Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Little India Riot COI

Update 27 Mar 2014: COI into Little India riot wraps up after five weeks of public hearing

Channel NewsAsia wraps up the key issues highlighted at the COI hearing

After five weeks of inquiry and testimony from 93 witnesses, the public hearing of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Little India riot has brought to light a wide range of evidence.

The riot which took place last December was the first seen in Singapore in over four decades.

It was sparked off by a fatal accident involving an Indian national, Sakthivel Kumaravelu.

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Little India COI: The final chapter

 The COI will be taking up till June to come up with its own recommendations. I have to say that it seemed to have left no stone un-turned. Its intensive “grilling’’ might have seemed unfair to some people, especially when the cops on the ground took the stand. But seriously, you do not expect the use of kid gloves in an inquiry, especially about an unprecedented riot which people think the police could have done better to stamp out.

 It’s also not surprising that the cops would hold to the line that “no shots were fired’’ to describe their performance. No one was hurt or killed. Just cars, which are less valuable than lives. Yup. Okay. As for the cops “standing around’’, they weren’t trained for this sort of scenario and it would be unfair and unwise to have them go charging in given their small numbers. Uh-huh. Those cops in the ambulance didn’t run away, they had wounded people with them and it was prudent to get them to safety. Ahso.

The only things the police conceded were that there was a communications breakdown with the cops not knowing what each other was doing nor even where they are and that it took too long for the Special Operations Command to be activated. Also, according to the cops, there were no signs that a riot would erupt in Little India, and they were more pre-occupied with shenanigans in Geylang.

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Singapore Riot Damaged More Than $650,000 of Government Assets

A police sign board appeals for witnesses near where an Indian national was killed in an accident which triggered a riot late on Dec. 8, in Singapore's Little India district on Dec. 11, 2013.

A Dec. 8 riot in Singapore’s Little India district, the city’s worst violence in more than four decades, damaged at least S$650,000 ($515,000) of government property, a public inquiry was told.

Twenty-three vehicles including patrol cars and an ambulance were toppled or set ablaze, Senior State Counsel David Khoo said today at the opening of the inquiry in the Subordinate Courts. Rioters hurled stones, smashed bottles and flung bins at police and civil defense forces, he said.

The incident involving about 400 people broke out the night of Dec. 8 after a fatal traffic accident, where 25 people, all Indian nationals, were charged and 57 workers deported. The police was given more power to maintain public order and alcohol was banned on weekends in the area, known for its Hindu temples and Indian eateries.

COI to police: “A lot of things were wrong”
Committee of Inquiry (COI) chairman, former judge GP Selvam

“What has happened is not acceptable,” Committee of Inquiry (COI) chairman, former judge GP Selvam, told Deputy Police Commissioner, T Raja Kumar, last Friday.

Mr Selvam made those remarks during the COI hearing into the Little India riot at the Subordinate Court.

Mr Raja Kumar was the only witness for the day, which started at 10am and ended at almost 5pm. He is also the first police witness to take the stand since the 6-weeks COI hearings started on Thursday.

Define Run Away

When it comes to communication with Singaporeans, Singlish is often blamed for a lot of misunderstanding. It's not the same problem other countries face. For instance, George Bernard Shaw is attributed to have said, "England and America are two countries divided by a common language." Here, even Singaporeans sometimes fail to understand what other Singaporeans are saying.

When bus drivers stop work, it's an industrial action, not a strike. When roads are immersed under water, it's due to ponding, not a flood. When a track circuit failure occurred on the south bound line between Yew Tee and Kranji MRT stations on Monday, SMRT insisted the incident did not amount to a service disruption as the trains did not stop, "although trains ran at a slower speed." So when SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek says he will continue to make "improvements" to the system, you have to wonder whether he's referring to the language manipulation or efficient train operations.

Committee of Inquiry (COI) Chairman G Pannir Selvam must have wished he had a dictionary in hand when he had to ask pointedly whether the police at Little India "were cowardly or displayed signs of cowardice". Mr Selvam was referring to the impression conveyed by Youtube videos that the policemen were frightened and ran away from the scene - in full panic mode, abandoning expensive cars in the middle of the road. State Counsel Joshua Lim was more blunt with the choice of words for Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Edwin Yong: "Were you cowardly getting into the ambulance?"


watch: youtube

As the Little India Riot COI continues, police officers were questioned on whether they had been cowardly to flee from the thickest part of the riot.

The questions came as video footage shows that some of the officers in the middle of the riot had retreated into an ambulance and fled the scene.

