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Thaipusam celebrated amid calls for public holiday recognition in Singapore

Hindus in Malaysia and Singapore celebrate Thaipusam on Thursday. Online sentiments underscore Thaipusam’s non-recognition as a public holiday in Singapore, despite PM Lee and DPM Wong extending wishes to devotees on social media.

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Hindus in Malaysia and Singapore gathered in Hindu temples on Thursday (25 January) to partake in the annual Thaipusam festival.

Over the weekend, tens of thousands congregated at the Batu Caves temple just outside Kuala Lumpur, with many demonstrating their devotion to the deity Lord Murugan by piercing their bodies with hooks and skewers.

Social media platforms such as Facebook and TikTok were filled with shared moments capturing the exuberant celebrations across Malaysia.

Numerous vibrant photos showcased the colourful decorations and festive scenery, portraying a harmonious atmosphere as devotees joyfully gathered at Batu Caves.

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♬ original sound – Rahul TV Official – Rahul TV Official

In Penang, Hindu devotees paraded a gold chariot bearing the idol of Hindu god Lord Murugan on Wednesday.

The annual procession, attended by thousands, served as a heartfelt expression of gratitude, vow fulfilment, and penance in honour of the Hindu god.

In Singapore, devotees are actively engaging in sharing the vibrant atmosphere of the festival, with netizens posting photos and videos capturing the essence of the rituals and religious-cultural functions associated with Thaipusam.

Interestingly, some Facebook users are expressing a sentiment in 2024, emphasizing that Thaipusam is yet to be acknowledged as a public holiday in Singapore.

Demands to reinstate Thaipusam as a public holiday in Singapore

Indeed, there has been a public push to reinstate Thaipusam as a public holiday in Singapore.

Thaipusam held the status of a public holiday until 1968 when it was removed under the Holidays (Amendment) Bill.

The primary aim of the bill was to streamline the number of public holidays in Singapore to 11 per annum. This move was prompted by concerns about decreased productivity in the aftermath of the British withdrawal from Singapore.

During the parliamentary discussions, Mr P. Govindaswamy, then Member for Anson, advocated for reconsidering the removal of Thaipusam from the list of holidays.

He emphasized that Thaipusam had evolved into a significant religious celebration not only for Hindus but for the entire population.

“It will be a great disappointment both to the local people and to the tourists if the number of kavadi processions is reduced because Thaipusam is not a public holiday and, therefore, workers will not be able to take part in the processions. ”

In response, Mr E. W. Barker, the then Minister for Law and National Development, said that “Like the Member himself, I myself would prefer Thaipusam to be a holiday!”

He then went on to add,

Mr Speaker, Sir, suffice it to say that like other Members of the House, I myself would prefer more and more holidays. But as I pointed out earlier in my opening speech, in view of the British withdrawal – I hope perhaps with no severe unemployment or economic problems following in its wake – this is one of the measures we are taking to ask our people to work harder – which means you, me and everybody else.

I ask Members to bear with me. If our island prospers, I am sure the Government will ask me to come back here and on that day it will be my pleasure to move amendments to increase the number of holidays. But let us first show that we can work hard and that we deserve more holidays.

In other words, Mr Barker said that the Government would increase the number of Holidays if the nation prospers. These words were uttered in Parliament House on 1 August 1968.

From 1968 till the present day, in the words of Singapore’s first Prime Minister himself, we have gone from ‘Third World to First.’

Any reasonable and fair-minded person would be able to see that saying our Singapore has simply ‘prospered’ from 1968 till now would be a gross understatement.

Calls for Thaipusam public holiday rejected by Singapore Government

However, to this day, there remains a persistent demand among Singaporeans for Thaipusam to be officially recognized as a religious public holiday under the Holidays Act.

In 2015, an online petition garnered a total of 21,897 signatures; and an event at Hong Lim Park in February of the same year aimed to stand in solidarity with Indians, advocating for the festival’s gazettement as a holiday.

Despite these efforts, Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) dismissed the demands in 2015, highlighting that Muslims had foregone Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday, and Christians had sacrificed the Saturday following Good Friday and Easter Monday.

MOM stressed the importance of maintaining a balanced, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious approach to public holidays, cautioning that reinstating one festival could trigger competing claims and necessitate extensive renegotiation with all communities.

Back in 2012, then Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam conveyed in a written answer to Parliament that an increase in public holidays “will raise business costs and affect Singapore’s economic competitiveness. ”

Despite the government’s reluctance to reinstate Thaipusam as a public holiday, current Singaporean leaders, including PM Lee Hsien Loong and DPM Lawrence Wong, publicly extend wishes to devotees on social media:

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Do Sheep land need a brainy law maker, earning Millionsnof Dollars of salary, so much higher than many other countries law makers, to decide since alcohol was cause of riots to ban it to prevent future Little India disturbances?

And bcz of rowdy, chanting, fighting skirmishes ban the celebration of Thaipusam as a public holiday – when it was probably the futile law enforcements that might embolden devotees to go a bit overboard.

What amateur politicians ‘taking things in their own hands’, with making easy decisions, without the publics interest to consider.

I too agree that Thaipusam should be a public holiday. My reasoning is very simple. Chinese enjoy 2 CNY holidays. Muslims have 2 PH (Puasa and Haji). Christians have Good Friday and Christmas. Hindus should therefore get Deepavali and Thaipusam as PH. Comparing population make up, we note Indians form about 9% of the population while Malays (almost all are Muslims) 13%. Although it must be noted that quite a significant number of Indians are Muslims too (23% Indians are Muslims). The Chinese about 74%. Note: figures taken from 2020 census. On top of that, the great E W Barker… Read more »

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