Ambulance set ablaze. Photo: Straits Times

Ambulance set ablaze. Photo: Straits Times

A small riot broke out in Little India on Sunday night, 8 December 2013. The junction of Race Course Road and Hampshire Road (just north of Little India MRT Station) is usually teeming with South Asian migrant workers Sunday nights. The area is more popular with Tamils than with Bangladeshis.

News reports say that it began 9:23 pm after a private-hire bus knocked down construction worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33, who is said to be an Indian national. First responders came to the scene but soon declared the victim dead. They were trying to extricate the body from under the bus when onlookers started throwing objects at them, proceeding to smash the vehicle. We do not know what interaction there might have been between the first responders and onlookers that could have sparked off the confrontation.

Here’s a video originally uploaded onto Facebook by Berlinda Samuel Tan:

Things escalated quickly; Today newspaper said it “involved about 400 people”. Riot control units (including its Gurkha members) had to be called in. The police said that about 300 officers responded to the event but not a single shot – lethal or non-lethal – was fired. Calm was restored about one or two hours later.

There were eighteen casualties including ten police officers and four from the rescue service Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). The Singaporean private-hire bus driver and assistant were also among the eighteen. Six remained at Tan Tock Seng hospital overnight but their conditions were “not serious”, according to news reports.

Initial reports said 27 persons were arrested for “rioting with dangerous weapons” and more arrests can be expected.

Today newspaper further reported:

Eye witnesses told TODAY that they heard shouting before a crowd that had gathered at the scene started hurling bottles and rubbish bins at the police and SCDF vehicles. The crowd became more rowdy and threw more items including metal grates, baskets, vegetables and pieces of road dividers at law enforcement personnel.

Several police cars were overturned and five vehicles – three police vehicles, an SCDF ambulance and a motorbike – were burnt. In total, five police vehicles and nine SCDF vehicles were damaged.

— Today, 9 December 2013, Riot breaks out at Little India. Link

Some reports in online media describe it as “alcohol-fuelled”.

Here’s a longer video uploaded by chewkkf showing police cars being overturned:


However, Ken Eisold writes in Psychology Today:

It usually takes an incident to get a riot started, such as an accident or the police attacking or killing an innocent bystander. But once it has begun, the raging mob has a life of its own. Deep-seated resentments, repetitive frustrations and long standing disappointments galvanize people into action.

— Psychology Today, 18 August 2011, Understanding why people riot, Link.

See also Rare riot hits Singapore by Wong Chun Han of the Wall Street Journal.


See also: TWC2 media statement on rioting in Little India.

Frequently asked questions — our views on the riot in Little India.

Little India riot — learning the right lessons from this episode.