By Andrew Loh / Terry Xu
The Committee of Inquiry (COI) hearing into the events preceding the riot in Little India last December heard from an eyewitness on Monday that the deceased worker, Sakthivel Kumaravelu, did not “at any time” removed his pants, as claimed by various reports and statements.
Ganesan Thanaraj, 34, an Indian national who is working as a welder in Singapore, was on the bus with Sakthivel on the night of 8 December before Sakthivel was killed in a traffic accident.
Ganesan testified that Sakthivel seemed to be drunk from the way he walked and the manner in which Sakthivel was asking him “unpleasant” questions while he (Ganesan) was waiting in the bus queue.
“He was asking if Bangladeshi workers were better than Indian workers,” Ganesan said. Sakthivel was asking this after overhearing the timekeeper of the buses, Wong Geck Woon, asked a Bangladeshi worker to help tell the Indian workers to stand in line while they waited for the buses.
While in the queue, Ganesan said Sakthivel was “standing quietly and did not say anything.”
Wong then asked Sakthivel, which Ganesan referred to as “the Indian worker”, whether he was drunk as he thought she suspected he was, from the commotion that Sakthivel was reported to be making earlier.
After Sakthivel boarded the bus, Wong went up the bus to tell him to get down, and Ganesan said she told him that she would not allow the bus to move off as long as Sakthivel was on board it.
“He did not argue with the lady conductor,” Ganesan said, referring to Wong.
Sakthivel then got off the bus voluntarily.
Ganesan, who said that Sakthivel had been standing in front of him in the bus, was asked if he had seen Sakthivel drop or remove his pants while on the bus.
“Did you see the Indian worker pants come off?”
“No,” Ganesan said.
“Not at any time?”
“So he had his pants on all the time?”
“Yes. I did not see his pants coming down.”
Ganesan’s eyewitness account and the video footage seem to contradict what was claimed by Wong and the Singapore High Commissioner’s letter to an Indian television station on 10 December, two days after the riot took place.
Wong had said to the media and in her statement to the COI that the bus driver, Lee Kim Huat, had told her that Sakthivel had pulled down his pants while he was on the bus.
However, the media also reported that the bus driver denied saying this. Mr Lee had also testified in last Thursday’s COI hearing that he did not notice “the Indian worker” taking off his pants.
A My Paper report on 10 December seemed to have attributed the original claim of Sakthivel removing his trousers to the Singapore Police Force.
The report said:
“Yesterday, police revealed that he was drunk when he attempted to board an already-full chartered bus to his Jurong dorm. He even dropped his trousers.”
This news was apparently picked up by the Straits Times website, STOMP, which plastered it on its headlines on the same day, 10 December. STOMP said the “news” that Sakthivel had dropped his pants “was revealed by the police.”
The Singapore High Commissioner, too, in its letter to the Indian television station, Sun TV Network, on 10 December had claimed that Sakthivel had removed his pants.
The High Commissioner had written to the tv station to correct the station’s “erroneous” report earlier about the riot.
The High Commissioner's letter said:
"The deceased had boarded the bus when it was already full. The deceased also appeared to be drunk and he was causing trouble on the bus, even dropping his trousers whilst on the bus."
It is unclear why or the basis on which the High Commissioner made the claim.
In its report on Monday’s COI hearing, the Straits Times – which is under the same ownership as My Paper and STOMP – repeated the allegation that Sakthivel had dropped his pants – despite Ganesan’s explicit statements that he did not, and also the fact that the video did not show him dropping his pants.
The Straits Times report, on 25 February 2014:
The Straits Times report did not include Ganesan’s testimony about Sakthivel not removing his pants.
Ganesan's eyewitness account and the video footage from the cameras mounted on the bus seem to contradict the claims by Wong, the mainstream media, the High Commissioner and the police.
In the video footage, Sakthivel at no time was seen removing, pulling down or dropping his pants or trousers.