S Saratbabu is one of a rare breed of activists who have put their lives at risk to champion the cause of the poor and marginalised, writes Hussein.
Babu is the youngest among five siblings. Babu’s parents helped champion the Kg Chepor urban settlers’ struggle, which laid the foundation for his involvement in community organising work and championing communities in need of help.
Since his youth, Babu was immersed in community meetings and activities, exposing him to the struggles of the Kg Chepor families.
At 17, he established a youth network among the children of the Kg Chepor families.
He conveyed this idea to M Sarasvathy, one of the six PSM detainees, during a celebration of the Kg Chepor families in 2005. It was then that the Alaigal Youth Front was founded with an initial membership of 10 youths.
An offshoot of the social welfare NGO Alaigal, the movement he founded became a grassroots movement that assisted the poor and marginalised.
It also championed causes including land rights issues, health care and workers’ issues since 1992 and was instrumental in organising numerous beneficial programmes for young minds around Ipoh.
It was in one of these programmes in 2006 that I had the opportunity to build a rapport with Sarasvathy, who was then the Alaigal Youth Front coordinator as well as with Saratbabu himself.
After attending the cultural programme, I attended a youth camp, in Port Dickson in March 2007, after which Sarasvathy invited me to join the youth movement.
It was then that I got to know Saratbabu better, befriending him until his detention under the EO.
We are extremely proud of his brave struggle, despite all the risks, for the people of Malaysia.
On a personal level, Babu had to support his family after his dad suffered from a stroke two years back.
His leadership qualities and demonstrated ability to accept responsibility was a family legacy – part and parcel of his willingness to champion the underdog.
Babu’s work as a home-based tuition teacher also earned him the respect of his community.
Two years ago, he began teaching at a tuition centre. He also applied to enrol for law studies at Universiti Malaya (UM).
His application was rejected twice; yet his desire to pursue law pushed him to apply again until he finally succeeded in registering for the Bachelor of Jurisprudence (external programme) at UM.
It is a huge responsibility to be a breadwinner and pursue law studies, but it did not deter Babu from his dedication to marginalised communities.
I found Babu to be a person who never gives up easily and is highly capable of solving the challenges that life throws at him.
In the almost five years that I have known both Saras and Babu, they have been relentless in their efforts to champion the people’s struggles and mobilise the rakyat to push for reforms.
As much as Babu is active in his youth organisation, he is also active in assisting the Bercham PSM branch.
He organised activities such as youth camps, football leagues, examination seminars, study trips, sports and carnivals aimed at keeping youths from social ills; he also drew them to serve the community. Babu’s commitment at the branch and national levels of PSM has given him valuable experience; he is always looking for something to achieve.
I am amazed at the consistent excellence he displays in coordinating events. Babu was one of the state facilitators for Perak in the Jerit 2008 national-level cycling campaign and contributed greatly to the success of the 17-day campaign.
Babu also believes in the principle of democratic centralism, where decisions are made by a majority of votes after consultation with every person present in any meeting.
I have learned so much from observing Saras and Babu. One lesson I learnt was not to discriminate based on age when engaging in debates and decision making.
Whenever I expressed disappointment with a particular individual or concern, Babu would say, “Hussein, we are working for the party and the rakyat; the rest is not important.” Such words, continuously repeated to me and other members, help us to mature as we move forward.
Babu is also very sociable and that was how I became a close friend. Almost every day we would meet and discuss various topics including our work with youths, family education and finance.
I have placed my faith in Babu, in sharing anything that matters to me and there were times we would debate for hours on important matters.
On the day Babu was arrested and served a notice under the EO, I was filled with much sadness as he had to sit for an examination on 3 July at UM.
His parents and I went to the Kepala Batas district headquarters and met Babu for five minutes. I simply could not accept what Babu had to undergo and within a day, everything seemed to come crashing down.
For the first time, I saw Babu with a beard. Handcuffed, he smiled at me. Tears streamed from my eyes. Babu even had to assure me that he would be out once Bersih 2.0 was over.
As a police officer was recording our conversation, Babu continued calmly saying, “Sosilawati’s case has yet to be solved; and they still want to arrest us.”
His smile held much sadness, which I perfectly understood. Babu added, “Hussein, looks like my education will end here…” Babu remarked that he could not sit for his much-anticipated law exam. Neither could he be among his family members and continue his work with the Alaigal youth group, especially in the people’s struggle under PSM.
To me, R Saratbabu is a responsible Malaysian citizen. He is brave to express his opinions anywhere, in any condition. His bravery burns brightly in my heart, and I have now taken up some of his responsibilities.
I feel highly elated that due to Babu’s detention, the majority of Malaysians have the opportunity to know what the draconian EO-ISA is all about.
This ordinance kills our right to freedom of expression.
So be it, if the sacrifices of the six PSM activists ignite democracy in Malaysia.
The six are socialist activists who have put their lives at risk to champion the cause of the poor and marginalised, while pushing for a socialist economy that is fair for the rakyat of Malaysia.
When R Saratbabu is freed, I want to see him continue this struggle and achieve his ambition to become a lawyer.
Hussein is a Pemuda Sosialis member