Saturday, 7 February 2015

Shanmugam clears the air on Thaipusam; Police arrest three for scuffle during 2015 festival

Only Hindus allowed religious foot processions; lion dances are 'social'
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 7 Feb 2015

HINDUS should not feel they are being discriminated against just because musical instruments are not allowed during Thaipusam.

Instead, they need to realise they are the only ones here allowed to hold not just one but three religious foot processions, said Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday. "No other religion is given this privilege."

Green light for live music at Thaipusam 2016

MOM: Bid to make Thaipusam a public holiday will stir competing claims

In an extensive Facebook post, Mr Shanmugam responded to questions that were raised by netizens after three men were arrested for scuffling with police during Tuesday's Thaipusam procession. The men got involved after another group was told to stop the use of traditional drums at the behest of organisers.

After videos of the disturbance were put up on the Internet, netizens debated why devotees could not play their drums and other instruments in the Thaipusam procession. They asked why there were no similar restrictions for lion dances and the use of kompangs during weddings.

Mr Shanmugam said the questions, while fair, came from a misunderstanding of the rules. He pointed out that all religious foot processions were banned in Singapore in 1964 in the wake of race riots that year.

But Hindus were given an exemption and have been allowed three processions on major roads - Thaipusam, Panguni Uthiram and Thimithi.

"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."

He also pointed out that while Thaipusam is a religious event, the Chinese lion dance and the use of the Malay hand drum are for social and community events.

"The ban on religious foot processions... is because they carry a particular sensitivity - the risk of incidents is considered to be higher," he added, although he pointed out that rules were relaxed to allow instruments in temples during Thaipusam.

Mr Shanmugam, however, did not close the door on instruments being played during the procession to support carriers of the kavadi - a decorated canopy that can be held with piercings.

"This is a matter that can be debated. There were incidents in the past which led to the tightening up. Whether the rules should be relaxed, and under what conditions music should be allowed... is something the HEB (Hindu Endowments Board) has to discuss with the agencies."

On Thursday, Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran said in Madrid that the ban on instruments applied to all foot processions, regardless of religion, and had been in place since 1973. It was a result of past instances of fights between competing musicians, and disruption to the procession and to devotees.

Mr Shanmugam yesterday also urged Singaporeans to back the country's police after questions were raised over the way they handled Tuesday's incident. He pointed out that one of the men assaulted the police, and all three used vulgarities. One officer needed hospital treatment.

"We cannot allow them (police officers) to be demeaned, assaulted. Right-thinking Singaporeans will find this completely unacceptable," he said.

"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."

Grassroots leader S. Lakshmanan, 57, hopes people will now move on from the incident and engage in dialogue with the authorities instead of making unfounded allegations online. "It is the people's prerogative to negotiate what they want with the Government, but they should do it in the correct manner," he said.

Mrs Parvathi Annanth, chief executive and legal counsel of Sree Maha Mariamman Temple in Yishun, added: "We can take the points up with the authorities using proper channels. We should not act impulsively."

Holidays cut after consultations
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 7 Feb 2015

WHEN Singapore's public holidays were cut from 16 to the current 11 nearly half a century ago, it was done only after consulting various religious groups.

This was made clear by then Law Minister E.W. Barker, before Parliament debated the Bill to amend the nation's Holidays Act in 1968.

At that time, the British had already announced they would pull their forces out of Singapore, and there were concerns about the impact this would have on the country's economy, soon after dealing with another upheaval - the exit from Malaysia.

It was decided that holidays would be cut back so that residents here could be given "every opportunity to make their contribution towards the national effort to remain viable economically, and progress even during the difficult years ahead",

Mr Barker said.

He went on to tell Parliament that views of the various religious communities here had been taken into account. "The Hindus, for example, given the choice of having Deepavali or Thaipusam as a public holiday, have chosen the former," he said.

The Muslims, after discussions with the Muslim Advisory Board, retained Hari Raya Puasa and Hari Raya Haji, while the Christians kept Christmas and Good Friday, Mr Barker added. Among the holidays dropped were Easter Monday and Prophet Muhammad's birthday.

"Thus it will be seen that the choice of holidays that will be retained in Singapore have had the blessings of the Inter-Religious Organisation, an organisation represented by all the religious persuasions in Singapore," said Mr Barker then.

In 2009, the Manpower Ministry reiterated that the public holidays here were "chosen and agreed upon after close consultation with different community and religious leaders".

