Playing musical instruments banned during Thaipusam

From ‘Ban on playing music at Thaipusam aimed at ensuring peaceful procession:Iswaran’ 5 Feb 2015, article in ST

The ban on playing music at the annual Thaipusam procession was introduced because of past incidents of fights breaking out between competing groups which disrupted the procession, said Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran. The ban, which has been in place since 1973, also applies to all processions, and not just Thaipusam, Mr Iswaran told reporters.

Given that Thaipusam is the longest foot procession in Singapore which goes through major roads in the heart of the city, it is even more important to make sure that the procession is conducted in a peaceful manner, he added.

…His comments followed the arrest of three Singaporean men over a scuffle that broke out on Tuesday evening during the annual Thaipusam procession. Police said organisers had asked a group of people to stop playing traditional Indian drums as it was not allowed under the event’s police permit.

Following the incident, some have questioned the ban on musical instruments at the annual procession. Responding to this, Mr Iswaran said the authorities have in fact made special concessions for Thaipusam and a couple of other Hindu foot processions, pointing out that there is a ban on religious foot processions, which has been in force since 1964 following “some very bad episodes and experiences“.

Back in 1981, the police had a different explanation for the banning of music from religious foot processions, that it wasn’t so much the music itself that was disrupting the peace or inciting people to beat the hell out of each other like alcohol does, but that it moved people to DANCE all over the streets and block traffic in their spiritual ecstasy. The 1973 ban, of course, didn’t stop people from bringing on the bongos still, and things got ugly when the police tried to seize drums from participants in the 80s, with one cop suffering a black eye for performing his party-pooping duties.

‘Musical instruments’ back then included portable radios and cassette players, and I’m not sure if the police would swoop in to restore order and silence if devotees were playing ukeleles, harps or doing mass accapella instead. In 1984, there were Thaipusam near-fatalities after a fight and stabbing in Serangoon, music or no music. The ST did not mention if those involved ‘smelt of alcohol’. Nor did anyone consider the possible theory that maybe it’s not thumping music or dancing that’s responsible for a religious procession turning into a Little India riot. Maybe it’s, I dunno, dangerous WEAPONS perhaps? Instead of looking for parangs, the police are raiding boom boxes. If someone rolled in a grand piano, they may just gun the damn thing down before it hypnotises people into a murderous trance. It gives new meaning to the term ‘killer beats’.

The penalty for holding a parade without permit in honour of some deity’s birthday, Hindu or not, can earn you a $1000 fine, or up to 3 months jailtime back in 1989. The police won’t do anything, however, if you decide to hold a funeral bash, banging drums, gongs and cymbals included, for a deceased loved one. Best not to anger the spirit of a dead grandmother I suppose, compared to say Lord Muruga or the Monkey God.

It’s interesting how it’s only parades on foot that are illegal. What if I went around on top of a tooting bus cheering at the top of my lungs in a victory dance interfering in people’s business and getting them to wave at me? Wait, you mean this has actually happened before? With no police around to grab people’s loudhailers and telling truck drivers to STFU with their horning? The audacity!

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One Response

  1. […] – The Singapore Beacon: Time To Change An Archaic Law? – Everything Also Complain: Playing musical instruments banned during Thaipusam – [FB] Sangeetha Thanapal: Thaipusam & the right to cultural and religious expression in […]

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