The Online Citizen will be featuring a series of interviews with some of the Indian workers who have been deported back to India due to their alleged involvement in the riot at Little India on the evening of 8th December 2013. The first interviewee is Sri Rangan Pandiyan, 26 whom we visited at his village. Interview was conducted in Tamil and interpreted through a local NGO staff.
Dinner with friends gone awry
On the night of the Little India Riot, Sri Rangan Pandiyan, 26, went to Little India to catch up with his friends over dinner at Veerasamy Road. In the midst of dinner at approximately 9.30pm, he heard a commotion coming from the outside and was being informed by outsiders that there was an Indian national killed by a bus on the main road.
After finishing his dinner at about 10.30pm, Sri was on his way back home when he witnessed a crowd congregating near the accident site but did not stay to be involved and instead bypassed the crowd and continued his way back home. “I didn’t wait there,” he said, “I only saw the big crowd.”
He then arrived at his house in Jalan Kayu at 11.30pm.
Two days passed without a problem but on the 11th of December, 2.30am in the morning, the security officers called him down and 3 policemen came to bring him to Outram Park Police station.
Immediately, a policewoman at Outram Park Police Station interrogated him. “She asked questions like: What time were you there? Did you commit any crime? Were you involved? Did you drink? Did you fight?” He said he answered her honestly and told her his story and that he was just passing by and did not get involved. He added that they did not scold him because he was obedient and answered all their questions but note that they (the police) were scolding other people.
Sri was kept in the station for 6 hours until 8.30am before getting to leave the station. Just before he left, the police asked him to sign a statement, in which they said was “first hand information recorded from what (he) told (them)”. It was written in English so Sri did not understand a single word in the statement as it was not translated for him.
Two days later, the police called Sri’s supervisor to inform him that he had to go back to the police station again. He was sent to a room where he saw 20 other foreign workers being kept inside as well. The police went around to take their work permit and phone without any explanation. “There was this man that asked if his work was being affected by his stay in the police station, but the policemen did not reply him.”
When some of the workers asked to see their statement with the police, the policeman told them that if they “said the same thing (they) said the first time, then (they) will be able to go back”. They did not let the workers see their statements. After this, Sri was sent to a waiting room with 60 workers.
All of them were separated into groups of 5 before getting on mini buses that were ready to transport them to the ICA (Immigration & Checkpoints Authority of Singapore) building. On the way there, the police officer in charge of Sri’s bus told them that they will “confiscate (their) work permits and (they) will have to go back to India”.
Planned rooms with authorities
In ICA, they were brought to different rooms with different agencies in them – for instance, a room for Ministry of Manpower and another room for medical checkups. “I felt like this was all pre-planned,” he said firmly, “after the medical checkup we were sent to some sort of jail in the same building. The India High Commission of Singapore was also there to identify the workers and confirm their names.
They were then brought to see the judge in groups of 5. “The judge told us that he does not know if we did it or not but we are still going to be sent back to India,” he explained, “a few workers asked about it but the judge said it was a command.” The authorities did not show them any evidence before deciding their departure and deportation back to India.
When asked about who is this judge he is referring to, he said that this person was from the Commission of inquiry.
No evidence shown with judgement
After the visit to the judge, they were not allowed back home Sri had to call his friends to help him bring all his personal belongings to jail.
In the 2 days that they were in jail, they did not have a right to appeal or a right to a lawyer and they were not allowed to call back home. He knew exactly what purpose he was kept – they thought he was involved in the riot and were ready to send him back home to India.
When asked about his feelings now that he is back in India, he says that he “still feels like (he) is in jail”.
“I really want to go back to Singapore but I am not sure if I can or not. The lady on the van (on the way to ICA) told us that after a year we can go back if ICA sends us a letter. I hope that is true.”
*Editor Note – Some of the readers were asking how we got the address of the deportees. It was thanks to the help of the Non-Government organisations (NGOs) that we managed to locate and speak with the deportees.
Short segment of the interview with Sri Rangan Pandiyan