Fearless Indians fight for rights
Posted November 27, 2007on:
|Fearless Indians fight for rights|
news analysis “Let’s see how makkal sakti (Tamil for ‘people power’) works now,”
was Hindraf chairperson P Waythamoorthy’s reaction, just after he and two
other key leaders were arrested 48 hours before the rally planned by
the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf).
And 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.
Waythamoorthy (right) and his brother Uthayakumar
(left)are the prime movers behind Hindraf.
Apart from often being the first to react with
a grassroots presence whenever an incident involves the
community, they have also held a successful nationwide
roadshow to remind Indians of their rights.
In the process, Hindraf 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.
The real heroes, though, were the protesters.
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 polic 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 supporters, now with full regret that the only
Indian-based party in the Barisan Nasional 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 time,” he added.
Many have not seen
Waythamoorthy or his
but have heard of their
movement to mobilise
the community fo the rally.
“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.
The protesters gathered at about nine locations
around Jalan Ampang and the KLCC . Every time
they were stopped from marching forward,
they would disperse and regroup at another spot.
(See map below)
regroup behind the police line, forcing the
FRU trucks and street personnel to turn around or alter their positions.
Ready for battle
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
had initially been
retrained, the kid
gloves came off
the moment they
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 complain.
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 KL 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.
Although emotions sometimes ran high, there were some
light-hearted moments at the expense of the police, which
lifted the spirits of the protesters.
On one occasion,
police fired rounds
of tear gas at their own men,
totally missing about 1,000
protesters standing in the vicinity.
Seeing the men-in-blue running
helter-skelter brought them joy,
as much as seeing a Caucasian
jogging in the middle of a stand-off
between protesters and the police,
oblivious to the tension around him!
The police did their best to disperse the crowd. After realising that tear gas,
water cannon and arrests were not doing the job, they started telling
the protesters that Hindraf leaders had submitted the memorandum
as planned to the British High Commission.
They also said that Hindraf leaders had called for the protesters to disperse.
The protesters however were not buying any of this, telling the police
to just let them march to the high commission and disperse from there.
“Never mind about the memorandum. Just let us walk
peacefully right up to the high commission,” said a
young man who was soon arrested for breaching the court order.
By the end of the six-hour cat-and-mouse game,
it was the police who grew tired. Towards the end,
they only concentrated on protecting their cordon
around the high commission.
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 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 rally on Nov 10 – and the third if we
include the lawyers’ ‘Walk for Justice’ in Putrajaya last month.
The protesters on all three occasions had no fear whatsoever in making their stand –
and at each event, the police could not find a definitive tactic to put them off their purpose.
If the momentum continues, the people power as envisaged
by Waythamoorthy, could well lead to changes that are long overdue.