Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Demos are skirmishes before main bout?

I'M really worried. And I think there are others just as worried too. First there was the Batu Burok street demonstration a couple of months ago. This was followed by the Bersih Rally and then came the Hindraf protest last Sunday.

That's three protest rallies in as many months. I'm talking about the big ones only, and not counting the smaller ones in between. Regardless of the reasons why these rallies are held, and I believe some of the objectives set by the organisers have been met, there is the inherent potential danger that the next one will not be as 'peaceful' as the previous one.

I have young friends who chuckle with considerable sarcasm when I explained why I have this big fear of street protests. They just can't seem to understand why I need to be really afraid of thousands of people marching in the streets in support of their grievances.

I have no quarrel with people wanting to voice their opinions and demanding what they believe to be theirs. There are many ways of doing that, and all of them will be strongly justified by their backers or promoters. Some may say that after all the talking or negotiation is done, then it's time for some action.

There are also those who believe that action speaks louder than words. They may be right, but only if the action does not trigger violence, in the same manner that many had witnessed and been traumatised ever since.

There were near misses in recent years. The Kg Medan incident of a few years ago is still vivid in my mind. And it's the same in Penang where a Hindu temple and a mosque had been in existence side by side but had some differences which could have turned bloody and ugly.

If the differences are just political, chances are they can be reigned in. And violence is surely not the way forward to settle political disputes, as seen in many parts of the world. But when politicians decide to close one eye, and not take seriously the undercurrents in their backyard, the chances of such differences escalating into chaos becomes more enhanced.

How much of these street protests are mere posturing? How much is genuine? I can already hear whisperings that any show of force must be met with likewise responses, and they may not necessarily be from the uniformed authorities. If might is to be met with might, you can guess where we are heading.

At the rate things are going, I don't think we have seen the last of these street protests. With the prospect of the general election round the corner, these protests would fit in with political ceremah and house-to-house campaigns after polling day has been announced. As was seen in recent by-elections, there could be ugly scenes during these campaigns.

There are examples of how fistfights broke out on nomination day. If this can be controlled, I suppose I can live with that. But what worries me most is the verbal exchanges which could turn physical and ugly. Could all these street protests be pre-election skirmishes before the main event or bout?

I hope I'm wrong.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Will the real protester please stand up?


I received calls very early in the morning asking whether it was safe to go to town, meaning the city centre. I'm not a policeman of course but I did make some calls and later went for a drive to check out the streets.

Traffic was less than normal and my thosai joint in Bangsar, Pelita, was rather quiet. On Sundays, Pelita Bangsar have a fairly good crowd. Some well-known and wealthy personalities would often park their Ferraris, Porsche and M5 BMWs while having a quick breakfast. Today, there were none.

News of the street protest by Hindraf must have discouraged many from venturing out. A friend informed me that policemen in patrol cars used loudhailers asking residents in Taman Permata in Ulu Klang to stay indoors! This, I thought, was really serious.

In truth, many parts of the city were quite normal. Motorists avoided the roads leading to KLCC and Jalan Ampang where the British High Commission is located. I attended a wedding outside KL and there was hardly any discussion about the steet protest.

I suppose only the city folks and those directly involved in the protest talk about it. I'm not sure if this is good or bad. But if one is to get information from radio news bulletin, then one will have to wait for hours before getting a two-liner. Sigh.

I guess the radio people don't want to cause undue alarm by extensive reporting of the protest. While this may be true, I'm of the opinion that a 'straight reporting' of the event will not lead to chaos or disturbances. To me, this is surely better than getting SMSs which need to be verified and double-checked.

I got more information fom taxi drivers than listening to the radio news bulletin. One taxi driver told me that the Hindraf supporters had gathered as early as 6am at Jalan Ampang while another said Police and protestors had ran into each other at Batu Caves last night. (And this was confirmed by TV3 news at 8pm - incidentally TV3 showed more footage of the protest this time than RTM).

What I'm saying is this - manage the flow of information rather than blacking it out altogether. Not putting the news out on news bulletin is irresponsible, perhaps even more irresponsible than SMSs sent by individuals whose sources of information are suspect.


