By Terry Xu
Senior Staff Sergeant (SSSgt) Mydeen Sahul Hameed has spent 10 years in the Singapore Police Force, and is stationed at the Kampong Java Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC). He is also fluent in Tamil.
SSSgt Mydeen was taking the stand on Wednesday at the Committee of Inquiry hearing into the Little India riot last December. He and his partner were conducting routine checks for illegal immigrants in Little India on 8 December 2013.
The two police officers were initially approached by a Certis Cisco officer and told that some foreign workers were attacking a stationary bus along Race Course Road.
He thought that it was just another incident of foreign workers trying to board their buses and it is usual for things to be a little disorderly on a Sunday night. At that time, they were about 100 metres away from Race Course Road. They finished their spot checks and arrived at the scene at 9.37pm.
Upon arrival, they saw three or four Cisco officers trying to control the crowd. At this point, Mydeen and his partner were the first police officers at the scene. The crowd in front of the bus was throwing projectiles directed at the bus. It seemed that the lady who was on the bus was the target of the crowd.
Mydeen informed EDOR [E Division Ops Room] about the incident and requested for support from the traffic police and notified EDOR that the crowd was getting bigger in size.
In the meantime, he spoke to the crowd in Tamil, asking them to move back and to stop throwing things at the bus.
Some in the crowd said to Mydeen and his partner that a friend of theirs had been run over by the bus. They wanted the bus driver to be brought to justice for the death. Mydeen replied that they would if the crowd allowed them to do their job.
He heard some in the crowd say in Tamil that they were not respected in Singapore and that this was repeated several times by different individuals in the crowd.
Committee of Inquiry (COI) Chairman, Mr Selvam asked Mydeen if he had heard this complaint before when he did his rounds in Little India. Mydeen said he had not.
What he could see, Mydeen said, was that the crowd was angry with the bus driver and the timekeeper and were throwing things at the two of them who had taken refuge in the bus.
The crowd was also heard shouting, “Friend was killed by the two of them and life has no value.”
Mr Selvam asked if Mydeen knew of any past incidents that the crowd might be referring to. Mydeen replied that there was no mention of any past incidents. He had also not heard such a comment or complaint from the workers before.
He saw about 100 South-Asians gathered at the scene. About 10-15 were in front of the bus throwing things at the bus. He observed the rest were shouting, instigating or just being curious onlookers.
About 5 mins later, ASP Johnathan Tang arrived on the scene and took charge of the area.
Mydeen said he noticed the lady in the bus poking her head out of the bus. He told her to get back inside of the bus but she did not listen and continued screaming.
Mydeen and other officers later formed a human barrier to shield the SCDF officers who were trying to extricate the body of Sakthivel Kumaravelu from under the bus.
Later, as the police shielded the bus driver and the timekeeper and escorted the two from the bus to safety, Mydeen said the crowd’s anger escalated as they saw the two person emerging from the bus.
By this time, stones and beer bottles were thrown at the officers and Mydeen said he was struck in the stomach by a rock.
He later formed a shield party along with other officers to protect himself and control the crowd, but eventually had to hide behind a fire engine for safety. They continued to be pelted by projectiles from the crowd, while they awaited the arrival of the special operations command (SOC) force.
COI member and former police commissioner, Tee Tua Ba, asked how many were engaged in the act of burning the vehicles. Mydeen said that it was about five to ten men.
Mydeen agreed with the former police commissioner that a loud hailer would have been useful in the riot but he was not equipped with that at the point in time. In his opinion, he could have effectively communicated with the crowd, but the crowd might or might not have understood what he was trying to say to them, he said.
ASP Jonathan Tang then instructed the group to take shelter in the ambulance.
Later, it was decided that the ambulance, with the officers within, would move out of the area towards Bukit Timah Road, to regroup and plan their next move.
Shortly after, the SOC arrived and the group of police officers formed a second line behind the SOC as the SOC prepared to move into action.
Mydeen told the COI that he is not trained to handle a riot, and said that the speed of the back-up resources is important.
He felt that the crowd was rowdy because the Indian workers were sad over the accident, and were emotional as they felt they were discriminated against in Singapore. To make things worse, some in the crowd were also high on alcohol, he said.
When asked how he knew that some in the crowd were drunk, he said that the individuals had slurred speech.
Mydeen added that if there had been more police officers on the ground sooner that night, they could have deterred the crowd from the violence. He estimated that there were about 200 to 400 people in the crowd, but there were only 10 to 15 police officers then. With more officers, they could have controlled the crowd, he said.
The back-up support also took quite some time to arrive, he added.
Mydeen said that he did not make any arrests and did not notice the SOC making any arrests as well. He only noticed the plain-clothes policemen arresting some people after midnight at Race Course Road.
When asked if he noticed any significant changes in Little India since the riot, he said that the area has fewer number of people now, and that the open field along Race Course Road is now vacant. He said it is more peaceful now.
Nevertheless, he does not feel that there is either an increase or a decrease in the number of drunk workers at Little India compared to two years ago.