Our Law Minister K Shanmugam has given his take on the Thaipusam arrests. And his statement, which was probably intended to soothe tensions, appears to have caused even more unhappiness amongst Singapore’s Hindu community, and Singaporeans at at large.
The good thing to have come out of this whole fracas? It seems to have tightened bonds across Singaporeans of different races and religions. But bad news for the authorities though, this united front seems to be against their favour.
Here’s why Mr Shanmuagam’s statement has only sparked more anger amongst Hindus and alienated the Singaporean public from its leaders.
(1) Community events appear to be more important than religious ceremonies
” Singing, dancing at communal get-togethers by Singaporeans, foreigners are not affected by the general ban on religious foot processions.”
Lion dances during Chinese New Year are considered cultural activities, but try taking that away from the Chinese and see if they make a hue and cry. Why? Because it’s important to their cultural identity as Chinese.
Similarly, Thaipusam and what it comprises – foot processions accompanied by music – is important to Hindus. Of course they will feel slighted if you wrest away one of these elements.
Especially, since other groups with more frivolous agendas are allowed to practise this.
For example, music during St Patrick’s Day celebrations, which in Singapore is essentially a booze-fest since few Singaporeans actually appreciate this Irish tradition.
(2) And Hindus are instructed to feel privileged
One important social aspect of your religious activity – music – is denied, and you’re told that you’re lucky you’re even able to have foot processions in the first place.
How would Christians feel if they’re told that they can attend church service on Christmas day, but they can’t sing Christmas carols because the lyrics might offend those of other faiths (Jesus is the new-born king, then what about Allah?) Amongst other things.
There’s no need for Christmas carols, but they do add to the festive mood, and the reinforcement of believers’ faith.
Would Christians feel privileged to have the Government-given right only to attend church service?
On Fridays, it’s a common sight to see cars illegally parked along double yellow lines outside mosques, while Muslims attend prayers. Singaporeans appreciate this, much as it can be an inconvenience, and don’t make a fuss over it being a Muslim “privilege”.
Why then, can’t we accommodate a simple request for Hindus to play music during the one day of Thaipusam?
(3) And religion is then kicked further down the rung because the government doesn’t want to deal with “incidents”
Mr Shanmugam says you can’t play music during religious processions because the “risk of incidents” is considered to be higher.
Isn’t that what we have policemen for – to preserve the peace? Something would be terribly wrong with our men in blue if the only people they can handle are 9-year-old boys.
Also, to ensure law and order, couldn’t there have been more uniformed policemen on scene, and less plainclothes personnel, such that the sight of them would deter crime?
Adding to the above, is Mr Shanmugam implying that there is a low risk of incidents at other non-religious events where music is played?
If so, he is sorely mistaken.
(4) And he ignores what sparked the “assault” on a policeman – the flooring of an Indian woman by police
From the video footage we’ve seen of the event, a woman is apparently struck by plain-clothes policemen and falls to the ground. This causes much anger, and subsequently, a more heated confrontation between the crowd and police.
Whether police officers did this intentionally or not, it was this use of force that heightened tensions.
Of course it’s unacceptable for police officers to be demeaned, or attacked. But to call the “assault” on police “gratuitous”, or “unprovoked” would be to sweep aside police responsibility for escalating the conflict.
As for the officer who was supposedly assaulted, there’s not footage seen so far of any policeman being viciously attacked, and news reports of the day say the officer was sent to hospital but declared in stable condition all in matter of hours.
The attacker is also charged for voluntarily causing hurt, and not grievous hurt.
A matter of playing up the word “assault”?
(5) Age-old incidents are brought up to justify an age-old law
Mr Shanmugam says the ban on music during religious processions was imposed in 1964, after riots. The police stick to their justification that there’s a 1973 law that bans this as well.
That’s about 2 generations of Singaporeans ago! As we celebrate Singapore’s achievements in SG50, surely Singaporeans have come a long way since then?
Bringing up such archaic rules simply appears as though the government is struggling very hard to justify its actions, like squeezing water from a stone.
Remember our pledge, Mr Shanmugam, and what the five stars on our state flag stand for.
It is the government this time, and not the people, that is unpicking the social fabric we Singaporeans have woven as “one united people, regardless of race, language or religion”.
This story isn’t an attack on different religious beliefs in Singapore. Rather, it’s calling for the government to appreciate this multitude of religious beliefs, and to actively take care of all in Singapore so they can freely practise their religious beliefs without fear of authoritarian reprisals.