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Penang reclamation: When good persons fail to empathise

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When good persons are ensconced in comfort and convenience, are they in a position to feel the afflictions of poverty, wonders Dominic Damian.

The challenges that fishermen face with the massive 4,500-acre land reclamation off the southern coast of Penang Island raise profound questions.

Who and what is our political establishment? And what do they want that is beneficial for us and that is without controversy?

I prefer to regard those in the current Pakatan Harapan administration, whether state or federal, as ‘good persons’ – as this is what I believe them to be.

  • But when good persons are convinced that their push for ‘development’ means denying others the rights that they will not deny their own selves, is it not an indecency or an inequality?
  • When good persons propose development that imposes ”collateral damage” on the livelihoods of others or the environment, is this not inexcusable or a matter of questionable morality?
  • When good persons are ensconced in comfort and convenience, are they in a position to feel the afflictions of poverty and empathise with the vulnerable?
  • When good persons do not have to experience the uncertainties of a hand-to-mouth existence, will they have a deep sense of understanding of what survival means to others?
  • When good persons are isolated from the potential damage inflicted by development, how will they know the needs of the disadvantaged and the deprived?

How is it that those who have an intimate bond with the environment and are protecting it more than anyone else are suddenly deemed expendable? They are often the first to be intimidated and removed when the word development is used.

The other glaring predictability is that some internet shills or politicians with some information will use that as ‘evidence’ to rant against the NGOs who try to intervene. Rational discourse and discernment then fly out of the window as they seek to demolish the other side’s opinions. Their language and tone reveal immaturity and poor intention. The ominous flexing of muscles is the clearest evidence that whatever they are proposing is insecure in some respect.

It seems like the natural entitlement of good persons, privileged with power from our votes, to do whatever they think is right. The one election in five years seems to accord them unfettered powers.

The philosophy of the previous Barisan Nasional administration was to instil fear.

Remember how insecurities surrounding the “three R’s” (race, religion and royalty) and the “three C’s” (Chinese, Christians and communists) were stoked?

Immature or insecure elements within the current federal or state governments think NGOs or citizens’ groups are conspiring against them. They see plots and plotters when objections are raised.

How is it that the fishermen – living in harmony with simple freedom, dignity and independence, and surviving on little sustenance – are treated as unimportant?

Photograph: Camden Damian

How dare we offer them less hope and independence by suggesting they take up positions as security guards and drivers when we ourselves may not consider such options?

Are they of such little value that we throw crumbs and bones at them? The travesties of the past provide ample evidence: we have witnessed the degradation and displacement of many other communities due to misguided ‘development’. The question of who will care for them is most certainly relevant.

We pat ourselves on the back and applaud the greatness of our deeds. But we dare not offer these vulnerable communities a package of the highest ideals – one that encourages, empowers and enables.

It seems that they who are already struggling must be subjugated and submit to the dictates of those who claim they want to create a better future for Penang.

What will the fishermen do in occupations that are not compatible with the nature of fishermen, whose ancestors worked on these shores from pre-colonial times?

The sanctification of our lives through rituals and rites in places of worship does not dispense us from the commitment to do good. Holiness is not a practice for a specific time, place or setting, after which we can do what we like.

The sense of the sacred can be found in human life, among other creatures and in the environment. The discord that sets in when good persons refuse to hear the voices of distress is obvious.

Why is it that despite our civilised disposition, advancements, academic qualifications, status, acquisition of philosophical knowledge and wealth, we evolve to what we strive not to be – intellectual brutes. Have we become so monetised by economics that we have shed sensitivity and forgotten the humility of our human heritage?

Our wisdom is insignificant and inadequate. We can never command the waves to meet the shores or tell the breeze when to rustle the leaves and caress them with gentle kisses.

Teluk Kumbar youth hike

Perhaps nature is a place of true worship – a place where spontaneous silent prayers escape from our lips when our souls are awakened by awesome simplicity and splendour. Think of the solace of the song of the wind as it soothes our bitterness and aches. Witness the dance of the leaf.

Yet we think only of desolation and destruction.

When will the political establishment awaken to the reality that they were not elected exclusively for the purpose of development or wealth creation.

Meaningful and purpose-driven politics involves creating a sanctuary of peace to mitigate against the emptiness and nothingness that some feel. It means uplifting the lives of the disadvantaged.

Physical development may be needed in certain circumstances but then again, a more holistic approach may be what is required. Whatever, it needs respectful dialogue and debate.

Our politics is impoverished when we fail to respond holistically to the environmental trust in our hands and to humanity’s real needs.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
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  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
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Simon Tan
25 Sep 2019 12.39pm

In wake of planet A CLIMATE CRISIS, any degradation of Environment, eco system and bio diversity must be stopped.

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