Malaysians – and people the world over – have generally accepted as a new way of life the so-called new normal that is brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
It basically means that under the present circumstances, certain things have to be done in a different way, such as going to the shops wearing a mask and regularly sanitising one’s hands, while other things may not be done at all, such as going to concerts or even making the polite gesture of shaking hands.
However, Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor appears to have taken the concept of new normal to the next level, much to the chagrin of many people, particularly Hindus. He has cancelled the “cuti peristiwa” or special holiday, which is normally assigned to Thaipusam in the state. His line of argument is that Thaipusam should not be made a public holiday now that Kedah has been declared a state under another movement control order that prohibits large gatherings.
Rained by criticisms, Sanusi urged his detractors, including MIC deputy president M Saravanan and former Umno president Najib Razak, to ask Putrajaya instead to declare Thaipusam a public holiday nationwide. Kedah, he said, had already made its decision known, ie to cancel the holiday.
For the uninitiated, Thaipusam is celebrated by Tamil Hindus. The religious celebrations are normally held on a grand scale at the Batu Caves’ Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple near Kuala Lumpur, the Balathandayuthapani Temple or Waterfall Hill Temple in Penang, the Sri Subramaniya Swamy Temple in Sungai Petani in Kedah and the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple in Ipoh, Perak.
To be sure, cancelling the Thaipusam holiday now is like doing away with the Hari Raya Idilfitri or Christmas holidays just because the people concerned are forbidden to celebrate in large gatherings following the implementation of standard operating procedures.
Contrary to what Sanusi contends, cancelling the Thaipusam holiday is indeed a denial of the rights of the Hindus to even celebrate at home with co-religionists on a smaller scale while observing social distancing at the same time.
Besides, maintaining Thaipusam’s status as a public holiday in Kedah would be to uphold its official recognition by the state, which would go a long way towards celebrating our cultural diversity.
A political leader cannot afford to have a tunnel vision to the effect that he or she is less sensitive to the needs and rights of those outside his or her tribe. This attitude obviously does not foster good ethnic and religious relations in multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia.
Equally serious, it is feared that such a parochial mindset among leaders could fuel religious extremism, which would further polarise our nation. It is a painful irony when followers of religions do not act as bridge-builders.
Given the serious repercussions of Sanusi’s action, it is hoped that the bigwigs in his Islamist Pas party would rein him in to prevent further fallout. It would be disappointing if the party top leaders choose to look the other way, as surely Islam does not condone such arrogance among its adherents. It would be, of course, most disturbing if Sanusi’s action is indicative of his party’s ideological bent.
We can only hope that common sense will eventually prevail at the top level of the leadership in Kedah. – The Malaysian Insight