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Little India riot: Netizens combat racism on social media

SINGAPORE — Netizens were quick to criticise those out to incite hatred or xenophobia online after Sunday’s riot in Little India, as many urged for calm and some tried to take their efforts offline by mobilising friends to hand out flowers in the hopes of making peace and reconciliation.

SINGAPORE — Netizens were quick to criticise those out to incite hatred or xenophobia online after Sunday’s riot in Little India, as many urged for calm and some tried to take their efforts offline by mobilising friends to hand out flowers in the hopes of making peace and reconciliation.

Some netizens had speculated that the riot was sparked by Bangladeshi workers, while others had sought to make fun of the issue by making racial slurs about those involved. Sunday’s riot was sparked after Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu was hit by a private bus at the junction of Race Course Road and Hampshire Road.

Sales analyst Kristabel Soo, who was in the area when the riot broke out, set up a Facebook page, Shut Racism Up SG, at 4am yesterday urging Singaporeans to stand against racism after reading many “racially-charged” comments online.

Ms Soo, 24, said she was shocked and frightened to hear a loud commotion coming from the area, accompanied by the smoke and the orange glow of a blazing fire.

“It was unlike the usual peace we were accustomed to. I feared and realised the importance of being accommodating to other cultures when the event was lambasted online with a slur of racially charged comments,” she said. As of 8pm yesterday, the page garnered over 600 “likes”.

On Twitter, under the trending hashtags, #littleindia and #sgriots, tweets commended the Home Team for their bravery in containing the situation, while others thanked the cleaners who had to clear the debris from the riot.

A netizen, under the pseudonym Thomas Haverford, who took photos of a foreign worker cleaning up the area, wrote: “Yes, some people, likely foreign, DID riot at Little India earlier. But most did not. Let those who are guilty be punished, but let us not use this incident as an excuse for xenophobia, ignorance or intolerance.”

Mr Wally Tham and Ms Amizadai Lee, meanwhile, invited the public to join them in distributing flowers along the stretch of road near Tekka Market “as an act of hope and not fear”.

Said Ms Lee: “We saw a lot of negative reactions from the riot and saw an opportunity to respond thoughtfully and respectfully. There’s no use ranting against people spewing racist remarks and we thought it’ll be more constructive to create something than just talk about it.”

The couple’s post on Facebook soon went viral. While the event was eventually cancelled as they did not have a police permit, Ms Lee said she was “sad, but glad” that many had responded to their appeal. Last night, an appeal to raise money for Mr Sakthivel’s family began online.

The Singapore Police Force also used its Facebook page yesterday afternoon to clarify rumours that were circulating online — an effort that observers felt ensured that unfounded rumours did not take root for long.

The police said its officers had the situation within control within an hour, while they “displayed maximum restraint” and did not fire any weapons throughout the riot to “prevent the incident from escalating further”.

It added: “(The) police would like to advise netizens against spreading unsubstantiated information as they would not only be unhelpful to police investigations, they may also generate unnecessary public alarm, causing fear and panic in the community.”

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