Two deaths in stampede for free food raises disturbing questions

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Homeless people queue up at a soup kitchen in KL - File picture

Could the extent of poverty and homelessness be far more worse than what we have been led to believe, wonders JD Lovrenciear.

The news that two Chinese Malaysian senior citizens died when a crowd of more than 1,000 rushed for 200 free food coupons should prompt us to take a closer look at the state of poverty and desperation in the country.

Many among the crowd at ICC Pudu in the federal capital were senior citizens, according to reports.

Mind you, in a country where the perception is that the Chinese are not poor – as peddled all these decades by political stooges – the two deaths send a chilling message that the extent of poverty could be worse than what we have been led to believe.

The homeless can be seen in many parts of the country. In fact, the streets and alleyways of the federal capital are increasingly filled by the homeless as dusk falls each day. These include foreigners – perhaps migrant workers ditched by greedy employers or agents.

But the sad truth is we do not bother. We do not do media scoops so often. We do not want to owm up that Chinese, Malays, Indians and a whole lot of foreigners are homeless and without enough nourishing food.

Despite so much politicising of religion, laws to curb habits like smoking and a proposed curfew for youths, our ageing society is set to face a growing problem, given the failing value structures in society.

The few charitable deeds – like this case of handing out free food coupons – are obviously not enough and should send a sobering message to us all.

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In the quest to become a “developed nation” with high GDP figures filled with profitable businesses, we may be burying a harsher reality. What good are all the great and impressive skyscrapers if we are ignorant of the increasing number of homeless in our midst?

Do we have the courage and compassion to get to the ground to face the harsh reality that is often hidden, thanks to our neglect, indifference and blindness to the homeless, the hungry and the uncared for? It is time that the new government of hope takes the bull by the horns.

The media must rise to the challenge and come up with stories about the extent of poverty and homelessness across the country and how senior citizens are coping. Reporting on political quagmires or selling sweet success stories alone cannot do justice.

Otherwise, the painful, heart-wrenching truth about homelessness and poverty may just remain buried till it one day erupts.

What are we waiting for then?

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