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Straits Times’ misleading portrayal of timekeeper in the Little India Riot

Straits Times’ ‘Little India Riot Survivor’ Report Distorts Reality: Contrary to its portrayal of the timekeeper as a mere bystander caught in the fury of an angry mob over the death of a fellow worker, she was notorious in Little India for using derogatory verbal abuse towards migrant workers taking the buses back to their dormitories and had been shouting at the crowd gathered around the bus, further agitating them in the lead up to the riot and burning of police vehicles.



The Straits Times (ST) recently wrote a piece about Madam Wong Geck Woon, reflecting on her thoughts a decade after the Little India Riot in December 2013.

The riot, sparked by the death of Indian worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu in a traffic accident, sent shockwaves through Singapore and the world, as it had been the first riot in more than 40 years.

Images and videos of police vehicles being burnt by rioters shocked the public, leading many to wonder how such an event could occur in what was considered the safest country in the region.

In its report, ST wrote about the risks faced by Wong, who was working as a bus timekeeper, from the angry mob due to rumours surrounding Sakthivel’s death and how she survived the ordeal.

They wrote,

‘Some said Madam Wong had pushed Mr Sakthivel off the bus, even though she was nowhere near it when the accident occurred. Others claimed his body was mistreated by first responders.

The workers were determined to take it out on Mr Lee and Madam Wong.

She was tending to the queue of workers and quickly made her way to the bus when she heard about the accident.’

Contrary to ST’s report, which portrayed Wong as an innocent bystander trapped in the bus with the driver, she was actually at the heart of the storm, sparking the rioters’ wrath, as attested by witnesses at the Committee of Inquiry (COI) hearing.

Ganesan Thanaraj, a 34-year-old Indian national working as a welder in Singapore, was on the bus with Sakthivel on the night of 8 December.

Ganesan testified during the 6-week COI hearing that Sakthivel seemed drunk from his manner of walking and the way he asked ‘unpleasant’ questions while Ganesan was waiting in the bus queue.

‘He was asking if Bangladeshi workers were better than Indian workers,’ Ganesan recounted. Sakthivel asked this after overhearing Wong ask a Bangladeshi worker to tell the Indian workers to stand in line while waiting for the buses.

While in the queue, Ganesan noted Sakthivel was ‘standing quietly and did not say anything.’

Wong then asked Sakthivel, whom Ganesan referred to as ‘the Indian worker,’ whether he was drunk, suspecting as much from the commotion Sakthivel was reported to be making earlier.

After Sakthivel boarded the bus, Wong went up to the bus to tell him to get down, and Ganesan said she told him that she would not allow the bus to move off as long as Sakthivel was on board.

‘He did not argue with the lady conductor,’ Ganesan said, referring to Wong.

Sakthivel then voluntarily got off the bus, as captured by the onboard camera.

After Sakthivel was off the bus, it started to drive off. While making the left turn at the corner of the road, the bus slowed down. Sakthivel decided to run after it but lost his balance after putting his hand on the bus and fell on the road.

Without seeing Sakthivel, the bus first ran over his head with the front wheel and then pinned him under its back wheel as the bus came to a stop.

The bus driver had been alerted by the then-panicked bus passengers. The passengers alighted and wanted to save his life.

They approached the bus driver and asked him to move the bus so that Sakthivel could be extricated from under its wheel. However, the bus driver did not do so.

According to third-party accounts, the bus driver said he would not move the vehicle but did not explain why he couldn’t.

There was a belief among the crowd that Sakthivel was still alive under the bus, and then a misconception arose that he died due to the refusal by the bus driver to help. A point that the COI noted during the hearings.

COI chairman, and former judge GP Selvam shared claims that when Sakthivel Kumaravelu’s body was extricated from under the bus, he was still alive.

“During extrication, he was still alive. Instead of attending to him, you just took him away. Subsequently, he died,” Selvam said, relating what some have told him.

“That’s not correct,” he added, referring to those theories.

Senior Staff Sergeant Mydeen Sahul Hameed, who had then served ten years in the Singapore Police Force in 2014, told the COI that the crowd was angry with the bus driver and the timekeeper and were throwing things at the two of them who had taken refuge in the bus.

