The recent shoplifting incidents at Mydin retail outlets are a sad testimony to the sufferings being endured by the vulnerable amid pandemic-induced lockdowns.
It is the kind of thievery that is basically driven by the sheer desperation of ordinary people who are at their wit’s end in their gasping attempt to put food on the table.
Mydin Mohamad Holdings managing director Ameer Ali Mydin recently said that, unlike in the past when people stole TV sets and speakers, now they only targeted food items such as fish and vegetables.
This is, of course, not intended to glorify nor justify an illegal act, rather an attempt to situate such stealing in the context where many have been made jobless and poor, and faced a loss of business and income.
It is hoped that such a narration would help more Malaysians empathise with the hardships that such desperate people have to face in these challenging times.
There was also the sad story of a man who paid for his child’s baby formula and 10 eggs in coins, which suggested that they came from his piggy bank. A last resort. He flatly refused attempts by other customers in the shop to help pay for his purchase, presumably to keep his tattered pride intact.
Although these are anecdotal, they have served as a red flag to concerned and caring Malaysians who are disturbed by the adverse consequences of an economic downturn, especially when the grievances of ordinary people have been expressed over social media almost daily.
The white flag initiative by certain members of the public, which has gained attention like wildfire, was a direct response to the sufferings faced by the vulnerable.
While the white flag phenomenon may not necessarily indicate a failed state, as argued by Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz, the desperation that is manifested in such forms should tell us that something is acutely amiss in our society.
To reiterate, the white flag initiative is indicative of the compassion, empathy and care that ordinary Malaysians have towards their fellow beings who are under immense economic difficulties. Hence, the popular hashtag #KitaJagaKita (we’ve got each other’s back).
Although the government has provided cash injections to the needy, it seems that some people who are deserving did not get them. Or even if they got the financial aid, it appears that it is not sufficient to tide them over for a long period under rolling lockdowns.
This explains why, for instance, there are groups of people, such as NGOs, which crowdfund to help the vulnerable.
It also helps us to understand why there are long lines of people going to faith-based institutions and soup kitchens to seek food aid for their daily survival. And some of them are homeless.
We should also be mindful that an increase in the suicide rate over the past one year has been attributed to the pressing economic problems that these people face.
The hardships faced by these ordinary people obviously jar cruelly with the privileges that certain politicians have, such as having the luxury of time and money to travel abroad for a breather. Or, at the very least, having a durian feast.
Indeed, there’s no time for a “Spanish fly” joke, especially when these desperate people also have to encounter the deadly threat of Covid in their midst.
The desperate cry for help has grown louder as the days pass by. – The Malaysian Insight