Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are her own.
In the next few days, there will be a hunger for facts from the riot in Little India. Many questions will need to be answered, and much that investigators will have to clear up as the Committee of Inquiry proceeds.
But one fact that has been revealed – that the deceased Sakthivel Kumaravelu was drunk and rowdy – does not the whole truth make.
According to STOMP, the police revealed that Mr Kumaravelu was drunk when he tried to board the already-full bus before his death. This was picked up by local press publications such as My Paper. “He even dropped his trousers,” the STOMP article adds helpfully.
It's no doubt interesting to a press and public hungry for detail, any detail, of Sunday night’s incident. But of all the facts that we needed to know, this wasn't one of them. At least, not in the way it’s been released in isolation for the people to make a meal of.
It no longer matters that Mr Kumaravelu was drunk. It matters that he is dead.
People get drunk and do stupid things. Occasionally, these stupid things result in death. If that’s what the investigators are trying to say, then they should also explain how Mr Kumaravelu’s state led to him ending up under a bus. We also need to hear the Singaporean bus driver's version of events, and that of his female assistant time-keeper.
Revealing and dwelling on the fact of Kumaravelu's drunkenness in isolation suggests that he was somehow responsible for his own demise. He could very well be, but it also smacks of victim-blaming, and doesn’t explain anything about what really happened on Sunday night.
It also plays into the currently adopted narrative that this whole episode was merely caused by rowdy migrant workers pissed on alcohol. We are encouraged to interpret this as a one-off incident of a wasted “unruly mob” running amok on Race Course Road. They very well could have been, but is there more?
The knee-jerk reaction of imposing a temporary ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol in that particular part of Little India serves to support this narrative, giving people the impression that this is somehow part of the solution to the problem.
It would be a mistake to do so.
Focusing on Mr Kumaravelu’s drinking reveals a lack of concern for a man who met a tragic end, reducing him to little more than a random drunken Indian who was probably somehow responsible for all this trouble.
Such a simplistic reading of the situation would be throwing away an opportunity to examine deeper divisions within Singapore.
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