Is it indifference or a sense of arrogance that enables us to abuse others?

If we can see ourselves in each other and ‘sit with the broken’, we will understand each other’s circumstances better and treat each other with more respect

Photograph: Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas/Pexels

All over the world, the Covid pandemic continues. We watch in horror at the Covid situation so out of control in India. The loss of lives and the anguish and suffering of people is awful.

Are we as a country doing enough to prevent this from happening here? There is concern over the rising number of cases, the efficacy of the Covid vaccine rollout and the way in which people are complying (or not) with restrictions, including those for cross-border travel and large gatherings.

The “antara dua darjat” (double standards) episodes are not helping. Norway and Thailand have both fined their prime ministers for violating Covid control restrictions. We obviously need that here.

But some common sense is also needed among those who create the rules and those who enforce the restrictions to ensure that the measures are reasonable and that the fines imposed do not drive people into poverty.

While Covid has wreaked havoc the world over, there are several things happening in Malaysia that the virus is not guilty of. Many of these things shame us as a nation.

The recent episode of ‘period spot checks’ is a complete abuse of power and violation of a child’s privacy and there can be no justification for this.

These actions disregard the girl child’s autonomy over her own body and her privacy. Just think about the message it sends to these children about what people can do to them and the psychological damage caused by the humiliation. It makes a mockery of the government’s signing of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.

The Ministry of Education must step forward with clear guidelines to all types of schools, flush out the teachers and schools where these practices are said to be occurring and stop such practices immediately.

It is ironic that so much emphasis has been placed on having legislation to stop sexual predators from harming our children, coming up with harsh sentencing to ensure punishment, introducing a sex offenders registry and launching child helplines. Yet, all the while, we have allowed such abuses to take place in educational institutions. 

Before the indignation could settle, an allegation about a teacher who made jokes about rape emerged. The teenage student who highlighted the matter reportedly received a threat from a male classmate: “If I get you, I will shred you or rape you and send you to Thailand,” was apparently part of an audio recording sent to the teenager.

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The deputy inspector general of police, in investigating both matters, reportedly said that the second report was about “what may be a joke from her classmate, which she couldn’t accept”.

Since then, the classmate has apologised, the police are insisting they are taking the matter seriously, the Ministry of Home Affairs is investigating the press for inaccurate reporting of the deputy inspector general’s comment and the teenager has been subjected to lewd comments from Facebook accounts.

The entire episode is an example of the ‘rape culture’ in existence, ie making light of sexual assault; trivialising, excusing or normalising threats of sexual assault; and allowing victim blaming.

What chance is there for the prevention of sexual assault (let’s not even talk about justice and redress for victims of sexual assault) when society continues to support the rape culture.

Who will make those who partake in this rape culture accountable? Who will protect those who speak up against sexual violence or inappropriate jokes and comments on sexual violence?

A strong message must come from leaders across the country – politicians, community leaders and others. They must step up and speak out against sexual violence and the rape culture without blaming the victim’s dressing or asking whether the victim had “tutup aurat”.

We also need our male leaders to step up and be role models of what it means to truly respect women as their equals. Is this asking for too much?  

In the meantime, the case of foreign spouse Simon Momoh emerged. Having served a symbolic one-day jail term and paid a RM12,000 fine for a drink-driving offence which he pleaded guilty too, he was then detained by immigration authorities for almost 40 days. During this time his spousal visa was revoked and a deportation order issued.

The Shah Alam High Court recently ruled that the Immigration Department director general’s were illegal and also procedurally wrong and ordered Simon’s immediate release on a writ of habeas corpus.

The entire episode threw light on the abuse of power and procedures by the immigration authorities not just pertaining to Simon but to other foreigners being detained and pending deportation as detailed in a media article. Who will hold the immigration authorities to account?

