I’m sure by now that many of you would have heard about the riot that broke out at Little India on 8 December, following a fatal traffic accident between an Indian national and a private bus.
Amid the social commentary and reports that flooded my news feed, I couldn’t help but notice one by The New Paper on a chap dubbed the Little India Hero.
In a clip that aired on Worldnews1, this man, presumably an Indian national, can be seen going around trying to stop members of the mob from smashing objects against a bus, even putting himself in a risky position between said mob members and the bus before walking away with one of them, as if trying to reason him out of his actions.
(Click here to read the report and watch the clip.)
While I’m not here to discuss the riot per se, I just wanted to share how watching this man reminded me of an encounter I had with a group of Indian nationals a while back. It was National Day, and a friend and I were making our way through the crowd at Marina Promontory.
As it was 6pm by the time we arrived, finding a place from which to watch the fireworks that wasn’t already obstructed by someone else’s head (or their bulky camera) was turning out to be a futile affair. Having realized that, we reluctantly settled on squeezing in with one of the relatively smaller crowds in the hopes of catching a glimpse of that legendary display.
It didn’t take long for us to notice the disproportionately large number of male Indian nationals at the scene (as compared to spectators of other races and gender), which put us slightly on edge since there were only two of us (though I should point out that our edginess had more to do with the fact that we were two female individuals among a crowd of men and well – you get the idea).
Gradually, the Indian nationals began to notice us trying to make our way through. Without exchanging a word, they began glancing around at us and each other, before shifting among themselves, giving up what little space they had for the two of us.
But why? I thought. They could have just looked away and pretended not to notice us.
Instead, they willingly gave up a part of their space just so we could enjoy the same thing we had set out to see, and kept a respectful distance while we (ok, more like I) occasionally fidgeted to try to get comfortable. When I thanked them, they merely nodded their acknowledgement. Thanks to their graciousness, we somehow managed to find ourselves standing close to the edge, with an unobstructed view of the Marina Bay.
Coincidentally, I was standing next to a photographer (presumably Singaporean, judging by his accent) who had his camera ready while his family occupied a considerable amount of space sitting down,along with a container full of drinks. Upon seeing my slightest move, he appeared increasingly edgy, even muttering rather sullenly, “Please don’t knock my camera” without bothering to look my way.
In truth, I did shift a couple of times, but I was nowhere near his precious equipment (I swear). Also, being an avid photographer myself, I couldn’t help feeling offended by his insinuations, but that’s besides the point.
The long wait for the fireworks gave me a lot of time about the jarring difference between local and foreigner. Could it be that we (with our abundance of high-tech goodies and “first world problems”) have become so ungracious that we can’t accommodate “our fellow men”, while our foreign nationals are still willing to share such simple joys?
Anyhow, this post is just to remind us (and possibly me), that racism is not the way to go in judging other people.
Nowadays, when an accident or disorderly behaviour gets reported, we concern ourselves with the nationality of those involved above all other things, as if it’s good ground to banish them (see Stomp). While it’s easy to vilify these people in light of recent developments, let’s not forget that there good people among the group that passes through our immigration gates everyday. There’s no reason for us to cross the line into xenophobia, and there never will be.
Akichigo wrote that, “we are much insulated from them” with “little talk and communication”, and I think it’s true. It was only last year, during my internship with The New Paper, that my encounters with many a foreign national led me to realize that they all had their own hopes, fears and pain like us (prior to that, such things had never crossed my mind). At the end of the day, we all bleed red, and until we move away from framing every single discussion in terms of the “us” and “them”, there is no easy way for us to realize this, let alone remember it.