May we please allow those who work for the good of others to continue doing that? Dr Kumar, Chon Kai, Saras, Babu, Letchu and Sugu need to work for a better Malaysia; so too the many whose energies are now directed towards justice for all who are incarcerated, writes Veronica Anne Retnam.
A rocky path indeed that a group committed for a better Malaysia has chosen. That path today is suddenly being joined by ordinary Malaysians, rising to the occasion. And they come from all shades, beliefs, from all ages; for the simple reason that the truth must be told, that one must take sides with.
Our PSM 6 friends, detained without trial under the Emergency Ordinance, have stood by the people, the poor whose shoes are so worn out, whose feet are filled with sores, whose feet ache when touching the ground, whose hands are so hardened by the rough and tough work, not for eight hours but for 12 hours or more.
They have stood with those who “make do”, cooking once in two days so that the food will
“multiply”, that the gas will stretch, so that their children will have some food. They have stood with those whose houses have been taken away by the banks and whose debts have sky-rocketed through no fault of theirs. And they have gone to Bank Negara to high-light the problems.
They have stood by those who put their lives on the line – the road users between Chemor and Sungei Siput (and it includes all those who have travelled on that road). They have stood by those at Kuang and fought against the stink; they have stood by scores of poor Malaysians and struggled.
Their struggle has been from department to department, handing memorandums, sitting with some level of the powers-that-be to negotiate, under the hot scorching sun, bringing awareness to Malaysians. They have not stood by idle nor in fear but by courageously working together towards a more equitable distribution of resources.
That sole socialist voice in Parliament has bravely, politely and clearly raised problems in Parliament. He has pointed out that the accidents due to speeding lorries were because the basic wage of lorry drivers is RM350, earnings being dependent upon the number of trips. He has traced the reasons for gangsterism and asked for change.
And what did thy get? Short changed..
I can share experiences of simplicity, compassion and commitment which I have witnessed.
A bottle of worms – preserved in a peanut butter jar greeted me when I entered a kindergarten class in Kg Pinang, a squatter area at Old Klang Road in the late 1970s as an undergraduate. These worms once lived in a little boy from that kampung. It was the outcome of the effort of a medical student, Kumar, said Alex Arokiam, a social worker from the kampong then. (Alex had helped “retrieve” and clean the worms). Dr Kumar had stayed with Alex in Kg Pinang for a year when he was a medical student. And that probably was my first encounter, not with Kumar directly, but with his efforts. When I eventually met him, the discussion centred around the bottle of worms and went on to why de-worming will never resolve the problem of worm infestation. We obviously knew he had gone beyond de-worming and had been working tirelessly to address, among other things, the root cause of the worm infestation.
Though the depth and scope of the work has changed, the fundamentals remain: that there must be justice. We have heard about the work against the privatisation of health care, about the minimum wage policy, about public transportation, about a safer environment, etc.
Dr Kumar’s feet have always been planted on the ground and his head on his shoulders. His mind travels miles, all for the greater good of his fellow human beings. He was one of 31 scholars who contributed to the publication on “Indian Communities in South East Asia”, a publication of the Institute of South East Asia. His article “The Indian Poor in Malaysia: Problems and Solutions” was based on his experience and understanding. In more recent times, his publications include “Speaking Truth to Power”, “Minta maaf, Saya tidak Setuju Tuan Speaker”. And what was his reward?
Knowing Dr Kumar and Mohanarani, his wife and social activist in her own right, has been a privilege. The close relationship has allowed me many insights, testimonies of simplicity, some of these beginning in Dungun and even over the seas to Kapit. Our ordinary fisher-folk friends, makciks and pakciks and the children in Kg Sg Udang/Sg Buaya are fond of this gentle doctor and his wife who have made it a point to visit them after many years. This simple couple even paid for a group of poor friends from the kampong to come for their wedding in Penang. “Macam mana boleh tangkap Dr Kumar,” said one of our friends from Dungun.
In Kapit when some of us visited Dr Kumar, we saw first hand his many interventions. We saw the slides of the peeled-off hands of workers, the legs which were squashed by falling logs. We heard of the interventions he was making to rehabilitate those who were victims of industrial accidents. And all who visited him did so by first donating blood to the blood bank!
His famous rickety and old but strong Volkswagon travelled countless miles whenever help was requested. He has come to help at formation programmes for students. And with his clarity in thinking, knowledge and experience he has made an impact on some of these students to serve in rural areas. How do we reward a man who has used whatever little free time he has to enlighten his fellow citizens to serve the poor? Slap the EO on him?
One has to go to Sg Siput to know the extent and nature of his work. Look at the crowd at the service centre. The people of Belakang Chin Choon will tell you of his effort at meeting the people to arrive at a common understanding. Ask them and they will tell you who has come to sit with them to listen to them, to their housing complaints. What threat can that be?
Ask a poor medical student and she will tell you how the Consultant Physician escorted her while she was driving her father’s 30-year-old car home after typing and sorting out her application forms for funding. It was late he had said; I was there when he drove off after she arrived at her gate. Not that his Mazda was any younger. Such was his commitment and humility. One head of a foundation told the student not to be greedy; I was there to witness it. She was told to work and save money before continuing with medical studies. A board member of another foundation questioned her mother for having ambitions of making her daughter a doctor. And that was for someone who was in the top 5 per cent of her class. He believed in her capacity to serve society through medicine and she is on her way to doing that. It is thanks to Dr Kumar for making it possible, not through donations but by empowering her to go to the right place for funding.
One has to examine his writings. And when does he do that? Coming back late from Sg Siput or back from Parliament does not mean rest time for him. He will be pounding away at the computer; or reading. How else does he have so much of knowledge and in such a broad area? And we must remember he was a consultant physician. He would get calls from the ward in the wee hours of the morning; and off he went, only to be up early the next morning. All these I have experienced first hand having stayed at his home.
Today a taxi driver in Ipoh told me how Dr Kumar had treated his mother-in-law without any charge. If we had gone to his clinic, we would have seen many patients waiting to see him. And how many were paying patients?
The taxi driver also spoke of the work his team has been doing in Sungei Siput. Check the PSM’s website or talk to the people in the many areas. Ask the Orang Asli of Perle. And its not just people from Sungai Siput.
Listen to the poor of all races talking compassionately of him. I cannot forget two elderly Malay women in Karai riding old bicycles saying how they admire him for his work and were his fans. They told me that if he called for a meeting they would come as he would not just talk but also act.
Humble as he his Kumar may not feel very comfortable about this public disclosure but it is necessary so that the general public knows who this man is and what his party stands for. His compassion and understanding encompasses a wide situation. He has compassion for children from tough backgrounds, those 18-year-old who are expected by society to help look after their single mothers and siblings. They cannot even manage their own needs given their meagre earnings, he has reasoned. And so too for pupils from poor households – he sees a need for them to have a safe place before and after school. He understands the problems of the 18-year-olds and other social problems not in isolation but in a wider context; which is why as a team builder, he has been working with his team to make Malaysia a better place.
May we please allow those who work for the good of others to continue doing that? Dr Kumar, Chon Kai, Saras, Babu, Letchu and Sugu need to work for a better Malaysia; so too the many whose energies are now directed towards justice for all who are incarcerated. Hear, all who have ears. We need them out very soon.
Veronica Anne Retnam is an Aliran member based in Seremban