January 28, 2018
Thaipusam–An Occasion to celebrate Our Diversity
by Emmanuel Joseph
For as long as Thaipusam has been celebrated in Malaysia on a large scale, it has been as much a community celebration as a religious observation.
The million devotees thronging Batu Caves, paying their homage to Lord Muruga, along with tourists and visitors who visit the many enterprising trade booths and stalls that pop up on cue – selling food and drinks, clothes, prayer items, household goods, video tapes, and for good measure, TV channels and radio.
Thaipusam and Batu Caves is no stranger to politics either. With the eyes of 1.8 million Hindu population on it, politicians from both sides would be eager to be seen being a significant part of it.
During the height of the Hindraf movement, a call to boycott Batu Caves by the Hindraf leaders saw the number of visitors dip to well below half the usual crowd. Even till today, the temple committee chairman is said to be in a legal argument with one of the five Hindraf leaders.
As with any religious celebration or any large gathering for that matter, the people converging on Batu Caves would of course cause some traffic issues with the road closures, diversions, increase in volume of vehicles and naturally, parking of those vehicles.
This has hardly been an issue in the last hundred years or so, but in a present day Malaysia where everything is racialised, politicised and radicalised, in either or both directions, it was a matter of time before Thaipusam joined the bandwagon of non-issues-overnight-turned-into-important-national-issues.
After all, some quarters had already questioned the large statue of Lord Murugan that was built. Even the good God’s image, now synonymous with Batu Caves, on mineral water bottle packaging was not spared the wrath of mortals, too.
And now similar quarters’ beef with the Hindus celebrating Thaipusam is the traffic jams it causes. But such arguments aren’t really a fair reasoning. Every religion in Malaysia have feasts, religious celebrations and observations from time to time.
We all have our famous pastors, preachers, healers, gurus and saints who visit us and cause similar road closures and inconveniences. Even some atheists with no such gods, do contribute to traffic jams in the form of IKEA launches, free Furby giveaways at McDonald’s, Michael Buble performances or whenever Shell decides to do a Lego promotion or Big Bad Wolf decides to do a book fair.
If traffic jams are that much of a bother to some, perhaps we should reconsider celebrating National Day or New Year or any one of the dozen or so events that occasionally leave clueless motorists circling KL looking for an alternative road to get to the office on a random Monday morning, wondering why there are barricades closing off Dataran Merdeka.
Traffic jams like those are actually productive in a way. They indicate some economic activity is happening at that locality and that money is changing hands. Ornsome buzz is being created, which is quite welcome when job markets are shrinking, salary scales narrowing and donations and handouts are scarce to come by, at least for the ordinary public.
But like everything else in Malaysia, not all traffic jams are created equal.Some traffic jams appear to create nothing but delayed arrivals, elevated blood pressure and lowered petrol meter readings.
While some appear to be unable to tolerate once-a-year events, Malaysians in general are highly tolerant of this urban ritual that tests our faith and patience every morning at Damansara, Jalan Duta, Bangsar, Subang, and almost every step of the way to KL after the Batu Tiga toll on the Federal Highway.
While some traffic jams should be tolerated out of respect for religious beliefs and in the spirit of living together as Malaysians, in that same spirit, perhaps it’s time to put a stop to tolerating traffic jams we do not have to. Malaysians should stop having to pay for the sins of those who do poor city and road planning.