Thaipusam Shows Sensitivities Of Race And Religious Issues Remain

There have been recent instances where individuals had refused to heed attempts by police officers to keep the peace during the Thaipusam foot procession, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said today (Feb 13), in setting out why it imposes restrictions, including on the playing of musical instruments, for the religious event.

In 2013, nine people were arrested after they ignored advice to stop shouting secret society slogans and playing drums within the procession route, it said in a press statement. This year, one person was arrested for possessing offensive weapons, apart from the three men who are being investigated for disorderly behaviour and assaulting a police officer, it added.

In a separate statement, the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) also said it had received complaints over the years of “disamenities and disorderly behaviour that impede the progress of devotees in the procession and detract from the spiritual experience”.

The arrests at the Thaipusam procession this year have been in the spotlight recently, with a woman accusing police officers of pushing her at the event and a petition being started for the Hindu festival to be reinstated as a public holiday. The petition has garnered more than 19,500 signatures.

Cabinet ministers have come out to speak on the matter, with Second Home Affairs Minister S Iswaran urging calm over the incident, and Law and Foreign Minister K Shanmugam saying Hindus are given a special privilege not enjoyed by others, instead of being discriminated against.

Today, the MHA said the reactions to the incident in this year’s Thaipusam “show that race and religion continue to be sensitive issues”.

Noting that there have been misrepresentations and rumours circulating around relating to the Thaipusam procession, the MHA said today: “If such activities are deemed to incite enmity between different communities and races, the police will investigate and take firm action against anyone responsible for such offences.”

Investigations are ongoing on allegations that have surfaced after the arrests this year and on the woman’s allegation, it added.

The HEB also said it did not believe conditions for Thaipusam need to be tightened and that it had never asked the authorities to do so, contrary to misperception by some.

Separately, the Manpower Ministry said any move to reinstate any one festival as a public holiday will invite competing claims.

“Balancing the wishes of each community will not be a simple matter,” said its divisional director of workplace policy and strategy division Alvin Lim.

Although it is “impractical” to make all important festivals of all faiths public holidays, he encouraged employers to show understanding and flexibility in allowing workers to observe their respective religious festivals.



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