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Hindus and Singaporeans want equality and fairness, not privileges

K Shanmugam ST
Law Minister, K. Shanmugam

 

By Masked Crusader

Law Minister, K. Shanmugam, weighed in on the Thaipusam fracas in a facebook post in which he says the annual Thaipusam street procession means that Hindus receive “a special privilege not enjoyed by others”. Hindus, therefore, are not discriminated against.

The arguments and logic presented by him are most unworthy of someone trained in law not to mention a person in the position of Minister of Law. Perhaps his power of reasoning has been dulled by his time in Parliament, where debating skills are not required, and lengthy time away from having to make arguments in a court of law.

He fails to acknowledge that there may be compelling religious and historical reasons why the Thaipusam procession is allowed and that, in fact, is the reason why it is permitted. It cannot be merely because Hindus are privileged. There is no provision in the Constitution that make Hindus so privileged. In fact, non-Hindus should feel discriminated against if the Thaipusam street procession is allowed on the basis that Hindus are privileged.

Perhaps Shanmugam used the word, “privilege”, to avoid saying that the Thaipusam procession should not be considered an entitlement and that Hindus should be grateful for concessions in place and accept the restrictions on musical instruments. If this is what he meant, he would have incurred greater wrath from the Indian-Hindu community he purports to represent in Parliament.

In his post, which has been roundly criticized, he considers questions put forward by the public about the ban on musical instruments during Thaipusam and ones comparing practices of other ethnic and religious functions as “fair questions”. However, in the next sentence, he dismisses these questions as ones being asked by people who are ignorant, who have “a misunderstanding of the rules.” He then proceeds to split hairs by making comparisons between religious processions and “social and community events” in an unconvincing and meandering manner.

Sidestepping the issue, which is the ban on musical instruments, Shanmugam points out that “religious foot processions” were banned in 1964—in an entirely different era. Perhaps the Law Minister should explain what a “ban” means because not only has the Thaipusam procession continued since then, by his own admission the authorities have granted requests from other communities on “rare occasions” and have rejected many others. If anything, it seems that foot processions are not banned but that permits are required to organize them.

This ambiguity is most unhelpful. Singaporeans don’t want scraps thrown their way and told that they should feel privileged. Clarity, transparency, and equal rights are sufficient.

Shanmugam ends by pointing out that attacks against the Police should not be accepted—something no one would argue with. But he fails to address the most obvious questions relating to the Police at the incident:

  • Why did the Police say that the 3 individuals who were arrested appeared to be drunk, something that has been denied? As this was widely reported, would those arrested be issued with a public apology if they are not charged with intoxication? If drunkenness had been an issue in the past, why were the Police not prepared to determine alcohol levels definitively through testing onsite?
  • Why were the majority of policemen not in uniform? At a major event, given incidents in the past, wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to have as many policemen in uniform as possible to demonstrate police presence?
  • What were the duties of the Police, auxiliary policemen, and plainclothes policemen at the Thaipusam procession? What was the role of the organizers in the enforcement of rules and maintenance of order?
  •  One of the men arrested claims that he did not know he had struck a policeman as he was not in uniform. Would he still be charged with striking a policeman if the official in question had not identified himself as such?
  • Some reports claim that the Police used excessive force against the 3 individuals who were arrested as well as others around them. Have investigations been launched against the conduct of these officials? Did the conduct of the Police contribute to the melee?

What Hindus and all Singaporeans want are equality and fairness, not privileges.

This article was first published at maskedcrusader.blogspot.sg