Singapore is famous for maintaining racial and religious harmony. Many people find it hard to imagine that Singapore had experienced bloody riots in the past. One such bloody race riot is the Maria Hertogh riots of 1950.
Maria Hertogh was a young 13 years old Dutch girl in 1950. Her custody battle was highly publicized, and led to three days rioting. There were eighteen deaths and a hundred and seventy-three injured as a result of the three days riots.
Her biological parents became prisoners of wars after Japanese armies invaded Java.
Aminah binte Mohamed, a Malay woman, adopted the five years old Maria Hertogh in late 1942.
All Malays in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia were Muslims in 1950. All Malays are Muslims even at present.
Maria Hertogh became a Muslim in 1943. Maria Hertogh was renamed as Nadra binte Ma'arof after her circumcision to become a Muslim.
After the war, her biological parents spent a few years searching for Maria Hertogh. Even though they managed to find Aminah binte Mohamed and Marie Hertogh, Aminah refused to return Marie Hertogh to her biological parents. Maria Hertogh had expressed the wish to stay with Aminah binte Mohammed.
In 1950, Mr and Mrs Hertogh took legal action to fight for the custody of their girl. In 1950, Singapore was still a colony of British government. A lengthy legal battle began. Mr and Mrs Hertogh won, lost, and won the custody battle.
The interesting twist in the legal battle was Maria Hertogh marriage to a young Malay man in a Muslim ritual. Apparently, the Islamic Law allows girls to marry after puberty. Maria was 13 years old. She reached puberty a year earlier. She was a willing bride in this marriage.
The High Court awarded the custody of Maria Hertogh to her biological parents, even though Maria Hertogh openly clung to Aminah binte Mohamed and her husband. Aminah binte Mohammed and other Malays continued the legal battle. They appealed against the ruling of the High Court.
On 11 December 1950, the court threw out the appeal in less than five minutes. This angered the crowd waiting outside. They deemed it as the unfair treatment of the locals by the colonial government. While the locals, especially the Muslims, accepted that legal battle was the way to fight this custody case, they could not accept that the colonial government sided with the Europeans. Throwing out the appeal in less than five minutes was an obvious act of favoritism towards the Europeans.
The Muslims and Chinese attacked the Europeans and Eurasians. The rioting continued until the police were able to control the situation on 13 December 2009.
Maria Hertogh returned to Netherlands a few days later. Maria Hertogh lived until the age of 72, and died of Leukemia on 7 July 2009.
The Maria Hertogh riots were associated with racial and religious tolerance ever since. Throughout the years, the Singapore government worked hard to maintain racial harmony, knowing that such a small country cannot afford another bloody race riot.