There have recently been calls among some Hindus to reinstate Thaipusam as a public holiday. A petition on campaigning website has garnered more than 14,900 signatures.

Compared to other countries, Singapore's 11 national public holidays puts it somewhere in the middle of the pack.

It has more than Britain, which has eight, and Australia which has seven, although individual territories may declare their own holidays.

Malaysia has 15 national holidays while China has 22, including five days for the Chinese New Year period.

Street procession rules, including music ban, help keep events safe and peaceful: S. Iswaran
Rules for street events 'for public good'
Iswaran: Need to balance allowing religious events with keeping order
By Zakir Hussain Deputy Political Editor In Madrid And Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 6 Feb 2015

RULES for street processions, including the use of musical instruments, have been put in place to manage events for the greater public good, Second Home Affairs Minister S. Iswaran said in Madrid in comments on reports of a scuffle during the Thaipusam procession.

He said there had to be a balance between allowing important religious events to take place and preserving order.

A longstanding ban on playing musical instruments during such processions has been in place as a result of past instances of fights between competing groups of musicians, and disruption to the procession and to devotees.

Regulations are made known to participants clearly, he said, adding that the vast majority over the years have had no problems complying with the requirements. Mr Iswaran was speaking to Singapore journalists after online videos showing the scuffle sparked debate about the incident and the rules on playing of musical instruments.

On Tuesday, organisers asked a group to stop playing drums at the junction of Serangoon and Desker roads. Police were called. A scuffle ensued and three Singaporean men were arrested.

Mr Iswaran is accompanying Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on an official visit to Germany and Spain. In addressing the ban on playing instruments during such processions, which came into force in 1973, he noted that the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) allowed musical instruments to be used within the temple premises. He also said that there is a provision that religious hymns could be sung, "which is in keeping with the sanctity and the spiritual nature of the event". Setting the context for these rules, he said Thaipusam is a very important religious occasion for Hindus.

Between 9,000 and 10,000 devotees carry kavadis and milk pots during the annual procession.

The Government recognises the event's significance and sanctity for the Hindu community. This is why, even though religious foot processions had been banned since the 1964 racial riots, special concessions and provisions were made for Thaipusam and two other Hindu festivals, Mr Iswaran said.

But the scale of participation at Thaipusam and the fact that the 4.5km procession goes through major roads meant that the HEB had to work with the authorities to ensure the event's peace and safety.

As a result, rules on musical instruments were needed, he said.

Tuesday's incident, which police are investigating, involved "a small group who behaved in an unruly manner and without heeding police advice and warnings. We should let the investigations take their course and then we see what the outcomes are". The larger point of note, he said, was that in Singapore's multi-religious society, everyone had to make accommodations and concessions.

"There must be mutual understanding and respect for each other's practices while we celebrate our respective festivals or events. We also need to take into account the need to maintain an overall balance in society in order to preserve safety and law and order. That's the context in which we should look at this.

"We shouldn't allow the actions of a few individuals to disrupt the kind of harmony we have worked very hard to preserve over the years."

Mr Iswaran was also concerned about misrepresentations and rumours about the incident and called for people to exercise calm and restraint: "If there are any concerns or issues, let's take them up. We have the due process and we have channels to deliberate on those, and we can see what outcomes can be achieved."

Meanwhile, the trio arrested - Mr Segar Rajendran, 33; Mr Jayakumar Krishnasamy, 32; and 28-year-old Ramachandra Chandramohan - spoke to The Straits Times yesterday about the incident.

The relatives were at the procession with Mr Segar's brother - one of the 280 kavadi bearers. They had hired a group to play traditional Indian drums during the procession. They said they were taken by surprise when the drummers were asked to step out of the procession by plainclothes officers. "I went there to confront them, I didn't know they were police because they were not wearing uniforms," said Mr Segar, adding that he had paid $800 for the drummers' services. "I told them, 'If you ask me to leave, pay me the $800 and I'll go.' If I had known, I wouldn't have reacted that way."

According to a police statement on Wednesday, the men arrested had smelt of alcohol. The Straits Times understands that samples of blood had been taken and results are expected next week.

Mr Segar, who was released from remand yesterday along with the other two, said none of them had a drink on Tuesday. When approached, a police spokesman said: "It is inappropriate to comment as investigations are ongoing."

