Thaipusam incidents (2015 & 2018)

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Two separate incidents involving Thaipusam celebrations occurred in 2015 and 2018. In 2015, a scuffle broke out between three Singaporean men of Indian ethnicity and the police officers deployed to the area during the annual Thaipusam procession. In 2018, a conflict arose when a HEB official and police officer engaged a group of devotees on two separate occasions during the procession.


Thaipusam is a Hindu festival held annually in the Hindu month of ‘Thai’, on the day of the full moon. It is the Hindu equivalent of Thanksgiving, where thousands of Hindu devotees walk 4 kilometres from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple (SSPT) to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple (STT) to fulfil their vows.[1] The Thaipusam festival and procession in Singapore is organised by the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB).[2]

Thaipusam rulings in Singapore[edit | edit source]

Since 1973, the playing of drums during Thaipusam was banned. The ruling was a reaction to the events that transpired during the 1973 Thaipusam festival, where a fight broke out and disrupted the entire procession.[3]


However, the ruling was altered in 2011 to allow devotees to sing religious hymns along the procession, as long as no sound amplification devices are utilised. In 2012, music was allowed to be broadcasted at certain transmission points along the procession route.[4] The number of transmission points have increased over the years, from 2 spots in 2012 to 35 spots in 2019. The 2019 Thaipusam festival marked the first time percussion instruments were allowed to be played by friends, relatives and professional religious singers accompanying the devotees since 1973.[5]

Details of incident (2015)[edit | edit source]

On 3 February 2015, a scuffle broke out between three Singaporean men of Indian ethnicity and the police officers deployed to the area during the annual Thaipusam procession that was happening on Desker Road. The commotion broke out due to the fact that there was a group of Thaipusam drummers playing at the junction of Serangoon Road and Desker Road, which was not permitted by the law.[6] Thaipusam organisers from HEB appealed to a group of drummers to refrain from drumming citing that the location was not one of the permitted transmission points, thus playing music there during Thaipusam violated the conditions of the police permit for the event.[7] However, the group ignored the requests from the HEB organisers and continued to drum. This led to Singapore Police Force being alerted, and police officers arrived in the area shortly after.


Two men, by the names of Ramachandra Chandramohan and Gunasegaran Rajendran, shouted at the police officers who were dispatched to the scene. This reaction was in response to the officers' assertions that the troupe should cease their musical activities. The two men had hired the troupe to support Rajendran’s elder brother, who was kavadi bearer in the procession. A kavadi is a heavy structure made of steel and wood. When police officers attempted to arrest them, they started to display violent behaviour. Ramachandra punched an officer on the lower jaw while the officer was arresting Gunasegaran.[8] In the vehicle, Ramachandra allegedly kicked and verbally abused the police officers


Additionally, another devotee present at the scene by the name of Jayakumar Krishnasamy attempted to stop the police officers from bringing Ramachandra and Gunasegaran into the police car using force. He was also arrested. All three men who were involved in the incident were in their thirties, and were charged in court on 7 February 2015.

Responses (2015)[edit | edit source]

Singapore Police Force[edit | edit source]

On 4 February 2015, Singapore Police Force (SPF) issued an official statement regarding the incident on their Facebook page.[9] In their post, SPF stated that all three men had been arrested, and were believed to have been intoxicated. The police officer who had been assaulted and injured was sent to Tan Tock Seng Hospital. SPF reasserted that "... the prohibition of musical instruments during processions is not a new requirement and has already been in place since 1973. Police have disallowed the use of music during procession to deter public disorder which may be caused by rivalries between groups and to minimize the impact of the procession along the procession route." The post ends with an appeal for eyewitnesses.


On the same day, SPF received a report from a female of Indian ethnicity, claiming  that she had been assaulted by the police officers during the conflict. She was allegedly the wife of one of the men charged.[10]

Netizens[edit | edit source]

A video recording (Youtube video) of the scuffle circulated online, and incited online debate about the banning of musical instruments being played at Thaipusam. Netizens disputed that since lion dances during Lunar New Year and traditional music at Malay Weddings were allowed in public, live music during the Thaipusam procession should not be banned.

Politicians[edit | edit source]

Law Minister K Shanmugam also commented on the issue in a personal Facebook post, where he answered some questions netizens had with regards to the Thaipusam festival and the ruling against live music being played during the procession.[11] The last section of his post addressed the assault against the police officers on 3 February 2015. He explained that it is "quite unacceptable" for policemen to be ill-treated, especially since "our police officers protect all of us". He also asserted that the police officers on the ground during the incident were "trying to do their job".


