The Online Citizen is 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 second interviewee in this series is Ashok Kumar, 25 whom we met in Chennai where he was trying to look for a job in the city. Interview was conducted in Tamil and interpreted through a local NGO staff. We located the workers through the help of NGO volunteers both locally and overseas.
Ashok Kumar (25 years old) had been working in Singapore for approximately 5 years and lived in Woodlands just before he got deported back to India.
On the night of the riot, Ashok was in Little India to meet his friend and brother (who came from India for a visit). His brother had brought things from India for Ashok and therefore he had to go collect the things from his brother in Little India. They all went out for dinner together in Little India after meeting.
Right after dinner at about 9pm, his brother went to purchase some vegetables for himself before they walked towards their bus stop to wait for the bus home.
Coincidentally, their bus stop was near the place of the riot and by 9.30pm, Ashok noticed that there was “a huge crowd forming there”. He stood 20 metres away from the place of the accident and waited for his bus at the bus stop. During his wait, he witnessed “people throwing bottles at the bus” and “was not willing to go close to that place” because he was “very frightened”.
When asked about what he saw at the scene, he said that he saw people pushing each other between the policemen and crowd.
While his brother’s bus arrived, Ashok’s bus did not and so he called his friends and all of them took a common lorry back to their dormitory in Woodlands. At 11pm, Ashok arrived back at his dormitory.
Clueless and Confused
The next morning, Ashok’s friends told him that the policemen were going around to check hostels and dormitories. He thought that it was no problem so he continued heading towards his workplace.
However, on the 10th of December at 3am in the morning, the police came and arrested him in his dormitory. The police arrested both him and his friend (who worked in the same company). “We asked the police as to the reasons why we were arrested but they did not answer us.” They were then transported to the station via 2 police vans, each person was escorted by three policemen.
The first inquiry was done in Outram Park Police station and the statement required narrative details of the Ashok’s night – where he was, what he did, whether he was involved in the riot of not etc. He “narrated the truth” to the police and signed 10 copies of the same statement. They then showed him photos of individuals and asked if he could recognise any of the people in the photos.
On the same day, Ashok had to undergo a blood test, fingerprint scanning as well as a medical check-up. They checked if there were any body injuries and took many photos of him.
Regarding the police’s treatment towards him, he tells us that he was “treated gently and nicely”. “However, I saw others who were treated very badly, as if they were forced to give answers.”
He did not have difficulties with the statement and did not need to have his statement translated as he could understand what was written.
Back at the station
Ashok once again received a phone call on the 12th – an order for him to go back to the station at the 18 storey building, (Police Cantonment complex) the next day.
It was there that they made him reconfirm and sign his first statement again.
They also warned him not to go back to Little India if unnecessary. After the police told them that it will be “alright” as long as they “cooperate”, the workers were all let off from the station.
Trip to Admiralty Centre
4 days after the 2nd inquiry, the police called Ashok’s company to ask about him. As he was not at the company at that time, his friends at the company informed him of the impending visit from the police on the same night.
In the wee hours of the morning at 3am, the police came in and took him to Admiralty centre where 50 workers were gathered together and given something to eat before the armed police explained to them about why they were there. He said that he saw 15 police officers outside of the room while many others were in the room that they were housed in. There were also heavily armed policemen wearing full face mask carrying rifles among the usual policemen.
“They told us that we would be sent back home because we were involved in the issue. Many people started to break down and cry upon hearing it because they claimed that they were innocent.”
When some of them questioned the police about proof that they had to jail them, the police did not listen and claimed that they have “orders to follow”. They then put the workers in “jail” and told them not to “create any problem and not to cry”.
Through the translator, Ashok recalled what a non-uniformed personnel said to them, “Knowingly or unknowingly, you were involved in the riot, that is why we are sending you back.”
Some of the workers asked the police to check the cameras as Ashok recounted their words, ‘Go check the cameras and videos, if you see our faces then you can put us in jail’. However, the police replied, “Don’t talk to much or else we will put you in jail.”
Under strict supervision
After being held in custody, the arrested workers were given white t-shirt and orange pants to change into.
Ashok said that in his impression, many signed their statements because they “felt threatened”. The statement includes them admitting to being “drunk on that day and being involved in the riot”. He told the policeman through a female Tamil translator that he did not want to sign the papers because he did not drink, and she told him that if he signed, “there will be no problem and nothing would happen”.
After signing of the statement, they were taken back to their cells. Police watched them very strictly while they were staying there. Even while they had to bathe, they would have to go into the open shower three people at a time and bathe under the watch of the Police. “They were surrounding the shower even though we were bathing and naked.”
They also were not allowed to call back home. The only time Ashok managed to call back home was when he borrowed some money from his friend to transfer back home to help with his family’s financial situation. When his family tried to call him back to tell him they have received the money, the officials did not allow him to pick up the phone call. His mother then made a call to his employer, only to find out her son was in jail and caught by the Police.
“Upon hearing that, my mother became sick and was admitted to the hospital.”
For two days they were in Admiralty jail, after which they had to face the magistrate to hear their final verdict. “The police instructed us not to open our mouths and not to question anything the magistrate says.”
Even the India High Commission said that they “could not do anything” and were “taking orders”. “They told us that they already informed our family that we were going back home because we were involved in the riot.”
Day of deportation
Prior to his departure, his employer had brought his belonging to where he was held and paid his salary.
“On the way to the airport, some lady on the van told us that once we reach India, we can still write in to ask for a lawyer. That might help us return back to Singapore.”
Even in the airport, they were not allowed to purchase anything or talk to anyone and were still under the strict supervision of policemen. “They were following behind us throughout until we boarded the plane.”
Hopes and trust
Back in the village, Ashok said that “some of the villagers were crying” to know that he had been deported back to India. When asked about his feelings, he expressed concern for his family’s financial situation and “hopes that (he) can go overseas to work again”.
“My family and the people in the village know I am not that kind of person to do all that.”
Short segment of the interview with Ashok Kumar