P Ramakrishnan reflects on what it means for us to be truly independent in modern-day Malaysia.
For me 31 August 1957 is a moment in history that gave us our freedom and nationhood.
It is something I recall with pride and remember with affection our first beloved Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, who governed the country with a lot of goodwill, tolerance, respect for the citizens, with opportunity for all to live in peace and harmony. He prided in calling himself “The happiest prime minister in the world”. Indeed, he was with his live-and-let- live philosophy.
But it came to an abrupt end when plotting politicians toppled him and took over the reins of power. With that, the Malaysia we knew died.
The unity that we had, the friendships we enjoyed which transcended our ethnicity, the easy mingling of the races, the religious tolerance, the common celebrations of our various festivals and visiting our friends on those occasions – all that also died… sadly.
In spite of 63 years of Merdeka, why am I not a Malaysian?
In 2007 – 13 years ago – while celebrating Aliran’s 30th anniversary, at the dinner speech, I touched on this issue. In part, that speech reads:
“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 recognised 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 am 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 Kadazandusun Malaysian – but never a Malaysian. A Malaysian is never recognised in Malaysia.
“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 recognised 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!”