25th November 2009 marks the 2nd anniversary of the unprecedented street rally by Indians under the now “banned but not crippled” organisation called Hindraf in this country. Image source: Malaysiakini
The 2007 Hindraf rally was a rally held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on November 25, 2007.
The rally organizer, the Hindu Rights Action Force, had called the protest over alleged discriminatory policies which favour ethnic Malays. The rally was the second such street protest after the 2007 Bersih rally in Kuala Lumpur on November 10, 2007.
The rally started when a crowd estimated to be between 5,000 to 30,000 people gathered outside the Petronas Twin Towers at midnight, early Sunday morning. At least 240 people were detained, but half of them were later released.
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When Hindraf took to the streets in November 2007, certainly it was not done overnight. Hindraf existed long before that and often in thick of actions when it comes to demolishment of temples particularly in the state of Selangor.
Hindraf is a coalition of 30 Hindu non-governmental organizations committed to the preservation of Hindu community rights and heritage in a multiracial Malaysia (source)
Demolishment of temples under the old Selangor MB, Khir Toyo was one of the catalysts for the organisation to take the matter to the streets.
The case against Hindraf
The rally itself was tainted with accusations of being highly racist (that it only takes care of Indians and not Malaysians in general) and was not helped by the fact that Hindraf was trying to seek help from a foreign sovereign instead of the Malaysian King who in fact is our real sovereign (which many called it as treason on the highest order) and some of the demands in the full list of demands were worded too extreme and unreasonable.
The police at one point even painted that there was a connection between Hindraf and the Tamil Elam Tigers who were fighting for a separate state in Sri Lanka but it was a case that was never proven to this day.
Hindraf vs MIC
One of the biggest implications of the Hindraf’s rally, in my opinion, was that it created a room for many Indians to start questioning the role of MIC when it comes to the welfare of Indians in this country. Long before there was a general election and long before MIC realised the loss of Indian support in the ballot box, there was already Hindraf movement all over the country participating in prayers in the many temples and getting involved when there are any issues affecting the community.
Hindraf’s role in getting involved in the community’s issues was a role that I think MIC could have played more effectively but with older issues like the Telekom shares remain unsettled, many have lost confidence in MIC’s ability to continue to champion the plight of the community. Hindraf provided the alternative avenue. What more when there was a lack of coordination and solution provided when it faced with demolishment of temples in Selangor? This is why PKR, DAP and even PAS managed to grab the big swing in Indian voters during the general election.
Another implication that resulted from Hindraf rally and before that with Bersih and protests against toll hike was the high handedness of the government when it comes to dealing with dissent voices of the people. Instead of friendly dialogue, forum or close-knit communication, the response was often come in the form of arrests, tear gas, water cannon and arrogant discard of issues. The Hindraf leaders were promptly arrested under the ISA and spent almost 2 years in custody. There was a clear lack of engagement between the government with the people and the problems facing all Malaysians.
The cry “Makkal Sakthi” (or People’s Power) became a famous battle cry during the last general election and it has an impact on all walk of life (not limiting to Indians under Hindraf). As V mentioned in the movie V for Vendetta –
“People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people”
Admittedly Hindraf is now seen has lost their core objective, mainly due to several reasons such as some of the states where they were very active such as Perak and Selangor have fallen into the opposition hands, there has been more swing towards Indian welfare and focus on the problems faced by the community by the government under Najib’s administration and more importantly, due to breakup of Hindraf itself into many small factions including one who formed their own political party.
Hindraf’s rally for right or wrong did achieve one thing that it was meant to do – that is to create awareness, both for the government and for the Indians who are ignorant of the issues facing the community.
Thankfully things are better under the Pakatan Rakyat’s administration (except perhaps on the Kampung Buah Pala incident) and to some extent, under Najib’s administration.
It is hoped that the government regardless it is from BN or PR, to engage the issues with more conviction and effective rather than silencing them in swift harsh actions. Otherwise, Malaysians will be far from being one as Bangsa Malaysia and street rallies like the one organised by Hindraf will be part of our daily life.