Hindus in Singapore in a 'privileged' position: K Shanmugam

A devotee falls into a trance as he carries a milk pot over his head during Thaipusam festival in Singapore February 3, 2015. Thaipusam is a Hindu festival observed on the day of the full moon during the Tamil calendar month of Thai, and celebrated in honour of the Hindu god Lord Murugan. REUTERS/Edgar Su (SINGAPORE - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY)

[UPDATED on Thursday, 6 February at 8:50pm: Adding comments from K Shanmugam]

Hindus in Singapore are not only not discriminated against, they are in fact in a "privileged" position, said Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam.

In a lengthy status update on his Facebook page on Friday evening, the minister, himself a HIndu, was saying this in response to many questions posed about the long-standing bans on religious foot processions as well as the playing of music during religious processions.

Noting that the ban on religious foot processions has been in place since after riots in 1964, Shanmugam said Hindus are the only ones given an exemption for their three foot processions: namely Thaipusam, Panguni Uthiram and Thimithi.

"When other non-Hindu religious groups apply to hold foot processions, they are usually rejected," he wrote. "On rare occasions when it is given, stringent conditions will be imposed including much shorter routes, unlike Thaipusam which lasts the whole day and goes through major roads."

Shanmugam said Kompangs and Lion Dances for Malay and Chinese communities are "often held during social, community events", not religious ones, while noting that musical instruments such as the Nathaswaram and Melas are used at Hindu community events.

"These are not religious foot processions," he added. "The ban on religious foot proessions (as opposed to such communal/social events) is becuase they carry a partiuclar sensitivity — the risk of incidents is considered to be higher."

The case for allowing musical instruments to be played during the Thaipusam foot procession in support of the kavadi carriers "is a matter that can be debated", he added, saying it is something Singapore's Hindu Endowments Board has to discuss with relevant agencies.

On Thursday, Singapore's Second Minister for Home Affairs S Iswaran explained that the country's ban on playing music at processions was implemented because of fights between rival groups that disrupted them, said the country's Second Minister for Home Affairs S Iswaran on Thursday.

As quoted in The Straits Times, Iswaran said the authorities have already made special concessions for Hindu foot processions like Thaipusam because there has been a ban on religious foot processions since 1964, when "some very bad episodes and experiences" occurred.

"The key thing is these are rules that we have put in place in order to manage the event for the overall good while allowing an important religious event to take place," he said. "And the rules are made known to all the participants through the permits that they apply for and it's spelt out quite clearly, and the vast majority over the years have had no problems in complying with these requirements."

On Tuesday evening earlier this week, local police arrested three individuals for rowdy behaviour at the annual Thaipusam procession after a scuffle that ended with one policeman being sent to hospital.

In a statement posted to its Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon, police said its officers were sent to the junction of Serangoon Road and Desker Road at about 6:50pm, after a group there refused to stop playing drums despite being requested to by Thaipusam organisers.

The Hindu Thaipusam procession is an annual event held in Singapore where devotees make the journey on foot either carrying kavadi structures or other items such as milk pots in offering to Murugan, the Hindu God of War. The walking route covers a roughly 4km distance from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road.

Friends or relatives of devotees who participate in the procession often support them with musical accompaniment, but in Singapore, the use of musical instruments during processions has been banned since 1973.

The video below, from sociopolitical site The Online Citizen's Facebook page, depicts the incident as it unfolded:

While the officers were speaking to the group of drum-players, police said a 33-year-old man confronted them in a "rowdy manner", and another two men, a 28-year-old and a 32-year-old, came forward to try to stop the police from arresting him.

The 32-year-old assaulted three officers in the process, police said, and both were placed under arrest as well.

One police officer who was injured was then sent to Tan Tock Seng hospital for treatment.

"The three men, all Singaporeans, also used vulgarities against the officers," the statement said. "All three men were believed to have been drinking earlier as they smelt strongly of alcohol."

Police said they are investigating the incident.