IT'S another week of long and unnecessary traffic jams, courtesy of Polis DiRaja Malaysia. All roads leading to the city centre have road blocks, said to prevent the entry of unwanted elements for this Sunday's proposed rally organised by Hindraf, a Hindu-based NGO.

I first got wind of the rally when an MIC blogger sent me an SMS advising me and all his friends not to take part in the Nov 25 Rally. The text message have been circulating countless times. No one really knows if the rally will actually take place but we all know how we feel about being caught in traffic jams created by PDRM.

I don't really mind police road blocks if they achieve what they seek to do. When I passed the Jalan Duta toll booth today and heading towards the city, I joined all other motorists going through the bottle neck. All motorists in front me (easily 100 cars) passed by without having have to stop or being inspected.

On Thursday, I was caught in the traffic jam after exiting Putrajaya on the way to the city. And you must have friends who were caught in the snarl all the way from UPM highway to the Technology Park section of the KL-Seremban highway!

I'm not sure if those wanting to attend the rally would raise their hands and gleefully announce to the policemen on duty that he's on the way to the rally! And I'm also not sure if the men-in- blue would be able to single out the would-be protestors by just looking at the person.

Since the rally is planned by a Hindu NGO, would that make any Indian or dark-skinned fellow a possible participant, and have to be taken aside at the road block to explain their travel plans? How would a rally protestant look like anyway? Mean-looking with tattoo on his arms? I really don't know lah...

What about those who actually live and work in the city? Would they have to be inspected too?The unwanted elements could still sneak in to the city since the road blocks are not manned throughout the day. I wonder how they could be stopped from entering the city. And what if they troop in on foot?

My take on the road block is simple - make every road user suffer and get them riled up against the rally organisers! That's all! Get the public to curse the organisers and blame them for the traffic jams! Hopefully, the police reckon, less people will turn up for the rally.

I for one am not sure if street rallies, especially if they are violent and bloody, would yield the right results. It would certainly attract media attention, if not local then certainly the foreign lenses and scribes. I would prefer dialogues, genuine and sincere ones that is.

At the end of the day, after all the fighting is done, the feuding parties would still need to talk and iron out their differences. So why not engage and talk now rather than take the protests to the street with no real control of the outcome. Of course dialogue is a two-way thing...

Monday, November 12, 2007

If not for the blogs & Al Jazeera...

IT'S impossible not to visit the various blogs anymore. Last weekend's march and street demonstration have compelled many to resort to visiting blogs to get news update which are not available from mainstream outlets such as radio and television.

From the hospital bed where my son was warded, I could see the traffic jam caused by the closure of several roads as the Police mounted road blocks, diverting traffic away from Dataran Merdeka where the crowd was supposed to have converged.

Friends were also forwarding text messages reminding each other to avoid certain routes. The telcos must have made tons of money, I thought to myself. And when friends alerted each other of long footage on Al Jazeera, woh, you can guess what happened next.

I wouldn't exactly agree with the way Al Jazeera covered the march. The station covered the more dramatic side of the event, showing how the Police had used water canons to disperse the crowd. If I'm overseas, I'd probably think that KL was on riot mode, and probably try catch the first flight back home.

I wasn't sure if the radio stations had given hourly bulletins of the march. I won't hazard a guess but I believe that keeping the public informed would have been a priority, given the possibillity that the march could get out of control. It's not as much as giving nationwide publicity to the march organisers, but more to alert the public against any potential danger.

When the public had to depend on sms, phone calls and Al Jazeera for updates, one begins to wonder where is the public service in public-owned radio stations? And TV too! And what if irresponsible elements were to spread ugly rumours...?

When May 13 broke out in 1969, Radio Malaysia was about the only source of news breaks. But they did well, alerting the public about the curfew that came soon after. Radio Malaysia did the responsible thing then. I remember staying glued to the old hand-me-down Grundig as my body trembled at the sight of flames from nearby Kg Kerinchi roads.