On 5 February 2015, Second Home Affairs Minister S. Iswaran also responded to Singaporean journalists in Madrid with regards to the incident. Mr Iswaran was on an official visit with Prime Minsiter Lee Hsien Loong to Spain.[12] He asserted that the Government understands and acknowledges the importance of Thaipusam to Singapore's Hindu community. Mr Iswaran highlighted that "special concessions" have been given to Thaipusam celebrations in Singapore. Since the 1964 racial riots, the Singapore government enacted a law banning religious foot processions. However, this ban did not include the Thaipusam procession. Considering the large scale of the Thaipusam procession, regulations on musical instruments are essential to ensure the event is safe and not disruptive. He appealed to Singaporeans to have "mutual understanding and respect" for the various racial and religious practices, as well as to internalise the need to "preserve safety and law and order".

Further developments (2015)[edit | edit source]

Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) statement[edit | edit source]

In lieu of the incident, HEB also issued a statement including three recommendations for the Government to consider. These recommendations include the improvement of the flow and movement of devotees, ensuring that alcohol is not available for consumption and introducing more music along the route.[13]


According to the statement by HEB, the Government has agreed to most of the recommendations and made the following key adjustments:

  • Allowing the last kavadi to leave the Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple at 7.00pm
  • Stepping up enforcement against alcohol sale and consumption along the route
  • Providing for 7 additional music points, comprising 4 music transmission points and 3 “live” music instrument points for certified musicians to provide religious music for devotees

Court hearing[edit | edit source]

On 2 February 2018, Ramachandra Chandramohan, Gunasegaran Rajendran and Jaya Kumar Krishnasamy were declared to be guilty of disorderly behaviour and other charges.[14] Ramachandra was convicted with 7 charges, Jayakumar with 3 charges and Gunasegaran with 2 charges.


Ramachandra and Gunasegaran presented the case that the police officers involved had manhandled them and treated them rudely and roughly. After reviewing the evidence presented, the judge presiding over the hearing ruled that the police officers were tasked to maintain public order. Therefore, they had to carry out their duty with authority.


Ramachandra was sentenced to jail for a total of one year, four weeks and five days. His initial sentence was to serve a jail term of one year and one week, along with a SGD$8,000 fine. However, his sentence was extended since he refused to pay the fine. Gunasegaran and Jayakumar were fined SGD$8,000 and SGD$8,500 respectively.

Details of incident (2018)[edit | edit source]

On 31 January 2018, a conflict arose when a HEB official and police officer requested a group of devotees to stop playing their musical instruments and music on loudspeakers. The authority figures engaged the devotees on two occasions during the procession.[15]


On the first occasion, the devotees were unhappy when requested to stop playing music by the HEB official. They disputed that they were not playing musical instruments, and merely singing devotional songs to support the kavadi bearer. However, they eventually gave in to the request made by the HEB official and continued with the procession. Later on in the procession, the same group of devotees was observed to have been using amplification devices to boost the volume of their singing. The HEB officials and police officers then engaged the group a second time, and recommended them to lower the volume of their procession. This occurred at 4.30 am at Selegie Road.

Responses (2018)[16][edit | edit source]

On 5 February 2018, a devotee from the group, Pradeep Thana, took to Facebook to voice his unhappiness with regards to the events that had transpired on 31 January 3018.[17] In his post, he claimed that the HEB official and police officer had taken video recordings of everyone in the group, and tailed them for "a good 30 minutes". Thana mentioned that the surveillance distressed the devotees and kavadi bearer, to the extent that the mood was "completely ruined". Other netizens commented on the post, and criticised the HEB official and police officer for causing distress. The Facebook post has since been taken down.

Singapore Police Force (SPF)[edit | edit source]

On 7 February 2018, SPF released their official statement on the matter through a Facebook post.[18] In the post, SPF addressed the allegations made by Pradeep Thana. SPF disputed the claim that the group "filmed and followed for 30 minutes". According to SPF, the police officers and HEB officials involved engaged the groups for "no longer than 10 minutes" on both occasions. They also clarified that both engagements were filmed as recorded evidence, which was in the best interests of both SPF and the devotees. SPF also reasserted the fact that the playing of music using portable loudspeakers was prohibited unless at the transmission spots regulated by the Government.

