Why Thaipusam is no longer a public holiday in Singapore

A devotee carrying his kavadi waits to start his procession 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 TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

The manpower ministry says Thaipusam is no longer a public holiday in Singapore because it was one of several religious observances that were given up by various religious leaders in 1968.

In a letter to the Singaporean Today newspaper on Friday evening, Ministry of Manpower (MOM)'s Workplace Safety and Strategy Division director Alvin Lim said the religious public holidays were given up due to the need to compete in the global market, following the withdrawal of British colonial troops.

His letter could be viewed as a response to claims that public holidays here were allocated by race, as opposed to what it actually is — religion.

Muslims, he said, chose to give up the Prophet Muhammad's birthday as well as an additional day after Hari Raya Puasa. Christians chose the Saturday and Monday that followed Good Friday and Easter Sunday respectively. Hindus chose between Thaipusam and Deepavali, and opted to give up the former.

"These were difficult decisions for the leaders of each faith," said Lim. "The Buddhists, who comprised the largest faith and had only one public holiday to begin with, Vesak Day, were not asked to offer cuts. Some groups continued to mark their significant religious occasions, such as Vesakhi for the Sikhs and Lao-Tzu's Birthday for the Taoists, without these being public holidays."

Why music is banned during Thaipusam processions

Speaking on the ban on playing musical instruments, Singapore's Hindu Endowment Board (HEB) said it had over the years received complaints about disorderly and disruptive behaviour that detracted from the spiritual experience of the procession.

HEB explained in a statement published on The Straits Times website, also released on Friday, that it had over the years negotiated for relaxation of certain aspects of the law on behalf of the Hindu community.

Among these were allowing singing religious hymns along the route, and, in 2012, having static points along the procession route for the broadcast of religious hymns. Music has always been allowed at the start and end points, within temple grounds, the HEB added.

The HEB also said it counsels kavadi bearers individually on the rules governing the procession two weeks before it takes place. At these sessions, kavadi bearers sign undertakings to abide by the law. However, some still engage music groups to accompany them. It is on these occasions, when HEB marshals are unable to seek their cooperation, that police are called in.

"The HEB does not believe that it is necessary to tighten the conditions for the procession," the statement said. "In fact, contrary to public misperception, we have never made representations to the authorities to move in this direction."

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) also released a statement on Friday responding to "misrepresentations and rumours online and offline" regarding the Thaipusam procession, as well as the incident relating to the three men who were charged with disorderly behaviour.

"If such activities are deemed to incite enmity between different communities and races, the Police will investigate and take firm action against anyone responsible for such offences," the statement said. "Singaporeans should reject such actions and never allow them to take root in our society. "

MHA also stressed that opinions and accounts regarding the three men, excluding a fourth individual who on the same day was arrested for possession of "offensive weapons", are subject to ongoing investigations. The ministry also added that the allegation by a woman that she was pushed to the ground by police officers is being investigated by the Police Internal Affairs Office.

Read more about the incident regarding the three men who were arrested here.