by Deborah Choo
Human rights lawyer Mr M. Ravi will apply to court for an injunction against the government’s newly imposed guidelines on the Tamil Hindu festival Thaipusam “indiscriminately” on the Hindu devotees participating in the said festival. This comes as the latest announcement at this morning's press conference.
The guidelines released by the Hindu Endowment Board (HEB) bans the playing of recorded or sounding gongs or drums, painting and piercing of faces and bodies, any form of visual representations such as banners, flags, postcards, and prohibits a public address system amongst others.
In an unprecedented move, the HEB now requires the registration of a Kavadi representative to sign an undertaking before the authorization of the participation of a procession can be granted. In addition, he/ she has to attend a briefing on Thaipusam procedures prior to the authorization.
Thaipusam is slated to be held on next Thursday, 20 January.
Ravi, acting not only as human rights lawyer but also as a devout Hindu, will be processing his application based on the 2nd Charter of Justice which was issued on 27 November 1826.
In his originating summons against the Attorney General Chambers and the Hindu Endowment Board in face of the recent controversial Thaipusam rulings, he asserts that the abovementioned guidelines “violate the fundamental rights to freedom of speech, assembly and expression, of the Hindu devotees participating in Thaipusam, which are guaranteed under Article 14 of the Commission.”
To be able to fully comprehend the meaning behind Thaipusam and appreciate the beauty and significance of the festival, Ravi asserts that one must track its roots back in history. He argued that since the 1800s, Malaysian states like Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Selangor, Johor Bahru are used to having Thaipusam declared as a public holiday. However, why is this not the case in Singapore?
The originating summons also clearly states that the guidelines are “in breach of Article 9 of the Constitution in that the said rules fail to safeguard the lives and liberties of the Hindu devotees and their supporters, whilst in trance during the ‘Kavadi’ procession.”
He explains that interrupting a person whilst in trance can be dangerous to the person himself/ herself. “We have to stop this brutality,” he said resolutely.
In response to speculation that the government decision might be a result of a fear of gang violence, he quotes the peaceful yet lively celebrations that took place in 1976 in Kuala Lumpur (see video below) which saw thousands of people congregating in a single place for the processions. He then questioned the need for police officers to send Hindu devotees to jail just because they are expressing themselves during the celebrations in which music is an integral part.
Thaipusam is not only a celebration, but a form of “personal expression” according to Ravi. He also posed the questions to reporters at the press conference: “Can you ask the lion dances not to have drums?”
Video description: Filmed in 1976, this video documents Thaipusam celebrations in Singapore and the Batu Caves, Malaysia during that period. As you will observe in the video, the smashing of coconuts on the ground signifies the destruction of personal egos.
Note that a large portion of the celebrants are not of Indian ethnicity, especially the Chinese and Peranakans.
“Are you creating terrorists out of them? Who is engineering this violence? It’s the state,” he said.
Ravi said that he wants “this injunction to be stopped by Monday.” Ravi will also bring this case up to the ASEAN inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights.
Thaipusam is an annual Hindu festival that takes place on the full moon day of the Tamil month Thai (Jan-Feb). Thaipusam is derived from the words ‘Thai’ which means the 10th, and ‘pusam’ which means when the moon is at its brightest.
This festival honours Lord Subramaniam, also known as Lord Murugan, the deity of youth, power and virtue, which is best demonstrated through the carrying of ‘kavadi’ in a 4 km procession.
This festival is a time for repentance for devotees with celebrations carried out mainly at the temple. Devotees prepare themselves spiritually with extensive prayer and fasting before performing acts of penance or thanksgiving like carrying a kavadi from one temple to another. Often, sharp skewers are pierced through their tongues, cheeks and bodies as a practice of self-mortification. Offerings include fruits, flowers and pots of milk.
This video is based on the true story that occurred in 1812. The story begins with a man. His name was Rous Peter, collector of Madurai. (Madurai, now more than 2,500 years old, was once the capital of the ancient pandya kingdom.)
He was also known as Peter Pandian to many. One night, thunder roared and lightning struck. Out of the blue, a little girl appears and woke Peter in his bedroom. She hurriedly leads him out of his house. Then, at that moment, the lightning destroyed his room.
Just as suddenly as she appeared, the girl disappeared. Peter believed that sree Meenakshi presented a pair of golden stirrups embedded with precious stones.
*The actual temple used in this film is still standing today in Madurai. To read more, click here.
The following is the full version of M Ravi's originating summons:
IN THE HIGH COURT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE
Originating Summons of 2010
In the Matter of Article 9, 12, 14 and 15 of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore
In the Matter of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ASEAN Human Rights Commission and ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights
In the Matter of the Federation of Malaysia, 1948 and 1963-65
In the Matter of the Independence of the Republic of Singapore, 1965
In the Matter of the Second Charter of Justice 1826 governing the local customs and traditions of the Indian British Subjects under the Colonial Administration of Singapore
In the Matter of Ravi S/O Madasamy
(NRIC No. S6913333I)
1. Attorney General
(I.D Does not exist)
2. Hindu Endowment Board
(I.D Does not exist)
LET ALL PARTIES concerned attend before the judge on the ___ day of _________ 2011 at ___ AM/PM for the hearing of an application by The Plaintiff for the following orders that:
- The guidelines pertaining to the festival of Thaipusam, imposed by the Government of the Republic of Singapore through the Hindu Endowment Board, on the Hindu devotees participating in the said festival to be held on 20th January 2011, are in breach of the Minority Rights guaranteed under Article 12 of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore.
- The Thaipusam guidelines which violate Article 12 of the Constitution violate the rights of religious minorities guaranteed under the auspices of the Presidential Council of Minority Rights.
- A declaration that the abovementioned guidelines are in breach of Article 9 of the Constitution in that the said rules fail to safeguard the lives and liberties of the Hindu devotees and their supporters, whilst in trance during the ‘Kavadi’ procession; since in accordance with the said guidelines , they are not allowed to beat drums, play music or chant loudly during the 4 kilometre procession. The enforcement of the Thaipusam guidelines endanger the safety and personal liberty of devotees who seek music and dance from their supporters during the 4 kilometre procession.
- The abovementioned guidelines violate the fundamental rights to freedom of speech, assembly and expression, of the Hindu devotees participating in Thaipusam, which are guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution.
- The said guidelines are in breach of the constitutional right of the Hindu devotees, to practice and profess one’s religion, guaranteed under Article 15 of the Constitution.
- The Government of the Republic of Singapore and/or its agents be injuncted including the Elected President who is advised by the Presidential Council of Minority Rights from imposing the said guidelines and therefore allowing the Hindu devotees their rights to peaceful enjoyment of the Thaipusam procession and hence protect them from police brutality.
Dated this day of January 2011
This originating summons is filed by Ravi S/O Madasamy, NRIC No. S6913333I, of 81 Kovan, Road #02-03, Singapore 548173 .
Note: This summons may not be served more than 6 calendar months after the above date unless renewed by order of the Court.
If a defendant does not attend personally or by his counsel or solicitor at the time and place abovementioned such order will be made as the Court may think just and expedient.
Unless otherwise provided in any written law, where the plaintiff intends to adduce evidence in support of an originating summons she must do so by affidavit, and must file the affidavit or affidavits and serve a copy thereof on every defendant not later than 7 days after the service of the originating summons.
To: The Defendants
Attorney – Generals Chambers
1 Coleman Street #10-00
Tel: 6336 1411
Fax: 6339 0286
Hindu Endowments Board (HEB)
397 Serangoon Road