5 March 2002
I have read the speech that was delivered by Dr Chee Soon Juan, on Feb 15 2002, in support of a Singaporean’s right to wear a tudung. In his speech Dr Chee Soon Juan says, “For almost 40 years, we have allowed Sikh boys to wear turbans.”
Let me give the background of this custom:
Guru Nanak founded the Sikh religion in Punjab, India in the 15th century. He preached a message of love and understanding and criticized the blind rituals of the Hindus and Muslims. The Sikhs lived in relative peace with the political rulers until the time of the Moghal Emperor, Aurangzeb, who used force to make his subjects accept Islam. Aurangzeb had the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur, arrested and executed in 1675. The tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, recreated the Sikhs as a military group of men and women called the Khalsa in 1699, with the intention that the Sikhs should for ever be able to defend their faith.
Gobind Singh established the Sikh rite of initiation and the 5 Ks, which give Sikhs their unique appearance. The Khalsa uphold the highest Sikh virtues of commitment, dedication and a social conscious. The Khalsa are men and women who have undergone the Sikh baptism ceremony and who strictly follow the Sikh Code of Conduct and Conventions and wear the prescribed physical articles of the faith. One of the more noticeable being the uncut hair (required to be covered with a turban for men). The wearing of turbans by Sikhs was the outcome of the tyranny of Aurangzeb. The Sikh wanted to stand up and oppose tyranny.
There is worldwide acceptance of Sikh’s wearing turban , and as Dr. Chee says Singapore has allowed this practice for 40 years. To equate this practice with allowing Muslim girl students of Singapore, to wear tudung at the present juncture, is not correct. This issue has been brought up now to cause mischief. I do not agree that wearing this head dress will promote better inter-religious understanding. The school uniform is to bring uniformity among the students; no one should be made to stand out by wearing something different, whether a designer watch, jewelry, or a tudung.
If Singapore Government gave in the next demand would be the segregation of sexes in schools as is the practice in Islamic countries. The Singapore Government has done the right thing by nipping this issue in the bud.
SDP: The SDP is not comparing the relative importance of the turban or the tudung. We respect the right of Sikhs to don the turban as they are doing now and would fight just as hard if the Government decided to ban Sikh boys from wearing the turban to school.
The only reason why the turban issue was raised was to counter the PAP’s argument that the wearing of a form of religious wear would cause social division. The obvious answer is that it does not and that is why there should be no fear of the tudung causing racial disharmony.
Whether the tudung to the Muslim is as important as the turban to the Sikh is not for the SDP, nor Mr Bose, to say. Furthermore, for him to allege that the tudung issue “has been brought up now to cause mischief” is a serious charge that needs substantiating.
What the SDP is concerned about is that if the wearing of the tudung does not infringe upon the rights of non-Muslims (and it doesn’t) and if it doesn’t cost the Government anything (and it doesn’t), then the Government must respect their rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Mr Bose gives the example that if the Government allows Muslim schoolgirls to wear the tudung, then that would open the floodgates for other, even unreasonable, demands. Ironically the SDP brought up the point about Sikh wearing turbans, which has been the practice for decades, to show that this has not led to other religions asserting their own demands.
Mr Bose brings up the example about Muslims wanting to segregate sexes in school. If this question did in fact arise, the SDP would not support it because this would mean building separate facilities, or even separate schools, that would cost public money. It would not be a reasonable demand. Besides, there are already all-boys and all-girls schools that parents can send their children to if they don’t want co-ed schools.
The SDP believes that based on the principles of freedom and democracy, the donning of tudung should be left to the parents of the girls to decide. The PAP Government has no right to ban the girls from school and coerce the parents to conform to its idiosyncratic decisions. This is precisely why we have a constitution in the first place.