No win-win solution: Kathirasen’s Column suspended?

Do you find the article below too critical of the government or too sympathetic of Hindraf? I was told that Mr Kathirasen has been summoned for explanation and his column suspended. I have not been able to get it confirmed or disaffirmed by a second source. Please keep me informed if you know anything.

http://www.malaysianbar.org.my/content/view/12585/2/

Comment: Let’s seek a winwin solution
Thursday, 29 November 2007, 08:46am

©New Straits Times (Used by permission)
by Kathirasen

A DAY after the rally by several thousand Indians in the Jalan
Ampang-Petronas Twin Towers area, my son’s friend Izzat asked him: “Hey, you
didn’t take part in the rally uh?”

My son replied: “If I had, I wouldn’t be here lah. I would be in jail.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Izzat laughed. And they went on to talk about other
things.

I made it a point to observe how ordinary Malaysians reacted after the
rally. What I saw gives me continued faith in Malaysians.

I saw Malays and Indians talking as usual. I saw the normal mixed crowds at
some of the eating places.
There was no tension.

I think it is time everyone, particularly the authorities, acknowledge that
the average Malaysian is peace loving and intelligent enough not to rush to
fight other Malaysians over a rally or over some utterance.

My son asked me what I thought about the rally. In fact, a number of people
asked me the same question.

From the point of Malaysian law, I said, it was illegal because the police
had not granted the organisers – the Hindu Rights Action Force – a permit to
hold the rally.

Also, police had gone to the unprecedented extent of obtaining a court order
to bar people from taking part in the rally.

Therefore, I told my son and others who asked, anyone who participated in
the rally on Nov 25 was breaking the law.

If it was illegal, I was asked, why were thousands of Indians courting
arrest by participating in the rally. Good question.

Perhaps a conversation I had with a friend from Penang might throw some
light on this.

Two days before the rally, I received a call from him. It had been years
since I saw him. So we met up for a drink. I was surprised when he told me
he was in town to participate in the Hindraf-organised rally.

Why?

“We need to get the message across to the government that the Indian
community needs help urgently. Indians played a key role in this country’s
development yet nobody respects our needs.”

I looked into his eyes, trying to read his mind as I digested his answer.
Here was a man, 10 years younger than me, who was financially sound and who
had young children and a wife to care for. Why get involved in an illegal
rally?

“I am doing it for my children. We are Malaysians and I want a better future
for them. Before coming to KL, I told them I might get arrested and asked
them to understand why I am doing it.”

He agreed that this was a good country and that the nation’s stability
ensured Malaysians could carry on with their lives as they wished.

“But things are not moving for the community. We are not respected. Look at
the way in which our temples are demolished. When I saw the video clip of
the temple in Shah Alam being broken, I knew it was time to tell the
authorities that this will not be tolerated.”

He said he had been told by the organisers not to retaliate if police acted
against them.

Before we parted, he said: “Sometimes, when I think about it deeply, I am
uncertain if I am doing the right thing. But I know that I want a better
future for my children.”

I don’t know if he has been arrested or not. He has not contacted me. I hope
he was one of those who escaped arrest.

Many protesters would have been injured, if what I saw on the al-Jazeera
news channel is anything to go by. These were not criminals or terrorists.
How would their spouses feel? How would their parents feel? How would their
children feel?

I felt sad as I watched police act against the protesters and as I saw
protesters throwing back the tear gas canisters at the police.

Malaysian against Malaysian. My heart ached. I felt the same way when I saw
the march organised by Bersih to present a petition to the Yang di-Pertuan
Agong seeking electoral reform earlier this month.

After Sunday’s rally was broken up and police had arrested more than 240
people, a friend remarked: “The police are too much lah. Firing
chemical-laced water and shooting tear gas.”

I asked him to consider what other option the police had. The police are law
enforcers. If a rally is illegal, they have to do something. And this time,
the police tied themselves up by taking out a court order against the
gathering.

I believe the policemen who fired those tear gas canisters and those who
ordered their men to arrest the protesters would have wanted to avoid this
situation. They have feelings, too. They have families, too.

And reading the statement issued after the rally by Inspector-General of
Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan, I think it could have been avoided if police had
granted a permit – even a conditional one – to the organisers to submit the
memorandum to Queen Elizabeth II through the British High Commission.

Hindraf filed a class-action suit in London on Aug 30 against the British
government for bringing Indians to Malaysia as indentured workers, for
exploiting them for 150 years, and for failing to protect their rights as a
minority in the Federal Constitution when it granted Malaya independence.

The stated objective of the rally was to petition Queen Elizabeth II for a
Queen’s Counsel to represent the Indian community in the suit as the
community was too poor to raise the money. The suit seeks STG4 trillion
(RM27.7 trillion) in compensation for the community from the British
government.

Musa, in the statement on Sunday, defended police action. He also said: “We
would have negotiated with the leaders for them to hand over the memorandum
but there was no leader in sight.

“Finally, the leaders came about 1.30pm. They gave a speech and went back
without even handing over the so-called memorandum.”

If I understand correctly, police were prepared to allow the protesters to
hand over the memorandum. So why didn’t the police allow an application for
the permit in the first place?

I can understand why the authorities are averse to allowing public rallies
and demonstrations. These could degenerate into chaos.

I, too, don’t want to see a transplantation of what is happening in some
countries where public protests have resulted in the loss of life and damage
to property.

But I think there is a crying need for the police to find a solution to this
problem of handling mass public dissatisfaction.

Perhaps conditional permits are the answer. Perhaps, in this case, the
police could have allowed the group or, say, a hundred or thousand of them
to hand over the petition to the British High Commission.

Perhaps the police could have told them to gather at a certain area – say
Merdeka Stadium – to make their speeches and then allow a delegation to
deliver the petition.

So, a workable solution has to be found. Perhaps the police should sit
together with any group wanting to hold a protest and work out, as they say,
a winwin solution.

Perhaps, too, someone in authority could come up with a list of ways in
which the public can express their problems instead of mouthing those
nebulous words: “go through the proper channels”. It is time to spell out
what these “proper channels” are so that everyone knows.

The government, I am sure, would have taken note of the size of the rally.

To its credit, the government has acknowledged that the Indians need help.
In tabling the Ninth Malaysian Plan in parliament on March 31 last year,
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said: “We will take
appropriate steps to raise the share of equity ownership of ethnic Indians
to three per cent by 2020. Besides encouraging entrepreneurship, we will
increase opportunities for skills training for Indian youths at Pusat Giat
Mara and Institut Keusahawanan Negara, as well as establishing Pusat Putra.”

This government appears responsive to the people’s needs. The intention is
there, so what is lacking, perhaps, are specific programmes and a better
delivery system. Not just to help the Indian poor but every poor Malaysian.

To quote the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj – this is a good country
and we should all work together to keep it that way. What we need to do is
to look at everyone as Malaysian, rather than as Malay, Chinese, Indian,
Kadazandusun, etc. We also need to have a little more faith in the
intelligence of fellow Malaysians.

“My ambition is not mighty Malaysia but happy Malaysia.” – Tunku Abdul
Rahman Putra al-Haj.

_________________________________

Do you find the article above too critical of the government or too sympathetic of Hindraf? I was told that Mr Kathirasen has been summoned for explanation and his column suspended. I have not been able to get it confirmed or disaffirmed by a second source. Please keep me informed if you know anything.

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