It’s not because I really like rallies.
I find them too hot or too wet, hell to get to, and liable to get me arrested.
Been there, done that, wasn’t fun at all.
I’ve been reading a lot about the spectrum of responses towards Hindraf, and it’s been really engaging.
I’ve searched my soul, and I now know what I must do.
I now know that if I don’t stand with my brothers and sisters on Sunday, I will never stand with them.
Why are they marching?
Let’s start by examining Bersih.
How many actually came because they felt strongly about ink and postal votes?
How many came because they’re pissed off as all hell about our country going to shit?
Now let’s look at Hindraf.
How many of us have any idea what it’s like to be a poor Indian in Malaysia?
I remember the Ijok campaign, and our walkabouts in the Indian tapper villagers.
I’ve been to Sierra Leone, and what I saw in Ijok wasn’t much better.
When you’re small, you become a punching bag. It’s just about as simple as that.
Are the Indians all a bunch of victimised saints? Not any more than the Chinese, Malays or any other group are.
But they have it worst around here. There’s little doubt in my mind around that.
They’ve been pushed around, kicked, insulted, made fun of and neglected.
Remember Khairy’s remark about newspaper vendors and the PM’s speech?
What that really symbolises is that in Malaysia, you can kick an Indian and get away with it.
And now they have said “Ya basta!” – Enough!
The community will no longer take this abuse lying down.
Many have expressed their ill ease with a Hindu-centric movement whose approach borders on racism.
I am sympathetic to this objection. I rather doubt that all the sentiments expressed throughout shockingly well attended Hindraf rallies throughout the country espoused the ultra-sensitive and nuanced views that would appease those like me.
No, it probably went more something like: “They (by which I basically mean the Malays) are bitchslapping us, and it’s time we fought back!”
I agree, that’s really not the best way to move forward.
Still, it seems to be the only way things are moving at all.
The popularity of Hindraf clearly points to one thing: a lack of credible Indian leadership that is truly voicing the feelings of the community.
If you have doubts about this, check out any of their rallies.
That MIC has failed and betrayed the Indians hardly bothers exposition.
I will be perfectly honest. Hindraf shows that the opposition has probably failed the Indians as well.
DAP has made some inroads, but they know which side their bread is buttered. KeADILan and Pas seem to have their hands full in their efforts to swing the decisive Malay middle ground – without which quite honestly, all other efforts are futile.
I’m not making excuses. We should be doing more, and we aren’t. Electoral reality has simply put Indians off the map of most.
So, when a group of people wearing a civil society hat step up and really articulate a community’s plight just by speaking from their hearts, that community responds in astounding strength.
Unlike the Chinese, the Indians have so much less to lose.
Something I read and saw the truth of when I attended the solidarity gathering for arrested Hindraf rulers: “The Indians are losing their fear.” (See Malaysiakini)
All they needed was for someone to lead them where they’ve long wanted to go. Since no one else dared or bothered, Hindraf filled the vacuum.
Race: Politics and Principles
Haris Ibrahim’s intelligence is outweighed only by his warmth, which is eminently more important.
He is not attending on Sunday for moral reasons, objecting to the racialist approach taken by Hindraf.
Anwar Ibrahim as well has given qualified support to the rally, feeling that some of the demands and articulations expressed by the group are too extreme, albeit well founded in terms of being based on real exploitation and marginalisation of the community.
Again, I can also agree that yes some temples are built illegally, and yes, like any other community, racism rears its ugly head among the Indians often enough.
Are these reasons for us not to go?
I thought a fair bit about this (while turning over in my head the threat of seeing the inside of the lockup again).
My conclusion is this: If we were to wait for another mass rally that will take a more mature, universalistic approach to race relations while actually having an impact in calling attention to the horrific living conditions facing Indian Malaysians today, we will wait forever.
I expect attendance well in the five figures.
Let’s be honest, no other group is going to pull those numbers in defence of minority rights in Malaysia.
If we don’t stand with them now, we will never stand with them.
We may not agree now, but if we don’t come out when it matters the most, we will never get a chance to dialogue.
