SHANMUGAM AND HEB DOING A U-TURN ON THAIPUSAM MUSIC BAN

Minister for Law K Shanmugam said in an interview that the calls for music accompaniment during Thaipusam should be looked into.

"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 interview was aired on Wednesday, 11 February at 9pm on Vasantham. Excerpts below.

Q: 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?

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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.

Q: 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.

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Channel News Asia

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