Shanmugam clears the air on Thaipusam

Shanmugam clears the air on Thaipusam

Hindus should not feel they are being discriminated against just because musical instruments are not allowed during Thaipusam.

Instead, they need to realise they are the only ones here allowed to hold not just one but three religious foot processions, said Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

"No other religion is given this privilege." In an extensive Facebook post, Mr Shanmugam responded to questions that were raised by netizens after three men were arrested for scuffling with police during Tuesday's Thaipusam procession.

The men got involved after another group was told to stop the use of traditional drums at the behest of organisers.

After videos of the disturbance were put up on the Internet, netizens debated why devotees could not play their drums and other instruments in the Thaipusam procession.

They asked why there were no similar restrictions for lion dances and the use of kompangs during weddings.

Mr Shanmugam said the questions, while fair, came from a misunderstanding of the rules.

He pointed out that all religious foot processions were banned in Singapore in 1964 in the wake of race riots that year.

But Hindus were given an exemption and have been allowed three processions on major roads - Thaipusam, Panguni Uthiram and Thimithi.

"When other non-Hindu religious groups apply to hold foot processions, they are usually rejected. On rare occasions when it is given, stringent conditions will be imposed including much shorter routes, unlike Thaipusam, which lasts the whole day and goes through major roads."

He also pointed out that while Thaipusam is a religious event, the Chinese lion dance and the use of the Malay hand drum are for social and community events.

"The ban on religious foot because they carry a particular sensitivity - the risk of incidents is considered to be higher," he added, although he pointed out that rules were relaxed to allow instruments in temples during Thaipusam.

Mr Shanmugam, however, did not close the door on instruments being played during the procession to support carriers of the kavadi - a decorated canopy that can be held with piercings.

"This is a matter that can be debated. There were incidents in the past which led to the tightening up. Whether the rules should be relaxed, and under what conditions music should be something the HEB (Hindu Endowments Board) has to discuss with the agencies."

On Thursday, Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran said in Madrid that the ban on instruments applied to all foot processions, regardless of religion, and had been in place since 1973.

It was a result of past instances of fights between competing musicians, and disruption to the procession and to devotees.

Mr Shanmugam yesterday also urged Singaporeans to back the country's police after questions were raised over the way they handled Tuesday's incident.

He pointed out that one of the men assaulted the police, and all three used vulgarities. One officer needed hospital treatment.

"We cannot allow them (police officers) to be demeaned, assaulted. Right-thinking Singaporeans will find this completely unacceptable," he said.

"If police officers misbehave, they should be disciplined. But gratuitous attacks on the police cannot be allowed and should not be tolerated. We as Singaporeans should come forward and say no to such attacks."

Grassroots leader S. Lakshmanan, 57, hopes people will now move on from the incident and engage in dialogue with the authorities instead of making unfounded allegations online.

"It is the people's prerogative to negotiate what they want with the Government, but they should do it in the correct manner," he said.

Mrs Parvathi Annanth, chief executive and legal counsel of Sree Maha Mariamman Temple in Yishun, added: "We can take the points up with the authorities using proper channels. We should not act impulsively."

This article was first published on Feb 7, 2015.
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