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Post-Little India riot: Some shops struggle six months on

Six months after the riot broke out at Little India, residents say they feel safer, but some small businesses are still struggling to stay afloat.

SINGAPORE: It has been six months since a riot broke out at Little India. Thanks to better crowd management and the restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol in the area, residents say the area now feels safer and more orderly.

Although the buzz has returned to the streets of Little India on Sundays, it is now quieter after 9pm. One reason is that buses ferrying foreign workers back to their dormitories now leave the area earlier, which is good news for residents.

"They stop drinking by 11pm, and they are quieter now. Last time, they broke bottles at midnight even, then it would wake up the children," said Yoosuf Sha, a resident.

Last December's riot was Singapore's worst public order disturbance in over 40 years. In the aftermath, measures were swiftly put in place to keep the situation under control, such as restrictions to the sale and consumption of alcohol.

"I've done my rounds just before and after the riot and it's always been unanimous. The concerns have always been (on) the sale of alcohol right on the ground floor where residents live, the consumption of alcohol at public spaces such as void decks, carparks, playgrounds and so on,” said Denise Phua, mayor of Central Singapore District and MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC.

“And so the measures put in place in the last six months were really useful, very relevant, and directly addressed the concerns of my residents."

Little India's vibrancy has mostly been restored as well. However, it has been hard for some of the smaller businesses to recover after the riot, and some have even shut down. Smaller stores - especially those that mainly sell liquor - have been among the first to wind up.

"Certain businesses, those who have not been dependent on liquor business, are back to normal,” said Rajakumar Chandra, chairman of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association.

“I would say at least about 90 per cent or 85 per cent of shops that have lost business from the liquor sales have converted most of the other parts of their shop to sell more provisional items and all that, to see whether sales pick up. At the end of the day, their line of business is for the foreign workers, so they cue their business to that angle."

Ms Phua said that while the business owners' interests must be taken care of, it is crucial for residents' concerns to be heard.

"We need to put ourselves in the shoes of the residents and we need to give more voice in this matter to residents who live there, and not just the general public in Singapore alone,” she said.

“And I really feel more weight has to be given to the people who live there, because they, like you and I, have a right to a good quality living environment, peace and security."

Whether the measures are here to stay remains to be seen. The Committee of Inquiry into the Little India riot is expected to submit its findings to Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean by the end of June. 

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