Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam explains Government's stand on rules for Thaipusam procession

Religious events are more likely to become flash points than cultural ones, said Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

"Therefore we take a stricter view on religious events," he told some 200 people, which included Hindu community leaders and bloggers, at a post-Thaipusam dialogue.

A couple of Facebook posts surfaced after January's Thaipusam celebration, which argued that the Government was being unfair in its restrictions, with one pointing to St Patrick's Day celebrations here, which includes a parade of bagpipers and drummers.

Mr Shanmugam noted that St Patrick's Day, which honours one of the patron saints of Ireland, is marked as a cultural event here rather than a religious one.

"St Patrick's Day in Singapore comes with a series of conditions. There should be no religious symbols, there should be no religious music, there should be no religious gear. In Singapore, we require them to celebrate in a cultural way," he said.

Thaipusam, he added, is one of just three religious festivals where foot processions are allowed.

Live music during Thaipusam was banned in 1973 due to a history of rivalry and fights between competing groups which disrupted the procession.

Some members of the Hindu community have lobbied for the reintroduction of live music during the street procession.

In 2016, the Government softened the ban by allowing musicians, who have been given approval, to play specified traditional instruments at three points along the route.

Addressing this issue, Mr Shanmugam noted that there have been complaints from residents living along the procession route, which was why there is a need for restrictions on the volume of music allowed.

"Government policy-making does not operate in a vacuum in Singapore," he said. "What can and cannot be allowed for Thaipusam has to be by reference to what is allowed and is not allowed for the other religions. You cannot divorce the two."

He noted that more live music points are being considered for future celebrations of Thaipusam, and that music could be transmitted over broadcast systems along the entire 4km street procession route too.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2018, with the headline 'Shanmugam explains Govt's stand on rules for Thaipusam procession'. Print Edition | Subscribe