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‘Good enough for us to just get out’: Migrant workers thrilled to leave dormitories for Deepavali

SINGAPORE — Excited by the prospect of celebrating Deepavali beyond the confines of his dormitory room, lorry driver Santhosh Sellapa, 33, went out a day earlier to buy a new set of clothes.

Crowd in Little India on Deepavali, Nov 4, 2021.

Crowd in Little India on Deepavali, Nov 4, 2021.

  • Migrant workers said that after last year’s muted celebrations spent in their dormitories due to the Covid-19 restrictions, they were excited to get dressed up and eat out

  • As part of a programme, up to 3,000 vaccinated workers are allowed to visit Little India and Geylang Serai each week

  • Each visit is capped at eight hours 

 

SINGAPORE — Excited by the prospect of celebrating Deepavali beyond the confines of his dormitory room, lorry driver Santhosh Sellapa, 33, went out a day earlier to buy a new set of clothes. 

Donning a light orange shirt and black pants on Thursday (Nov 4), the Indian national who has been working in Singapore for the last 13 years, could not hide his excitement of being able to meet a good friend for lunch at Tekka market.

“Last year I sad. I sit in dormitory room and sleep whole day,” he said before breaking into a smile. 

“This year I’m very happy. I get to go out, eat and meet my friend.”

Mr Sellapa is among the 3,000 vaccinated migrant workers allowed to visit Little India and Geylang Serai each week for up to eight hours each visit as part of a community visit programme introduced in September to relax movement restrictions on migrant workers living in dormitories. 

The cap of 500 workers has been raised to 3,000 since Oct 30. 

Workers have to come from selected dormitories with no Covid-19 clusters and have to take an antigen rapid test before they are allowed out.

Such visits to public areas come after one-and-a-half years of migrant workers being confined to their living quarters in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Santhosh Sellapa, 33, in front of Tekka Centre on Deepavali, Nov 4, 2021. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

The migrant workers TODAY spoke to in Little India on Thursday said that after last year’s muted celebrations, they were thrilled to get dressed up and eat out, despite the limited time limit for their visits out.

One of them was shipyard worker Vignesh Mathiyagalan, 24, who was having his first proper Deepavali celebration in Singapore since he started working here in 2019.

Back in India, he would mark the festival by going to the temple to pray and enjoying a meal with friends and family. 

Chatting away at the side of the road with his uncle, who lives in a separate dormitory, he said: “One year I haven’t go to the temple… so today I’m very happy I get to come here and pray.”

Vignesh Mathiyagalan (in purple shirt), 24, with his uncle in Little India on Deepavali, Nov 4, 2021. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

Construction workers P Sathish and Mathan P, both 26, who were posing for photos at a nearby alley, said they were grateful that their employer had made arrangements for them to leave their dormitory to celebrate Deepavali.

“We get to go out today…that’s good enough for us,” said Mr Sathish.

Mr Sellapa, who kept checking his watch as he spoke to TODAY, said he needed to pick up his colleagues in the afternoon and ferry them back to the dormitory.

“We go out together and come back together. We don’t have a lot of time,” he said.

Friends P Sathish (left) and Mathan P, both 26, taking a selfie in Little India on Deepavali, Nov 4, 2021. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

By 3pm, the central streets of Little India, which were packed at noon, were noticeably quieter than the morning. 

At Tekka Centre, Singaporean Kathir Selvam, 28, stood out in the crowd as he handed out free packets of crackers to the remaining migrant workers and passers-by, occasionally stopping to take photographs with some of them. 

The customer service officer who handed out a total of 300 packets of crackers on Thursday, said he started doing this two years ago in celebration of Deepavali.

Kathir Selvam, 28, a Singaporean, handing out crackers in front of Tekka Centre on Deepavali, Nov 4, 2021. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

“This year (the workers) can finally celebrate Deepavali, so I wanted to do something nice for them… This is just a morale boost,” he said.

“It’s to remind our migrant brothers that we support them, that we celebrate with them.” 

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Migrant Workers Deepavali Little India

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