The Online Citizen’s 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 third and last interview in this series is Subbiah Muruganantham whom we met in his village. 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.
On the night of the Little India Riot, Subbiah Muruganantham was just spending his night like any other night – purchasing goods in a nearby store close to his room and planning to spend the night just relaxing in his dorm.
However, all changed when the police phoned him the following day on 9 December. “They asked me where I was staying and I just told them that I was staying at my workplace. Then on the same day, while I was sleeping at 3am, the police came in to arrest me.”
He was confused because he “did not know why (he) was arrested” as he “did not even go near the rioting place”.
Statement focused on his drinking
During the first interrogation, Subbiah went through a series of usual questions – whether he was involved in the riot, whether he took videos or photos etc. When Subbiah questioned the police as to the reason he was arrested, the policemen did not answer him.
“They said that they have a witness who saw me there at the riot scene. When I asked about who this ‘witness’ was, they did not tell me anything and said that they will still put me in jail.” The 3 policemen also did not show Subbiah any evidence as to the reason for his arrest. Neither did they ask for proof of receipt of items that Subbiah had said to brought during his visit to Little India.
Unfortunately, Subbiah coincidentally consumed alcohol on that fateful night of the riot. When the police questioned about his consumption of alcohol, he truthfully told them that he did drink. “I told them in Tamil so they might not fully understand what I was trying to say.”
Subbiah said that it was only when he confessed to drinking that the police started recording down his statement. Before that, when Subbiah narrated his story, the policemen seemed to not bother recording it.
After printing out the statement, he was asked to sign on them. “I did not even know what was written,” Subbiah added, “It was not translated and they did not give me enough time to read through it.”
Challenging the supposed “witness” evidence
2 days passed and he was called back to the police station again. About 30 people were gathered in Outram Park Police Station at 9am and being questioned by the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) Police. During the 2nd inquiry, Subbiah claimed that the police used “vulgar language” in attempt to make him admit that he was there at the place of the riot. “I did not understand why he was talking to me like that.”
The Policemen asserted the fact that they had “evidence to prove that (he) was there” and that since Subbiah is lying he would be “sent to jail”. When he challenged authority by stating that he could prove that he was not there, the police exclaimed, “Do you think the judge will believe what you will say or what I will say?”
“He was trying to establish his power. I just told him that he has no substantial evidence and he can take me to court if he wants.”
Once again, the workers were shown their very first statement and asked to reconfirm the details written. Subbiah noticed that something had changed within his statement. The Police had written that he “was drunk” and “was not conscious of his surroundings” although he “did not say anything like that”. In fact, he was actually conscious on that night of the riot.
Subbiah immediately objected to the statement but the CID police said the statement could not be altered. “They scolded me with vulgar words that involved cussing my mother and I did not like it. When I told them to ‘record my truth now’, they just scolded me again.”
Re-arrested and ready to be deported
In the wee hours of 16th December at around 3am, Subbiah was arrested by the police and brought to Admiralty jail. He was told that he will be sent back to India and that his work permit to be terminated.
He was then kept in jail for two days before the group of about 52 of them met with the India High Commission representative, some judges and the media.
“An Indian judge told us that the Singapore government has asked them to find out what really happened (on the night of the riot). After that, we had individual inquiries once again.”
During his interrogation session, Subbiah told the judge that he should “ask those who are involved” and not him because he was “not involved”. “They asked me if I was arrested wrongly and I told them that I already mentioned this to the Police here but they did not give me an answer.”
When he asked if he could return to Singapore even if he got deported, the judge claimed that he “will talk to the Government”.
Subbiah was not informed of any chances to appeal against his deportation and no one told him about a right to a lawyer. He could not phone his parents even while he was in jail.
“The India High Commission did not offer any help. All they said was ‘We have forgiven you.’”