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Thaipusam 2011

Lawyer M. Ravi’s orginating summons against AGC and HEB over controversial guidelines for Thaipusam

20th Jan 2011: Court rejects lawyer’s appeal on Thaipusam guidelines. In another development, the facebook group Bring the Thaipusam BEAT Back, with critical comments of the guidelines from both Hindus and non-Hindus, has disappeared. The shortened link – http://on.fb.me/ezJw0J -went nowhere and a check on facebook itself came up empty.

Human Rights lawyer M. Ravi has filed an originating summons against the Attorney-General’s Chambers and Hindu Endowment Board over the recent Thaipusam guidelines (See here and here). He is bringing this action in “his capacity as a Singapore citizen and a practicing Hindu”. He will be holding a press conference at his office tomorrow morning at 11am.

IN THE HIGH COURT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE

In the Matter of Article 9, 12, 14 and 15 of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore

And

In the Matter of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ASEAN Human Rights Commission and ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights

And

In the Matter of the Federation of Malaysia, 1948 and 1963-65

And

In the Matter of the Independence of the Republic of Singapore, 1965

And

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

And

In the Matter of Ravi S/O Madasamy… Plaintiff
v

1. Attorney General

2. Hindu Endowment Board

… Defendants

ORIGINATING SUMMONS

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.


Two Straits Times report, and a letter to ST Forum, on the guidelines…

Jan 13, 2011
Outcry over Thaipusam’s noise curbs
Rules too harsh, say some; others see need to cut noise, rowdiness
By Yen Feng

IT HAS not been a quiet run-up to Thaipusam, which is next Thursday.

Guidelines made public last Friday that restrict devotees to singing – no music or drums to be played – have drawn varied reactions.

The Hindu Endowments Board (HEB), which announced the guidelines, said it has received a handful of queries from devotees seeking clarification. The Straits Times had 10 letters from readers, all of whom expressed disappointment. A Facebook page, Bring The Thaipusam Beat Back, was set up by a devotee on Monday – and about 40 people had pledged support at press time.

Thaipusam is an annual occasion where Hindus give thanks to Lord Murugan for his blessings. Devotees carry milk pots or kavadis – metal or wooden structures fixed to the body – to express devotion to the deity.

Census figures indicate that Hindus make up about 5 per cent of the overall resident population – or about 250,000 people.

The 4km event, which can take as long as five hours, starts from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road and ends at Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road.

The rules, which the HEB said mirrored police guidelines with regard to public order, appeared to bear stricter control over common practices during the procession. One was the barring of music and playing of instruments. Now, only religious hymns may be sung. Other rules include no wearing of make-up on the faces of devotees and allowing only small objects to be hung from their bodies.

The HEB said these guidelines were set by the police and were not new, even if it was the first time they were compiled and made public.

Responding to Straits Times queries, HEB chairman S. Rajendran said the move was calculated to reduce noise and unruly behaviour, both of which have been on the rise. Twenty years ago, the walk was attended by about 10,000 people – including both participants and spectators. Last year, that figure was 50,000, he said.

‘To conduct the procession, we close roads, we re-direct traffic – both of which are an inconvenience to others. We are fortunate to be given this privilege to hold a procession; we must do what we can to ensure it is conducted in an orderly manner,’ he said.

The response from the public – Hindus and non-Hindus – has been mixed, based on a Straits Times poll of 25 people.

In Serangoon Road, a shopkeeper argued that the inconvenience is ‘only for a few hours – what’s the big deal?’

Ms Parameshwari Chelloah, 28, a shop assistant in a supermarket, disagreed: ‘It is much too loud. It is not conducive for prayer.’

A Thaipusam participant of 15 years, Ms Sharmilee Thilarajah, 29, wondered if the rules were too extreme. ‘I understand the need to control the noise but to say instruments and music are completely off-limits – isn’t that too much?’

Reactions from residents along the 4km route were mixed too.

