30 years of Aliran: An unending journey

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A moment comes in the history of a nation when its citizens are asked to bear testimony to their belief in justice and truth. That defining moment will soon be coming with the next election, said Aliran president P Ramakrishnan, at Aliran’s 30th anniversary celebratory dinner attended by some 700 concerned Malaysians. He recalled the ups and downs in the 30 years of Aliran and noted that those in Aliran were once labelled and abused – but at the same time, they also discovered the joy of standing up for justice and found what makes living worthwhile.

It is with a profound sense of gratitude that I stand before you. You have made this function a great success with your support and presence. Thank you very much.

We are grateful to the many donors and generous friends who went out of their way to solicit support for this function. I regret that I’m unable to mention each one of you by name. There are too many of you. But let me assure you that Aliran will be eternally grateful to all of you.

We are grateful to the Instant Café Theatre Company for coming all the way from Kuala Lumpur to entertain us.

Friends: You represent the best in our society. You are the caring and sharing Malaysians who have journeyed with us in friendship and in solidarity. It is people like you who make the difference in our society and provide us with the inspiration to continue with this journey – no matter what.

On 12 August 1977 we undertook that journey as a Reform Movement dedicated to Justice, Freedom and Solidarity. It was almost like a pilgrimage. That unending journey has brought us today to a significant milestone in the history of Aliran. We are 30 years old. The fact that we have existed so long is in itself a miracle.

That journey was not easy or smooth. It was fraught with trials and tribulations. And we couldn’t have surmounted those difficulties without the support and encouragement from Malaysians who really cared.

In recalling those trying times, I’m reminded of a statement that had a lot of similarities to the challenges we had to face and endure.

In 1894, Paul Painleve, wrote a piece entitled “We were labeled and abused” with reference to the Dreyfus Affair in France. He stated, “Those who have not known the joy of standing up for a great cause of justice have not known what makes living worthwhile.”

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Let me tell you that we were also labeled and abused. We know the joy of standing up for justice and we know what makes living worthwhile.

In October 1980 this BN government tried to deregister Aliran for criticizing the new allowances for top civil servants. They labeled us and abused us for more than five months. They used the media to vilify us; they abused their parliamentary immunity to concoct all sorts of lies to discredit us; they used the hallowed grounds of the senate to crucify us.

They talked about our international connections as if we were plotting to overthrow the government; they accused us of being against the monarchy, the Rukunegara, the bumiputras; they tried to link us with the communists. They insinuated and alleged that we were arousing racial sentiments and that Aliran was “made up of frustrated politicians” when there wasn’t a single politician in Aliran. They proclaimed that we had contravened the law.

We came through that episode with our integrity in tact and our reputation untarnished.

Friends, our mainstay is Aliran Monthly. It is an unending task that is undertaken with a lot of labour of love. The sales from this publication used to sustain us in the past. But dropping sales as a result of poor marketing and unreliable distribution, the street sales have dropped considerably. We are no longer able to manage the running of the organisation with the income from the sale of the Aliran Monthly.

Some years ago, we discovered that somebody else was also distributing the Aliran Monthly though we were the only publishers. That must have also affected our sales. We changed the printer. But recently another problem cropped up. One distributor returned more unsold copies than what we had supplied him. He returned more than what he received from us!

Besides this, there are other problems. Getting the publication permit on time is an annual tussle. Finding courageous printers to stick with us is a perennial problem. They are intimidated to abandon us so that we are left in a lurch. In one instance, in a period of less than two years, the Aliran Monthly was printed by eight different printers.

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Because of this daunting problems, we may have to seriously ponder whether we should continue making Aliran Monthly available for street sales. The alternative is to build up our subscription base. At the moment we have around 2,200 subscribers. This figure is holding on. If we can double this figure, then financially it will be less of a strain for us.

This is why, I wish to take this opportunity to appeal to all of you to subscribe to Aliran Monthly. If you are already a subscriber, please introduce a friend or take up a gift subscription for a relative or someone who may be interested in the issues we raise. This is the only way to increase our subscription base.

If you are not aware, let me tell you that you can also make a donation on a regular basis to help us. Be a friend of Aliran. Help to keep the flame burning.

There is a doctor in PJ who is in his 80s, a very faithful reader of the Monthly for many, many years. He has instructed his bank since 2005 to forward RM100 to Aliran on a monthly basis. There is also a pensioner in Seremban who is in his 70s, he makes a point to donate RM100 every year when he renews his subscription. And every time he will regret that he is unable to contribute more.

Like these kind souls, there are also others who donate whenever they renew their subscriptions. We greatly appreciate their caring attitude.

Well, friends, there are ways in which you can pitch in to give a helping hand. I’m confident that after this appeal, all of you will put your shoulder behind the Aliran wheel and give it a good push.

Friends, while we celebrate 30 years of Aliran today, two days ago our nation celebrated 50 years of nationhood. We have come a long way since 1957. Our physical achievements are remarkable and impressive. Tallest building, longest bridge, biggest erection – and what not – you have them all! But in spite of our success and our euphoria, we have to ask a simple, fundamental question: Are you a Malaysian? Am I a Malaysian? Outside the country, you and I are recognized as a Malaysian. But within this country are you a Malaysian?

Unfortunately, nobody knows who a Malaysian is without that defining, ethnic adjective. If I say that I’m a Malaysian, the Malaysian bureaucracy will look at me askance. But if I were to say that I’m an Indian Malaysian then I’m discovered! They know who I am at once. That goes for the rest of us. You are a Malay Malaysian, a Chinese Malaysian, an Indian Malaysian, a Kadasandusan Malaysian – but never a Malaysian. A Malaysian is never recognized in Malaysia.

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If after 50 years of nationhood, you are not a Malaysian, what are we celebrating? We can put on a fantastic show and fool the world but we cannot fool ourselves.

This is one of the tragedies of a huge mandate given to the government. That mandate over 50 years has not seriously addressed the question of our status as a citizen and our unity as a nation.

That huge majority has eroded our rights and stripped us of our legitimate identity as an ordinary citizen of Malaysia. That huge majority has kept us apart.

It is left to us to do something to claim our right of identity as citizens. If you want to be recognized as a citizen without any ethnic adjective to your citizenship, then we must actively and consciously do something.

It takes the collective effort of all of us to bring about a change.

Friends, a moment comes in the history of a nation when its citizens are asked to bear testimony to their belief. That defining moment will soon be coming with the next election.

Ask yourself whether another huge mandate is going to bring about a change of policy that will give back your identity as a citizen of Malaysia. Or will it mean more of the same for the next 50 years?

Think about it!

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Thanks for dropping by! 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.

Our voluntary writers work hard to keep these articles free for all to read. But we do need funds to support our struggle for Justice, Freedom and Solidarity. To maintain our editorial independence, we do not carry any advertisements; nor do we accept funding from dubious sources. If everyone reading this was to make a donation, our fundraising target for the year would be achieved within a week. So please consider making a donation to Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara, CIMB Bank account number 8004240948.
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