One of the officers testifying at the COI explained that this was a ‘tactical retreat’ so that the forces could re-group and plan the next course of action. However, another officer who also testified admitted to ‘running away’ from the scene.

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Committee asks cop who ran from ambulance in Little India riot: How can the law run away?

He was among a group of uniformed officers caught on video running out of an ambulance during the Little India riot.

In front of the ambulance was a burning vehicle and rioters were surrounding the vehicles, some seemingly cheering. When Station Inspector Muhammad Adil Lawi, of the Traffic Police, appeared before the Committee of Inquiry (COI) on Thursday, its members grilled him on his actions.

COI member John De Payva asked: "How can the law run away?”

Media reports on COI – which is the right thing?

The role of media is to shed some clarity on a situation. In this case, it appears that our media have been more interested in citing talking heads and the sensational details when the incident first occurred, and now with the revelations from the COI, are still not able to get it straight. Truly, they have been caught with their pants down.

Is it a moot point to discuss if the victim was drunk or not, clothed or not? Hardly. His drunkenness and the dropping of his pants, deliberately or otherwise, was supposed to be the factor that got him off the bus. If he has stayed on the bus, we would be telling a very different story today. So, what really caused him to get off the bus?

Yet these details seem to be of another importance to our media, who willingly and inconsistently peppered them into their reports, as if to give them a bit more spice. Might such reports have perpetuated the implementation of the new public order laws and the alcohol bans in Little India, affecting local businesses, citizens and foreigners alike in the area?

What DPM said and what judge wanted to know

Since 1992, Singapore no longer has a Riot Squad. The squad – or police tactical force (PTF) – was formed in 1952 to respond to the Maria Hertogh riots. (Over a few days, the Muslim community rose up to protest a judicial decision to return a Dutch girl, raised by a Malay family in Indonesia during the Japanese invasion, then in Kelantan, to her parents in Holland.)

The PTF then became the Special Operations Command in a bureaucratic combination of police divisions, but the police website still gives it a special mention, and describes it as made up of “officers specially trained to tackle dangerous and volatile situations. They are called upon to restore public order in times of riots and demonstrations. Backed by technologically advanced equipment, these officers form a formidable force capable of quelling any civil disturbance”.

Unfortunately, at the SOC’s first real test — on Dec 8 2013, when rioting broke out in Little India after an Indian worker was run over by a bus and killed — it arrived an hour late. As Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament on Jan 20: “The first SOC troop of 29 officers arrived at 10.42pm, which was about 40 minutes after their activation and about one hour after the ground commander had first requested for SOC support. The second troop arrived shortly thereafter.” Was inexperience a problem? Perhaps. Said Teo: “Because we have enjoyed peace for so many years, almost none of our Home Team officers, especially our national servicemen, had experienced riots before.”

Indian worker did not drop his pants “at any time”

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.

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Auxiliary police officers claim slow police response in Little India riot

Police officers who arrived early waited for back-up instead of making arrests, said one auxiliary police officer

Two auxiliary police officers on duty at Little India on Dec 8 claim the delayed response by police officers to control the crowd may have caused the riot to spiral out of control.

They also said many of the rioters were intoxicated.Mr Nathan Chandra Sekaran and Mr Raymond Murugiasu took the stand on the third day of a public hearing by the Committee of Inquiry convened to look into the riot.

The pair were assigned foreign worker management duties at Little India on Dec 8.

Little India COI: The violence that night, according to the first responders

Certis Cisco officer Nathan, a Tamil-speaking Malaysian, has been patrolling the Little India area on weekends since he joined the security firm in 2010. On Little India patrols, he works between 2pm and 1am on “foreign worker management’’,  and is empowered to issue summons for littering and to disperse loiterers. He said it was a difficult duty to discharge not because the foreign workers would not listen or resisted. Rather, they listened and reverted to whatever they were doing earlier when security officers were out of sight. The huge numbers also meant that one group would be quickly replaced by another. He said he issued just one summons a month and no, he had no orders to go easy on the workers from his superiors.  He had seen just one fight during his patrols.

The action - Mr Nathan and two other “protection officers’’, also Certis Cisco men, were in Northumberland Road when another three-man Cisco squad patrolling Tekka area radioed for help. Why “protection officers’’? They were there to protect Mr Nathan, a Malaysian who is Tamil-speaking and who was armed with baton and a revolver and empowered to issue summons. How the duo are supposed to do this when they themselves were not armed was not raised.

When his team got to Race Course Road where the accident took place, a small crowd had gathered. With three or four foreign workers, the two squads formed a human shield round the bus which was being pelted. It seemed that the temperature climbed quickly, with more foreigners crowding around and some troublemakers at the back instigating the crowd in Tamil to “kill the timekeeper’’ that is, the female conductor. And to “burn the bus’’.

