A New Year Fast – Singaporean protests outside Malaysian High Commission

1 Jan

Malaysian Indians make up 14% of its juvenile delinquents, 20% of its wife and child beaters and 41% of its beggars. They also make up less than 5% of the successful university applicants.(The Economist, 22nd Feb 2003)

Despite the country’s veneer of racial harmony and opportunity for all, many in the Indian community have limited access to housing , education and jobs. About 54% of Malaysian Indians work on plantations , or as urban labourers and their wages have not kept up with the times.” –Santha Oorjitham (Asiaweek January 26, 2001).

Malaysia’s Indians are at the bottom of the country’s social and economic scale and their ebullient yet stubborn political leader Samy Vellu is not helping matters”. Simon Elegant (FEER April 20, 2000)

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Yesterday, a Singaporean arts and human rights activist, Seelan Palay, who was at the Hindraf Rally earlier on 25 November in Malaysia, decided he could not celebrate this new year, fully aware that 5 of the activists leader who have led the protests are now being detained by the Malaysian government under its draconian Internal Security Act (ISA).

Henceforth, he embarked on a 5 day no food, only water fast (starting on 31 December 2007) outside the Malaysian High Commission to take home his point – that detention without trial for these lawyers who were merely voicing the displeasures of the marginalized 8% of the ethnic minority Indians in Malaysia is unjust.

As we welcome the new year with well-wishes, family visits, parties and food, it is rare that a lone Singaporean has decided to engage on a courageous act. One can understand where he is coming from. After all, he was present at the Hindraf rally, and had witnessed the brutal clampdown on the ordinary folks who were there to demonstrate against a system that discriminates them in almost every facet of social and economic life. The demonstration was met with a harsher act of repression from the police that involves spraying tear gas and using chemicalized water cannons on peaceful protestors who just wanted and had tried for seven hours to fight for their right to hand over a letter of petition to the British High Commission.

An ethnic community, that according to C.S.Kupuswamy’s article, “Malaysian Indians – the Third Class Race” and paraphrased here,

despite the fact that Indians constitute about 8% of the country’s population of 22 million, they own less than 2% of its national wealth. He also quotes from various sources such as The Economist magazine, which noted in 2003, that Malaysian Indians make up 14% of its juvenile delinquents, 20% of its wife and child beaters and 41% of its beggars. They also constitute less than 5% of the successful university applicants. Simon Elegant of the Far Eastern Economic Review Magazine, three years earlier said, “Malaysia’s Indians are at the bottom of the country’s social and economic scale and their ebullient yet stubborn political leader Samy Vellu is not helping matters”.

When people power manifests, it has the magical effect of rubbing it onto those who were present. Perhaps that explains why Seelan is inspired to do what he believes in. In his statement for the fast, Seelan, asked the global community to put pressure on the Malaysian Government, to release 5 of the HINDRAF rally leaders and “to prove any allegations made against them in an Open Court process.” The ISA on the 5 detainees were also denounced by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch USA, the Federation of Human Rights Organizations of India (FHROI) and other regional NGOs.

You can also watch a compiled music video of the demonstration by Seelan. It shows jubilant Indian protestors walking and perhaps shouting empowering slogans publicly on the streets. In another shot, water rained down on the demonstrators as they protect their heads with nothing except their wet t-shirts. If you are careful enough, you will even see a shot of Seelan, himself, staring into the screen, his teary facial expression, indicating that as a videographer, he was not spared of the treatment.

Hours into the first day of the protest, a Singaporean police plain clothes team arrived, telling him and his friends, who were there to provide moral support, to disperse. The police officer claimed they had received a public complaint of his presence outside the High Commission; and that an investigation will be launched against him. Public nuisance? Seelan merely had a sign board around his neck demanding justice for Hindraf 5.

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Access Seelan’s blog, statement, youtube videos and other related articles at: http://www.singaporeindianvoice.blogspot.com/

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