January 2014

The ban on alcohol consumption in Little India helps promote public order.

What are your views on this?

1st Place - Charlotte Lim

Almost half a century after Singapore experienced the 1964 history book worthy racial riots, a smaller scale replication of the scarring incident in Little India last December was an uninvited and unappreciated historical re-enactment for most Singaporeans. The ban on alcohol consumption was a swift and decisive action by the Singapore government, harried to appease the people and restore order in Singapore to its long held position high up on the pedestal. The ban on alcohol consumption, in my opinion will help to maintain the high level of order and peace in a multiracial Singapore, not because of the ban itself but rather the underlying implications of a cleverly orchestrated and well thought out political move.

 

The obvious reason for an alcohol ban seems to be the prevention of the repeat of similar incidents caused by an inability to think clearly and act appropriately under intoxication of alcohol. Pints of whiskey, brandy, or in this case, maybe Tiger Beer circulating in the veins of the foreign workers, seems a most plausible reason to explain their inability to think clearly and keep their emotions in check which ultimately magnified the incident into a full blown riot. It is indeed known that alcohol does have certain effects on one’s ability to think clearly and act properly, so issuing a ban on such intoxication would be the best move to ensure only sober persons roamed the streets of Little India. With an ability to think clearly and emotions still within control, similar incidents can be easily prevented.

 

In a different vein, the ban on alcohol consumption promotes public order by enforcing Singapore’s zero tolerance towards rioting on our nation’s soil. With its wide reaching implications of affecting even convenience stores and bars selling alcohol, some may say that the alcohol ban may be a tad an overreaction by the government. However, I beg to differ. As a Singaporean, my pride for my nationality stems mainly from how safe and peaceful this little red dot is. This order we enjoy today is purely the crystallization of our forefather’s uncompromising attitude of unacceptance towards rioting and disruption of this perfectly established order. I see the ban on alcohol consumption as a strong accusation and persecution of the Little India rioters, to get them to see the consequences of breeching a long established and highly prized aspect of Singapore society. A smart political move, I call it, where the government achieves both the aim of doing something to appease the masses while slipping in an uncommunicated message of how rioting and disruption of Singapore’s public order will never be accepted nor even permitted.

 

A factor that made the riot extraordinarily significant was the fact that the people involved in the riot were the Indian foreign workers. This brings me to my next point-the ban on alcohol consumption ensures public order by first protecting the nations’ own people-Singaporeans. Many argue that the government’s reaction to the December riots was not only discriminatory but an insult to foreign workers. The restriction of the foreign workers to things like ‘movie screenings’ for recreation in place of a trip to Little India and the pleasure of alcohol points to a lack of trust and confidence in the workers, such that there was a need to keep them indoors and far away from the streets. However, upon deeper thought, the ban had a higher and more important goal to achieve, such that causing further dissension among the workers was a minute matter when placed against the larger picture. Simply put, the ban on alcohol consumption is Singapore’s way of asserting her authority, baring her teeth to neighbouring countries in saying “None of you have a right to step onto Singapore soil and attempt to spoil our peace and order”. By enforcing a much harsher law than actually seemed needed, the government was seizing an opportunity to ensure everyone knew that they could play no games with this country and its people.

 

Public order to me is like a game of Jenga. It takes 54 pieces to carefully build a perfect tower, but move just one block and you may collapse the entire tower. The ban on alcohol consumption was the right move to preserve that 54 pieces and to keep that tower perfectly in place. Without the ban, it might as well have been the government giving an open invitation to more of such incidents to threaten Singapore’s order and peace, and when that dam is lifted, there is no way of stopping the water that gushes out and destroying every building and farmland in sight. In truth, there is no best of both worlds. With order comes repression, and it is only repression that will breed order.

 

2nd Place - Lynn Wee

The ban on alcohol consumption in Little India came understandably in response to Singapore’s worst riot in 40 years, which is believed to have started with some intoxicated individuals. However, while this might seem like the logical solution to the problem, this is really but a superficial solution that will not only be ineffective in the long run, but is also likely to be counter effective instead.

 

Past experiences with the banning of alcohol consumption to improve societal order, such as America’s national prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, yielded minimal results. Not only did alcohol consumption increase, but crime rate climbed as well. From the “high” one gets from drinking, to one’s pure addiction to alcohol, there is a variety of reasons why people drink, and we must realize that people consume alcohol not for the sake of consuming the drink itself. Even if we were to deny them the right to consume alcohol, it is likely that they would resort to other means to attain an experience similar to that of drinking alcohol, such as through doing shisha or even drugs, which is inarguably worse than alcohol due to its highly addictive nature. At the same time, there is also the danger of the “Iron Law of Prohibition” as proposed by Richard Cowan; prohibition leads to increased potency of the banned substance as its production will not be subjected to the normal market regulations, which leads to greater variability in potency and even the addition of unknown or dangerous substances to it. Hence, if alcohol is already viewed as a big enough threat to public order to warrant such a prohibition, it is likely to evolve into a greater one upon the imposition of such restrictions on its consumption.

 

However, if there is anything to be gained from the ban of alcohol in Little India, it is the strong message being sent out to everyone that such acts in Singapore will not be condoned. It reflects how seriously our society views the maintenance of public harmony, enlightening foreigners who might not know better, and preventing them from committing such mistakes thinking that it is acceptable as in their country. Hence, it is through this message brought across that will prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future, but not from the act of  banning alcohol consumption per se.