Other heads of Hindu temples said the guidelines had become necessary. Mr Narainasamy Ellatan, chairman of Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple, said he had noticed more people dressing inappropriately and playing non-religious music in recent years.

Mr Rajendran said those in breach of the rules will be counselled by volunteers, and action will be taken only if they remain uncooperative.

Letter to ST Forum – Thaipusam: Consult Hindu community first

Jan 7, 2011
Thaipusam set to turn down volume
New guidelines ban traditional loud music and drumming from the annual procession
By Yen Feng

THIS year’s Thaipusam celebrations will be a quieter affair if guidelines made public for the first time yesterday by the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) are enforced.

Those participating in the procession on Jan 19 and 20 are barred from playing recorded music or sounding gongs or drums.

Traditionally, the music – often played at a deafening volume – is seen as encouragement for those who pierce their bodies as an act of faith. Now, only the singing of hymns will be permitted.

Other rules include no shouting, and no paint or makeup to be used on either the devotees’ faces or bodies. Those who flout the rules may be barred from future processions – or face a fine of up to $5,000 under the Public Order Act.

And for the first time, spike or chariot kavadi bearers are required to nominate a representative who will be responsible for their conduct.

The HEB said the rules mirrored guidelines set by the police for permits to hold Thaipusam celebrations. But they were put together for the first time this year for the public to address long-standing issues of crowd and noise control, officials from the two temples organising the procession said.

The temples are the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road, and the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road.

Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple chairman K. Rajandeeran said the move would not compromise the procession’s religious nature, and would ‘ensure public safety and that it takes place in an orderly manner’.

Every year, tens of thousands of Hindus take to the streets to give their thanks to Lord Murugan, an important Hindu deity. Sometimes, expatriates unfamiliar with HEB guidelines have joined in.

Last year a 10-year-old visitor from India was seen carrying a spiked kavadi – wood or metal structures fixed onto devotees’ bodies – when only those above 16 are allowed to pierce their bodies.

Mr K. Kannappan, trustee of the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, said residents of new homes along the procession’s 4km route from Serangoon Road to Tank Road complained about the noise last year. ‘So this year, we will be better neighbours,’ he added.

The rules evoked mixed reactions among devotees, with Mr Raj Kumra, 34, who walked in last year’s procession, saying they are a dampener.

‘The music, the sounds, all that is part of celebrating Thaipusam. It’s our way of giving thanks for our blessings,’he said.

But they will not mean much to Mr Sankar Suppiah, 40, a devotee who has carried a kavadi for the last 20 years.

He said: ‘This is a powerful religious experience for me. I do it for myself, for my family. Rules do not change that.’

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “Lawyer M. Ravi’s orginating summons against AGC and HEB over controversial guidelines for Thaipusam

  1. Kavadi carrying is practice for years for the lord Murugan. I was carrying kavadi for some years back. Religious Songs and the sound from the traditional instruments gives a soothing feel to the kavadi carrier. Whether its paal kavadi or spike kavadi the weight plus the Lord Murugan’s energy sits on the carrier .You can’t imagine the test you go through during the walk from the one location to another.The music from the drums and the religious hymns singing makes the kavadi carrier to feel lighter and in trance mode. I know the temple is trying to control the unpleasant things happening during this procession. I understand this is a holy thanks giving festival to the God, things must be in place but not held in an unruly manner. At least the authorities could allow traditional instruments to be played at a controlled level and allow portable players with traditional god songs.Please consider a little tolerance for this once a year affair. It affects the feelings of us Indians alot.Well if you are the one participating in this kavadi procession you will know how it feels.
    I am thankful to our society and the government to allow religious processions with all the police and temple representatives and volunteers for the guidance through the procession.After all we are citizens and this is our country.

    Posted by N.Govin | January 19, 2011, 17:09

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  1. Pingback: {Videos} Plainclothes police officers stop drummers at Thaipusam | Jacob 69er - January 21, 2011

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