Less than 90 cops left to face rioters, inquiry heard

Policemen from the Special Command Operation (SOC) patrol the streets in Little India

THERE were less than 90 police officers left to face some 150 to 200 active rioters at the height of the Little India riot on Dec 8 last year, the Committee of Inquiry (COI) heard.

State Counsel Sharmila Sripathy presented this evidence, detailing that these 90 officers included those who were previously injured as the violence unfolded.

When asked by the State Counsel if he was aware that there were 90 officers on the ground to deal with the violent mob, Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Jonathan Tang said: “It definitely didn’t feel like there were 90 officers.”

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Resign, Please Resign Mr Police Commissioner

The 4 man Commission of Inquiry, includes Justice Selvam and former CP, Tee Tua Bah (the top 2)

Let's look at some aspects of DC Rajakumar's testimony that's clearly troubling. He listed 3 causes for the riot:

1) The accident
2) The body of the victim adding to a highly charged scene3) The drunkenness caused by alcohol.

In a stunning rebuke, Justice Selvam made DC Rajakumar read out like a student before a teacher, Section 18 of the Miscellaneous Act which deals with drunken behaviour resulting in incapacity - a seizable offence. Pity DC Rajakumar, it should have been CP Ng that needed this dose of public shaming. Justice Selvam chastised the police for turning a blind eye to this problem when numerous reports and complaints about it have been made over a number of years. In his words, 'the police have done nothing!' He suggested that offenders should be warned and repatriated if they continue to flout the law. (This is clearly a point the Govt must seriously consider, there should be zero tolerance for foreigners be they blue or white collar workers, or from whatever class of society or position, who flout and break laws, they should be repatriated and banned from working here for a number of years, if not permanently).

Justice Selvam slammed the police officers for not actively dealing with the initial rioting and instead taking cover and manning exit points. He rightly pointed out that at that juncture only 25 were 'active rioters' whereas there were nearly 100 officers already on the ground. The decision not to engage was made by Tanglin Commander Lu Yeow Lim, it was his judgment, said DC Rajakumar. ' It was poor judgment' remarked the Chairman. It gave the rioters the impression the police were not doing anything and believing they had the freedom to do as they pleased, which they did with an ever increasing number

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Little India riot COI: Riot caused over $650,000 damages to public property

Submissions to the Committee of Inquiry's hearing in Court on Wednesday revealed that the Little India riot resulted in over $650,000 worth of damages to public property, reported Shin Min Daily News

Among the damages were overturned police cars, a burnt ambulance, broken cement blocks, and dustbins and metal poles that were tossed aside.

According to earlier reports, the Home Team sent 300 police and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers to the riot scene, of which 22 police officers, five auxiliary police officers and 12 SCDF personnel were injured.

There were also 16 police and nine SCDF vehicles damaged, of which an ambulance, three police cars and one traffic police bike were burnt.

Decision to retreat and regroup 'taken after officers assessed risks'

IN A much-discussed video online, six Home Team officers and two auxiliary policemen were seen running out of an ambulance, seemingly fleeing the epicentre of the riot in Little India.

Circumstances leading to this hasty retreat were raised on the third day of the Committee of Inquiry into the Dec 8 riot, with Deputy Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar presenting a timeline of the events that night.

He told the inquiry that the decision to retreat was a "considered one" taken by Station Inspector (SI) Muhammad Adil Lawi from the Traffic Police (TP).

Video of bus incident dominates as inquiry into Little India riot begins

Video clips showing the 40 minutes from the time construction worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu — whose death in a traffic accident sparked off Singapore’s first riot in 44 years — boarded a bus to the time crowds surrounded the police and rescue officers who were working to extricate him from under the bus that ran over him were played in court on the first day of the Committee of Inquiry proceedings yesterday. It also emerged that government vehicles and equipment suffered S$650,000 worth of damage that night, said Senior State Counsel David Khoo in his opening statement, and that 54 first responders had been injured and 23 response vehicles were damaged.

Geylang was also mentioned as an area of concern, and Mr Khoo said that evidence presented over the course of the inquiry would show “similarities and parallels between policing issues encountered in Little India and Geylang”.

Despite high public interest since the riot on December 8, there were more reporters than members of the public in the courtroom yesterday.

