A little background information for those not familiar with Singapore's recent history. The nation seceded from the Malaysian federation in 1965 and formed the independent Republic of Singapore. The population is majority Chinese (75%) but it contains significant Malay (14%), and Tamil (9%) minorities. The nation, by virtue of its strategic location as a port, is a melting pot of various cultures and religions.
Singapore in 1960
Successive governments have worked hard to maintain racial and ethnic harmony (always having to keep a wary eye on events in Malaysia which may have local consequences especially for the Singaporean Malay population). It is in that context that the government implemented a conscription policy. Although unique to Singapore's social conditions, the Enistment Act is modelled on the Swiss and Israeli draft / reservist systems.
Former Singapore Prime Minister (1990 - 2004) and current Senior Minister Mr. Goh Chok Tong. Mr. Goh had the unenviable task of filling the shoes of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of modern Singapore, as Prime Minister
Singapore's National Service (NS) requirement is a vital pillar of the nation's integration and defense policy. For a 'Red Dot' with a small population of approx. five million, the conscription system also provides the resources necessary to create and maintain an adequately manned army.
NS is a great leveller. Putting all young Singaporean males through a disciplined military training system for two years at age 18 helps break down social barriers and creates a 'Singaporean Consciousness.'
Singapore is today the fifth wealthiest nation in the world based on GDP per capita (purchasing power parity basis)
It rises above socioeconomic differences and reminds all participants of the basic essence and constitution of a human being. Sons of wealthy businessmen are trained, eat and sleep alongside the sons of those less fortunate.
To be sure, NS is not a panacea that will suddenly remove all social differences among diverse sections of a society. But it does reinforce the notion that dissimilar cultural and ethnic groups have a stake in the stability of their own society and must work together to maintain a cohesive social environment.
Thus, when a full time National Serviceman suggests that military food is unfit for a Brahmin priest to eat, the implications of making any concessions are serious. As for cutting hair, short hair is not a permanent condition and it will grow again after the soldier returns to the temple.
The military's resolve to maintain organizational discipline and unity by penalizing Private Madana Mohan Das for not complying with the lawful orders of a superior officer are to be applauded. It sends the right signal to all segments of society, including other NS men. It informs all and sundry that the creed of equality is sacred and will not be sacrificed for short term expediencies.
Most religious codes are practical and generally allow for deviations from the norm in extraordinary circumstances. Training and preparation for war is no ordinary feat. It is unlikely that temple cooked rations will be available to any private (or officer) on a battlefield.
It will make a travesty of the NS system if concessions are granted to individuals on the basis of their social status within a particular group.
A well implemented military enlistment program is an important tool in constructing a harmonious multicultural society in any post colonial nation and Singapore is no exception.