Channel NewsAsia - Sunday, July 26SINGAPORE: A full—time National Serviceman was summarily tried on Friday under the Singapore Armed Forces Act for conduct prejudicial to good discipline. He was sentenced to five days’ detention at the SAF Detention Barracks.
Private Madana Mohan Das, a trainee driver, was charged with misconduct because he did not comply "with his superior’s lawful orders to cut his hair in conformance to SAF’s requirements and for refusal to consume food provided by the SAF", said Colonel Darius Lim, director of public affairs at the Ministry of Defence.
The sentence was backdated to Monday, when Pte Madana was put under close arrest. He has since complied with the requirements and was released from detention on Friday afternoon and returned to his unit.
Before being charged, he was given "ample opportunities" to cut his hair and to eat the food provided by the SAF, and his "repeated acts of misconduct" were "undermining discipline in the SAF", said Col Lim in reply to media queries.
"All SAF servicemen are to abide by SAF rules and regulations on military turnout and bearing, military discipline and lawfully given orders. Pte Madana was treated in the same way as any other SAF serviceman," he said.
"The SAF cannot allow deviations from its rules and regulations for any serviceman as this will weaken military discipline, which could compromise the SAF’s operational effectiveness and the safety of SAF servicemen. Disciplinary action will be taken against any serviceman who refuses to comply with the SAF’s rules and regulations."
TODAY has learnt, though, that during his Basic Military Training in December, Pte Madana’s unit accommodated his requests to keep his tuft of long hair, which he wanted to maintain because he was a Brahmin priest at a temple here. The unit also allowed his request to have home—cooked food to be delivered to him daily.
But these "accommodations were a mistake due to a lapse of judgment by his previous unit", Col Lim told TODAY, and when Pte Madana was posted to the SAF Transport Hub in March, this was explained to him.
His and his father’s appeals were rejected and the NSF was ordered to conform to SAF regulations, which he did not, added Col Lim.
TODAY understands he brought in food from the temple when he booked out on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and on weekends, since he did not consume SAF food.
Singapore Brahmin Association president G Srinivasan told TODAY that Brahmin priests ordinarily eat only food cooked from their temple, "prepared according to tradition and with prayers".
But while he was "a bit" concerned to hear about Pte Madana’s case, he said that if this food is not available, "then food from outside is permissible as long as it is vegetarian from an acceptable source, like a vegetarian restaurant, house or temple".
He also said that while it would have been good if Pte Madana could have kept his hair, known as a sikha, the NSF would have to "follow the rule of the land" if there are no provisions for this.
Asked why exceptions are made for Sikhs serving NS, Col Lim said: "Sikhs serving in the SAF are allowed to wear turbans only because this is a carry—over from the past.
"This is a long—established practice going back decades to colonial times. We cannot allow further exceptions to be made today for other servicemen. Allowing further exceptions would undermine what we have achieved so far to make sure that our rules, regulations and standards are fair to all.
"This will be detrimental to not only the security needs of the nation, but will also weaken the strong national identity that NS forges amongst its servicemen." — TODAY