In Limbo in Little India

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Injured worker Bapary Monzur, 38, descends two stories every day from his room above Dhanshiri Restaurant, 33 Desker Road. He gets lunch from Healthserve at New Shapla Restaurant just down the road, and dinner from Isthana Restaurant one street away.
Before coupon distribution begins at 6.30pm on August 4, the queue is already about ten men deep. “This place very famous for Bangladeshis,” said Mr Ahmad Faiz (not in picture), 31, a special pass holder staying in TWC2’s premises above Isthana Restaurant.
At 6.04am, Mr Mariya Arokiyasamy left his room at 145 Dunlop Street for the MOM Services Centre. The 49-year-old joined the queue — already some 40-strong — at 6.40am. “Now late already,” said the work permit holder. Those who come too late must often wait for the entire day, or reschedule their appointment entirely, he said.
Mr Mariya wants to be allowed to work in Singapore again so that he can resume sending money to his family in India. Working in Singapore was the best thing that happened to him, he said.
Tucked among Little India’s alleyways are more than a dozen murals celebrating the ethnic district’s heritage. These include ‘Working Class Hero’, painted by local artist Mohammad Zulkarnaen Bin Othman, as a tribute to migrant workers living in the district. The portrait depicts famous Tamil film star Rajinikanth, who embodies the dream many workers have: success from a humble background.
Titled Project Oasis in Little India, the herd of elephant sculptures in a park along Hindoo Road is part of an initiative to preserve Indian heritage by the Little India Shopkeepers & Heritage Association and the Singapore Tourism Board. For some workers, the park is a space to relax with friends. Mr Rajib Hossain, 29, (right) and Mr Uddin Mohammad Nasir, 23 (left), who met in the area three years ago, used to gather with around ten others in the park before the pandemic.
Mr Sahabissowjit Gourchandra calls his wife and twin boys, both two, from a field near his accommodation at 31 Roberts Lane in the evening. It is quiet, breezy and has good mobile reception, said the 35-year-old Bangladeshi.
Workers are used to the police presence in Little India, said Mr Miah Jewel, 28. “The police never disturb us. Just ask you go back room, go rest, tomorrow work.” To the Bangladeshi electrician who lives on Norris Road, the police presence was actually a boon: “Here, security one hundred per cent.”
From 10am to 8pm on Sundays, manpower ministry officers patrol Little India and other areas popular with migrant workers. Their job is to enforce social distancing and ensure that workers do not congregate in the alleys, said Mr Koh Bin Sheng, 21, one of the officers.
A tarpaulin sheet over torn linoleum — bedding for Mr Muthu Jayakumar’s roommate — will be replaced when they have time , the 47-year-old said. Along with the chipped paint on the walls and rubble from renovation work, it reveals the unpredictability of accommodation arrangements for workers in the area.




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