Friday, January 23, 2009

Their People, Our People

Just to share with you who don't get to read the Sun, one of the more independent rags in Malaysia.


Closeted Minds Need Heavy-Duty Cleansers

Then, the Sepang councillor noted that all the speakers were from satu kaum. Like other speakers, we were there not because of the colour of our skin, but because we wanted to share our knowledge and expertise with councillors, which will then help them make educated decisions in the course of carrying out their responsibilities.


ARE we ready for a truly multi-racial Malaysia? Can we hold a decent conversation without bringing race into the issue? Can we talk to each other without looking at skin colour? Can we address issues, collectively as Malaysians instead of looking at ourselves in our ethnic background? Is the Pakatan Rakyat’s promise of a Bangsa Malaysia for real or is it political hogwash? Are politicians hiding behind a facade of unity only to throw the race card when it suits them?

Within a few seconds yesterday, the answers hit me in the face like Muhammad Ali’s killer punch. They came unexpectedly. No, we are light years away from becoming a truly united, multiracial society where we call ourselves Malaysians. I came face-to-face with a racist zealot whose eyes were blinkered and his mind closeted by his own views and perception. As much as you have a right to disagree with my opinion, he too has. I too have a right to disagree with his reasoning, but when all semblance of common sense, reasonableness and decency were thrown out the window, we can only hope and pray he is only one of the 264 councillors in Selangor with such a mindset.

Last week, I received an email from Maria Chin in her capacity as the chair of the Coalition on Good Governance and the executive director of Empower (an NGO working on women and human rights) to address a meeting of members of local councils in Selangor. I agreed. Yesterday, when I entered the hall,
Petaling Jaya councillor Derek Fernandez who specialises in planning law was already speaking in English. There were questions in Bahasa Malaysia and he replied them in Bahasa and I told myself that I too would do the same.

I had concluded my 20-minute presentation followed by a question-and-answer session. Towards the tail end, a PAS councillor from Sepang posed questions. Since it was a state government function, he asked, shouldn’t I be speaking in Bahasa Malaysia? Despite having been invited by an NGO, I had no qualms with that. Had I been told not to speak in English, I could have handled that because although my Bahasa Malaysia is not polished, I could hold court. In school, during Bulan Bahasa Kebangsaan, I had won prizes for bahas (debate) and sharahan (oratory). Besides, I did spend time in the Asrama Putra in the school compound. Besides, as a sports stringer for The Malay Mail, I also wrote for Berita Harian for extra money.

Then, the Sepang councillor noted that all the speakers were from satu kaum. Like other speakers, we were there not because of the colour of our skin, but because we wanted to share our knowledge and expertise with councillors, which will then help them make educated decisions in the course of carrying out their responsibilities.

At the outset, let me declare that I was outspoken – I criticised exco member in Selangor in charge of local government, Ronnie Liu; I had suggested that councils be run as companies listed on the First Board, noting their turnover and even went as far as to suggest the pen-pushing civil servants who act as heads be replaced by people from the corporate sector.

My daughters went to school in baju kurung and I wear a songkok when invited to the palace, and have told friends and detractors that doing so does not make me and my family less ethnic Ceylon-Tamil, but it does make us more Malaysian. I don’t categorise friends by their faith or race, and I have always advocated being a true Malaysian. I have never addressed issues from any narrow perspective. If there’re personal interests, I’ve always declared them upfront.

The councillor also said that I was critical of people from satu kaum or words to that effect, by which time I had lost it! I replied him in Bahasa Malaysia and when addressing his second question, I lost it and make no apologies for it. I choked as I tried to explain that after 51 years of independence, we still look at race and religion. I covered my face to hide the tears… Many in the audience stood up to offer their support and gave me an ovation as I walked off the stage. Liu offered some words of comfort and so did the organisers and other councillors who were flabbergasted by this man’s conduct. He was no different from former Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohd Khir Toyo, who last year remarked that I only write about "Umno people occupying playgrounds" and not "Indian people building temples on state land".

Much later, many rang to apologise for one man’s conduct. No apologies needed, I said. I feel sorry for the majority in this country especially the people of Sepang, who indirectly, are "governed" by people of such outlook and state of mind. I am no politician and have no such ambitions, but after yesterday, I would not dismiss attempts to introduce Hudud laws as pure rhetoric. It’s for real, especially when having lawmakers like him.

R. Nadeswaran says that as sad as it may sound, reality sometimes hits you when you least expect it and asks if race and religious based parties should be banned? He is editor (special and investigative reporting) at theSun. Comment: citizen-nades@thesundaily.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .



Is racism really so deeply ingrained in our society that we can't see anything without coloured lenses? Are true colourblind Malaysians really so hard to come across?

Racism is so prevalent in our country, we're even racist about our own race. How many times I've heard Indians referring to Indians they don't like as "typical Indians!" Or Chinese referring to other Chinese and "typical Chinaman!" I've also heard Malays deride other Malays as "typical kampung types!"

Hey, how about we be colourblind about it and just call such people "typical @$$holes?"

Even among people who support the movement for change in Malaysia, I notice that many slip easily into racist thinking. These guys would declare that they are all for a better Malaysia, where EVERYONE will be treated fairly and that there will be no racial discrimination. Then in the next breath, they so easily fall into judging whole groups of people based on a stereotype, or on certain organisations or personalities. It's THAT easy to slip, so much so that most times they don't even notice.

I've got friends who are very passionate about seeing change for the better in Malaysia, but when it comes to discussions about the state of govt in our country, I often hear statements such as "of course la, their people control everything, wat!" and such shit like that.

Come on la, what their people...our people?! Aren't we ONE PEOPLE? Aren't we ALL Malaysians? Aren't we struggling for good governance for all our saudara-saudari and anak-anak Malaysia? Is bad governance entirely the fault of their people? Is good governance ensured by making sure more of our people get into office?

Don't these people realise that the concept of "their people" and "our people" is as different as black and white, depending on who you're talking to?

As long as Malaysians of all colours are still stuck in the rut of classifying our fellow Malaysians as "their people" and "our people", we'll never have a ghost of a dream of becoming a united bangsa Malaysia.


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