We will never get a chance to speak from a position of credibility about the need to unite, and to look beyond parochial interests.
It has been said that the Hindraf approach opens the door for BN to introduce their hoodlums and engineer violence on the scale of May 13, thus plunging the opposition and civil society back some twenty years.
Well, that will certainly be easier to do if there are no Chinese or (especially) Malays standing with the Indians that day.
And the march is not going to be called off; it would be idiotic to suppose so.
So, are we going to walk the talk about multiracialism?
Are we who like to quote Voltaire’s “I may disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it” actually going to do anything to defend the right to assemble?
Or are we going to criticise the cops from the comforts of our homes and leave our Indian brothers and sisters to feel just how hard a baton or pipe feels when it comes crashing down on your skull?
When the newspapers print stories of massive racial violence, will the people say “Bullshit – Malays and Chinese stood with the Indians that day.” Or will they say “Shit, BN was right all along: without them, racial violence will run rampant”?
A Petition to the Queen of England?
Might make you feel a bit stupid, yes. Some felt stupid enough presenting a memorandum to the DYMM SPB Agong, much less some foreign liege who incidentally used to ‘rule’ over us.
The strategy and approach has been lampooned, and probably rightfully so.
Do we expect the Queen to say jolly good, and the suit to actually win trillions of ringgit? Don’t make me laugh.
But again, is this really why the Indians are taking to the British High Commission? Because they believe it will win them British citizenship? To think that would be equally laughable.
(Well perhaps not entirely. Once in a blue moon, I think I would take to the streets for British citizenship, haha :)
It would be just as silly to assume that everyone who attended Bersih truly understood the pressing need for electoral reforms, or the complicated process in which BN blatantly cheats its way to victory in the polls.
Quite frankly, to me and to thousands of Indians on the march, that’s not what it’s about.
It’s about greater equality among the races, and about making every Malaysian feel at home in Malaysia.
It’s also about refusing to be raped any more.
The Walk: Ends and Means
I have never believed that one justifies the other. There are lines that just cannot be crossed.
Nonetheless, if there is anything I’ve learnt in my line of work, it’s just how hard it is to dislodge BN.
I object to their every fibre of their being with every fibre of mine, but I’m no fool who underestimates their strength, nor the magnitude of our task ahead.
In my line of work as well, I have witnessed petty squabbles of every imaginable sort.
Needless to say, these are not unique to my field, but exist instead in every human endeavour. This fact does not make them any less unbearable however.
We have seen many who refuse to subscribe to a greater centrist unity due to unflinching belief in certain principles, or in worse cases, an inability to get along on a personal level.
Examples include Ezam & Gerak, Nallakarupan & MIUP, Wee Choo Keong & the MDP, PSM and so on.
I honestly bear none of these people ill will; they certainly have not directed any to me.
I have seen though, division upon division. I’m sympathetic to some reasons for those divisions, as I feel many of the same frustrations those dissenters have felt.
But people are nitpicking over politics, over principles, over pride and over personalities. To me, the only thing that dominates the big picture is disunity.
The question remains: how much do we really want what we want?
If, like me, you truly believe that BN is the root of all rot, how much are you willing to sacrifice to see that their injustices are forever stopped?
Myself, I’m at least willing to go as far as walking on Sunday.
I don’t believe that an Indian-centric approach alone will solve the problems of the Indians, but I do believe that they have been screwed over like few others have ever been screwed over.
I don’t believe in sacrificing a more embracing conceptualisation (“Malaysian rights”) for an increasingly narrow one (“Hindu Rights”), but I do believe that some – if not all – of the grouses are perfectly well founded.
I don’t know exactly what levels of violence if any will be perpetrated on Sunday and by whom, but I do know that if there is any attempt to paint any violence as racial, that at least one Malaysian will be there to do his best to confound the unholy efforts of the spin doctors and bear witness to the truth.
I don’t know whether my walk on Sunday will end at the British High Commission, blocked at some LRT station, or back at the Dang Wangi lockup, but I do know it will begin in the spirit of unity and solidarity.
See you there, I hope.