Singapore 2025

What of Singapore towards 2025? Thoughts of a Singaporean.

Archive for January 2011

Thaipusam Singapore 2011: Singaporean Indians resist ban

1.  I got whiff of some seriously disgruntled Indian Singaporeans even before the Thaipusam festivities last week. The unhappiness was apparently down to a “comprehensive guide” released by the government this year disallowing music from boomboxes, drums and gongs.

2.  A video was released a couple of days ago showing a group of participants openly defying the rules during the Thaipusam festivities proper. The PAP would do well not to underestimate the public perception of its laws on the Indian community and how these very rules could contribute to unnecessary racial tension. The public around the participants (when questioned by the police) remarked that the police would not stop a Chinese lion dance troupe (or a Chingay festival), and next time, the participants should perform a Chinese lion dance during Thaipusam instead.

3.  In the meantime, Law Minister K Shanmugam says the laws have been liberalised (see Straits Times report below) and they have been in existence since 1973 – an explanation, if true, doesn’t inform why the ban against drums and bongos was not enforced previously, and why it is being enforced from this year. I reckon former Law Minister S Jayakumar might have done a better job explaining things to the public.

4.  Separately, the drum/bongo players have just put a series of 10 videos titled “Singapore Thaipusam 2011 – Revived!”, and describe each video like this:


“This video is in no way a move to disregard the government and its laws. However, due to the “comprehensive guide” made public for this year’s Thaipusam festival, many questioned its rigidity. One of the rules was “not allowing music from boomboxes, drums and gongs”. The reason that was explained for this rule is due to the concerns raised that “participants use the event as an excuse to be rowdy”. But what we say is, the music and the instruments bring out the spirit of Thaipusam. Devotees, especially the kavadi bearers, depend on the music to motivate them. By not allowing the use of cymbals and drums, the festival will not be what it is. Imagine trudging along bearing the weight of the kavadi on your shoulders, without the lively beat of the drums and the singing helping you along. That’s what was sadly seen during this year’s Thaipusam. Hence, our videos. We brought along our instruments that night at the risk of getting caught as we wanted to prove something. People love the music. A festival such as Thaisupam needs such music to come alive. We decided that night, that we wanted to play for everyone and anyone. Even people we didn’t know. We wanted to show that the music is essential and we were proven right by the joy displayed by kavadi bearers and spectators. We went up to each bearer we saw and asked them if they wanted to dance. And each one said yes. The music started and the kavadis twirled and spun round and round in the true Thaipusam spirit. Spectators started clapping and dancing and people were enjoying themselves. Finally! A Caucasian lady even came up to us and said, “Thank you, you play wonderfully. I love it!”. Our point we want to make with all this is that, Thaipusam only comes around once a year. With all the strict rules and bans, we won’t be surprised if soon, the festival will see it’s last days if the mood is continually dampened and people lose interest. So with all that has been said, we hope the government would consider letting loose a little and lift the ban on musical instruments. Let’s show that Singaporeans can be AND can have fun. If only we are given the chance to. As an end it this, we would sadly like to state that in a true Singapore law enforcing move, our musical entourage that night was disbanded when the police swooped in on us and confiscated our instruments. Bummer.”

This first the 10 can be accessed from this hyperlink:

5.  A friend put it quite aptly on Facebook (by virtue of the number of ‘likes’ it garnered) – “Next time I want to celebrate Thaipusam, Chinese New Year, or Hari Raya, I will go to Malaysia instead.” There is a good video of the event as celebrated last year in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

6.  TheOnlineCitizen carried a good report on the event in Singapore as well:

Thaipusam rules not new: Shanmugam
Tessa Wong
688 words
15 January 2011
(c) 2011 Singapore Press Holdings Limited
He was responding to public outcry that they were too harsh

HOME Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam reassured Hindus yesterday that public order guidelines issued on next week’s Thaipusam procession are not new, and apply equally to all religious processions.

Speaking to reporters in the wake of the varied reactions after the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) publicised the rules last week, he pointed out that such rules have been in existence for 38 years.

Thaipusam, a Hindu festival, is traditionally celebrated here with an overnight procession from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple in Serangoon Road to the Sri Thendayuthapani temple in Tank Road.

The procession this year will start on Wednesday and last through Thursday.

The Straits Times reported on Jan 7 that the guidelines mirrored those previously set by the police for Thaipusam.

The report quoted procession organisers from the two temples saying that these had been put together for the public for the first time this year, to address issues of crowd and noise control.

A subsequent report quoted the HEB saying the guidelines were set by the police and were not new. But it confirmed that it was the first time these had been compiled and made public.

The guidelines state, among other things, that shouting, playing of music, and the sounding of gongs and drums are not allowed. But the singing of hymns would be permitted.

Yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said the guidelines had been around since 1973. The only new element this year was to allow the singing of hymns. ‘That represents a relaxation of the rules, contrary to the perception that has been put forward. And these rules apply not just to Thaipusam but to all religious processions.’

Mr Shanmugam, at his press conference yesterday, cited The Straits Times Jan 7 article as the report which he said was incorrect about the guidelines on religious processions being new.

