With the new bill in Little India now being a reality, there is much talk about the potential risks of racial profiling and increased tensions in that area. There is a question as to whether the reformed bill will make the situation better or much worse.
During the Parliamentary Reading on 18 February, there were some who felt it was more probable that the latter would happen with the passing of the bill – that this will be detrimental to the healing and recovery of Little India following the riot in December last year.
Some brought up the topic of racial discrimination and profiling with the passing of the new bill. Several speakers brought up the problem of potential miscommunication between the workers and the Police due to difference in cultural norms and common language.
Nominated MP (NMP) Janice Koh expressed her concern for the lack of communication due to the language barriers present, stating that the miscommunication between the two parties might “spark another conflict”.
Singapore People’s Party’s (SPP) Non-constituency MP Lina Chiam also raised concerns as to the workers’ lack of comprehension of the law, as many do not speak or write fluent English. She asked if “the police will be able to efficient deliver the message to them on what is required of them”.
Moreover, MP Pritam Singh pointed out that “this Bill has identified a specific area in Singapore, frequented by members of the South Asian community – be they local or foreign” and therefore “it is practically inevitable that South Asians will be subject to these powers more than any other community”. With this, there could be “unintended consequences that encourage racial profiling in Singapore”. Pritam questioned, “Is this a healthy law enforcement development in the context of a multi-racial society?”
Increased distrust and discomfort
Additionally, the approval of the new bill will lead to much “discomfort and suspicion” between the stakeholders involved, as mentioned by NMP Faizah Jamal.
MP Baey Yam Keng mentioned that it might seem to be “racial discriminatory if the bill only target is at Little India”. In defence of this, Second Minister for Home Affairs Mr S Iswaran said, “The reason why the bill is located at Little India is the fact that the riot took place there”.
NMP Eugene Tan also added that “the crime rates of foreign workers is actually less than Singaporeans” and that the new bill will be a “misrepresentation” of foreign workers as criminals. Thus, the powers given to the Police “will not aid in healing” and will “risk erecting social boundaries”.
Likewise, Ms Lina Chiam articulated her concern regarding the deterioration of the relationship between the two parties. “To allow such feelings of alienation to fester within the migrant worker community would only aggravate the tensions between migrant workers and Singaporeans,” she mentioned, “possibly sparking off a worse riot. It is certainly not in Singapore’s interest to do so.”
NMP Laurence Lien added in his speech that the new bill might make it harder to police the area with futher more policing. He gave an example of 2011 England riots, where academics brought up the studies that prior frictions between the police and black community had been the catalyst to the riot. Professor Gus John from the University of London argued that the tactical use of frequent “Stop and Search”, particularly of young black men, had caused resentment of the police in the black community.
Only Time can Tell
At the end of the day, only time can tell whether or not this worry will intensify. For now, it seems like Little India will still be under strict regulation and control with the passing of the new bill.
Cover photo taken from www.photos-singapore.com