM IST

Singapore: Singapore has held an anti-riot exercise involving South Asians, seeking to promote “mutual understanding” between security forces and foreign workers, a move deemed “offensive” by rights activists.  The scripted exercise was held at Woodlands dormitory of workers on October 26, nearly 11 months after the Little India riots, worst street violence in the country in four decades.  

The drill had about 10 workers from Bangladesh and India raising fists and throwing plastics bottles at police officers carrying shields. The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers extinguished fires and carried stretchers.  The exercise invited criticism after Singapore's National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan posted pictures of it on the Facebook on Tuesday.

In one of the picture posts, as carried by The Straits Times, the workers were seen squatting with hands on the back of their heads.

Responding to the criticism, Khaw yesterday said, those involved in the hour-long exercise held at the dormitory found it a “meaningful collaboration”.

But people said, they found the exercise “offensive” for featuring South Asian workers, especially after last December riot in Little India here.

The December 8 riot had left 54 officers injured and 23 emergency vehicles damaged following the death of an Indian national in an accident with a bus.

“Not only does this encourage racism towards the community, it dehumanises and marginalises migrant workers even further,” The Straits Times today quoted Jolovan Wham, Executive Director of Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, a local non-governmental organisation for foreign workers, as saying.

However, Khaw said the exercise gave participant a chance to work “hand-in-hand”.

“This is one of the many engagement and education sessions conducted by our grassroots and government agencies with foreign workers, regardless of nationality or race. Past efforts cover areas such as first-aid, dengue prevention and local culture,” the minister said.

“We are not racist. I am Indian and I wrote the script (for the exercise). I did not find it racist,” said V Manimaran, Operations Manager at Wee Chwee Huat Scaffolding and Construction Company which owns the Woodlands dormitory.  

Dormitory Association of Singapore President Kelvin Teo said such role plays are done regularly in various dormitories for foreign workers.

“We get workers to act because it is more realistic that way. They volunteer to help us too,” Teo said.  The police and SCDF said such exercises would be continued.