A student’s view of the Thaipusam instrument ban

Temasek Review
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The letter below is written by E.Lee, 19, student


The development on Thaipusam is interesting. I am so going to change my thesis topic end of this year. Two Ministers weighed in – Iswaran and Shanmugam. Both got flamed by the community. Is there a lot of pent of frustration? My Indian friends are all riled up looking at posts after posts online. There are two demands now:

We want drums to be played at Thaipusam?

Both Ministers explained that religious foot processions are disallowed since the 60s because of the racial riots. They say only three Hindu festivals are allowed. I guess no choice – otherwise the religious rites cannot complete. But In 1973 – about 10 years later- they disallowed musical instruments to be played at all religious foot procession (this is another thing that we are still quite confused about). They say it can cause traffic jams, and people get into fight last time over who can play louder.

I attended Thaipusam with my soccer kaki two years ago when one of them carried the kavadis. It was exhilarating. Actually there are still pockets of people playing drums, and the organisers and police let them through. I assume these are illegal now. But I also saw at least two fights, one involving drummers, and one concuss man – obviously drunk. Those I see Police intervene. Friends told me quite normal, say some of them are SS (is it like some of our lion dance troupe?)

I start to see some footage online about violence in Malaysia – also Thaipusam. Some gang fights. 33 people arrested in Penang for rioting.

There is a petition for drums to be allowed in Thaipusam. Some say it’s time to remove the archaic rule because we are in modern age. To be honest, I can’t see how the group can succeed in their petition if fights still occur at Thaipusam, people still get drunk etc. If something serious happen next year after the government accede, guess who will be blamed. Then other groups will say why so much concession given to the Tamil – they feel unprivileged. No win.

I think if want music, then must prove nothing will happen because of music. After this week’s experience, no prove of this. Only if there’s guarantee we can have music by controlled designated groups, with no incident, all of us will be comfortable making adjustment. Hindu Tamils must recognise they are already privileged – other religions cannot have processions for more than 50 years now. Hindus cannot ask for more privileges without showing they will be responsible. If a few gangsters in procession punch policemen, how other communities going to feel everyone in Thaipusam procession will be responsible?


Thaipusam – public holiday?

Seriously, I don’t mind another public holiday. Today I learnt a new thing in ST – that we used to have 15 PHs. Then they cut to 11, everyone has to sacrifice. Hindus decided to drop one – Thaipusam; Muslim dropped two — Prophet Mohd Birthday and extra day for Hari Raya Puasa; Christians dropped two — Easter Monday and Easter Saturday; Buddhist only got one anyway, so can’t cut to zero. And majority in Singapore, still Buddhist okay – and still only got one!

Some people say easy to just add one PH. I thought so, but I guess one more PH means one less work day, and that was not economically viable in those days. Maybe this one the government can think about it – our people can do with a day of rest.

But think carefully: Thaipusam celebrated only by Tamil Hindus. How about holiday for Sikhs? Also Thaipusam not most important holy day for Hindus/Indians. Pongal more important.Varusa Porrupu – Indian new year – even more important and celebrated by everyone (Sikhs, Singhalese, etc). So which one to choose? If you have a holiday for every religious festival in every religion, how many PHs are we going to have? 50? 100? I think maybe 365! Every day also holy day – or holiday!


What’s underlying all these demands and rhetoric? The “minority syndrome” or there’s more than meets the eye? Common issues in other country when we deal with minority syndrome are that they feel sideline, treated unfairly as compared to others. But I counted – we have at least five Indian Ministers (Shanmugam, Iswaran, Tharman, Vivian, Indranee) and Indians continue to rule our law domain- Law Minister, Chief Justice and AG are all Indians. If you really want to play numbers game – “you have two holidays, I only have one” – then how many ministers Indians want to lose so we can all be equal?

For all it’s worth, this episode only shows race and religion is still a volatile and complex issue in Singapore. Maybe we need to peel even deeper to find out more. There’s my thesis for this year! Steady.



  1. Firstly, I’m glad that non-Hindus/Indians are thinking through this issue. Two points

    1) “I think if want music, then must prove nothing will happen because of music. After this week’s experience, no prove of this.” – This is an extremely poor argument. I agree that if music causes fights (which sounds quite retarded as I type it out) then I agree that musical instruments should be prohibited. But it is on the onus of the government agency to show us statistics that scuffles that occur at Thaipusam are directly connected to the playing of instruments. The “Thaipusam incident” does not prove this because it seems like happened because the police decided to stop the music, not because people were playing music in the first place. Music does not cause fights. Just like how alcohol does not cause riots. People do. And the police should clamp down on people who are behaving in a rowdy manner, not those who play musical instruments peacefully.

    2) “Thaipusam not most important holy day for Hindus/Indians. Pongal more important.Varusa Porrupu – Indian new year – even more important and celebrated by everyone (Sikhs, Singhalese, etc).” – I agree. Which is why I don’t agree with the call to make Thaipusam a holiday. There is a prevalent attitude that Hindu Tamils = Indians, when in fact the Indian community is a lot more diverse. I understand the sense of unfairness that Hindus feel because Thaipusam is not a holiday. I pin the blame on outdated policies that allocate holidays base on the three major religions/races in Singapore. It is quite clear that back then, the government did not realise just how diverse SG was going to become. I also want more holidays but I agree that declaring Thaipusam a holiday will only open the floodgates.

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