* Three Singaporean men charged with disorderly behavior, attacking police at Thaipusam event
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 7 Feb 2015

Three Singaporean men were charged in court on Saturday morning for disorderly behavior and attacking police officers at a Thaipusam event held earlier in the week.

Ramachandra Chandramohan, 32, was alleged to have punched, kicked and verbally abused four police officers. He was also charged with disorderly behavior and faces seven charges in total, the highest number among the trio.

Jaya Kumar Krishnasamy, 28, faces three charges. He was charged with disorderly behavior, allegedly hurling vulgarities at a police officer and obstructing another police officer from carrying out his duties.

Gunasegaran Rajendran, 33, faces a disorderly behavior charge and is alleged to have abused a police officer.

The trio were calm and emotionless when their charges were read to them in court through an interpreter.

They were accompanied to court by four family members and friends. It is unclear how they are related, but one family member who declined to be named said that the three men are cousins.

The three men were part of a group which hired drummers in the Thaipusam procession. The drummers were asked to stop playing by the police and a scuffle broke out.

A video of the scuffle was posted online and it sparked online outcry, with some members of the public asking why is music banned at Thaipusam while lion dances and Malay wedding music are allowed in public.

Responding, Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran said on Thursday that the ban on music instruments applied to all foot processions, including religious events, since 1973.

Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam also said on Friday that lion dances and Malay wedding music are social events, not religious processions. He added that only Hindus are allowed to hold religious foot processions and urged the public to back police's actions at the Thaipusam event.

The trio are on police bail and their cases will be heard in court again on March 6. If convicted, they face maximum jail sentences of between three months and seven years, maximum fines of between $2,000 and $5,000, or both.

Ramachandra Chandramohan is also liable to be caned if convicted of attacking police officers.

*2018* 3 men found guilty of charges arising from scuffle with cops during 2015 Thaipusam procession
By Elena Chong, Court Correspondent, The Straits Times, 3 Feb 2018

Three men had wanted to celebrate Thaipusam and enjoy some live music, but they ended up causing a ruckus and getting into a scuffle with the police.

Safety officer Gunasegaran Rajendran, 36, was at the Thaipusam procession on Feb 3, 2015, to support his elder brother who was one of the bearers of kavadis - structures of steel and wood.

He and businessman Ramachandra Chandramohan, 35, had engaged a troupe to play urumi - a traditional Indian drum - during the procession. Joining them was operations manager Jayakumar Krishnasamy, 31.

But the musicians were stopped by the police as there was a ban on the playing of musical instruments during Thaipusam at the time.

This upset Ramachandra and Gunasegaran, who shouted at the police, a court heard.

When Staff Sergeant Dennis Lee Aik Seng arrested Gunasegaran, Ramachandra punched him on the lower jaw. Ramachandra also verbally abused Senior Staff Sergeant Azli Othman on two occasions.

The third accused, Jayakumar, tried to stop Senior Staff Sgts Azli and Chew Wei Bin from taking Ramachandra into the police van. He also verbally abused Senior Staff Sgt Azli inside the vehicle.

While the van was travelling from Desker Road to Police Cantonment Complex, Ramachandra kicked Senior Staff Sgt Chew in his lower jaw and verbally abused Senior Staff Sgt Azli in Malay and English, the court heard.

Yesterday, the men were convicted of disorderly behaviour and other charges after a 13-day trial.

Ramachandra was found guilty of seven charges, including assault on three police officers, while Jayakumar and Gunasegaran were convicted of three and two charges respectively.

Prosecution evidence showed that Ramachandra and Gunasegaran perceived the police officers as behaving high-handedly and were "rough, loud and rude". They felt they had been manhandled and treated like criminals.

But District Judge Kessler Soh said: "Police officers were there to maintain public order. In the process, they had to speak with authority and they had to speak loudly at times so that they could be heard."

After having reviewed the evidence and seen the videos, he found that the prosecution had proven the charges against each of them beyond reasonable doubt.

Both Jayakumar and Gunasegaran said they had not intended to create trouble on Thaipusam, a holy festival for the Hindus. Ramachandra said they went for trial to highlight the mistakes of the police.

The trio are likely to be sentenced on March 6.

*2018* Thaipusam 2015 clash: Jail and fine for one, and fine for two others
By Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2018

A man was jailed and fined yesterday for clashing with police officers during the 2015 Thaipusam procession. Two others were also fined over the same incident.

