By Terry Xu
Update – Video footage of the bus showed that at no point in time did the pants of Sakthivel dropped when he was on bus.
The death of Sakthivel Kumaravelu was the incident which sparked the riot on December 8 in Little India along Race Course Road. The official story has been expressed as a timeline by the police and widely publicised by the local mainstream media.
However, here is a somewhat alternative story of what transpired on 8 December 2013 we pieced together from various sources and interviews with workers.
From interviews with people who know Sakthivel Kumaravelu, the worker who died in the accident. He was said to be at Little India that night to collect medicine from his mother which was being delivered by one of his cousins coming to Singapore.
Sakthivel Kumaravelu was said to have boarded the bus around nine pm to return to his dormitory in Jurong. He also drank alcohol and was said to be tipsy when he went up the bus.
According to those we spoke to, Sakthivel was involved in a commotion and the bus driver wanted him off the bus but failed to get him to leave. He then got the time keeper or bus coordinator of the bus service, Grace Wong, to get him off the bus. After he was off the bus, the bus started to drive off.
While making the left turn at the corner of the road, the bus slowed down. Sakhtivel decided to run after it but lost his balance after putting his hand on the bus and fell on the road. (read here for the official version of the accident)
Without seeing Sakhtivel, the bus first ran over his head by the front wheel of the bus 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.
(Warning – graphical images) Sakthivel’s funeral photos showed a somewhat disfigured face. There is also a photo of him pinned under the rear wheel of the bus.
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 its wheel. However, the bus driver did not do so.
From third party accounts, we understand that the bus driver said he would not move the vehicle but did not explain why he couldn’t. In interviews with coach drivers, we understand that the standard operation procedure for drivers to act in such an event is to not move the vehicle until the police arrive. The area in which such an accident takes place could also be a potential crime scene.
Some of the workers then decided to get Grace Wong who was at the boarding area to persuade the driver to move the vehicle so that the body/person could be extricated.
However the workers were not able to convince Grace Wong or the driver to do so and one worker attacked her in anger. On seeing this, another foreign worker tried to shield her and shoved her up the bus so that she would not continue to be attacked. Once she was up the bus, the driver locked the doors.
In an account said by one of the shopkeepers, the workers tried to lift the bus to extricate the body but did not succeed in doing so.
The workers starting hitting the bus and threw objects at it out of desperation to have the driver move the bus and also out of frustration that their countryman is still underneath the bus.
One of the man around the bus is saying, “The bus driver is inside, the bus driver is inside”.
The fire engine arrived first and civil defence personnel started the process of extricating the body from under the bus.
When the police and ambulance finally arrived, the victim was declared dead on the spot by the paramedics.
After the body was extricated and left on the road, third party accounts mentioned that the body of Sakthivel was not covered with police tent.
The paramedics then went to attend to the driver and Ms Grace Wong, and escorted them out of the bus and into the ambulance by the police.
While the driver was escorted away from the scene of the incident, anecdotal accounts indicated that someone shouted in Tamil something about how the authorities were racially biased. There were also some heated moments between the uniformed personnel and crowd seen from videos taken as well as accounts from our interviews.
And for some reason, the crowd erupted in furore, throwing debris, beer bottles at the uniformed personnel in anger.
We interviewed the store owner of the shop which is nearest to the site of the incident. He said that the people in the crowd grabbed his vegetables and started throwing at the police, and some of them went in to ask if they had any empty beer bottles. When he said no, the people went out and started digging the trash bins for what they wanted.
At the scene, we can see that parts of the pavement are smashed and the cement supposedly improvised to be projectiles to throw at the police.
The police retreated back to their vehicles while the mob continued raining projectiles on them.
At one point, the crowd of rioters advanced and started overturning the vehicles, setting them on fire.
According to someone who was on the ground that night, the people who were hiding in the ambulance were told to get out of the vehicle by the mob because the mob wanted to burn the vehicle.
From the video footage, we can see that most of the crowd had dispersed by then time the police was giving its warning. Some are seen leaving the scene via the Little India MRT station.
From an interview of a shop keeper right after the incident, the riot trucks were not deployed at the start of the incident. And by the time it arrived and formed up, there isn’t much of a crowd left.
As the story develops to this point, it is still uncertain what was the spark that started off the unrest.
Workers we spoke to denied being there in Little India on the night of the riot. The accounts they told us were what they had heard from others, through discussions or conversations at their dormitories and elsewhere.
When we asked if any of them or their friends had video-taped the incident, especially when the accident first happened, they said they did not, while some told us that their friends had deleted any videos they had taken, so that they would not get into trouble when the police came to investigate.
Look out for more stories on the Little India incident, including our interviews with some workers who have returned to India.