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Little India riot: No action to be taken against bus driver 

Ahead of next week’s Committee of Inquiry public hearing to establish circumstances that led to the riot in Little India last December, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) said yesterday that no offence was committed by the bus driver in the fatal traffic accident that triggered the riot. No further action will be taken against him, it added. - The AGC said it had carefully and extensively studied the evidence — submitted by the Traffic Police — which included video footage, an independent expert report, written statements of witnesses, autopsy and toxicology reports and other medical evidence, as well as visits to the scene by investigators, prosecutors and forensic experts.

Little India riot COI: Videos show accident victim’s final moments, start of riot

Mr Lee Kim Huat alias Lim Hai Tiong, 55, who works for transport company BT & Tan, was arrested on December 9, the day after the accident that killed Indian foreign worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu, and released on bail pending investigations.

Little India riot COI: Videos show accident victim’s final moments, start of riot

A public hearing into what happened during Singapore’s first riot in more than 40 years began at the Subordinate Courts on Wednesday morning

So far, a four-man Committee of Inquiry (COI), chaired by former Supreme Court judge G. Pannir Selvam, has heard and seen video evidence that the Indian worker whose death sparked off the riot, Sakthivelu Kumaravelu, was not "manhandled or thrust off" a bus he was on. This was theorised by some foreign media, said senior state counsel David Khoo in his opening statement.

He also revealed details on how the riot unfolded.

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Little India Riot COI: Highly improper of media to interfere with proceedings

The overturned police cars at the aftermath of the Little India riot on Dec 9, 2013. The chairman of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) on Wednesday, Feb 19, 2014, morning reiterated that the media should not interfere in proceedings by interviewing witnesses before they come to the tribunal. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

The chairman of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) on Wednesday morning reiterated that the media should not interfere in proceedings by interviewing witnesses before they come to the tribunal.

Former Supreme Court judge G. Pannir Selvam also told the court that many media have asked members of the four-man COI to meet and seek their views on their eventual decision. Some members of the media have also asked for video footage evidence.

He said: "All these are first unnecessary and highly improper. Our duty is to enquire, find out and report to the minister. But these reporters think that we have got to report to them first and then the minister. No, we don't do that."

AGC must act fairly to address Straits Times’ Contempt of Court

Warren Fernandez (image from AsiaOne)

It was hidden in page seven of the Straits Times (ST), and cunningly headlined to give the impression of a mild infraction. “Straits Times taken to task for bus driver story”, whispered the headline.

What the headline should have read, on page one of any objective paper: “Straits Times “plainly” in Contempt of Court”.

Retired High Court Judge and head of the Little India Committee of Inquiry Justice G P Selvam was crystal clear: ST was “in plain Contempt of Court” and was clearly guilty of “plain and simple interference with witnesses”. This is a serious allegation made by a judicial authority.

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Someone touched my buttocks

Public drunkenness in Little India saw a spike two years ago, especially on the first two weekends of the month.

And timekeeper Wong Geck Woon (above) was molested by a seemingly drunk foreign worker while on the job two years ago. She said this on the second day of the Little India riot Committee of Inquiry hearing while on the witness stand.

Bus driver Lee Kim Huat also took the stand but gave a different account of what happened on the day of the riot from Madam Wong.

Bus timekeeper claims assault after accident that sparked Little India riot
"Fearful" bus timekeeper tells COI, she was stern but not rude to workers

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Little India riot: New Bill sets scope for police powers

Just before the Committee of Inquiry begins its investigation into the December riot that broke out in Little India, Parliament has passed a new Bill allowing the police to continue their efforts to maintain public order and calm in the area.

On Tuesday (Feb 18), Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran addressed concerns over the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill, adding that the temporary measures — which will be in place for a year — are in response to the Little India riot on Dec 8.

Mr Iswaran said the new Bill will give the police less power than they do under the Public Order (Preservation) Act or PO(P)A, which was invoked last year after Singapore’s first riot in more than 40 years.

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Little India riot inquiry: Bus driver hid under rubbish bin

When you walk past a rubbish bin, you’d hardly think of it as safety equipment

But bus driver Lee Kim Huat turned it into a shield to protect himself from the mob who were hurling things into his bus when the Little India riot broke out on Dec 8 last year.

Like him, the man dubbed the Little India Hero also found a "shield” to use against the rioters -- his own body, just like the police officers who formed a human shield.

These were some of the details that emerged yesterday on Day 1 of the Little India Riot Committee of Inquiry hearing.

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Little India Riot COI: Bus drivers decided 2 years ago not to ferry drunk workers

Timekeeper Madam Wong Geck Woon said that there have been instances in the past when Indian workers who are drunk have urinated and vomitted inside buses ferrying them back to their dormitories from Little India.

