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SOP shouldn’t eclipse lunar new year

It is incumbent upon politicians operating in a multicultural society to be sensitive to cultures other than their own


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The standard operating procedures under the movement control order has in many ways regulated our way of life ever since the coronavirus reached our shores a year ago.

Most Malaysians strictly observe these restrictions as they believe the rules are meant to curb the pandemic and save lives. This is apart from the fear of having to pay the prohibitive fines if found flouting the restrictions.

However, when restrictions, particularly the ones drafted as a guideline for Chinese New Year celebrations [before they were relaxed], instead became a fertile material for jokes by cynical social media users, you’d realise that there’s something amiss with the measures.

Such a crucial guideline cannot afford to be laughable. Nor should the drafters make themselves open to ridicule in order to gain public trust and confidence.

This is especially so when initially defending the measures that received public flak, senior minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob insisted the standard operating procedures were the outcome of an engagement with Chinese religious and cultural groups to seek their opinions.

It was rather odd, though, that the procedures targeted initially 12-13 February, leaving out the reunion dinner on 11 February, which is a very important part of the celebration. So, did the Chinese reference groups blundered big time by overlooking the vital reunion dinner?

It looks like this question should not have arisen at all if we were to believe the denial of the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Huazong), representing 21 religious and cultural groups, that they were not consulted for the restrictions. Other Chinese groups, who attended a meeting or two, contended that their demands were not reflected in the standard operating procedure.

READ MORE:  Multicultural narratives from oral history accounts

In a move that can only be described as a U-turn, the government has since amended the restrictions to allow not more than 15 persons from within the same district to attend the reunion dinner. The restriction on prayers at temples has also been relaxed, with the necessary standard operating procedure to be adhered to.

It must have been a big relief for family members after initially being told that the reunion dinner could only be participated by members of the same household living together. For, if the original ruling was maintained, a “reunion dinner” among members of the same household would surely have felt like an ordinary dinner attended by the same people who had been eating together all this while. 

In the midst of anxiety, confusion and displeasure, comparisons, however, had been made with other festivities, namely last year’s Hari Raya Aidilfitri when visitations, with adherence to standard operating procedure, were permitted on the first day – hence, insinuating double standards. 

To be sure, inter-district travel and interstate travel are prohibited under the current movement control order.

Meanwhile, jokes on the original standard operating procedure made their rounds on social media. One said that family members shouldn’t despair as they could still have the reunion dinner at night markets instead, where restrictions had been eased recently.

Another cheekily suggested turning homes into hair salons – which had been allowed to operate recently – to allow people to visit for the occasion.

While it’s expected that opposition politicians would release their salvos over this matter, it’s rather intriguing that even Deputy National Unity Minister Ti Lian Ker joined the chorus of protests and urged an immediate review of the standard operating procedure. This reflects the gravity of the matter.

READ MORE:  Multicultural narratives from oral history accounts

The humorous responses aside, the questionable restrictions indicated that, among other things, it is incumbent upon at least politicians operating in a multicultural society to generally know and be sensitive to cultures other than their own. 

It is hoped that the new lunar year would usher in happiness, prosperity – and good judgement. – The Malaysian Insight

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