Dear website editor,
I read the news recently about Hindu devotees, who have demanded that the government grant them an additional public holiday for Thaipusam and allow them to play musical instruments during the Thaipusam procession. I fully support their actions as I think all religions should have the right to freely practice their own religious rituals. I don't think the government should restrict anyone's religious practices at all.
In the same vein, I think Taoists should also be given more freedom to practice their own religious beliefs. Taoists should also get an additional public holiday for our festivals, none of which are "official" public holidays in Singapore.
In Singapore, Taoist devotees are the most considerate and forgiving people. Although the Chinese form the majority of Singaporeans, we always make way for other communities' beliefs and complaints.
This is why when people said that our funeral music was too loud, we made sure to play our religious music softly so that only the family and friends could hear it. Sometimes, we avoid playing music because we are afraid of disturbing the neighbours. When others complained that our funeral processions caused traffic obstructions even though we applied for permit from traffic police, we shortened the procession and only allowed the deceased family to walk a shorter distance before boarding their assigned buses to the columbariums.
When people complained that our incense burning poses a health hazard to other residents, we simply moved our incense burning practice below the block into shared burning bins. Nowadays we even have burning bins that emit no smoke! But still many people, especially the minorities and Christians, like to complain about our practices even though they do not understand the importance.
Our Nine Emperor Gods festival is one of our major festivals here. Most of the celebration is done in the temple, but on the last day of the festival, we will send the gods back to their home by holding a short procession to the nearest river. Even for this popular celebration, we must apply for all kinds of permits from the government. We understand that the government needs to ensure public safety, but the government also imposes too many restrictions on how loud we can play our music, where and how far we can walk and among other things. Each time there is a new complaint then the government changes its regulations yet again, leaving many of our organizers very confused and frustrated.
Some people will say that the Chinese already have Chinese New Year so there is no need for an extra holiday for Taoism. However, there is a big difference. Chinese New Year is not a Taoist holiday. It is a cultural holiday celebrated by ALL CHINESE in the world, even if they are Buddhist, Taoist, Christian, Hindu, or others. This has nothing to do with Taoism, unless you go to our temples for blessings or to make offerings to Taoist gods for good luck.
One of Taoism's biggest celebrations is the birthday of our founder, Lao Tzu. But even though we have submitted requests and petitions for over 10 years, the Singapore government has always ignored us and refuses to give us a holiday for the biggest celebration in our religion. All of us have to take our own annual leave just to celebrate our religious festivals, and it is hard to get bosses to understand the type of preparation we have to do. Many times I am told by my boss to not go for my religious celebration because it is not important and no one cares about it!
It is reported somewhere that Singapore is one of the countries that has the least number of public holidays in the world. This kind of culture only shows the PAP's lack of understanding and sensitivity for our religious practices. It is not good for the health and happiness of Singaporean workers in the long run. That's why today we should all unite together to demand that the government stop meddling in our religious practice and return us our Taoist public holidays!