By Terry Xu
The above video, taken by Shiva Shanker, shows what seems to be police officers confronting angry and rowdy participants at the Thaipusam festival.
The incident happened on 3 February 2015, Tuesday, during the annual Thaipusam procession which is held along Serangoon Road.
TOC spoke to Jaya (not his real name) who was involved in the commotion between the worshipers and law enforcement officers, to have an understanding of what happened from his point of view as an eye-witness.
Jaya shared that his friends hired an urumi group (made up of some other friends) for one of them who was carrying a kavadi in the procession.
At around 4pm, the urumi group was denied entry into the temple as the instrument was not permitted to be played inside the temple, and had been already warned by the temple ushers over the noise pollution created by their instruments.
When Jaya and his friends tried to plead further to allow the urumi group to go into the temple and be allowed to play the instruments, temple officials came to further warn them. This resulted in an argument between the entourage and the temple officials, which resulted in a single instrument being allowed to be played.
At this point, the group was deeply agitated over the officials’ approach and their unreasonable explanations.
Later, when the entourage were in the procession along Serangoon Road, at the junction of Desker Road, a group of police officers in civilian attire approached their urumi group and asked them to stop playing and follow the officers into the alley. The other members of the entourage, including Jaya, also followed suit to find out what had happened.
Harsh words were subsequently exchanged between the police officers and his friends, resulting in the situation becoming very chaotic with lots of pushing and squabbling. One of his friends’ wife also tried to intervene because the officers were manhandling two of their friends.
According to Jaya, the whole situation was so heated because the police could not handle the initial situation and resorted to immediately calling in reinforcements. This merely served to make the tense situation worse as the officers who came in reacted too aggressively and tried to grip and push the people around at the scene.
Jaya said a female officer then pushed his friend’s wife down, which resulted in her husband reacting violently and punching an officer. (Editor’s note: According to the video, the lady was pulled to the ground by the female officer, not pushed.)
Another officer immediately restrained the man by holding his neck and pushing him against the wall forcefully.
Jaya asked, “Here were about 10 policemen who had started hitting and kicking my friend who threw the punch. Is it acceptable? In public, (with) everyone watching.”
“The whole situation was aggravated because the police didn’t know how to handle the situation… end up 3 of my friends got arrested…” said Jaya.
Jaya claims that none of the men arrested were drunk. He said that the police claimed that they were drunk just based on assumption, by smelling their body. He argued that there should be a blood test done to justify these claims.
Jaya also added that the person who attacked the policeman is not known to be a drinker .
According to Jaya, the three men were released on bail sometime on Wednesday.
Our writer, former police officer Ganga, suggested that the friend who punched the police officer might very well be charged under Section 332 of the Penal Code, Chapter 224 – “Voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty”.
The statement from the Singapore Police Force as it appeared on their Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon told a somewhat different story.
During the Thaipusam procession on 3 February 2015 at about 6.50pm, Thaipusam organisers requested a group of people to stop playing drums at the junction of Serangoon Road and Desker Road, as doing so contravened the conditions of the police permit for the event. However, the group was not cooperative and police were called in.
When police officers were speaking to the group, a 33 year old man from a separate group came forward and confronted the police officers in a rowdy manner.
Despite numerous warnings to calm down, he persisted with his disorderly behaviour and was placed under arrest. While one of our officers was effecting the arrest of the man, another two men, aged 32 and 28, came forward to stop the arrest, with the 32 year old assaulting three officers in the process.
The three men, all Singaporeans, also used vulgarities against the officers. All three men were believed to have been drinking earlier as they smelt strongly of alcohol. They have been arrested and investigations are ongoing. One injured Police officer was conveyed conscious to TTSH and is in stable condition.
The prohibition of musical instruments during processions is not a new requirement and has already been in place since 1973. Police have disallowed the use of music during procession to deter public disorder which may be caused by rivalries between groups and to minimize the impact of the procession along the procession route.
Police would like to appeal for witnesses of the incident to come forward to provide more information.