Maria Hertogh riots


The Maria Hertogh riots were a severe outbreak of violence that took place in Singapore between 11 and 13 December 1950 over the custody lawsuit of Maria Hertogh. The riots left 18 dead and 173 injured,1 as well as a reported 72 vehicles burnt, 119 vehicles damaged, and damage to personal property amounting to 20,848 Straits dollars.The rioters targeted members of the European and Eurasian communities as well as Malays suspected to be collaborating with the colonial administration.3 

Background
Born on 24 March 1937 in Tjimahi, Java, and baptised Maria Huberdina Hertogh, Maria was the third of seven children from a Dutch-Eurasian Roman Catholic family. Her father, Adrianus Petrus Hertogh, was a sergeant in the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, while her mother, Adeline Hertogh, was a Eurasian who had grown up in Java.4

During the Japanese Occupation of Java, Maria’s father was detained as a prisoner of war by the Japanese.5 Alone and having just given birth to her sixth child, Adeline was persuaded by her mother to place Maria in the care of a family friend, Che Aminah binte Mohamed, on 1 January 1943.

Separated from her biological family, Maria was raised by her foster family during the war. After the war, Maria and her foster family moved to Aminah’s hometown of Kemaman in Terengganu, Malaya, where she was brought up in the Muslim faith and renamed Nadra binte Ma’arof.7

After the war, the Hertoghs returned to the Netherlands and decided to search for Maria. She was located by Arthur Locke, a British administrative officer based in Terengganu, in September 1949.8 The Hertoghs then launched a legal effort to reclaim her through Dutch authorities. On 22 April 1950, Jacob Van Der Gaag, then the acting Dutch Consul-General in Singapore, applied to the High Court of the Colony of Singapore for an order under the Guardianship of Infants Ordinance. The court made an interim order directing Maria to be delivered into the custody of the Social Welfare Department of the Singapore government,and Maria was placed in York Hill Home. On 19 May 1950, the court passed an order giving custody of Maria to the Dutch Consulate “with the liberty to restore her to her parents in Holland”.10

Court proceedings
During the legal proceedings over Maria’s custody, Adeline alleged that she had only intended for Maria to stay temporarily with Aminah, and had not given Maria to Aminah for adoption. Adeline added that she was prevented from retrieving Maria because she had been arrested and interned by the Japanese for travelling without a pass.11 Aminah refuted these claims, insisting that Maria’s adoption had been initiated by Adeline. This was supported by Soewaldi Hunter, Adeline’s elder brother, who said he had witnessed the adoption process.12

With the help of M. A. Majid, then president of the Muslim Welfare Association, Aminah appealed against the Court Order on the grounds that the “necessary parties had not been duly served with copies of the orders” and that the Dutch Consul-General had not been empowered by the Hertoghs to receive custody of Maria.13 Aminah’s appeal was successful and Maria was returned to her custody on 28 July 1950.14 By this time, Maria’s case had attracted the attention of the Muslim community, which saw the court ruling as a victory for Aminah.15 

On 1 August 1950, 13-year-old Maria entered into a nikah gantung or “truncated marriage” with Mansoor Adabi, a 21-year-old probationary teacher from a wealthy family from Kelantan.16 Nikah gantung was a common practice within the Malay community in Singapore and Malaya at the time, regarded as an "incomplete marriage" to prevent young couples from interacting in ways deemed to be forbidden in Islam.17 While bersanding wedding rites were required to make the marriage complete, the nikah gantung was regarded as a valid marriage from an Islamic perspective. Therefore when Maria’s marriage was announced, the Muslim community saw it as a legal marriage.18 

Through the Dutch Consul-General, the Hertoghs challenged the legality of Maria’s marriage in an originating summons filed in the High Court on 26 August 1950, requesting that Maria’s marriage be declared illegal and the restoration of her custody.19 

The hearing was conducted from 20 to 24 November 1950 and the verdict delivered on 2 December 1950. In his verdict, Justice Brown of the Singapore High Court declared that Maria’s marriage was illegal “on the grounds that under her personal law, [which was] Dutch law, Maria was not [of] an age to contract a marriage”.20 Brown noted that Adabi was domiciled in Kelantan rather than in Singapore and that Maria “had no capacity to become a Muslim” because she had been born and baptised a Roman Catholic. In addition, Justice Brown awarded the custody of Maria to her birth parents as the court could not override parental rights.21 

