By S Arutchelvan
Ramalingam was a workers’ leader at the Sungai Rinching Plantation with exceptional capability and capacity.
He was the leader who brought victory and who stood till the end in a divided struggle at the plantation (for the story, read chapter 14 of the book Akar Umbi titled “Tiada Kemenangan tanpa pengorbanan dan perjuangan” (No victory without sacrifice and struggle).
Unlike many workers who stopped being active after their economic struggle was realised, Ramalingam did not end his legacy there.
He was one of three worker activists who was selected to join the Community Development Centre (CDC) because of his excellent leadership, dedication and commitment to the struggle beyond his estate, beyond his community, beyond his ethnic group. (The other two grassroots workers to join this dedicated team of activists were Koyilvani from the Guppy factory struggle and Ganesan from Braemar Plantation.)
Ramalingam was a gem. He was hardworking and worked tirelessly. He got his whole family involved in the struggle. He was an example or rather a gold standard for other activists to follow. He led a simple life and yet gave so much to the struggle of the working class.
Ramalingam was a national leader of the plantation workers’ support committee, JSML, who led many successful campaigns, including the monthly wage campaign and the campaign for plantation workers’ housing.
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Ramalingam normally was our spokesperson on the plantation workers’ struggle. He was also instrumental in organising many Veerasenan football tournaments. He was a key person and motivator in many other struggles involving estate workers.
In 1994 the plantation workers and urban settlers held a huge protest on May Day.
For the 1995 general election, both these communities put up election demands and billboards in the estates and kampongs. Every politician was told to sign a pledge if they wanted the people’s votes. This was important voter education and grassroots power at work.
Yet many politicians and candidates refused to sign the pledge and avoided these areas; many did not want to commit, while some stayed away.
During a post-mortem meeting after the general election to discuss the outcome of the campaign, this man Ramalingam stood up and said we needed our own political party. He argued that we could not rely on the existing parties to fight for workers’ rights.
His views were accepted by many. If today the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) is a political party, Ramalingam had a lot to do with it. (See pages 102 to 106 – “Mengapa sepuluh tahun untuk daftar PSM?” (Why did it take 10 years to register PSM?)
Ramalingam went on to join and build the Semenyih PSM branch. He held various positions, including branch chairperson. He was also my nominator and seconder when I contested as a candidate in the Semenyih constituency of the Selangor state assembly in the 2013 and 2018 general elections.
He was a tireless campaigner who would work in rain and shine to put up party flags. As a core member of PSM, he was also arrested on several occasions with us.
He had been unwell for some time, but it never stopped him from going daily to his farm to work. On his last day, he followed the same routine and at night, just before going to sleep, he fell and died – “peacefully and didn’t want to trouble anybody,” his grieving family told us.
Susila his wife is yet another excellent person, who worked along with him in this struggle. She will definitely miss him as their relationship was one of close comradeship. Actually, all his children – Loga, Kumarvel, Subramani and Yamuna – are a complete package and very much involved in our struggle.
While Ramalingam’s body was at the Damai Hospital in Semenyih, his son told me about a recent incident when he confronted his dad about why he had not wanted to accept the money offered by a developer to sell out the struggle in their estate.
“Now see … we are still not rich, while others who took are happy,” the son had told him.
Ramalingam replied that “in life, principles are important. People will remember me for my principles. You just watch.”
Yes, we have watched. My comrades in the CDC, JSML and PSM and I will never be able to repay Ramalingam’s deeds, loyalty to and sacrifice for the struggle and the party. The image of him putting up party flags in the rain still haunts me.
Ramalingam will always be remembered. For me, he was a class A workers’ leader.
S Arutchelvan is the deputy chairman of PSM