Shanmugam addresses questions over ban on playing music at Thaipusam

Law Minister K. Shanmugam addressed some questions raised over the ban on playing musical instruments at Thaipusam processions. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Law Minister K. Shanmugam addressed some questions raised over the ban on playing musical instruments at Thaipusam processions. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Law Minister K. Shanmugam has weighed in on the discussion over the ban on playing music at Thaipusam processions.

Some have questioned the ban following the arrest of three Singaporean men involved in a scuffle on Tuesday, after organisers asked a group to stop playing drums at the junction of Serangoon and Desker roads as it was not allowed under the event's police permit.

 

The following are his comments posted on Facebook on Friday:

"There have been many questions on Thaipusam and the playing of musical instruments. Broadly, the questions can be grouped as follows:

- Why can't musical instruments be played to help kavadi carriers during Thaipusam?

- Why are Hindus being discriminated? Other groups are allowed to play music, for example, lion dances, kompangs.

- Also we allow many groups, including Filipinos to sing and dance. So why not allow the same during Thaipusam?

These are fair questions. They arise from a misunderstanding of the rules. The truth is that Hindus are not discriminated against. In fact, they have been given a special privilege not enjoyed by others.

Hindus - Privileged or Discriminated against?

Most people don't realise that, in Singapore, all religious foot processions are banned. This ban was imposed in 1964, after riots.

But Hindus were given an exemption: Hindus have been allowed three religious foot processions: Thaipusam, Panguni Uthiram and Thimithi.

The Hindu religious foot processsions 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, unlike Thaipusam which lasts the whole day and goes through major roads.

So the first point to note: Only the Hindus are allowed such large religious foot processions.

Lion Dances/ Kompangs

What is the difference between Thaipusam (where music is not allowed during the foot procession) as opposed to kompangs/ lion dances (with music being played in a public place)?

Lion dances, kompangs and other such celebrations are often held during social, community events. These are usually non-religious events. Likewise, at Hindu community events, musical instruments are also used - Nathaswaram, Melas. There are many such community celebrations: both on a national scale and in the local communities across Singapore. 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.

Likewise, singing, dancing at communal get-togethers by Singaporeans, foreigners are not affected by the general ban on religious foot processions.

While there is a general ban on religious foot processions, sometimes, permission may also be granted for religious events, with some music in a public place. It is unlikely that there would be a foot procession over a long route. And sometimes, at events such as the Kew Ong Yah Festival, there will be public gatherings in the different constituencies, playing of some music, but even then, the police will generally not allow long foot processions.

What I have set out are the general rules - based on appeals, sometimes exceptions may be made, based on the specific facts. But the basic position is: as a rule, religious foot processions will not be allowed except for the three Hindu festivals.

So yes - as shown by social media, there are many events in public with music. But they are often not religious events. Sometimes, they are religious events - for which permission would have been obtained, as set out above.

So the Hindus are actually in a privileged position. There are many other religious groups which have asked to be allowed to hold foot processions. These appeals have generally been rejected.

I think even as Hindus ask for relaxation of the rules, we should know the true facts. And not misunderstand them.

With these facts, is there a case for allowing musical instruments to be played during the Thaipusam foot procession, in support of the kavadi carriers?

This is a matter than can be debated. There were incidents in the past which led to the tightening up. Whether the rules should be relaxed, and whether and under what condititions music should be allowed during the Thaipusam processions, is something HEB has to discuss with the agencies. HEB has relaxed the rules last year within the temple premises.

Attacks on Police

Beyond the issues relating to Thaipusam, there is another serious issue which should concern all Singaporeans.

The police officers on the ground were trying to do their job and dealt with three men. One of the men assaulted the police and all three men used vulgarities at the police. The injured police officer had to be treated at the hospital.

Our police officers protect all of us. It is quite unacceptable for the police to be physically assaulted or ill-treated. We cannot allow them to be demeaned, assaulted. Right thinking Singaporeans will find this completely unacceptable. 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."