Hindu Endowments Board (HEB)[edit | edit source]

On 6 February 2018, HEB chief executive Raja Segar apologised to Pradeep Thana for the distress caused to his group in a Facebook reply.


On 9 February 2018, HEB released a statement stating that both parties of the conflict had met on 8 February 2018 and "shared their respective viewpoints".[19] The meeting ended amicably, with the result being that the conflict had occurred due to a miscommunication.

References / Citations[edit | edit source]

  1. Thaipusam.sg. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from: http://thaipusam.sg/
  2. Hindu Endowments Board. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://heb.org.sg/about-us.aspx
  3. Zaccheus, Melody. “Live music at Thaipusam after 42 years”. The Straits Times. January 18, 2016. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/live-music-at-thaipusam-after-42-years
  4. “Police issue clarification on dispute over music at Thaipusam”. Channel NewsAsia. February 8, 2018. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/thaipusam-music-dispute-police-issue-clarification-9938138
  5. Begum, Shabana. “Devotees cheer new rules that allow more music during Thaipusam procession”. The Straits Times. January 21, 2019. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/devotees-cheer-new-rules-that-allow-more-music-during-thaipusam-procession
  6. Lim, Yi Han. Cheong, Danson. “Police arrest three for scuffle during Thaipusam procession on Feb 3”. The Straits Times. February 4, 2015. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/police-arrest-three-for-scuffle-during-thaipusam-procession-on-feb-3
  7. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from Singapore Police Force’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/singaporepoliceforce/posts/police-arrest-three-at-thaipusam-processionduring-the-thaipusam-procession-on-3-/10153644774559408/
  8. Chong, Elena. “3 men found guilty of charges arising from scuffle with cops during 2015 Thaipusam procession”. The Straits Times. February 2, 2018. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/three-found-guilty-of-charges-arising-from-scuffle-during-2015-thaipusam
  9. February 4, 2019. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from Singapore Police Force's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/singaporepoliceforce/posts/police-arrest-three-at-thaipusam-processionduring-the-thaipusam-procession-on-3-/10153644774559408/
  10. “Wife of man charged over Thaipusam scuffle claims she was assaulted by police”. The Straits Times. February 8, 2015. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/wife-of-man-charged-over-thaipusam-scuffle-claims-she-was-assaulted-by-police
  11. February 5, 2015. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from K Shanmugam Sc’s Facebook Profile: https://www.facebook.com/notes/k-shanmugam-sc/thaipusam-lion-dances-kompangs-discrimination-against-hindus/829552680424597/
  12. Hussain, Zakir. “Street procession rules, including music ban, help keep events safe and peaceful: S. Iswaran”. The Straits Times. February 5, 2015. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/street-procession-rules-including-music-ban-help-keep-events-safe-and-peaceful-s-iswaran
  13. "HEB completes feedback exercise on Thaipusam 2016". Sri Sivan Temple. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from: http://sst.org.sg/HEB/ReadMore/heb-completes-feedback-excercise-on-thaipusam-2016
  14. Chong, Elena. “3 men found guilty of charges arising from scuffle with cops during 2015 Thaipusam procession”. The Straits Times. February 2, 2018. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/three-found-guilty-of-charges-arising-from-scuffle-during-2015-thaipusam
  15. Tee, Cheryl. “Police clarify claims in Facebook post on Thaipusam procession incident”. The Straits Times. February 8, 2018. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/police-clarifies-claims-in-facebook-post-on-thaipusam-procession-incident
  16. Tee, Cheryl. “Police clarify claims in Facebook post on Thaipusam procession incident”. The Straits Times. February 8, 2018. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/police-clarifies-claims-in-facebook-post-on-thaipusam-procession-incident
  17. Joelynn. “Police Say Laws Were Broken In Thaipusam Incident, But Officers Remained Accomodative”. MustShareNews. February 8, 2018. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://mustsharenews.com/police-thaipusam/
  18. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from Singapore Police Force’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/singaporepoliceforce/posts/10157168070939408
  19. Charles, Raffaella Nathan. “Hindu Endowments Board says Thaipusam incident resolved "amicably"”. The Straits Times. February 10, 2018. Accessed on 25 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/hindu-endowments-board-says-thaipusam-incident-resolved-amicably