After the verdict, Maria was handed over to Adeline, who then placed Maria temporarily in the Roman Catholic Convent of the Good Shepherd to await her return to the Netherlands.22 In response, Aminah applied for a stay of execution of Brown’s order, which was scheduled by the court to be heard on 11 December 1950.23

Lead-up to riots
Brown’s verdict on 2 December 1950 upset members of the Muslim community as they viewed it “as being directed against the Islamic law of marriage.”24 This sentiment became stronger when sensationalised coverage of Maria’s life in the convent appeared in the newspapers,25 as well as religious symbols such as the Christian cross and Islamic crescent depicted in conflict.26 

The rising tension within the Muslim community was noted by A. E. G. Blades of the Special Branch of the Criminal Investigation Department. In his letter to then Colonial Secretary W. L. Blythe, Blades pointed out that the articles and images in the newspapers had distressed the Muslim community and suggested that Maria be moved from the convent to a non-Christian institution. However, Blythe believed that such action was not necessary.27

On 9 December 1950, radical Muslim activists formed the Nadra Action Committee to protest the court's decision.28 Led by Karim Ghani, editor of the Dawn newspaper, the action committee aimed to “incite Muslim crowds to wage a holy struggle against the enemies of Islam.”29 On the day of its formation and the morning of 11 December 1950, Karim issued free copies of Dawn containing articles and commentaries aimed at inflaming the Muslim community. The articles were also aimed at recruiting Malay policemen to the action committee's cause.30 


Karim also worked with other Malay newspapers such as Melayu Raya to portray Maria’s case as a religious issue between Islam and Christianity.31 However, the newspapers, including Dawn, also called for restraint and advised Muslims not to gather outside the Supreme Court during the hearing. These calls were ignored by demonstrators on the day of the hearing.32

At approximately 9 am on 11 December 1950, before Aminah’s appeal was to be heard, a small procession of about 20 demonstrators approached the Supreme Court from St Andrew's Road. The demonstrators carried a green flag bearing a crescent and star as well as banners with slogans calling for the removal of Maria from the convent. The officer in charge of policing the Supreme Court that day, E. J. Linsell, turned the procession back, but the group returned from the direction of High Street. This time, Linsell ordered his men to block the demonstrators’ path.33 The constables formed up across the street but allowed the demonstrators to pass through unopposed.34 

The demonstrators then took up a position on the Padang. Thereafter, the demonstration gathered pace and by noon, the crowd had swelled to between 2,000 and 3,000. By then, Linsell had called for reinforcements in the form of a Gurkha riot squad of 48 men, which formed up in front of the Supreme Court. He also handed the policing of the Supreme Court over to K. L. Johnson, then Superintendent of Police in charge of the South Area of Singapore. Other than chanting, the shouting of slogans, “sporadic stone throwing and the beating of passing cars with sticks”, the crowd “was generally orderly”.35

The situation began to deteriorate at about 1 pm when a group of demonstrators spotted Henry L. Velge, an officer of the Singapore Volunteer Corps, and assaulted him. Velge retaliated by firing three shots, wounding two of the assailants.36 The incident agitated the demonstrators who started throwing stones at the police. It was also possible that the change in behaviour was caused by the court’s decision to dismiss Aminah’s appeal.37 

As the demonstrators grew more hostile, members of the Nadra Action Committee tried to calm and disperse the crowd. At the request of the action committee, Johnson agreed to withdraw the Gurkhas, in full view of the demonstrators.38 The demonstrators interpreted this “as a sign of weakness” on the part of the police, and began pelting European spectators standing on the roof of the Cricket Club with stones and bottles.39

In another miscalculation, the police did not break up the increasingly aggressive crowd but allowed it to move on to the Sultan Mosque area.40 This allowed the demonstrations to gather momentum, which eventually resulted in rioting and incidents of arson, looting, robbery and other violence. By evening, the riots had spread outwards and intensified in areas such as Bukit Timah Road, Kampong Java, Kampong Glam, North Bridge Road, Kallang and Geylang.41 Europeans and Eurasians were dragged from cars and buses and beaten up, and in some cases, killed.42 

The rioters also tried twice to march to the convent where Maria was staying. This prompted authorities to relocate Maria and her biological mother to St John’s Island.43 By the end of the day, it was reported that nine people had been killed and another 127 injured.44