The crowd was also heard shouting, ‘A friend was killed by the two of them and life has no value.’

Despite giving a statement to the court under oath that she had never been rude to the migrant workers, police and auxiliary officers said that Wong was notorious at Little India for using derogatory verbal abuse at the migrant workers who take the buses back to their dormitory.

Furthermore, contrary to the impression that the ST report gave about Wong silently waiting for assistance, statements from witnesses stated that she was shouting at the crowd gathered around the bus, agitating the crowd further.

Mydeen told the COI that he noticed the lady on the bus, who was Wong, poking her head out of the bus. He told her to get back inside the bus, but she did not listen and continued screaming at the crowd.

Mydeen and other officers later formed a human barrier to shield the Singapore Civil Defence Force officers who were trying to extricate the body of Sakthivel from under the bus.

Later, as the police shielded the bus driver and the timekeeper and escorted them from the bus to safety, Mydeen said the crowd’s anger escalated as they saw the two people emerge from the bus.

According to what have been heard from workers through their contacts, workers who had been there felt aggrieved to see that the two whom they believed to be responsible for the death of a fellow worker were being protected by the authorities. Selvam also affirmed this during the hearing.

That anger spiralled, and the rest is history.

False claim against the deceased worker

A point to note is that Wong had told the Singapore media and in her statement to the COI that the bus driver, Lee Kim Huat, had told her that Sakthivel had pulled down his pants while he was on the bus.

However, the media also reported that the bus driver denied saying this. Lee had also testified in the COI hearing that he did not notice ‘the Indian worker’ taking off his pants.

Ganesan, who said that Sakthivel had been standing in front of him on the bus, was asked if he had seen Sakthivel drop or remove his pants while on the bus.

‘Did you see the Indian worker’s pants come off?’
‘No,’ Ganesan said.
‘Not at any time?’
‘So he had his pants on all the time?’
‘Yes. I did not see his pants coming down.’

The video that captured the inside of the bus also did not show Sakthivel pulling down his pants.

A My Paper report on 10 December seemed to have attributed the original claim of Sakthivel removing his trousers to the Singapore Police Force.

And yes, Wong’s lies in the hearing against the deceased Sakthivel were never pursued by the Attorney General’s Chambers under perjury.

The AGC also decided not to charge the bus driver for any driving offence or causing death by negligent act prior to the COI hearing.

It was revealed in the COI hearing that Lee, who accidentally killed the worker, had been driving the bus for a few months and had no idea that the bus was equipped with video cameras around the bus.

It was only during the hearing that he realized that he was supposed to turn on the monitors of the bus to have a good view of the surroundings of the bus.

If Lee had turned on the video cameras, he would have seen the worker running by the side of the bus prior to the fatal accident.

In summary, ST’s report on Wong is just one of several reports of the Little India Riot that fails to address the full complexity of the matter.

Multiple perspectives and deeper analyses, particularly from a state-backed media outlet, are essential for a comprehensive grasp of the underlying issues, rather than presenting an oversimplified version to the general public, unless that is the intention.

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so bad driver and combined with angry karen auntie sparked the riot… awesome. but well, useless to blame a dead drunk crazy guy running after a bus anyways.

How did the coi make judgement based on story telling! How is the pofma not applied to the papers?

There seems to be a lot of confusion without a through Investigation. Why is the chairman making his own opinion when he questioned the dcp?

The failure of the civil service is because the government white washes all their wrongdoings and crimes. They need the ST to do this and once done the crime is never addressed or the necessary changes and corrections are never put in place. The pile increases and at present the stench is overwhelming with dishonesty, incompetence and poor regulation. Only our votes can take us out of the rut we have placed ourselves into.The PAP are too drunk with power to be able to see or understand the damage they are doing to the State and Citizens.

Used Singapreans money to write BIG LIES on behalf of frauding Politicians to CHOKE and KILL Singapreans – is this OBNOXIOUS and MURDEROUS behaviour sanctioned by their proxy BOSSES? Their Bosses are Singapreans NOT this PAP.
I do NOT SEE ANY differences in CHARACTERs between that of CPIB and Shit Times as far as CLEANLINESS is concerned. Anyone?

unless that is the intention.

Trademark .

Saw this news which 27 YO with Student Pass Via NDTV .