I have tried to share about the beauty of Malaysia and the wonderful diversity of its people and I am grateful that many of you have said that you have enjoyed learning more about this part of the world. I am proud of Malaysia but I am also worried for it. With progress and development, we seem to have also lost many good core Asian values like good neighborliness, the extended family, the racial tolerance etc.
This last week has been a particularly shameful week for the country. Local news have featured two tragic tales which have left many of us shaking our heads. I must warn readers that the second story and picture is particularly graphic and unpleasant. If you feel you would rather not read about it or view the photo then please stop reading now and proceed no further. I feel compelled to share these terrible and shameful tales because this is the reality of Malaysia. The story of the country is incomplete without a glimpse of both the good and the bad.
Story One: Interference
Marimuthu is a rubber tapper. It is a tough job and his income barely provides for his family’s needs. He is a Hindu and has 7 children (from 4 to 14 years old) with his wife of 21 years, Raimah. His ordeal began about 35 days ago when the officers of the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) cme to his home and took away his wife and 6 of his children. His eldest son escaped the fate because he was not at home at that time.
JAIS officers contend that Raimah was actually born a Muslim and therefore they acted to prevent the 7 children from being brought up as Hindus. The 6 children were placed with Muslim foster families and their whereabouts were not revealed to Marimuthu. Raimah was sentenced to be detained for 100 days fro religious re-indoctrination.
The family maintain that although Raimah’s parents may have been Muslim, she was raised as a Hindu and had married her husband legally but at a Hindu service and had raised her children as Hindu.
It has taken 35 days for Marimuthu to have his day in court but even then the result is not satisfactory and in my opinion reeks of coercion. The court was told that a settlement had been reached in which Marimuthu had agreed to drop all charges of wrongful detention against JAIS officers. The settlement allowed for the immediate return of the 6 children to their father. The father is free to raise them as Hindu but this was made possible only by his wife Raimah making a statement that she was born a Muslim and will always now remain a Muslim but that she releases her right to the children to her husband.
Furthermore, even though the law of the land recognizes their marraige as legal, the Islamic authorities have declared the marraige void. As such, Raimah can no longer stay with her husband but she is allowed to visit her children.
It is so sad. This is a couple who did not have much in this world. Yet they have worked together and lovingly raised a closely knit family. Now the parents are separated in fact even if they are still legally married (where is the logic there). The father will now have to try to cope with 7 children on his own. I have to ask what was the point of all this interference in to this family’s life. Who has benefitted? What justice has been served? Indeed, the whole family has suffered and will continue to suffer because of this. I hope that lawyers and politicians of integrity and reason will not allow this story to end here on such a note of injustice.
Story Two: Inhumanity
Ganesh Kumar came to Malaysia in search of a job that could give him an income that he could save towards making his dreams come true when he returned to India. He expected that the work would be hard and the hours long but what waited for him in Malaysia was sadly beyond anything he might have feared.
Ganesh worked for a family (parents and son) who ran a sauce making factory out of their house. However, more or less from his first day there he was abused by them. Stories are emerging that he was chained, beaten, denied food and even had scalding water poured on him.
He endured this treatment for almost 9 months. Then last week, his employer took him by car to a remote area and abandoned him in the forest. Local villagers found Ganesh wandering in the forest and he was brought to hospital. He was lucid enough to tell medical authorities what had happened but despite receiving treatment, Ganesh passed away after a few days. The cause of death was starvation. The doctors estimate that he had been on starvation rations for at least a month.
His “employers” have now been charged with murder. As the story unfolds, other unsettling details emerged. One of them was that two previous foreign workers have escaped from this same family and have accused them of abuse. Although those cases are still pending, the family somehow was allowed to take on new foreign workers. Secondly, this occured in a populated area and I have to wonder if some neighbors could have intervened earlier.
I cannot fathom how anyone could still treat another human life with so little regard today. I am moved to tears for Ganesh and his greiving family back in India. I feel as a country and a people, we let Ganesh down and I wish we could at least apologise. More practically, Malaysians individually and as a society must do some soul-searching and I hope act to prevent more abuse of defenceless foreign workers in our midst.
If this blog had a flag, it would be at half-mast this week in recognition of the two tragic and shameful tales above and what they say about what is wrong in Malaysian society.