While the Singapore Government has maintained that the Hindu religious festival Thaipusam will never be a holiday here, the state of Kedah in Malaysia has declared Thaipusam a holiday.
The voters in the state of Kedah switched from being led by the opposition, Pakatan Rakyat, to Barisan Nasional in 2013. One of the reasons for opposition party being booted out of power in that Malaysian state was because they failed to keep a promise made in 2008 to the Hindu voters there, and the current Government promised to make it happen.
That promise was to make Thaipusam a public holiday.
Indians make up just 6.7 percent of the population in Kedah, but in the race-based politics of that country, they may have emerged as the kingmakers.
The new Government of Kedah partially kept its promise by declaring Thaipusam a special holiday 3 years in a row. According to this occasional holiday, civil servants get a day-off, but the holiday does not necessarily apply to workers in the private sector.
Despite this, calls have gone out from the Hindu community there, asking that Government to keep its promise and gazette Thaipusam as a public holiday.
Thaipusam is a public holiday in seven other Malaysian states and federal territories.
The Hindu religious festival was a public holiday here in Singapore once upon a time, but the Government of Singapore, after consulting with the various religious organisations here, decided that Hindus will enjoy two public holidays – Vesak Day and Deepavali.
Calls have gone out from some in the Hindu community to make Thaipusam a public holiday in Singapore, but the Government has resisted making amends to the gazette of public holidays here.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, had said in Parliament in 2012 that gazetting Thaipusam as another public holiday will raise business costs and affect Singapore’s economic competitiveness.
After some misgivings about how the Hindu festival is organised here, the Hindu Endowment Board of Singapore made some concessions to the devotees here. Playing of musical instruments with some restrictions are now permitted at the kavadi carrying festival.
Despite such concessions, calls to make Thaipusam a public holiday here have not abated.
The colourful festival of Thaipusam, where devotees pierce themselves with skewers and carry pots of milk to show their devotion to the Hindu god Murugan, falls on 24 January this year.
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