A hero of the riot in Singapore's Little India

A hero of the riot in Singapore’s Little India

When a construction worker was fatally struck by a bus in Singapore late in 2013, chaotic scenes swiftly ensued. A large crowed of his fellow Indian migrants surrounded the bus and a riot situation escalated. As matters worsened, police arriving on the scene found themselves confronted by a large and volatile crowd. Ignoring pleas to disperse, some of the antagonists armed themselves with anything that came to hand. Railings and bottles began to rain down on the police officers. Police cars and even an ambulance were torched.

As the scene deteriorated, local shopkeepers sprung into action, pulling down the shutters on their premises in order to minimize potential damage. But in amongst the disturbing footage that was broadcast to a shocked television audience throughout Singapore and beyond, a far more positive story emerged.

As the rioters turned on the bus unfortunate enough to have caused the original accident, attacking it with a variety of instruments, a lone hero emerged from the crowds. Commendably placing his own safety second, a local electrician named Thangavai Govindarasu defied the mob and went out of his way to stop troublemakers from ransacking the bus. He also pulled the bus timekeeper out of harm's way, preventing the situation from deteriorating completely.

The media of all shapes and sizes have been swift to pounce on this story. While the riot itself was nasty, particularly if any sort of lynching situation was narrowly avoided, it was thankfully short-lived. By the following morning Little India had returned to complete normality, with very little evidence of the tragic events that had occurred a matter of hours beforehand. The police blamed a lot of the violence on drunken troublemakers. Migrant community leaders were quick to condemn the anti-social activities that have blighted the name of a community that has been welcomed in Singapore for a number of years.

The so-called hero of the riot, Thangaval Govindarasu, presents a far more positive image of the way migrant workers have successfully integrated into Singapore's society. The 38 year-old father of one left his Indian home town of Tamil Naidu 11 years ago, seeking employment prospects in Singapore. During that time he has become a successful electrician, and no doubt his new-found high media profile will lead to his considerable skills becoming much sought after.