Businessman Ramachandra Chandramohan, 35, was sentenced to jail for a year and a week, and fined $8,000. He told the court that he will not be paying the fine. So, he will have to spend an additional three weeks and five days behind bars.

Safety officer Gunasegaran Rajendran, 36, was fined $8,000, while operations manager Jaya Kumar Krishnasamy, 31, was fined $8,500.

The trio attended the annual Hindu event on Feb 3, 2015. Gunasegaran and Ramachandra had engaged a troupe to play urumi - a traditional Indian drum - during the procession and were joined by Jaya Kumar.

But the musicians were stopped by the police as there was a ban on the playing of musical instruments during Thaipusam at the time. This upset Ramachandra and Gunasegaran, who shouted at the police officers.

When Staff Sergeant Dennis Lee Aik Seng arrested Gunasegaran, Ramachandra punched the officer in the jaw. Ramachandra also verbally abused Senior Staff Sergeant Azli Othman on two occasions.

Jaya Kumar tried to stop Senior Staff Sgts Azli and Chew Wei Bin from taking Ramachandra into the police van. He also verbally abused Senior Staff Sgt Azli inside the van.

While the van was travelling from Desker Road in Little India to Police Cantonment Complex, Ramachandra kicked Senior Staff Sgt Chew in the jaw and verbally abused Senior Staff Sgt Azli in Malay and English.

Yesterday, District Judge Kessler Soh noted that the men's offences took place at a public event. He added that the incident was also widely reported by the media and had caused public disquiet.

After a 13-day trial, Ramachandra was found guilty of seven charges, including assault on three police officers. Jaya Kumar was convicted of three charges; Gunasegaran, two.

Following the 2015 Thaipusam procession, now-defunct sociopolitical site The Real Singapore (TRS) published an article that claimed that complaints from a Filipino family over noise had caused a scuffle between police officers and participants at the procession.

This did not happen. Police later arrested the duo behind TRS after a report was made against the website for inciting hatred against the Filipino community in Singapore.

For publishing the above and other seditious articles, the Australian editor of Japanese descent, Ai Takagi, was sentenced to 10 months' jail. Her Singaporean husband Yang Kaiheng, who was co-founder of the site, received a sentence of eight months' jail.

Live music during procession since 2016
The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2018

In 2016, police allowed live music to be played in the Thaipusam procession for the first time in 42 years at three live music stages.

Music was also broadcast along the 4km route at nine points for the Hindu festival. This came about following community feedback after the festival in 2015.

Last year, music was broadcast at 23 points along the route. This was in addition to the three stages where musicians played traditional instruments such as the nadhaswaram, a type of clarinet, and thavil, a barrel-shaped drum.

This year, there were 19 music transmission points and three music stages along the route during the festival in January.

Music and the singing of religious hymns are an essential part of this religious foot procession.

While the singing of religious hymns is allowed, devotees were barred from playing musical instrument along the procession route from 1973. The ban was imposed due to fights in the past between competing groups, which disrupted the procession.

But the rule has been relaxed since 2011 and devotees have been able to sing religious hymns during the procession if no amplification devices are used.

Cops arrest three for scuffle during Thaipusam festival
By Danson Cheong And Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 5 Feb 2015

THREE Singaporean men have been arrested over a scuffle that broke out on Tuesday evening during the annual Thaipusam procession.

The group refused, and a fracas ensued at the junction of Desker Road and Serangoon Road. Police were called in, and during the commotion, three bystanders aged 28, 32 and 33 allegedly hurled vulgarities at officers and injured one of them.

They have since been arrested.

Videos of the incident that were posted on Facebook showed a tense situation, with officers and devotees pushing and shouting at one another.

One video showed a woman falling to the ground after being pushed. Shortly after, a group of what looked like plainclothes officers was seen pinning a man to the ground.

Some netizens have questioned the behaviour of the officers, saying excessive force was used, while others wondered if they were too conservative.

When asked, a police spokesman said "necessary force was used to subdue the three suspects as they were violent".

One of the drummers, Mr Vik Silvaraj, 31, said police called his group of 11 out of the procession, and told them the temple management had asked that they stop playing. He added that his group was paid $500 to accompany a kavadi bearer and play music to encourage him.

Under guidelines for the Thaipusam festival by the Hindu Endowments Board, "music, gongs, drums or music producing equipment" are banned.

While Mr Vik and a second group of musicians were being questioned, the 33-year-old suspect started asking the police why the drums were not allowed.

