17,000 sign petition to reinstate Thaipusam as official religious holiday in Singapore

Hidayah Salamat
17,000 sign petition to reinstate Thaipusam as official religious holiday in Singapore

A Change.org petition championing the reinstatement of Thaipusam as a calendar-ed holiday in Singapore has at noon today (Feb. 9) garnered 17,476 signatures. 

The petition was made live less than a week ago by local educator Sangeetha Thanapal, after an incident between police and devotees broke out during the local Thaipusam procession and sparked several debates. 

Three men were arrested following the altercation, which happened after police allegedly had to force a group taking part in the religious event to stop playing their musical instruments. 

Talk came up about the music ban, addressed on Friday evening by Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. K. Shanmugam, via Facebook. Mr. Shanmugam insisted Hindus were not being discriminated against — in fact, theirs was the only religion allowed to have foot processions such as those during the Thaipusam festival. He also explained that music was banned from religious events, especially foot processions, because of "past incidents". 

But through the comments on his post, it's clear the public has an agenda bigger than legalising music during the annual procession — they want Thaipusam to be made an official religious holiday. 

It is believed that it was once a calendar event, but was taken off to "improve business competitiveness" as there were already other celebrations happening during the month, including the two-day Chinese New Year holiday. 

According to Ms. Sangeetha's petition page, every major race is given two days of religious or cultural holiday: The Chinese have Chinese New Year (CNY), which lasts for two days. Malays, who are predominantly Muslim, are given holidays for Hari Raya Haji and Hari Raya Puasa. Indians are given Deepavali and Vesak Day.

"However, who celebrates Vesak Day?" she wrote. "It is a Buddhist holiday. Buddhism originated in India, but by and large, the world's biggest population of Buddhists, are East Asian. In Singapore, this means it is the Singaproean Chinese who are mostly Buddhist. Why is it gazetted as an Indian holiday when there are so few Indians celebrating it?"

Ms. Sangeetha's letter will be sent to the Public Petitions Committee of the Parliament via Chairman Ms. Halimah Yaacob. 

Photo: Coconuts Singapore / Eszter Papp


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