Thaipusam 2016: A step in the right direction, still some way to go

To be honest, I thoroughly enjoyed Thaipusam 2016. Where credit is due, it must be given. This is definitely a step in the right direction. The festival is for its devotees. From the people who took a stand last year in any small way, to the authorities who were interested in listening and making things better, everyone deserves a pat on the back.

Special mention must go to the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB). I think many of us appreciated the presence of the 'live music points' although they seemed more like 'dance floor' points for the kavadis.  What matters is that it was a step in the right direction.

I have met so many  fellow Indians who love to criticize HEB. If and when anything goes wrong,  it is just so easy to point fingers at them. Has anyone stepped back and wondered why HEB is even involved or what HEB does to begin with?
Points to Note About HEB
  • HEB is a statutory body set up under the Hindu Endowments Act in 1968.
  • Its role, as set out in the Act, is to administer those endowments placed under its administration.
  • The word “endowment” is defined in the Act to mean any endowment in land, building or money given for the support of any Hindu temple or other Hindu purpose.
  • It also has supervisory powers over the accounts of all Hindu endowments in Singapore- even those not administered by the Board.
  • Any person managing an endowment is obliged, at the request of the Hindu Endowments Board, to attend before the Board and answer questions in relation to the endowment.
  • The Hindu Endowments Board comprises a Chairman, a Vice-Chairman, a Finance Member and 12 members who are appointed by the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth.
  • To be appointed, a member must be both a Singapore citizen and a Hindu. Appointments are for a period of three years each. The Secretary of the Board is a public officer appointed by the Minister.
  • Major Hindu festivals like Thaipusam and Firewalking are organized by the Board.
The endowments administered by the Board are:
  1. Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple
  2. Sri Sivan Temple
  3. Sri Mariamman Temple
  4. Sri Vairavimada Kaliamman Temple
In addition to managing 4 temples, the Board administers:
  1. two kindergartens (Saraswathy Kindergarten and Saraswathy Darma Muneeswaran Kindergarten)
  2. half way house (HEB-Ashram).

While Thaipusam 2016 has indeed made most devotees and spectators (Hindus or not) more welcome, there are still some important issues that need to be improved.
  1. The Massive jam at the end of the procession route
  2. The lack of discernment between Thaipusam participants and other Hindu devotees
  3. Poor communication between volunteers on the ground and the management that prevents the volunteers from being able to adapt to situations.As the day progressed, we had a new category of  issues that need to be eradicated at all costs.
  4. The aspiring musicians who have absolutely NO regard for the sanctity of the festival.
  5. The Consumption of Alcohol along the procession route

To be honest, a traffic hold up is pretty much inevitable considering the bottleneck situation at the end. Every Thaipusam participant does want his offering to be  presented to the Lord. Having separate lanes is a step in the right direction, but it needs to be enforced and executed with clarity and precision. Suggestions from my conversations with several participants and spectators  are as follows:

Have stipulated time slots for different type of offerings.
A participant carrying a Paal Kudam normally is an individual affair. On the other hand, a participant carrying a Kavadi will normally involve his family members and friends. Sometimes, even strangers will "follow" a Kavadi. We saw quite a few Paal Kudam carriers who were stuck behind Kavadis.

Give priority to Thaipusam participants
This might not sit easy with some, who might claim that every devotee / Hindu is equal before God. But perhaps, we can accept that a person who is participating in Thaipusam deserves some priority.

Confiscate any non-traditional musical instrument
Thaipusam is not an opportunity for you to showcase your bongo beats. இடம் பொருள் ஏவல். Neither is it an opportunity to break into your favourite dance move. The song in the below video has nothing to do with Thaipusam. Perhaps it may be used for campaigning purposes in Jurong GRC for the next General Elections.

Ban public consumption of alcohol within procession route.
This was not  that obvious during the day. As the sun-set, they started appearing. One small section of the procession route is next to a row of bars and pubs (Selegie Road-prinsep street).  Unfortunately, they were filled with Indians. For those who may feel that this unruly and inappropriate behaviour is due to one's folly of youth, the sad truth is that there were just as many adults in their 4os-50s who were boozing away. If you watch the above video carefully, you would realise that there was an older person present. There were also several groups who were openly drinking away from their beer cans. They were walking in the procession route (ie within the barricaded section) in plain sight. To rub salt in that 'eventful' sight, there were policemen around who did not do anything. Any sane person would have expected the men in blue (though they left their uniforms at home and decided to dress casual). Objectively, those consuming alcohol were not breaking any law.
Let's Unite to Make a Better Thaipusam For Our Children
 Image Credit: Straits Times

Thaipusam 2016 has created clear rules and regulations, thanks to its organising body HEB.  However, they clearly lack weight. They lack enforcement. If rules are not enforced, what good are they? For that to happen, I feel that Parliament must step in. The next time an idiot decides to drink alcohol and make a ruckus during the Thaipusam route or in the temples, the next thing he should be seeing is the inside of a Police vehicle.

This might sound extreme to the man on the ground. He or She might wonder as to why we should involve the Parliament for one small festival. Let us not forget that we voted 89 people into power to represent OUR interests.  MPs act as a bridge between the community and the Government by ensuring that the concerns (regardless of the magnitude) of their constituents are heard in Parliament.  Let's make sure that bridge remains intact.
I hope this has gotten some of you to think. I can only hope that the thought translates into action for some of you. I am more than willing to organise a focus group with anyone who might be interested in taking this further. You may not necessarily agree with me. I may not have the best  solutions either. But what unites us is that we care and we want to make a positive change. Lets unite to make a better Thaipusam for our children.

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