Since footage emerged of a group of Hindu devotees being unabashedly filmed by cops during the recent Thaipusam procession, the internet has been rife with strong opinions and insensitive comments about whether music should be allowed during the annual religious festival.
On the evening of Jan 31, a group of Hindu devotees got into a heated argument with the authorities, who were said to have disrupted their Kavadi-carrying procession for the alleged crime of singing “too loudly”. After arguing with a Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) member, the group was recorded on video by the police for some time, causing discomfort among them while they made their ritual walk to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple along Tank Road.
Outraged followed, with many netizens, both Hindus and non-Hindus, expressing dismay that the authorities seem to be restricting the group from carrying out their Thaipusam procession in peace.
Following the scandal, the Singapore Police Force issued an explanation why the officers did what they did that evening. In a clarification posted on Facebook, the police stated that the group in subject had sang using portable loudspeakers and played musical instruments at four in the morning. Though the HEB official who advised them to stop (as it was not allowed under Thaipusam permit conditions) was initially challenged, the group eventually complied and continued the procession.
But it was later on near the Selegie HDB estate around 4:30am that the group started singing through the amplified loudspeakers again, according to the police. Since they already received a noise disturbance complaint in relation to the Thaipusam procession earlier that night, the group was confronted once again and advised to lower their volume.
“Each of the two engagements by the Police in support of the HEB officials was no longer than 10 minutes,” wrote the Singapore Police Force in its statement. “The allegation circulating that the group was filmed and followed for 30 minutes is patently untrue.”
The statement then went on to claim that police officers and HEB officials were accommodative, despite the group “having broken the law”, and that filming the engagements were done for “evidentiary purposes, both in the interests of the devotees and the police”.
There’s also the odd inclusion of how the authorities have actually played nice with the local Hindu community by allowing religious music to be played at certain points along the procession route even though the prohibition of musical instruments was introduced way back in ’73.
Despite the attempt to explain the actions of the police, netizens believe that the general treatment of Hindus and their annual Thaipusam festivities remain unfair.
Perhaps one good outcome of the viral Thaipusam incident was the open discussions about how Singaporeans should view the annual Hindu festivities. A netizen who goes by the name of Pria Prizzy went so far as to launch a trending petition that called for the allowance of devotional music to be sung or played throughout Thaipusam.
“Devotees take this day to be spiritually one with god and to celebrate a beautiful event of devotion! Moreover, music makes the beautiful yet somewhat difficult journey better!” wrote Pria in the Change.org petition, which has garnered over 8,600 signatures so far.
“Please give Hinduism some respect and give us the freedom to pray, devote and celebrate! Please do not kill our culture.”