 

Hence, while the ban on alcohol consumption might prevent the reoccurrence of such an incident, it merely brushes the surface of the problem. The riot did not occur simply because of a few individuals who were experiencing the disinhibiting effects of alcohol. After all, would a perfectly content and happy person start a riot when he is inebriated? While fights and riots can start for reasons we find insignificant upon hindsight, they do not start without reason at all. It is likely those individuals felt some discontent towards Singapore society – perhaps feelings of frustration from work, feelings of helplessness from being away from home alone – feelings natural for one to experience in a foreign land, yet sufficient to manifest into one of anger and violence. Or perhaps, that person simply did not know better, and if someone had explained to him Singapore’s strict intolerance towards instances of public disorder, all these could have been avoided.

 

The riot that broke out shows us that despite our government’s great efforts to promote a harmonious society, such as through educating her citizens from a young age to even dedicating a day for celebrating racial harmony, the peace we have fought so hard to keep can be as easily threatened by others in our society. It highlights the increasing role foreigners play in Singapore society today, yet still, the lack of effort on our part to reach out to them, and hence their lack of understanding of our norms and their assimilation in our society. This is an inescapable problem all of us face as citizens of today’s increasingly interconnected world, and it is about time we address it before we experience a repeat of such events in the future.

 

3rd Place - Shen Jiayi

I am greatly confounded by the ban on alcohol consumption in Little India, for instinctively it strikes me as the hasty consequence of the authorities’ compulsion to uncritically identify simply any probable cause for such unruly and rebellious social disruptions. Announcing that the ban will be enforced on weekends and public holidays, the authorities believe that curbing alcohol abuse will remedy the problem of mass rioting—though retrospectively it may prove to be but a placebo that addresses the reasons behind the mass riots with limited efficiency.

 

Although alcoholic delirium could have contributed to the undertaking of riots by parties involved, the alcohol ban is not a long term measure designed to fully eradicate the problem of social rioting. As those who intend to drink to their heart’s delight will always find a way to consume alcohol (albeit in other parts of the island) despite the ban, it may thus be inferred that the imposition of the ban on alcohol sale in the very specific locale of Little India suggests that the authorities are deliberately targeting a specific cross-section of the community for preventing their access to alcohol—the Indians. The disastrous consequence of emphasizing the grossly totalizing stereotype of the “Indian alcoholic” who is unable to control his own behaviour in a alcohol induced haze and therefore requires the authorities’ paternalistic guidance of denying him access to alcohol is imminent. Not only does this ban promote the unjustified stereotyping of all Indians, but also unfairly punishes other power players involved in the area—such as the beer businesses that are completely dependent on the sale of alcohol to eke out a living, and the majority of the other innocent migrant workers who obediently abide by the law and only desire to have a good time drinking with their friends in the vicinity. Isn’t it also a tad unfair for the destructive acts of the minority to majorly compromise the quality of the future outlets of enjoyment of the majority too?

 

Therefore, not only should we shrug off the simplistic causational relationship that we have so naively constructed (namely that the drunken migrant worker will inevitably rebel against the government), but we should also avoid the tempting trap of simply locating an easy and convenient answer (alcohol delirium) for what proves to be a complex and multi-faceted social problem that plagues all Singaporeans. Lastly, we should inspect the stereotypes and prejudices that we have subscribed to so uncritically about the rioters and only make informed decisions about the situation after much thoughtful introspection and reflection.

 

I am greatly confounded by the ban on alcohol consumption in Little India, for instinctively it strikes me as the hasty consequence of the authorities’ compulsion to uncritically identify simply any probable cause for such unruly and rebellious social disruptions. Announcing that the ban will be enforced on weekends and public holidays, the authorities believe that curbing alcohol abuse will remedy the problem of mass rioting—though retrospectively it may prove to be but a placebo that addresses the reasons behind the mass riots with limited efficiency.

 

Although alcoholic delirium could have contributed to the undertaking of riots by parties involved, the alcohol ban is not a long term measure designed to fully eradicate the problem of social rioting. As those who intend to drink to their heart’s delight will always find a way to consume alcohol (albeit in other parts of the island) despite the ban, it may thus be inferred that the imposition of the ban on alcohol sale in the very specific locale of Little India suggests that the authorities are deliberately targeting a specific cross-section of the community for preventing their access to alcohol—the Indians. The disastrous consequence of emphasizing the grossly totalizing stereotype of the “Indian alcoholic” who is unable to control his own behaviour in a alcohol induced haze and therefore requires the authorities’ paternalistic guidance of denying him access to alcohol is imminent. Not only does this ban promote the unjustified stereotyping of all Indians, but also unfairly punishes other power players involved in the area—such as the beer businesses that are completely dependent on the sale of alcohol to eke out a living, and the majority of the other innocent migrant workers who obediently abide by the law and only desire to have a good time drinking with their friends in the vicinity. Isn’t it also a tad unfair for the destructive acts of the minority to majorly compromise the quality of the future outlets of enjoyment of the majority too?

 

Therefore, not only should we shrug off the simplistic causational relationship that we have so naively constructed (namely that the drunken migrant worker will inevitably rebel against the government), but we should also avoid the tempting trap of simply locating an easy and convenient answer (alcohol delirium) for what proves to be a complex and multi-faceted social problem that plagues all Singaporeans. Lastly, we should inspect the stereotypes and prejudices that we have subscribed to so uncritically about the rioters and only make informed decisions about the situation after much thoughtful introspection and reflection.