Taking the stand for first time on Thursday since the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into last year's Little India riot began the day before, the 38-year-old told the court that as a result, bus drivers decided among themselves about two years ago not to ferry drunk workers.

"Ultimately the bus drivers decide if they want to allow drunk workers to board," she said in Mandarin. She added that some drivers may still be kind enough to let drunk workers board their buses while others would not allow this as they worry about the their vomitting and the subsequent clean-up.

Third man sentenced for role in Little India riot jailed 18 weeks

Police at the scene of the Little India riot on Dec 8, 2013. A third man among 25 charged for their roles in the riot on Dec 8 last year was jailed for 18 weeks on Thursday, Feb 20, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

A third man among 25 charged for their roles in the Little India riot on Dec 8 last year was jailed for 18 weeks on Thursday.

Indian national Selvaraj Karikalan, 28, who was a driver for a construction company here, was originally charged with rioting, which carries a sentence of up to seven years and caning. But he admitted his guilt to an amended charge of continuing in an assembly after it was ordered to disperse, under Section 151 of the Penal Code. His sentence was backdated to the date of his arrest on Dec 8.

His is the third such case under this particular section of the Penal Code after two Indian construction workers also pleaded guilty earlier this month to amended charges for failing to disperse at the vicinity of the riot.

Please Resign Mr Police Commissioner

It doesn't look like hundreds of rioters were attacking this patrol car (one of the first attacked), yet the officers at the scene made no attempt to stop them.

Watching the show of the year. Despite the injuries to police and SCDF officers, and the large destruction of property, these officers were happy to stay put and let the rioters have 'their fun'.

Although eventually found not at fault for the fatal accident, bus driver Lee Kim Huat  (top)and his coordinator, should have been arrested and removed from the scene by the initial officers. This would show the potential rioters that some form of justice was taking place.

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In the Commission of Inquiry into the Little India Riot, Senior Staff Sergeant Mydeen Sahul Hameed, indicated that many of the rioters were emotional because they felt discriminated and felt that no one respected them.

Mydeen, has been working at the Kampong Java NPC for over 10 years and he was one of the first officers at the scene during the Little India Riot last December. He told the COI that he had tried to calm down the workers who had been gathered around the accident site but many were shouting that the driver had killed their friend and were calling for the police to bring the driver to justice.

He also gave evidence to say that most of the men gathered there had been intoxicated as they slurred their speech while exasperatedly trying to explain that they had been discriminated against in Singapore and that the driver should be arrested.

Policemen in Little India riot COI say "not trained for full-scale riot"

Three police officers who were among the first responders at the scene of the Little India riot told the Committee Of Inquiry (COI) on Wednesday that they were not trained for a full-scale riot.

The three officers -- Special Constable Sergeant Abdul Aziz, Assistant Superintendent of Police Edwin Yong and Special Constable Corporal Arshard Abdul Murad -- said they had only been prepared for "peace time" crowd control. The three police officers were testifying on day six of the COI hearing into the December 8 riot.

Special Constable Sergeant Abdul Aziz said that warning shots were not fired because doing so could have riled up the already aggressive crowd.

No arrests as police were "grossly outnumbered", says ASP Tang

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Top cop asked: Why were no warning shots fired?

Deputy Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar was grilled by committee members at yesterday's (Feb 21) inquiry into the Little India riot.

Some of the questions raised were: Why did the Special Operations Command (SOC) take almost an hour to arrive after the first call by the first police responders to the riot?

Why did the police officers on the ground take action to stop the rioters instead of waiting for the SOC to arrive? Why were guns not used and why were no warning shots fired to disperse the crowd?

Cop angry when he saw burning police car

He was part of a group of 10 police officers manning a line near Hampshire Road when he saw some rioters flip a police car onto its side.

One of the men threw a piece of cloth into the car, along with something else. The car soon started burning.

"I saw (the burning car) and I got angry," Staff Sergeant Azmi Mohammed Hamzah told the Committee of Inquiry on day six of the Little India riot hearings.

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During the Little India Riot, there were many factors which prevented police from being able to contain the situation properly. While the influence of alcohol has been widely discussed, another major issue that has surfaced was the language barrier present on the night.

Police Officers on scene had ordered the crowd to disperse and go home in English, but many of the foreign workers did not seem to understand as they continued to loiter and walk around the area.

This was explained by Corporal Arshad Abdul Murad at the COI today and was also supported by Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Edwin Yong Wen Wei who said that the initial communication to the foreign workers, just after the fatal accident, could have been improved.

Lessons From The Little India Riot
Little India Riot: "Who Dares Win"
Aftermath of Little India Riots
Riot Erupts in Singapore's Little India