A seemingly innocuous reminder to keep Deepavali celebrations litter-free has ignited a storm of controversy among Singapore’s Indian community.
The catalyst for the uproar was a photo shared by Susiilaa Shanmugam, a media professional, displaying two banners at Mountbatten SMC.
The upper banner, conveying festive greetings, belonged to Lim Biow Chuan, Member of Parliament for Mountbatten SMC. However, the lower banner, associated with the National Environment Agency (NEA), urged a litter-free celebration. This apparently well-intentioned message has been criticized for its insensitivity and perceived stereotyping, especially as similar advisories are not issued during other cultural festivals.
Susiilaa, in a Facebook post, questioned the timing of the message, asking if such reminders were ever employed during Chinese New Year or the Hungry Ghost Festival. She expressed concern about the potential divisive impact on a time when communities traditionally unite with family and friends.
Critics argue that the focus on cleanliness during Deepavali is a selective approach, as similar messages are not disseminated during other cultural celebrations. One community member voiced frustration, emphasizing the need for uniform tolerance across all festivities to foster an inclusive society.
The banners, one featuring festive greetings and the other advocating cleanliness, have led to accusations of inconsistency in addressing different racial and cultural groups. PN Balji, a veteran journalist, suggested that the message was specifically aimed at the Indian community.
Despite Lim clarifying that his banner only conveyed festive greetings and did not include litter-free messages, discontent persisted. Some questioned the necessity of placing such banners before Deepavali, implying a judgment on the minority community’s ability to celebrate the festival in a civilized manner.
Lim, responding to the heated feedback, explained that the NEA, as a government agency, aimed to maintain cleanliness based on complaints about litter following Deepavali celebrations. He requested the removal of his greeting banner in acknowledgment of potential misunderstandings.
While Lim clarified that the banner under his festive greeting was put up by the NEA, it was revealed that it was actually erected by the residents’ network with NEA support. The incident has fueled a broader conversation about cultural sensitivity and the need for a universal approach to environmental advisories during festive seasons in Singapore.