Tuesday, 27 November 2007

The Hindraf Rally: The Indian Perspective

This edited account is taken from: www.indianmalaysian.com

On Sunday, the people - almost all from the Hindu community - responded impressively by taking part in the rally which attracted an estimated 30,000 from all over the country.

Hindraf [Hindu Rights Action Force] has tapped the anger within the community, and it was shown by those who participated in the rally and the thousands of others who were prevented by the police from entering Kuala Lumpur.

This was a crowd which is angry with the way Indian Malaysians are being treated. They are fed-up with being downtrodden. They are frustrated with being treated as third-class citizens in their own country.

So, they had no hesitation about accepting Hindraf’s invitation to come to Kuala Lumpur to express their anger despite the prior warnings issued by the police and political leaders - and in defiance of a restraining order that could see them jailed for contempt of court.

As many told Malaysiakini, the most recent demolition of a Hindu temple in Klang was the catalyst for their presence.

'Hear our voice’

Many of the protesters were out-of-towners. They have been deprived of a forum and the opportunity to say their piece. Many are also MIC [Malaysian Indian Congress) supporters, now with full regret that the only Indian-based party in the Barisan Nasional [the ruling coalition] has been helpless in stopping temple demolitions.

“This is the end. We have come here to protest against how the government treats us. They can beat us today. They can put us in prison. We don’t care. We want to tell the government that we are fed up,” said 52-year-old S Aiyakannu from Old Klang Road.

His son Palani led a three-bus convoy from up north.

“For us, it is like a life or death situation. If our voice is heard today, good. Otherwise, this frustrated community will have to show that we can’t be taken for a ride at all times,” he added.

“We have had enough of this bad treatment. They (government) can’t push us any lower. This is the limit. I am not here to support Hindraf’s suit against the UK government but I want to be here to show my anger,” said K Suresh from Sungai Petani.

The majority of the crowd was well-behaved, showing expected grit in the face of the heavy police presence and eventual use of water cannon and tear gas.

Every time they were sprayed with chemical-laced water and tear gas, they retreated only to come forward, in a bigger number.

Many carried posters of Mahatma Gandhi to symbolise their pacifist stand, and carried none of the banners and posters usually associated with political rallies.

Eyewitnesses say that reports of protesters hurting the police are exaggerated. In most spots, it was the other way round with the protesters taking the brunt of tear gas and chemical-laced water.

While no one disputes that police response had initially been restrained, the kid gloves came off the moment they started arresting the protesters for breaching the court order that banned the rally. Some were dragged along the road and hurled into waiting police trucks.

Even as they were being arrested, many submitted without resistance or complaint. One old man was heard saying that he was proud to be arrested over a cause for his community.

Similar sentiments were heard when the protesters were hit with water and tear gas.

“We are people who work hard to live. We don’t work in air-conditioned offices like the Kuala Lumpur people. We work under the sun and rain. We are hardy. Let them hit us with anything. We will stand still,” said Raman, a bus driver from Batang Berjuntai, Selangor.

Wake-up call

One thing is sure. This was not a political protest. This was a protest against the marginalisation of the Indian community. It was a case of the community hitting the streets because they have no where else to take their entrenched problems.

The show of force must surely be a wake-up call, not just for the community but also for MIC and the government.

Government leaders and the police can insist that the gathering was illegal but an overwhelming people power proved on Sunday that sentiments on the ground should not be neglected.

The Hindraf rally was the second mass protest this month - after the Bersih [Coalition for Fair and Clean Elections] rally on Nov 10 - and the third if we include the lawyers’ ‘Walk for Justice’ in Putrajaya last month.

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