Little India counts price of peace
SIX months after Little India exploded in a frenzy of rioting, a new kind of order has emerged - uncluttered roads.
With police patrolling the area more frequently, people are not parking by the side of the road to do their grab-and-go grocery shopping, and the shops are feeling it.
"Business has been very, very bad since the riots. Now that police officers are on patrol more often, people dare not park their cars along the road to quickly buy groceries. They are scared they will 'kena saman' (get a parking ticket)," said Mr Sng, who works at Jik Aik Vegetable Trading in Buffalo Road.
The nearest carpark to the row of grocery shops along that road is the one at Tekka Market, which is sometimes so crowded that drivers have to wait an hour to get a parking space.
Fewer than half of the shop's regular customers have been visiting since the riot, he said.
And along with the drop in sales, the shop's vegetables have been going to waste.
Another business that has been badly affected since the riot is provision shop Sri Vinayaga Traders.
"My customers are mostly foreign workers, and there has been a 40 to 45 per cent drop in sales because fewer are coming to Little India," said owner Ravi Katich.
He has thought of giving up his business. After all, the new recreation centres in the pipeline - complete with supermarkets - may make trips to Little India less of a necessity for workers.
It's the shops selling alcohol that claim to be the worst-hit.
After the riot involving about 400 workers in December, alcohol restrictions were placed on Little India.
Shops are not allowed to sell alcohol between 8pm and 6am on weekends, public holidays and the eve of public holidays - drinking in public is not allowed during these periods, but is still allowed indoors after 8pm.
At least two retailers have closed down, unable to keep afloat amid flagging sales.
Those which are still around are surviving, though business is barely 20 per cent of what it used to be.
"Why are there double standards? If the eateries can serve alcohol till midnight, we should be able to, as well. Those who drink should be the ones being monitored, not us," said Balan Kabilan, who runs Moonshine Enterprises in Chander Road.
He had asked about converting his store into an eatery, but was told he could not do so. The businesses may also be hemmed in by their lease agreement.
On the flip side, establishments which sell alcohol indoors are starting to see a bigger crowd.
"Since January, there have been 30 per cent more sales in alcohol. The foreign workers sit here and drink the alcohol, instead of outside," said one drink stall owner, who did not want to be named.
While the hustle and bustle of the area appears to have returned, workers whom My Paper spoke to said that they see fewer of their friends there.
"When I used to come, I would see many of my friends, but now it's hard to see them," said maintenance worker K. Subramaniam, who was there to meet his cousin to pass him some clothes.
The 28-year-old, who has been here for more than two years, has also noticed that more of his fellow workers who live at a dormitory in Pioneer are buying drinks from a nearby shop, instead of travelling to Little India.
Activity in the area dies down earlier now, with many rushing to make it home on the last chartered bus at 9pm.
Taking the bus is no longer a chaotic affair, with yellow railings on the field near Tekka Lane - where the buses pick up the workers - channelling passengers into neat, snaking queues.
Security is also tight as they board the buses.
"For the drinkers, this place is now not as fun any more, but for those who don't drink, we find it very peaceful," said construction worker P. Sarath, 35, who has been here for four years.