What is the role of the state?
March 25, 2013
Hindraf chairman P Waythamoorthy pens his political thoughts while on his 16th day of hunger strike.
By P Waythamoorthy
This is the 16th day of my hunger viratham (hunger strike). The past 16 days have given me a great opportunity to grow. Thinking, writing, listening and observing during this period of the fast has allowed me to push my thoughts further and deeper into issues that otherwise I would have passed over summarily.
This hunger viratham has become a significant opportunity for me not only to demonstrate my commitment to the cause of the marginalised in the country but also to deepen my understanding of how things work or should work in our universe.
This brings up the opportunity for me to write today about the role of government in human affairs in a multicultural and multiethnic environment.
Tarmar Raj is a young 29-year-old man living in Kuala Ketil in Kedah. His recently deceased father, late Maniyan was an active social worker in that area for most part of his life. He was a well known spokesperson for the displaced estate workers in that area.
Their lives had revolved around that area since their forefathers had been sent there by the British Colonial Administrators.
In Tarmar Raj’s own words, “We have resided in or around Ladang Batu Pekaka for over 50 years. My paternal grandfather who passed away in 1965 is buried here at the Ladang Batu Pekaka Hindu burial ground. My uncle, brother of my father passed away in 1987 and my grand aunt who passed away in 1984 are also buried there. My father when he was alive had told me on several occasions that he would like to be buried at the same burial ground when he died. He wanted to be buried by his father and he wanted his mother, his wife and the rest of the family to be buried alongside him. But by the time he passed away in May 2011 the Ladang Batu Pekaka Hindu burial ground had been demolished by the Kedah State Development Authorities. We therefore could not fulfill his desire. His wishes will never be met.”
The burial ground that Tarmar Raj speaks about has been a burial ground for the former and current estate workers of Barlow Boustead Co and its subsidiary Selangor Coconuts Sdn Bhd for more than 60 years.
The burial ground which has about 300 graves is situated on a one acre piece of land within the former estate premise. The burial ground has been administered by the local temple and assisted by the association of Hindus in the area.
There used to be annual functions held to upkeep the burial ground and this was a lively social event of the community in Kuala Ketil. In addition families gathered and held prayers on death anniversaries, Deepavali and Aadi Ammavasai for their ancestors in fulfillment of their filial duties.
In 2005 the land was acquired by the Kedah State Development Corporations and talks were begun for the relocation of the burial ground. Then in 2008 with the change in the government, things took a different turn.
The process of removing the burial ground acquired greater urgency. The tactics used to convince and to coax the people out, were the usual divide and rule, manipulation, threats and using mandores to intervene.
In this respect the PAS-led government did not behave any differently than the BN government before them.
State government in a hurry
The PAS state government effectively paid a small sum of RM3,000 to each next of kin and gave them a date by which to relocate the graves without any offer of an alternative location for the burial ground.
They then went ahead with the demolition of the burial ground in December of 2009, in what appeared to be great haste.
The late Maniyan who stood in the forefront of the representation for a just and fair resolution was ultimately defeated by these machinations of the PAS state government.
In Tarmar Raj’s own words, “We watched helplessly as the graves of our ancestors were demolished never to be visible to us anymore.”
This was a great disappointment for the late Maniyan and he really did not recover from this episode and eventually passed away of a heart attack in May 2011 at the age of 61.
The point of this story is simply this: social amenities such as burial grounds are a necessary part of the social system of any community. These rural Indian communities transplanted from deep south of India a long time ago were provided with such amenity as long as the rubber estates functioned.
When the estates gave way for development and these displaced workers were laid off, they found themselves in a terrible lurch.
Many parts of their social system just vanished. They were, to start with, an impoverished community. How could they afford to rebuild their social system all on their own?
In our country, these displaced estate worker communities are spread all over from north to south. They all are faced with the same or similar problems – the demolition of the various structures that are part of their social system – temples, shrines, burial grounds and schools.
This problem is unique to this community but because of its scale we consider it a national social problem. The Hindraf Blueprint clearly proposes a robust solution to address this situation.
To call initiatives such as in the blueprint to address these problems as narrow and racist is extremely anti national in my opinion.
Does the state have any role in the provision of these amenities to the citizens of the country? Does Tarmar Raj have a natural right to such amenities? Do the communities such as those that Tarmar Raj comes from have a natural right to amenities like the burial ground?
Or are these situations not to be considered natural rights and are to be handled by the community themselves with no aid or assistance from the state? Even if the community is an impoverished and small community?
Operating in denial
My opinion about all this is that the role of the state is not just to disburse the resources of the nation and to formulate and administer the process of the creation of wealth.
Their role also includes quite clearly, getting into the details of the human affairs of all the ethnic groups in our country and to establish robust solutions for the social needs of each community.
There is much that needs to be done to come up with solutions, to systematise and streamline, to adjust according to changing national situations so that all these needs are well satisfied and are sustainable.
This is a critical role of government in a multi racial, multicultural society. They must provide the necessary support, resources, procedures, laws, enforcements and education to play this role out effectively.
The government needs to recognise this and needs not to lose important perspectives because of the politics.
There is great need in our country to reform these procedures of administration of social services.
We have such a mix of socio-cultural practices that makes the situation more complex. The government cannot take a simplistic approach or operate in denial.
We all have our genes running through in Malaysia, till eternity. There is no other location for our genes.
P Waythamoorthy is the Hindraf chairperson. He has been on his hunger strike since March 10.
What is the role of the state?