Tan Chee Khoon – champion of the people

Without fear or favour, he championed the cause of truth, freedom and justice and of multi-ethnic cooperation and understanding, P Ramakrishnan and Francis Loh write.

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Tan Chee Khoon left a monumental legacy of multi-ethnic cooperation for the common good - ALIRAN MONTHLY


Reproduced from Aliran Monthly 1996, Vol 16 No 8 to mark the 25th anniversary of Dr Tan’s passing

Aliran mourns the death of Tan Sri Dr Tan Chee Khoon [on 14 October 1996] – a friend of Aliran, a defender of freedom, justice and truth, and an outstanding Malaysian.

Dr Tan belonged to that rare breed of Malaysians who have shown indomitable courage and commitment in the face of adversity. But he was also compassionate and patient, humble and generous.

His service to the nation, especially to ordinary Malaysians, was exemplary and lasted his lifetime.

He spoke with passion and fervour against injustices of all kinds. In particular, he championed the cause of the poor and the helpless.

His struggle encompassed:

  • the poor rural Malay farmers and fishermen who did not share equally the benefits of Malaysia’s rapid development
  • the neglected Chinese new villages and urban pioneers like those in his Batu/Kepong constituencies
  • the Indian estate workers who received miserable wages and who were subsequently threatened with a loss of livelihood when fragmentation of the estates began
  • the marginalised Orang Asli – a special concern of his from very early days
  • the disabled and their special needs
  • the trade union movement
  • Sabahans and Sarawakians struggling for a fairer deal from the federal government

All these concerns are evident in a review of his speeches in Parliament and in public forums, in his articles and books.

Even when he suffered the effects of his first stroke in 1976, which rendered him partially immobile, that formidable spirit refused to rest and take it easy.

Who could forget him – traversing the country, speaking against the burning issues of the time, tenaciously dragging himself slowly, step by step, brushing aside all assistance. He was fiercely independent and extremely determined.

He was completely multi-ethnic in his outlook. As indicated earlier, he spoke, wrote and fought on behalf of all groups. By espousing common concerns and struggling together, he hoped that ordinary Malaysians would overcome ethnic prejudices, develop mutual respect and understanding, and build genuine multi-ethnic cooperation.

For this reason, he dedicated himself to the cause of multi-ethnic parties. And for this reason too, he was critical of mono-ethnic parties like the component parties of Barisan Nasional and some opposition parties as well. According to him, such mono-ethnic parties promoted ethnic antagonisms, especially among ordinary Malaysians.

Thus, when his own party compromised on its multi-ethnic stance, it was time for Dr Tan, the uncompromising and unyielding advocate of multi-ethnicity, to move on to another party. His shift from party to party was to keep the name of multi-ethnicity alive and to remain true to his principled position.

And those who were close to him will know that he advocated, too, a spirituality that embraced every human being transcending their religious and ethnic differences.

On I September 1984, in recognition of his vast contributions to the cause of freedom and justice, Aliran bestowed on Dr Tan Chee Khoon the Outstanding Malaysian Award 1984 – a well-deserved honour for a lifetime of struggle for the just cause.

He in turn honoured us the following year – consenting to be the first chairman of the newly established Aliran Trust Board, a post he held with dignity and pride until 1993, when subsequent stroke rendered him unable to serve further.

For us in Aliran, there will always be a special spot in our hearts and minds for this great human being. Without fear or favour, he championed the cause of truth, freedom and justice, and of multi-ethnic cooperation and understanding. All of these causes, Aliran too holds special. For this reason, we shall forever be indebted to him.

Aliran calls upon all Malaysians to similarly dedicate themselves to these causes. This is the greatest honour we can bestow upon Tan Sri Dr Tan Chee Khoon.

This is the way we should remember this truly great Malaysian.

The Aliran Family, in extending its deepest condolences to Puan Sri and her family, also wishes to thank them for sharing this wonderful human being with us.

This Aliran Monthly cover story was written by P Ramakrishnan and Dr Francis Loh on 15 October 1996, when they were president and honorary secretary of Aliran respectively

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