Quelling the riots and aftermath
The military, comprising three battalions of Malay infantrymen under the command of Major-General Dermott Dunlop, was called in after dark on 11 December 1950 to assist the police.45 The following day, they were given orders to open fire to restore law and order,46 resulting in more casualties as seven people were reportedly shot.47 Machine guns were deployed to protect areas with significant European or Eurasian populations and churches,
and the Causeway was sealed off by army troops to prevent cult and triad members and militants entering Singapore from Malaya.48

Curfews were declared from the first day of rioting to 19 December, causing disruptions to commercial and public life. Curfew hours differed according to location; for example the curfew in the Geylang district ran to as late as 10 am.49 Prominent members of the Muslim community, including Javad Namazie, then joint secretary of the Muslim Advisory Board, and Dato Onn bin Jaafar, then president of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), made public calls for restraint and an end to the violence.50

The divisive riots also seriously affected the morale of Malay and Muslim police officers, who were disenchanted by colonial laws governing Muslims in Singapore and having to arrest Muslim rioters. Many refused to comply with the orders of their European officers. Some left their official duties, while others were themselves involved in episodes of violence.51

The authorities were able to restore law and order by noon on 13 December 1950. By then, the riots had left 18 dead and 173 injured.52 There was also widespread damage to public property. During the upheaval, Maria and her mother left for the Netherlands on 12 December 1950.53 By 17 December, the government revealed that 1,168 people had been arrested for rioting, committing various violent acts and breaking the curfew, while some 500 had been detained under the Emergency Regulations.54

Commission of Inquiry and conclusions
In 1951, a Commission of Inquiry was set up to investigate the riots, its causes and governmental measures to restore law and order.55 The commission comprised Sir Lionel Leach, a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, British chief constable Captain H. Studdy, and J. H. Wenham of the Surrey County Council. Between 14 February and 9 March, the commission interviewed colonial officials, police officers, members of the public and Muslim community leaders, although notably, then Governor of Singapore Sir Franklin Gimson was not questioned under oath due to a British legal principle.56


The Commission of Inquiry revealed rifts between police officers such as R. C. B. Wiltshire, the former Acting Commissioner of Police, and colonial administrators, including Gimson and Colonial Secretary Wilfred Blythe as well as with the authors of the report over certain conclusions and the apportion of blame for the riots.57 

The commission's report published on 7 August 195158  stated that the riots had occurred largely due to the anger of the Muslim community over the verdict and Maria's stay at the Roman Catholic convent, the inciting element of sensational press coverage as well as the radical statements of the Nadra Action Committee.59 

Indeed, when the Supreme Court announced its earlier verdict on 2 December 1950, the Muslim community had not created any disorder outside the court. However, the situation was completely different on 11 December 1950. A number of new factors had emerged between 3 and 11 December 1950, including inciting press photographs and articles about Maria’s life in the convent and the “violent campaign of misrepresentation” conducted by the Nadra Action Committee through Dawn and Melayu Raya.60 

The commission also spelt out a number of policing shortcomings that later resulted in widespread changes within the police force. Some of these changes included the establishment of multi-racial Reserve Units and the development of a more efficient policing system featuring a network of control headquarters backed by a team of 40 radio patrol cars.61 

Six senior police officers, including Wiltshire and K. L. Johnson, were charged with negligence in their duties and other offences, including perjury before the commission and manipulation of evidence. The charges were later dropped, but Wiltshire and Johnson were forced into retirement with full pensions.62

The commission's report has been criticised by later writers for maintaining the legitimacy of the colonial administration,63 and its failure to examine socio-economic causes, including the disillusionment and unhappiness of the Muslim community. The report has also been criticised for seemingly focusing on lessons for the colonial government rather than definitively establishing the causes of the riot.64 On the other hand, British newspapers noted that the report had highlighted failures in almost every relevant branch of colonial administration.65


In a wider context, the riots received prominent and mostly negative media coverage in Singapore, the United Kingdom and countries with significant Muslim populations, prompting fears that the United Kingdom's diplomatic relations with countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan would be affected. The violence also diminished British prestige and imperial legitimacy, and showed Muslims in Malaya that Islam could be used as an ideological platform for communal unity and resistance to colonial rule.66