Reports on the HEB’s announcement prompted reaction from the public. Some wrote to The Straits Times Forum saying that the guidelines were too harsh.

Addressing these yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said: I think the concerns have been expressed by a very small number of people, based on inaccurate reports.’

The HEB has told the ministry that the temple organisers who applied for the police permit understood the need for rules.

Mr Shanmugam said the police were not behind the move by the HEB to publicise the guidelines this year.

The HEB representative did not respond to calls to explain why they did so.

Mr Shanmugam said yesterday there would be no need for a larger-than-usual police presence at this year’s procession.

He said organisers had done ‘a good job’ over the years managing crowds, and traditionally both temples relied on auxiliary police officers, and off-duty officers who volunteer with the temples.

‘Of course, some people breach the rules and so on. They will be dealt with as they have been dealt with in the past.’

The police have, in the past, acted on breaches of rules whether by organisers or participants of religious processions.

There were also a small number of cases where no further action had been taken, said Mr Shanmugam.

Mr Shanmugam also dismissed the view that guidelines were issued because foreigners living along the procession route had complained about noise.

On Wednesday, a blog post by a Singapore Democratic Party youth wing member noted on the party’s website that the route did not affect people in the heartland and asked who the real complainants were, and if they were Singaporeans.

Asked about this, Mr Shanmugam did not cite the party but said: ‘I know one or two parties have tried saying that for political advantage. And it is sad from a couple of perspectives. It’s irresponsible and also a little amusing.

‘First the fundamental underlying point is factually wrong, that these rules are new. And politicians are willing to jump on the bandwagon and blame foreigners for everything. I guess that reflects on the people who make these statements.’



Dialogue could have pre-empted Thaipusam issue
513 words
11 March 2011

Straits Times

(c) 2011 Singapore Press Holdings Limited

EVERY Thaipusam, local Hindus give thanks to Lord Murugan for his blessings by mounting a colourful procession down Little India.

Devotees carry milk pots and kavadis – metal or wooden structures fixed to the body – to express their devotion to the deity.

But this year’s festivities were dampened by a kerfuffle over what many thought were new rules for the celebrations.

Looking back on the incident, Ms Indranee Rajah feels that better explanation and early engagement with the community could have pre-empted the issue.

In early January, the media reported that the Hindu Endowment Board (HEB) would no longer allow the playing of music during the processions, to address issues of crowd and noise control.

Music is usually played at a deafening volume to encourage those who pierce their bodies as an act of faith.

It was also reported that no shouting was allowed, and no paint or makeup could be used on the devotees’ faces and bodies. Only the singing of hymns would be permitted.

Coming only two weeks before Thaipusam, the reports sparked an outcry from the community. In letters to The Straits Times Forum Page and on blog posts, some Indians charged that the Government was prioritising the complaints of Westerners who lived in the area over the traditions of the long-standing procession.

Responding to the chorus of complaints, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam maintained that the rules were not new and had been set by the police for all religious processions since 1973.

In fact, he pointed out, the permission for hymns to be sung represented a relaxation of the rules.

What happened was that this was the first year that the HEB had decided to compile the rules and make them public to Thaipusam participants.

‘I think what was needed was more lead time in letting people know about the formalisation of the rules,’ reflects Ms Indranee. ‘And before the formal announcement, a bit more explaining and discussion would have been helpful.’

She believes that the reaction from the Hindu community was due more to the ‘suddenness’ of the announcements, rather than to the rules per se.

The latter, after all, ‘are not so different from what has always been in place’.

She notes that the HEB had the difficult task of striking a balance between two types of feedback: complaints about the noise and revelry, and the significance devotees attached to the procession.

In striking the balance, the key was in the communication of how it was to be struck, and the engagement of the community in how it was to be implemented,’ she says.

‘Just like in the integration of foreigners, we need explanation, dialogue, communication,’ she stresses. ‘Then I think there would have been more of a positive response.’


Written by singapore 2025

23/01/2011 at 8:54 am

MM Lee get RI award; praises meritocracy

A number of local papers/media outlets including the Straits Times, Today, mypaper and Channel News Asia ran this story on MM Lee receiving an award from Raffles Institution, but only the Business Times I understand included this rather pertinent observation (a friend has since pointed out to me that the Straits Times also made the point):

“The RI of today has an extraordinary, bright group of students but ‘they lack the diversity of the old RI that I had’, Mr Lee said. Sixty per cent of its students have fathers and mothers who are both graduates and there are few from the minority races.”

Source: Channel News Asia

The Straits Times nuanced the point slightly with an additional piece of information, “He (MM Lee) was told, he said, that 60 per cent of the present student cohort have parents who are both university graduates, making them of high-socio economic background. The other 40%, he said, were probably not far behind. He was also told that there were few minority-race students in present-day RI.”

The image of Singapore as “meritocratic and multi-racial” is likely to come under continuous strain unless the power brokers re-look this aspect of the social contract closely. Serious fissures could develop, if they have not already, should entry into the ranks of the elite reveal an under-representation of minorities. The argument that entry (top JCs, Administrative Service etc.) is on the basis of intellectual prowess alone will sound even more hollow in future as academic performance is increasingly accepted, even in Singapore, as only one, albeit important, indicator of ability.