He was warned to calm down, but persisted with his "disorderly behaviour", said a police spokesman, who added that while the man was being arrested, the other two suspects came forward to intervene. The 32-year-old assaulted three officers in the process.

The spokesman said the men "smelt strongly of alcohol", and one police officer had to be taken to hospital.

To defuse the situation, police officers were seen forming a human cordon around the area and asking the crowd to disperse.

MP Vikram Nair, who is on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said: "Law and order need to be maintained even as we take part in our traditional celebrations."

Meanwhile, Mr Vik, who left the area after being told to disperse and rejoined the procession down the road, said: "We are not gangsters, we were just playing devotional songs - this is part of our tradition and heritage."

Netizens question ban on playing of music at festival
By Lim Yi Han And Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 5 Feb 2015

SINCE 1973, the playing of music has been banned at the annual Hindu festival of Thaipusam.

But as videos of Tuesday's scuffle between police officers and participants made the rounds online yesterday, some netizens questioned the 42-year-old legislation.

In 2011, the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) published guidelines in an effort to prevent Thaipusam participants from contravening the ban.

It republished them online two months before this year's event, and they specified that no singing, music, gongs, drums or equipment producing music would be allowed during the procession - other than the singing of hymns.

The 1973 ban was a result of serious traffic congestion. Eight years later, a Parliament report explained the decision further.

It said: "In the years prior to 1973, music en route was permitted for the kavadi procession. However, the police observed that with the accompaniment of music, the pace of the procession was slowed down.

"Further, the supporters, relatives and friends accompanying the devotees tended to dance to the beat of the music and occupied too large a portion of the road.

"The music also attracted large crowds of spectators. The result of this was that traffic flow was completely disrupted, creating huge traffic congestions in the city. Hence, the ban was imposed in 1973."

In 2011, Law Minister K. Shanmugam pointed out that the guidelines did allow hymn singing, which represented "a relaxation of the rules".

But netizens yesterday asked why music is allowed on other occasions, such as during lion dance performances for Chinese New Year and at Malay weddings.

Mrs Parvathi Annanth, chief executive and legal counsel of Sree Maha Mariamman Temple in Yishun, said this was "a very different scenario and context" and "not an apple-to-apple comparison".

But she acknowledged that Hindu devotees may immerse themselves in meditation as they walk during Thaipusam and, if allowed, light music from traditional Indian instruments could help them focus and alleviate the discomfort they experience while carrying kavadis.

Lawyer Sunil Sudheesan, 35, a Hindu, said: "Music is integral to the occasion. It energises and motivates the devotees and helps with the spiritual focus. The HEB can consider asking the authorities to expand the scope of permissible music, if it is currently deemed too restrictive."

* Woman withdraws court action on Thaipusam
By Selina Lum, The Straits Times, 7 Apr 2015

A WOMAN who filed a court action two months ago, challenging the constitutionality of guidelines on Thaipusam foot processions and seeking to declare the Hindu festival a public holiday, yesterday withdrew her application.

The High Court ordered that Ms R. Angelina be precluded from bringing any further action on the same matter.

On Feb 5, Ms Angelina, then represented by activist lawyer M. Ravi, filed an application against the Attorney-General, the Hindu Endowments Board and Law Minister K. Shanmugam. She said the board's guidelines on Thaipusam violated rights guaranteed under Singapore's Constitution and that the ban on drums and music during the procession endangered the safety and personal liberty of devotees.

She asserted that the "usurpation" of Thaipusam as a public holiday in the late 1960s was unconstitutional. She also alleged police brutality during the celebrations in February.

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC), representing the AG and Mr Shanmugam, moved to strike out her action on Feb 10. The board, represented by RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, did the same two weeks later.

Yesterday, Ms Angelina was allowed to withdraw her action on condition that she is barred from filing any more actions relating to the same matter. The court also ordered her and her lawyer Violet Netto to bear the defendants' legal costs.

An AGC spokesman said: "The AGC had applied to strike out the action and for personal costs against the solicitor as, in our view, the action was wholly without substance, had no factual basis and was an abuse of the court process."

The spokesman added that, because serious allegations had been made without basis and public resources expended, it was necessary for the AGC to ask the court to impose the condition that she does not bring any further action on the issue.

Woman files police report over Thaipusam
Wife of man charged says police officers assaulted her during event
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2015

A WOMAN has filed a police report claiming that she was assaulted by police officers during the Thaipusam procession last Tuesday.

