Law Minister Shanmugam comments on Thaipusam arrests, ban on music

SINGAPORE - Law Minister Mr K Shanmugam has said that it is unacceptable for the police to be physically assaulted or ill-treated, following the arrests of three men at the Thaipusam procession on Tuesday, Feb 3.

The three men had allegedly used vulgarities against three police officers, who had intervened to stop a group of people from playing drums during the procession.

One of the men also allegedly assaulted a police officer, who had to be sent to hospital for treatment.

In a Facebook post today, Mr Shanmugam went to lengths to address a number of questions that had arisen after the incident.

He stressed that the police protect all Singaporeans, and that "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," he added.

Mr Shanmugam also explained in his post that Hindus in Singapore are not being discriminated against by not being allowed to play musical instruments to help kavadi carriers during Thaipusam.

He pointed out that in Singapore, all religious foot processions have been banned following a rule that was imposed after the 1964 race riots, while highlighting that only Hindus have been exempted from this rule, being allowed three foot processions: Thaipusam, Panguni Uthiram and Thirmithi.

"The Hindu religious foot processions go through major roads. No other religion is given this privilege. 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," he said.

He also differentiated Thaipusam with lion dances and kompangs, which were often held at social and community events that are non-religious in nature.

"They are not religious foot processions. The ban on religious foot processions (as opposed to such communal/social events) is because they carry a particular sensitivity - the risk of incidents is considered to be higher," he said.

Mr Shanmugam added that whether there was a case to allow musical instruments to be played during the Thaipusam foot procession was a matter that can be debated.

"Whether the rules should be relaxed, and whether and under what conditions music should be allowed during the Thaipusam processions, is something Hindu Endowments Board has to discuss with the agencies," he said.