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Aayoh… so terrible these people!

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Amidst the doom and gloom around the nation with 1MDB, TPP and the crackdown on activists, Prema Devaraj finds pockets of hope.

At various teh tarik discussions on the current state of the nation, the phrases “aayoh… so terrible these people”, “no shame-lah”, “what kind of gomen like this”, “why the fella so stupid one” and “the country has gone to the dogs” keep coming up.

Other phrases while more colourful are unprintable and in case anyone takes offence at the last phrase, it is merely an English expression denoting that all is lost.

So what were such phrases in relation to? Well take your pick – we are not short of the usual nonsense i.e., scandals, mismanagement, denials, intolerance, bigotry, etc.

The 1MDB fiasco looms large in front of us. One can only wonder at the way the whole saga has evolved and whether or not the truth will finally prevail.

Various pieces of legislation are being used to target activists, politicians and anyone else expressing points of view that are different from the powers that be. This year alone more than 200 people, many of whom are activists, have been investigated or arrested or charged under a variety of legislation including the Sedition Act (1948).

The 2016 budget did not seem to inspire the masses. It is doubtful that an increase in Brim handouts would make up for the rise in the cost of living and low wages. The reality is many people are struggling to cope.

It certainly did not help that people were told to wake up earlier to use toll-free roads to save money or that returning to villages to plant corn and chilli would help reduce the stresses on urban systems.

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The we had the prime minister speaking on women’s empowerment at the international stage, but the realities at home paint a different picture especially for Muslim women where Muslim family law is concerned.

And let’s not even begin to discuss the position transgender women are in and the persecution they continue to face. Should one even mention dress codes at this point?

Again at the international stage we heard and welcomed Malaysia’s compassionate stand on Syrian refugees, but many of us were left wondering why this is not the case with Rohingya and other refugees at our door step.

There was not a peep from our compassionate leaders when immigration recently detained over 100 people (including refugees and asylum seekers) in Penang including women and children.

Why not sign the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol and abide by the standards set there? Are we all not bound by our common humanity? Are there some more human than others?

Then there is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. Many may be thinking that Malaysia is in negotiations to get the best trade deal possible. But there is much more to it than that and with serious ramifications for all of us.

And what about the saga of the seven Orang Asli children who were thought to be missing but were actually hiding. The question running through many people’s minds is what happened in that school to terrify the children so much that they had to run away and hide.

The subsequent deaths of five of these children as they remained in hiding was simply inexcusable. What is our “system’’ doing to the orang asli in the country?

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Things seem really quite awful now what with the present leadership, the disarray in the opposition and the general lack of practice of good governance principles.

But if we look around us, there are pockets of hope which give us strength to carry on with the quest for a better Malaysia. Two such examples are described here.

The first was the press statement released by the EAIC at the end of October which placed the responsibility of a death in police custody squarely at PDRM’s doorstep.

Unbelievable! After years of various non-government groups campaigning and wondering how to get the government to take deaths in police custody seriously, here was a government agency sharing their findings and having specific recommendations.

Of course one could argue that things are so bad that even those within the system are having to speak out. But the point is, they are finally speaking out. The next step would be to encourage a push for the actual reform needed.

The second was from a workshop jointly organised by Aliran and Awam (All Women’s Action Society) in Penang entitled PERpaduan: Exploring gender, ethnic and religious relations in Malaysia.

Pockets of hope among the exuberant participants at the Aliran-Awam PERpaduan workshop 2015
The exuberant participants of the Aliran-Awam PERpaduan workshop 2015

What made the workshop a joy was the exuberance of the 25 youths attending (most of them around 23 years of age, photo above), their ability to articulate their thoughts and their yearning for a just and tolerant society. Half of them were Muslims (for those who were wondering!) and most of them were women.

The three-day workshop provided a space for open discussion and sharing and importantly, critical thinking. Those present emerged hopeful and reenergised about the future.

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These are but just two examples of pockets of hope that occur around the country. It is important to recognise them no matter how small.

We may find such pockets in conversations, in the actions of people or even in the eyes of our children. Just look around you and gain strength from them. The challenge is to keep the faith, support and nurture such pockets of hope and press on despite the present state of affairs.

May the lights of Deepavali shine bright and illuminate a path forward towards truth, integrity and justice for all.

Prema Devaraj
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
17 November 2015

PS To those who have taken money from the public coffers, please put it back.

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