The 30-year-old alleged that the officers hit or pushed her during the event in Desker Road.

Police confirmed yesterday that a report was lodged last Wednesday and said in a statement: "She is the wife of one of the accused charged for disorderly behaviour at the same procession. Police take a serious view of any allegation against its officers and will investigate each case thoroughly.

"If the allegations are found to be false, appropriate action, in accordance with our laws, will be taken against any persons found to have furnished false information to the police."

It is believed that the woman is the wife of Gunasegaran Rajendran, 33, and she made the police report at MacPherson Neighbourhood Police Post.

Gunasegaran, along with two others believed to be his cousins - Ramachandra Chandramohan, 32, and Jaya Kumar Krishnasamy, 28 - were arrested after a scuffle broke out during the procession.

Organisers had asked a group to stop playing traditional Indian drums as it was not allowed under the event's police permit.

Police were called in and the trio allegedly hurled vulgarities at officers and one injured a police officer.

The men were arrested and charged last Saturday. They are out on bail and will be back in court on March 6.

They could face jail sentences of between one month and seven years, fines of between $1,000 and $5,000, or both a jail term and fine.

Ramachandra may also be caned if convicted of attacking three officers.

Last Friday, Law Minister K. Shanmugam addressed questions raised by netizens, such as the ban on musical instruments.

In a Facebook post, he said Hindus should not feel discriminated against, and they are the only ones allowed to hold religious foot processions here.

Meanwhile, Mr R. Jayachandran, chairman of the Hindu Endowments Board, said that those who wish to give feedback about the event can contact the organisation.

He added: "Our board will continue to engage the authorities to review the conditions imposed for Thaipusam."

Shanmugam on Thaipusam: Hindu Endowments Board should find out wishes of the people
Channel NewsAsia, 11 Feb 2015

Calls for musical accompaniment at the Thaipusam festival should be looked into, said Minister for Law K Shanmugam, speaking at the recording of MediaCorp's Tamil current affairs programme Ethiroli.

"We should find out the wishes of the people. The Hindu Endowments Board will see how we can fulfil their wishes. They have to consult the people and see how to proceed," said Mr Shanmugam.

Edited excerpts from the interview which will be aired on Wednesday at Feb 11, 9pm on Vasantham:

Foot processions have been banned since 1964, following riots. But the Hindu festivals Thaipusam, Panguni Uthiram and Firewalking have been exempted from this ban. Can you explain this?

Following the racial riots in 1964, it was thought that there should be no religious foot processions in a multi-racial, multi-religious society like ours. Hence a law was enacted to ban all religious foot processions.

However, Hindus were given an exemption, and since 1964 the government has allowed street processions during three Hindu festivals - Thaipusam, Thimithi and Panguni Uthiram.

Others have asked for similar permission for processions. The Catholics have asked. The Chinese have asked. We've received applications asking permission for processions during Prophet Mohammed's birthday. The Government, the police have rejected these applications citing the ban. Only Hindus have been given permission.

At the same time, it's fair that everyone expects the Hindus to conduct these foot processions in an orderly manner. We should find out the wishes of the people. The Hindu Endowments Board will see how we can fulfil their wishes. They have to consult the people and see how to proceed. The police have to agree to this.

Musical instruments were allowed during Thaipusam several years ago. Why not now? Can this rule be relaxed?

The ban on playing music during processions was imposed 42 years ago in 1973. Sometimes there has been music. They may not have enforced the rule very strictly. In some years, they would have enforced it strictly. But the ban has been there since 1973.

Over the last few years there has been a gradual relaxation of the restrictions. The Hindu Endowments Board relaxed some of the restrictions within the temple premises. And outside the temple, the police also have been assisting in whatever ways they can.

At the same time it is true that many believe that our Kavadi bearers should have music accompaniment. So it's fair that many ask why music accompaniment is being banned. It's something that we have to look into.

These restrictions are in place because there are concerns that in a multi-racial society, the lack of restrictions may lead to problems. In fact these restrictions are a result of incidents in the past. If we are confident that they will not happen again, if we are able to assess it confidently, then we should say it. The Hindu Endowments Board should consult with the people. It should then discuss with police.