With information dissemination the way it is now, it's no longer possible to curb news flows. It's also irresponsible. In trying to win the intellectual battle, the authorities should do the right thing, unless they no longer care about their credibility.

One blog had 54 pictures of the Saturday march. Compare this with one Sunday newspaper which showed one picture of the massive traffic jam in KL. And then there's a prominent member of the Cabinet on world TV explaining his views with broken English. Painful, painful...

At the end of the day, one needs more than just the blogs, Al Jazeera and the dailies to get every information they want. But when the normal channel of information are not forthcoming, then you can't blame the public for sourcing their news and updates elsewhere. Agreed?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Divali - day of new sarees and kurtas!

DIVALI Greetings to all! May my Hindu friends have a meaningful and enjoyable day with family, relatives and friends! Like all other Malaysian festivals, Deepavali is also a day of open house and merriment.

For almost 10 years during my teens, I celebrated Deepavali with my Indian neighbours without fail. Very early in the morning, my Hindu friends would wake up and switch on their radio blaring out songs intended to wake everyone up.

Periasamy and Apu would be among the firsts to send trays of cakes and goodies to my house. Since we all lived within earshot of each other, the Deepavali morning would inevitably be a rather noisy affair.

Later in the day, we would visit our friends and the usual bottled drinks of Mirinda, Green Spot and Sarsaparilla would fill the table and everyone would be joking and having a good time. It was fun.

There were no such thing as Deepavali angpow but everyone would be just happy to go from house to house enjoying the muruku and mutton curry. There were times when my Hindu neighbours would ask my mother to cook chicken curry and the dish would be served when Muslim friends drop by.

My late father too would make his Deepavali rounds. But more often than not, he would have to work and deputise for his Indian colleagues, and this would be reversed when we celebrate Hari Raya.

As our society become more sophisticated, the celebrations too become more organised. Some of the spontaneity are no longer there. I suppose this is inevitable as we take our time management more seriously and visits are more than just an outright social occassion.

To my childhood friends Rasathi (who married Leong), Apu, Periyasamy, Bala, Muthukaruppan, Yogarajah, Aya, Puvi, Raj and Sinniah, may you have the happiest of Deepavali! May you enjoy many more Deepavali in the future too!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Would you spare RM1 a day for orphans?

WOULD you spare RM1 a day to help some underprivileged children? More specifically, orphans. At RM1 day, that would be RM365 a year; and that can go a long way to help ease their daily burden.

This is a small initiative that a few friends and I are undertaking. This started last month when I attended a special breaking of fast event in a village mosque. The village people, mostly rubber tappers and odd job workers, had organised the function a few days before Raya. They managed to give the orphans RM20 each to spend for Raya.

This was a one-off initiative. The following days I spoke to a few friends and sought their views - whether they would mind depriving themselves of one teh tarik a day and spend the money on the orphans instead. They all said yes, these kind souls.

God willing, these orphans will start the new year with extra money in their pocket. A register of orphans in the village is being done with their thumbnail sketch. The orphans' details will be distributed to potential donors so that they know where their money is spent.

In the village, most of these orphans stay with their relatives, who themselves are not rich. But in the village, the community share their hardships and little joys. For many years, they are trying to get together for some self-help initiatives to raise the academic achievements of school-going children in the village.

If there's enough support for this initiative, we may enlarge the scope to include some tuition classes for children sitting for their UPSR and PMR examinations next year. I'm not sure how far this can go but it's worth trying. If there's anyone who want to take part in this initiative, do drop me a line.

From my experience, a small village like this are very thankful for whatever help they can get. But they need good grassroot leaders who has the necessary resources and network to help them. It will also help if wealthy corporates were to lend a hand by offering small donations of a few thousand ringgit a year.

In fact, corporates should adopt villages or schools near where they are operating. They should actively participate in the school or village activities and be part of a support system to make the school children do well in their studies and the village more willing to change for the better.

Anyway, back to the orphans. Remember, all I want is RM1 a day for the whole year. A committee comprising village headman, the imam and mosque officials and other village leaders will form the management team to look after the funds. I look forwards to getting calls from friends to support this initiative.