From ’17 charged after fight at Kaki Bukit’, 28 March 2014, article in CNA
17 foreign workers were charged in court on Friday following a brawl that broke out at a dormitory in Kaki Bukit. 14 of them are from Bangladesh and were charged with rioting. The other three from India were charged with affray for their alleged roles in the fight.
Their cases will be mentioned again next month. They were among 35 workers arrested following Tuesday evening’s fight, which allegedly took place during a live screening of a T-20 cricket match.
The match was between Bangladesh and the West Indies, in which the West Indies won.
I probably know a bit more about golf than cricket, but I never heard of anyone throwing furniture over the former. Like any spectator team sport, cricket has its fair share of violent hooliganism. In 2006, Indian fans unhappy with match cancellation set bonfires and burned advertising billboards, injuring a few policemen in the pandemonium. 10 years before that in 1996 at the World Cup semi-final between India and Sri Lanka in Eden Gardens, Kolkata, the game was awarded to the visitors after things turned ugly and the riot police had to be deployed to quell an Indian mob angry that their side were on the losing end. You’d never think a sport with a lengthy glossary of confusing terms (Boot Hill, Cart-wheeling stump, Left-arm Unorthodox Spin among others), suggesting some quiet civility about it, would have some of the worst ever sore losers in the history of sporting competition.
Emotions run high easily in crowded dorms. In 2001, an Indian national was fatally stabbed with a kitchen knife by a housemate because he spent too much time in the TOILET every morning. So when is a brawl a riot and when is it an affray? According to our statutes, an affray is ‘where 2 or more persons disturb the public peace by fighting in a PUBLIC place’. ‘Rioting’ occurs ‘whenever force or violence is used by an unlawful assembly or by any member thereof, in prosecution of the ‘common object’ of such assembly’, unlawful assembly meaning FIVE or more persons engaging in a ‘common object’ of wrongdoing. If you decide to throw punches with someone on the MRT, you are committing affray. If you’re part of a gang and slash people over staring incidents, then you’re ‘rioting with a dangerous weapon’.
Both terms appear to be have been used interchangeably in the past. In 1939, 17 Chinese and Indian workers got into a ‘disturbance’ at Alexandra Brickworks, resulting in several injuries and a broken arm, an incident reported as an ‘affray’. The way similar battles were described suggests that an ‘affray’ was considered a milder version, or precursor, of a riot, like a poke in the chest escalating into a kick to the face. Which doesn’t explain how in a group of 17 men involved in a free-for-all over the same thing, a few can be engaged in affray while the rest were rioting.
You may, however, avoid a rioting charge if you get into a fistfight while IN a football (or cricket for that matter) match, as long as nobody makes a police report. Being involved in a catfight also may spare you from affray charges, though people are more likely to stand and watch than try to break it apart for the entertainment. Or if you’re a Taiwanese politician.
But if you’re really lucky, you could get involved in what’s technically an affray right outside the Subordinate Courts and nothing would happen to you, like this trio below. It’s 2 participants short of a riot, mind you.
Then there’s the question of whether a dormitory may be considered a ‘public place’. If a husband and wife got into a massive quarrel in the wee hours that involves the tossing of hot kettles and frying pans in the kitchen and the whole neighbourhood knows about it, what charge does it come under? If 5 relatives started body slamming each other in their backyard over inheritance, are they RIOTING? Is there a penalty for, well, just ‘FIGHTING’ wherever you are? After all, you never know when a scuffle may lead to serious harm or death, in the privacy of a bedroom or on the rooftop of a building, with or without ‘dangerous weapons’.
Ironically, free-to-air live cricket matches was one of the suggestions following the Little India riot to keep our workers ‘happy and motivated’. Perhaps Bollywood movies would be a better idea.