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Then we have the whole “what’s- going-on-with-the-police?” situation. For umpteen years, people have complained about police misconduct and have repeatedly called for the setting up of an independent police complaints and misconduct commission (IPCMC). But when the inspector general of police himself complains about a police cartel, what is the public to think?

Behind-the-scenes stories continue to play out in the media with allegations of political interference and the appointment of the new inspector general.

Meanwhile, allegations of police brutality continue. Less than a week ago, A Ganapathy, 40, who alleged told his family he had been beaten severely with a rubber hose by the police while in detention, succumbed to his injuries after spending over a month at Selayang Hospital’s intensive care unit. How will this be investigated?

Investigating allegations of police brutality or misconduct is an uphill battle, going by a recent inquest into another victim who died in custody. Mohd Fadzrin Zaidi 29, was found dead on 22 November 2019 in a cell at the Northern Seberang Perai Police headquarters.

According to the lawyers representing the late Fadzrin, the coroner had postponed the inquest four times and withheld key documents.

Finally, through a criminal revision application at the Penang High Court the coroner’s court was ordered to disclose documents and materials relevant to the inquest. Why is it so difficult to get to the truth of what happened? What can people infer from this?

Another example of the unjust wielding of power was highlighted when a family protested outside Bank Negara Malaysia requesting intervention in their situation, along with Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) activists over what they deemed as an unfair bank auction of their low-income family home.

While the situation has finally been resolved amicably between the bank and the family, one must ask the banks – what is the due diligence process in deciding on auctioning a property and what are the checks and balances in place to ensure, notify and discuss the sum outstanding with the borrower.

A decision to auction off a property, signed off on a piece of paper, has far-reaching consequences for the lives of those living in that property. With great power come great responsibilities and the need for all banks, especially in the time of Covid, to ensure that the vulnerable are assisted and not brushed off by bureaucratic procedures and rigid guidelines.

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There are other causes for concern – the arrest of artist-activist Fahmi Reza over his jealousy-themed Spotify playlist “ini Dengki ke” and the investigation of political cartoonist Zunar over a cartoon on the axing of the Thaipusam holiday in Kedah.

These actions reveal a curtailing of the space for freedom of expression, including a lack of understanding of political satire.

But the suicide of Shahzad Ahmed, 30, a Pakistani migrant worker driven to desperate action because he had not received his salary for five months, was shocking. How many more people are in similar situations and are powerless to speak out.

These examples and many more shame us as a nation. Why? Simply because by now, we should know better. Is it indifference or a sense of arrogance or twisted righteousness or a sense of privilege that enables us to abuse others, especially those who are vulnerable? How is it that we can be so callous and careless with people?

As we journey through this pandemic as individuals and as a nation, as we try to find the right way forward for ourselves and our nation, we must see ourselves in each other, irrespective of whether the other is of a different faith, a different ethnic group, a different immigration status, a different gender or a different socioeconomic background.

Two quotes come to mind:

Compassion becomes real when we recognise our shared humanity. – Pema Chondron

I am not interested if you have stood with the great, I am interested if you have sat with the broken.Sue Fitzmaurice

If we can do this – see ourselves in each other and “sit with the broken” – we will understand each other’s circumstances better, treat each other with more respect, be more responsible and accountable in the wielding of power and decision-making and perhaps even join in the struggle to dismantle unjust laws and systems in place.

Prema Devaraj
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
3 May 2021

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loyal malaysian
loyal malaysian
5 May 2021 5.27am

“Compassion becomes real when we recognise our shared humanity.- Pema Chondron’
Yes, Dr Prema, we as a people have not recognised our shared humanity as yet. That is why all those sad narratives which you narrated to us in your article.
It is ” indifference, a sense of arrogance … a sense of privilege that enables” those in power to abuse others, especially those who are vulnerable.
In this culture of the pengkianat nasional govt. prevalent now, all those perpetrators are getting away with it.

Renuka Thuraisingham
Renuka Thuraisingham
4 May 2021 7.57am

Excellent article