Today April 26, 2009, marks my 500th day under Umno’s captivity without being charged, tried or found guilty in a court of law. I suppose this is ‘justice’ for me, an Indian ethnic minority and human rights lawyer of 18 years.
Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s continued unilateral decree is that I be made to serve a jail sentence of two years and indefinitely thereafter under his regime. There are prisoners here at Kemta Kamunting, Taiping, serving their eighth year of their ISA sentences.
But I have no regrets. I know in my heart that every day of my imprisonment will liberate and open up a thousand new minds against Umno’s atrocities and injustices in their marginalisation, discrimination, suppression, oppression and the exclusion of Indians from the mainstream of national development in Malaysia.
Today, I have grown 500 days older. Today, I have lost 500 days of my precious freedom. Today, it is 500 days since I shaved my beard or combed my hair to protest my ISA detention. Today, it is 500 days since I have been made to wear the very same two pairs of dark blue baggy pants and white restaurant waiter-like prison uniform.
My left foot
On Jan 31, 2009, I had accidently injured the last toe of my left foot, which had gotten worse because of my long standing diabetic condition. From day one of my injury, I had repeatedly asked to be treated at the Gleneagles private hospital as I no longer have confidence in the independence of government-service doctors, which I believe had been compromised by the Home Ministry and its Special Branch police officers.
Under protest, I agreed to be treated at a government hospital on Feb 3, 2009. As I had anticipated, the doctor refused to admit me despite my swollen leg and blackening left foot condition. The doctor told me there were no hospital beds and neither did she want to refer me to an orthopedic surgeon or a consultant physician, as well as a cardiologist to treat my silent heart attack during my ISA detention.
No cast was put on my leg. No medication was prescribed. This doctor told me that my leg would heal on its own. My suspicion was confirmed when the doctor, who had written my medical notes in a police file, gave it back to the police officers accompanying me.
By the second week, my leg got even worse and despite repeated pleas, the prison authorities refused to take me even to a government hospital, which I agreed to go under protest. I had lodged four police reports but again zero action was taken. Even my statement was not recorded.
The worst case scenario ran across my mind. I may lose my left foot. For the first time, I realised that as a lawyer, I could not even save myself. There was nothing I could do, I was a prisoner.
But even then, I had thought to myself that should the worst happen, I would put on a prosthesis (artificial leg) and keep walking. I feel that at the end of the day, it was the prayers held at scores of Hindu temples nationwide by supporters of Makkal Sakthi that had actually saved my leg and ensure my well-being in prison.
Surviving on bread and biscuits
On March 22, 2009, I found pieces of beef in the chicken sambal served to me. Mohamad, a Pakistani national, and Abdul Sarjon, a Sri Lankan national, and fellow detainees who worked at the prison kitchen confirmed that chicken and beef were cooked in the same pot after which the chicken was scooped out and served.
I immediately lodged a police report. But again nothing happened as usual. But had it been the other way round – the victimisation a Malay Muslim – a different set of rules would be applied by Umno.
But I suppose this is all part and parcel of PM Najib’s One Malaysia policy. One Malaysia, two systems. Since that day, I have refused to consume cooked food from the prison kitchen in protest against the violation of my religious rights in contravention of Article 11 of the Federal Constitution. As a Hindu, I do not consume beef. I am now surviving basically on bread and biscuits.
Throughout these 500 days, there was never a single day that I ever regretted starting and spearheading this struggle. I believed in justice, including for the minority ethnic Indians, in Malaysia.
In these 500 days, I have refused to meet any of the Special Branch officers who came to meet detainees once in every two to three months to “plead for my release”. I have done no wrong and I am not prepared to beg for my freedom. I had earlier also refused to meet Umno’s home minister, knowing fully well that my release from prison is in his hands, for the very same reason.
My biggest satisfaction and what keeps me going in prison is the true and sincere spirit of the struggle through Hindraf’s Makkal Sakthi.
It moved me to see thousands of Hindraf supporters who had braved FRU’s tear gas and water cannons, who were roughed up and beaten by the police, arrested, handcuffed, thrown into jail, prosecuted in court and bravely standing up in the dock to face possible jail sentences, losing their jobs, and with their wife and children suffering.
All these sacrifices, just for a public cause to put to an end to Umno’s racism, religious extremism and exclusion of the Indians from the mainstream of national development. To all of you, I salute you and I am proud of you. Makkal Sakthi Valga.
I miss my freedom
I am suffering from this imprisonment daily. I miss my freedom. I miss my family, my wife and children.
But I am prepared for the worst, even if it means another 500 days or more of imprisonment. I will do this just for the cause of Hindraf. Umno can imprison me but they cannot imprison the forces of Hindraf’s Makkal Sakthi.
Makkal Sakthi was the tipping point in the March 8, 2008 general elections. It was the triggering factor which resulted in Umno/BN losing two-thirds majority in Parliament as well as political power in four west-coast states.
Makkal Sakthi once again showed its prowess at the Bukit Selambau and Bukit Gantang by-elections. I never, even in my wildest dream, thought I would see Makkal Sakthi forces to this extent in my lifetime.
I am no Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela, but Umno has to understand and accept that it was the genuine grievances of the people – the pent-up pain and suffering, misery and heartache – that brought about the unprecedented 100,000-strong Hindraf rally on Nov 25, 2007.
Please be patient. Umno will not change, but we will change Umno in the 2012/2013 general elections. We will put an end to Umno’s bully tactics and its rule by fear. We have waited 52 long years.
Please be patient. In another three or four years, there would hopefully be a new beginning, a new political structure and a Malaysia with equality and equal opportunities, including for the Indians. A Malaysia where the Indians would be a part of the mainstream in national development.
Every day and every moment of my imprisonment, my thoughts and prayers are with Makkal Sakthi. I have plans for our further struggle. Please pray for my freedom, and for Umno’s end of its rule so that justice will finally prevail.
Umno may have punished me with this 500 days of imprisonment but you, the Makkal Sakthi, will in turn punished Umno/BN where it hurts them most – the ballot box.
Kamunting Detention Camp, Perak