References
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2. Riots Inquiry Commission. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951: Together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 1. (Call no.: RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN)
3. Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath. London: Routledge, New York, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704 ALJ-[HIS])
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5. Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia:Tthe Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath. London: Routledge, New York, p. 16. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704 ALJ-[HIS])
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8. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 337. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath. London: Routledge, New York, p. 16. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704 ALJ-[HIS])
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14. Riots Inquiry Commission. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951: Together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 7. (Call no.: RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN)
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16. Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath. London: Routledge, New York, p. 17. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704 ALJ-[HIS])
17. Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath. London: Routledge, New York, pp. 17–18. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704 ALJ-[HIS])
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20. Riots Inquiry Commission. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951: Together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 10. (Call no.: RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN)
21. Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath. London: Routledge, New York, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704 ALJ-[HIS])
22. Riots inquiry Commission. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951: Together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 8. (Call no.: RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN)
23. Riots Inquiry Commission. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951: Together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 9. (Call no.: RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN)
24. Riots Inquiry Commission. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951: Together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 10. (RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN)
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27. Hughes, T. E. (1980). Tangled worlds: The story of Maria Hertogh. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 52 (Call no.: RSING 364.143095957 HUG)
28. Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath. London: Routledge, New York, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704 ALJ-[HIS])
29. Riots Inquiry Commission. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951: Together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 10. (Call no.: RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN); Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath. London: Routledge, New York, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 959.5704 ALJ-[HIS])
30. Riots Inquiry Commission. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951: Together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 13. (Call no.: RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN)
31. Riots inquiry Commission. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951: Together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 13. (Call no.: RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN)
32. Riots Inquiry Commission. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951: Together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 13. (Call no.: RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN)
33. Riots Inquiry Commission. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951: Together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 13. (Call no.: RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN)
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35. Riots Inquiry Commission. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951: Together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 16. (Call no.: RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN)
36. Riots Inquiry Commission. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951: Together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 13. (Call no.: RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN)
37. Hughes, T. E. (1980). Tangled worlds: The story of Maria Hertogh. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 53. (Call no.: RSING 364.143095957 HUG)
38. Clutterback, R. L. (1984). Conflict and violence in Singapore and Malaysia 1945–1983. Singapore: G. Brash, p. 73. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 CLU–[HIS])
39. Riots Inquiry Commission. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951: Together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Singapore: Government Printing Office, pp. 17–18. (Call no.: RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN)
40. Riots Inquiry Commision. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951: Together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 18. (Call no.: RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN)
41. Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath. London: Routledge, New York, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING959.5704 ALJ-[HIS])
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48. Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath. London: Routledge, New York, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING959.5704 ALJ-[HIS])
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57. Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath. London: Routledge, New York, pp. 72–76. (Call no.: RSING959.5704 ALJ-[HIS])
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59. Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath. London: Routledge, New York, p. 78. (Call no.: RSING959.5704 ALJ-[HIS])
60. Riots Inquiry Commission. (1951). Report of the Singapore Riots Inquiry Commission, 1951: Together with a despatch from His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Singapore: Government Printing Office, p. 41. (RCLOS 364.143095957 SIN)
61. Clutterback, R. L. (1984). Conflict and violence in Singapore and Malaysia 1945–1983. Singapore: G. Brash, p. 74. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 CLU-[HIS])
62. Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath. London: Routledge, New York, pp. 83–84. (Call no.: RSING959.5704 ALJ-[HIS])
63. Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2011). The global effects of an ethnic riot: Singapore, 1950–1954. In D. Heng & Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (Eds), Singapore in global history. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, p. 186. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
64. Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath. London: Routledge, New York, pp. 77–78. (Call no.: RSING959.5704 ALJ-[HIS])
65. Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath. London: Routledge, New York, p. 79. (Call no.: RSING959.5704 ALJ-[HIS])
66. Syed Muhammad Khairudin Aljunied. (2009). Colonialism, violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia: The Maria Hertogh controversy and its aftermath. London: Routledge, New York, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING959.5704 ALJ-[HIS])



Further resources
Chee, J. (Producer). (1992). My name is Nadra, not Bertha [Videorecording]. Singapore: Singapore Broadcasting Corporation

Call no.: RSING 959.5704 MY-[HIS]

Maria Hertogh and 1955 elections compilation footage [Videorecording]. (1950). Singapore: National Archives of Singapore.
Call no.: NAS 2010001778



The information in this article is valid as at 28September 2014 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
People and communities>>Social conflict>>Riots
Politics and Government>>National Security>>Civil Unrests>>Riots
Events
Maria Hertogh Riot, Singapore, 1950
Events>>Historical Periods>>Aftermath of War (1945-1955)
Race riots--Singapore
Politics and Government
Singapore--History--1945-1963
Riots--Singapore

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