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Offering help to a mother who stole

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It is a humanitarian story that needs to be told and retold as a reminder that compassion, empathy and humanity have a place in a country such as ours that has diverse communities.

In 1998 lawyer Ahmad Zaharil Muhaiyar witnessed an Indian cleaner being brought to the court after she was caught shoplifting in a supermarket.

The cash-strapped mother stole an RM18 pencil box as she had promised her 10-year-old son, her only child, she would get him a gift if he was top student in class. He was.

Concerned about the welfare of both mother and son if the former went to jail, Zaharil mitigated on the woman’s behalf pro bono when the case came up.

The magistrate discharged her on a good behaviour bond.

Fast forward to 2018. A man in his early 30s approached Zaharil in court only to reveal he was the boy who was given the pencil box. He is now a lawyer, too.

One could imagine the boy’s future taking a different, perhaps unpleasant, trajectory had Zaharil not intervened.

This is a tale that can easily tug at the heartstrings of many caring folk in Malaysian because such touching stories rarely surface these days.

This is partly due to our sense of humanity being threatened by prevailing selfishness and crass materialism, especially in our contemporary society where certain calculative individuals often hog the headlines, offering help only if it brings political mileage or other personal benefits.

It is unfortunate that these people have become role models for some.

For example, you would find a politician or business person handing out a huge cardboard cheque that is as big as his ego for the whole world to see. In other words, it is the kind of help offered on a what’s-in-it-for-me basis.

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In contrast, the compassion exhibited by Zaharil did not come with a price tag nor a search for fame.

The Zaharil story is also significant, especially in a Malaysia that has been plagued over the years by the divisive politics of race and religion employed by certain unscrupulous politicians.

To be sure, the assistance offered by the likes of Zaharil, which transcended the barriers of race and religion, would be less appreciated, if not frowned upon, by advocates of ethno-religious nationalism under current circumstances.

We celebrate Zaharil’s humane gesture as if it is something out of the ordinary precisely because such race-blind compassion and concern have become uncommon, especially in a social environment where many people now generally tend to the needs of others of their own kind.

Why, there are quarters who even advocate the idea that this country is not really multi-ethnic, rendering the ethnic minorities as second-class citizens. Walls, not bridges, are being built as a result.

The common humanity that is found from our diversity should instead be celebrated.

Diversity should not be made out to be an irritant by those with a hidden agenda, for it is tantamount to belittling the greatness and magnificence of the divine.

What the likes of Zaharil has taught us is, human kindness is just that. No colour or creed is attached to it. – The Malaysian Insight

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.

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Dr Mustafa K Anuar, a longtime executive committee member and former honorary secretary of Aliran, is, co-editor of our newsletter. He obtained his PhD from City, University of London and is particularly interested in press freedom and freedom of expression issues. These days, he is a a senior journalist with an online media portal
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