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Homelessness: Stop the discrimination

Homeless people queue up at a soup kitchen in KL - File picture

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Tengku Adnan made such a contemptuous statement about homelessness in Malaysia that it only confirms how detached our political elite are, notes Syerleena Abdul Rashid.


Once again, another BN politician has shown his sheer arrogance and contempt for those less fortunate.

This time, Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan made such a contemptuous statement about the lingering issues surrounding homelessness in Malaysia that confirms how detached our political elite are.

His attempt to solve this issue by imposing restrictions on NGOs like Soup Kitchen, whose main objective is only to provide food for the homeless, creates more damage to the societal and communal psyche. And his idea of instilling discipline through showing unmoving indifference (i.e. imposing penalties or fines on alms-givers and beggars) reflects the arrogance of the customary elitist mindset.

Solving this issue will not be easy but if the government is really serious in finding a sound solution, thorough reviews must be made to identify the real causes of homelessness. Dismissing the homelesss as “lazy” is a coward’s way out but we all know that it is always easier to blame someone else rather than assess outdated policies.

And judging from how things are in Malaysia at the moment, the glorious system that was once the pride of the whole region is falling apart as a result of decades worth of complacency and apathy. It is evident that several existing policies are simply not working now.

If hygiene is the main issue, then surely rounding up our less fortunate brothers and sisters and moving them or their activities to a confined area does not solve the problem. The same issues will persist and any ‘improvement’ is only visual – a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

NGOs like Soup Kitchen address issues that the political elite do not care about because they are too busy – or simply not interested? – to focus on issues that require grassroots-level reflection.

Issues relating to basic necessities such as food are extremely important in safeguarding public health. Malnourishment leads to a variety of health complications, and sometimes these diseases can be contagious, much like the reported tuberculosis outbreak that occurred at a detention centre, a few years back.

Providing jobs and creating employment opportunities is one way to help improve the situation of the homeless. But skills training and mental assessment must be given equal, if not greater, importance as long term solutions.

Leaders and policy makers must remain calm and compassionate when dealing with people who may (or may not) come from difficult or troubled backgrounds. After all, living on the streets is not a choice anyone would voluntarily make, and this is something everyone must understand. Our society lacks this understanding only because some of us are influenced by what our elected leaders say or how they think.

What is shocking is that such remarks and suggestions were made during the holy month of Ramadhan, when Muslims from all sects, dedicate the whole month to performing good deeds and to contemplate on matters that can move us closer to God. Such deeds also include embracing values such as tolerance, patience, respect and empathy towards all walks of life.

From reports, Tengku Adnan seems unapologetic in his choice of words though he must be aware of how some may perceive his comments as ‘un-Islamic’. No amount of reasoning can justify such callousness and inconsideration targeted towards the marginalised.

It is of great importance for leaders in his position to exude decency and reason especially when dealing with difficult or complex issues. It is bad enough that Malaysians have to deal with pressing issues such as the escalating rate of crime, vice and religious violence; let us not add more to the evils that exist in our society.

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