The tricky case of proud Batak woman, Robiah Lia Caniago - Alvinology

The tricky case of proud Batak woman, Robiah Lia Caniago

She did not steal, nor did she harm anyone directly.

Yes, she committed a crime, but it was to make money to feed her two children. Salute to Robiah Lia Caniago for not bowing down to the harsh fate dealt to her.

Here’s someone who would work hard to earn her own living rather than leech off public assistance; but sadly, she broke the law doing so.

Robiah Lia Caniago, 40, is an Indonesian woman who is a Singapore long-term visit pass holder, married to a Singaporean husband.

Good journalistic work by the reporters at The New Paper for bringing up her tricky case.

Picture via TNP
Picture via TNP

Caniago’s husband was jailed for drug offences in March 2012 and she had to fend for survival to feed her two young children and herself.

That’s how she started her own curry puff ‘factory’ in her two-room flat, making about 100 curry puffs a day from her flat, selling them to nasi padang stalls. This made her about S$20 a day, just enough to make ends meet.

Yes it is just S$20 a day. Multiple that by 31 and she makes like S$610 a month at most, even less than if she was to be gainfully employed as a low-wage worker in Singapore.

Would you work so hard for S$20 a day?

Robiah, who was from the Batak tribe in northern Sumatra, said she was on public assistance after her husband was jailed.

But as a self-professed “proud Batak woman”, she said she did not want to just take money from the Government. “I thought I’ll find some other way to get money,” she said to The New Paper.

Having only a short-term visit pass at that time, she was not allowed to work in Singapore.

The Housing Development Board (HDB) called her on May 2 last year to ask her about her illegal business. Last Wednesday, she was fined $3,000 for selling curry puffs without a licence.

As she was unable to pay the fine, she served a five-day default jail sentence instead.

Caniago’s case is one of those rare exceptions who are a contradiction between what is legally right versus what is morally right.

By Singapore’s law, she is definitely in the wrong for running an illegal kitchen, evading taxes as well as food and safety inspections to ensure hygiene.

Morally, if she kept her kitchen and operations clean, there is not much harm done to society. After all, she is earning an ‘honest’ living.

You know those grandmothers and aunties who make pineapple tarts and other goodies at home to sell during the Chinese New Year festive period? What Caniago did is the same as what they do, except that they are not caught.

I think mostly, we just shut one eye if the operation is small. Caniago’s curry puff ‘factory’ must have gotten too big, attracting unwanted attention which led to a tip-off to HDB.

Moving forward, how can her situation be resolved?

Her curry puffs seem to be a hit. Savvy businessmen who read about this news report may want to invest to set up shop with her.

If she was to move back to Indonesia, her two children will be estranged from their mother.

Anyone has any ideas to propose on how to help Caniago?


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