Hindu Endowments Board issues statement over ban on playing music at Thaipusam
The Straits Times, 13 Feb 2015

The Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) on Friday issued a statement 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 Feb 3, 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 incident was captured on videos that were posted online. Three men, who were part of a group which hired a different set of drummers, have been charged in court with disorderly behaviour and attacking police officers.

The HEB said that the prohibition on musical instruments during religious processions has been applied to Thaipusam since 1973.

"This was to ensure the orderly conduct of the religious foot procession through a highly urbanised and densely populated area. Over the years, the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) has received complaints of disamenities and disorderly behaviour that impede the progress of devotees in the procession and detract from the spiritual experience," it said in the press release.

The HEB said it has also represented the community's interests by requesting the authorities to adjust the rules to take into consideration the importance of music to Hindus' religious rites.

It said that music has always been allowed at both the start (Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple) and end (Sri Thendayuthapani Temple) points.

"Arising from our engagement with the authorities, the singing of religious hymns is allowed en route. In 2012, in response to our appeal, the authorities allowed static music points along the procession route for the broadcast of religious hymns," the press release added.

The HEB said contrary to public misperception, the HEB has never made any representation to the authorities to tighten the conditions for the procession.

"There will always be challenges in managing a procession of the scale of Thaipusam. However, the HEB does not believe that it is necessary to tighten the conditions for the procession," it said.

* Thaipusam instrument ban legitimate: High Court
Police had balanced applicants' rights against public order issues in procession, judge rules
By K.C. Vijayan, Senior Law Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 20 Sep 2015

The High Court has dismissed a move by three Thaipusam participants to challenge the ban on the playing of musical instruments during the Hindu procession.

Justice Tay Yong Kwang made clear that, while the playing of instruments in the course of the procession is a religious practice protected by the Constitution, such a provision is restricted by public order concerns as provided in the same laws.

"In my judgment, the police has shown legitimate public order concerns and their measures were directed at preserving public order," he said in judgment grounds released last week. "The risk of a disruption of public order was not unreal. The connection between the music restriction and the preservation of public order was neither illogical nor unreasonable."

Messrs R. Vijaya Kumar, Balasubramaniam and M. Sathiamoorthy, who participated in the Thaipusam procession in February, had applied to court to lift the ban on the use of instruments - such as the urumi, a type of drum - and authorise their use at next year's event.

The application implicated the Government's 42-year-old policy forbidding the use of musical instruments during the foot procession, which in recent times had been modified as police authorised religious hymns to be sung throughout the procession and broadcast from public address systems at three locations, noted Justice Tay. Musical instruments were also played within the temple grounds at the start and end of the procession.

The applicants, represented by lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam, argued that their constitutional right to religious freedom had been breached by the police decision to restrict musical instruments for Thaipusam processions as this was a religious practice. He said "public order" must stem from "some real threat of violence or disturbance to public safety".

Senior Counsel David Chong for the Attorney-General disputed the claims, arguing that the applicants had no case for the relief sought, among other things. He said the application was premature as the Hindu Endowments Board had collated feedback on potential modifications for future processions, which was expected to be discussed with the Government soon.

He explained the restrictions were meant to address the risks for communal disturbance and stressed that the potential public order issues cannot be underestimated. He pointed to the crowd build-up and congestion, given that the procession lasted more than 24 hours on a 3km route and affected major roads.

Religious "foot processions" are fundamentally different from non-religious ones as religion is a sensitive issue in Singapore's multi-religious context, the Senior Counsel added. He noted that riots had arisen out of a religious foot procession in 1964.

Justice Tay accepted that the playing of instruments is an essential part of the procession, based on a Hindu expert's report and the applicants' submissions, but found it is not a universal practice. The judge also accepted that the trio had the legal standing to mount the court judicial review application.

But he found that the police had shown there were legitimate concerns based on their ground intelligence and were in a better position than the court to decide what was necessary for public order and safety. He found the police had taken a "calibrated approach", balancing applicants' rights against public order issues.

He also noted that Thaipusam had a religious dimension which attracted "public order considerations of a different degree and kind", compared to the non-religious theme of the Chingay Parade and the secular nature of the St Patrick's Day event, which the applicants had brought up.

"History and current events in Singapore and around the world give ample justification to the police to pay special attention to events involving a religious element," said Justice Tay.

The applicants are appealing to the apex court, while the Attorney-General is also cross-appealing on the decision that the applicants had the requisite standing to mount this application, and the judge's finding that, to some Hindus, the playing of musical instruments during the procession is part of Hindu practice.


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