In my mind, there does seem to be a perceptible attitude by power brokers of kicking this can further down the road. If continued, the fallout and impact on Singapore as a society, its various public institutions is likely to be intangible, simply because ‘minorities’ are affected.

The contradiction in the BT article is quite stark. On the one hand, there is a commitment to meritocracy, which ought to be lauded: “I’m not interested in who your father or mother is, or what station in life (you’re at), what religion, what language. How do you perform? What is your character?”

And on the other, the reality that meritocracy can arguably morph into a meritocracy solely for the meritorious.

What of its effect on our multi-racial society? Where minorities are under-represented in the bureaucratic and private sector elite? Watch this space. Closely. In the meantime, some data would be very useful to move the debate from the realm of the anecdotal to that of the empirical. Although anecdotes from MM Lee are unlikely to have any trouble finding corresponding data!


“The RI of today has an extraordinary, bright group of students but ‘they lack the diversity of the old RI that I had’, Mr Lee said. Sixty per cent of its students have fathers and mothers who are both graduates and there are few from the minority races.”

MM Lee gets RI award; praises meritocracy
Teh Shi Ning
14 January 2011
The Business Times

(c) 2011 Singapore Press Holdings Limited

MINISTER Mentor Lee Kuan Yew is the first recipient of a new award Raffles Institution (RI) introduced to honour alumni who have contributed to Singapore in exceptional ways.

Speaking to the 800 alumni and guests at the Gryphon Award gala dinner last night, Mr Lee said he sees himself as ‘a fortunate product of the RI system’ and its meritocratic tradition.

That belief in meritocracy, formed at RI, has been important in the way he subsequently governed Singapore, Mr Lee said. ‘I’m not interested in who your father or mother is, or what station in life (you’re at), what religion, what language. How do you perform? What is your character?’ he said.

He cautioned that graduating from a top school does not guarantee success in life, not in Singapore.

Britain until shortly after the war, he said, was such that going to a top school meant an assured position in life. ‘Your network of friends are those in the upper strata and they will be able to help you advance your career,’ he said. But he decided that ‘that system was inimical to the maximum use of brainpower of the people’.

The RI of today has an extraordinary, bright group of students but ‘they lack the diversity of the old RI that I had’, Mr Lee said. Sixty per cent of its students have fathers and mothers who are both graduates and there are few from the minority races.

He called for others who have come after him ‘to uphold the fine traditions of meritocracy not only in their school lives, but in whatever fields of endeavour they subsequently find themselves pursuing’.

Last night’s gala dinner also sought to raise donations for RI’s 1823 Fund set up last year to fund scholarships for needy students, student-run community projects, science research labs, sporting programmes and teacher training.

Singapore must develop a culture where alumni owe their alma mater an obligation to fund and improve it, thereby adding lustre to their own status as alumni, Mr Lee said. Local schools and tertiary institutions can learn from their American counterparts’ strengths in co-opting alumni support and forging identity, he added.

By the end of the night, a total of $10 million was raised. Top donors included Peter Lim, the Lee Foundation, Oei Hong Leong and MM Lee himself.

See also Channel News Asia report: Singapore must preserve meritocracy in govt schools –


Written by singapore 2025

14/01/2011 at 7:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

NTUC 50th Anniversary Celebrations

I happened to be at the Singapore Management University library last Friday evening, only to be interrupted by a rather distracting noise coming from some event outside the library. I got out of the library and noticed a gathering of about, I don’t know, maybe 200-250 people listening to a man on the stage, who I later learnt was John de Pavya, the President of the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC). I made my way into the crowd and listened to him, but could not help but to notice one or two characters around me whose sole purpose appeared to be to get others to clap their hands! Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, ‘Brother’ Lim Swee Say came on stage next delivered a short speech, and was later joined in later by his “tripartite partners” – i.e. Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong and Minister of State Lee Yi Shan.

But what hit me was the relatively rather small size of this gathering, especially considering the momentousness of this event – the 50th year anniversary of Singapore’s largest trade union – which has 60 affiliated unions under its charge. Separately, with the NTUC picking up the sceptre of ensuring every Singaporean benefits from economic growth, I found the crowd size abjectly underwhelming. But what I thought equally curious was how Channel News Asia put a figure on the number of people who will attend the NTUC 50 Rally later this year (date unknown).

“As part of the anniversary celebrations, a series of signature events has been planned. The events include a book launch and the NTUC 50 Rally that will take place in May.

The NTUC 50 Rally will be graced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and is expected to attract some 8,500 participants this year.”

Source: Labour movement kicks off 50th anniversary celebrations:

The celebrations did feel rather contrived. Apart from the dancing lights on the NTUC building across the road, and the 50 taxis parked outside the SMU library that blared their horns as the crowd made its way to the NTUC building at Bras Basah after the event, I just felt our unions could do so much more to represent the real interests of our workers. The skeptic in me couldn’t help but to think the fireworks and light show seemed to represent a metaphor for distraction more than anything. And I thought the event could have been carried out a little further away from the library!

Written by singapore 2025

12/01/2011 at 6:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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