In 2011, then Home Affairs Minister Shanmuggam told Hindus that public order guidelines on the use of musical instruments are not new and apply “equally” to all religious processions.
Yesterday’s scuffle between the police and devotees erupted old feelings of contempt against the outdated regulation once again.
There is no statutory law against the usage of instruments in a procession. This means that the drum player you see at Hong Lim Park and the festive marching-drummers during Christmas a department stores are not contravening any legislative made law.
During the elections, there are laws against singing at political rallies (which is probably why the Worker’s Party recites the pledge instead, cause its not illegal).
What the Thaipussam drummers are flouting, are police made regulations.
For the Minister to say that these regulations are applied “equally” is not realistic. In fact, I would argue to say that the requirement of a permit for the Public Order Act is not applied equally to begin with.
(In 2011, drummers at the festival played in defiance to the regulations)
Under the Act, any public assembly or procession of one or more persons, held in any public place to which members of the public have access as of right or by virtue of express or implied permission and intended to:
a.) Demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person, group of persons or any government; b.) Publicise a cause or campaign; or c.) Mark or commemorate any event,
…requires a police permit. Unless “otherwise exempted”. The all powerful words “otherwise exempted” gives too much room for arbitrary power, which gave rise to the very sour feelings we see today.
Are lion dance classified under the Public Order Act?
Are the kuda kepang dances classified under the Public Order Act?
Are large scale funerals classified under the said Act?
Now, let’s talk about musical instruments.
Is the Chingay, National Day and Chinese deity festivals cleared for the use of musical instruments? If they are, why aren’t similarly large scale events such as Thaipussam cleared for it?
You see – when you there is too much arbitrary power, it gives rise to confused and conflicting decisions such as this.
The police claim that this law has been in existence since 1973 – the question is, why does this guideline continue to exist?
You know what other ridiculous regulation we had in the 70s? Yeah that’s right – the government bans long hair for men.
Thaipusam occupies aural space, thus the administration’s need to regulate it. In Singapore, population growth and urbanisation had meant that the new urban social setup had caused such sound production to sometimes be regarded as intrusive by those not involved in that religion or those particular events (Lee, 1999)
But in these modern days of integration, cohesion and tighter nation building, why should we cling on to these old rules that make no sense to a 21st century Singaporean?
I’ll take it further and suggest that there is a sense of Executive unreasonableness here. “Wednesbury unreasonableness”. Why is the police given power on whether or not to allow instruments at a public procession?
I urge the members of the public to write to your Member of Parliament to get this practice reviewed.
Ref: Lee, T S, 1999, “Technology and the production of Islamic space: the call to prayer in Singapore” Ethnomusicology, 43, 86-100