Two Terrible Tales

on Saturday, May 05, 2007

I have tried to share about the beauty of Malaysia and the wonderful diversity of its people and I am grateful that many of you have said that you have enjoyed learning more about this part of the world. I am proud of Malaysia but I am also worried for it. With progress and development, we seem to have also lost many good core Asian values like good neighborliness, the extended family, the racial tolerance etc.

This last week has been a particularly shameful week for the country. Local news have featured two tragic tales which have left many of us shaking our heads. I must warn readers that the second story and picture is particularly graphic and unpleasant. If you feel you would rather not read about it or view the photo then please stop reading now and proceed no further. I feel compelled to share these terrible and shameful tales because this is the reality of Malaysia. The story of the country is incomplete without a glimpse of both the good and the bad.

Story One: Interference

Re-union of Marimuthu and his 6 children (original article NST)

Marimuthu is a rubber tapper. It is a tough job and his income barely provides for his family's needs. He is a Hindu and has 7 children (from 4 to 14 years old) with his wife of 21 years, Raimah. His ordeal began about 35 days ago when the officers of the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) cme to his home and took away his wife and 6 of his children. His eldest son escaped the fate because he was not at home at that time.

JAIS officers contend that Raimah was actually born a Muslim and therefore they acted to prevent the 7 children from being brought up as Hindus. The 6 children were placed with Muslim foster families and their whereabouts were not revealed to Marimuthu. Raimah was sentenced to be detained for 100 days fro religious re-indoctrination.

The family maintain that although Raimah's parents may have been Muslim, she was raised as a Hindu and had married her husband legally but at a Hindu service and had raised her children as Hindu.

It has taken 35 days for Marimuthu to have his day in court but even then the result is not satisfactory and in my opinion reeks of coercion. The court was told that a settlement had been reached in which Marimuthu had agreed to drop all charges of wrongful detention against JAIS officers. The settlement allowed for the immediate return of the 6 children to their father. The father is free to raise them as Hindu but this was made possible only by his wife Raimah making a statement that she was born a Muslim and will always now remain a Muslim but that she releases her right to the children to her husband.

Furthermore, even though the law of the land recognizes their marraige as legal, the Islamic authorities have declared the marraige void. As such, Raimah can no longer stay with her husband but she is allowed to visit her children.

It is so sad. This is a couple who did not have much in this world. Yet they have worked together and lovingly raised a closely knit family. Now the parents are separated in fact even if they are still legally married (where is the logic there). The father will now have to try to cope with 7 children on his own. I have to ask what was the point of all this interference in to this family's life. Who has benefitted? What justice has been served? Indeed, the whole family has suffered and will continue to suffer because of this. I hope that lawyers and politicians of integrity and reason will not allow this story to end here on such a note of injustice.

Story Two: Inhumanity

The Suffering of Ganesh Kumar (org.article NST)

Ganesh Kumar came to Malaysia in search of a job that could give him an income that he could save towards making his dreams come true when he returned to India. He expected that the work would be hard and the hours long but what waited for him in Malaysia was sadly beyond anything he might have feared.

Ganesh worked for a family (parents and son) who ran a sauce making factory out of their house. However, more or less from his first day there he was abused by them. Stories are emerging that he was chained, beaten, denied food and even had scalding water poured on him.

He endured this treatment for almost 9 months. Then last week, his employer took him by car to a remote area and abandoned him in the forest. Local villagers found Ganesh wandering in the forest and he was brought to hospital. He was lucid enough to tell medical authorities what had happened but despite receiving treatment, Ganesh passed away after a few days. The cause of death was starvation. The doctors estimate that he had been on starvation rations for at least a month.

His "employers" have now been charged with murder. As the story unfolds, other unsettling details emerged. One of them was that two previous foreign workers have escaped from this same family and have accused them of abuse. Although those cases are still pending, the family somehow was allowed to take on new foreign workers. Secondly, this occured in a populated area and I have to wonder if some neighbors could have intervened earlier.

I cannot fathom how anyone could still treat another human life with so little regard today. I am moved to tears for Ganesh and his greiving family back in India. I feel as a country and a people, we let Ganesh down and I wish we could at least apologise. More practically, Malaysians individually and as a society must do some soul-searching and I hope act to prevent more abuse of defenceless foreign workers in our midst.

If this blog had a flag, it would be at half-mast this week in recognition of the two tragic and shameful tales above and what they say about what is wrong in Malaysian society.


Josie said...

LGS, things like this go on all over the world, not just in Malaysia. Look at the conflict and genocide in Darfur, for example. All of these awful things are based in ignorance, superstition and fear, but mostly ignorance. Education is the key to helping the next generation to understand that we are all the same, no matter what our religious or cultural backgrounds. But instead the intolerance and ignorance gets passed down to the next generation, and this stuff gets perpetuated.

My little Freddie and I have long conversations about philosophy and religion, and I tell him that no matter what faith a person practices, the humanity behind each faith is the same, and everyone is equal.

I had not heard of these things happening in Malaysia, so thanks for telling us. And don't be ashamed! Things seem to be changing all over the world. The more globalized we become, the more we seem to practice isolationism, and hanging onto our own cultures and ideas, some to extremes like this.


evalinn said...

LGS, the world is a sad place, sometimes I just don't feel like I want to play along any more...but I'm glad u decided to share!

leslie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
leslie said...

Currently, I'm reading a book called "What the Body Remembers" by Shauna Singh Baldwin about the struggles in India (circa 1937) when separatist tensions between Hindus and Muslims trapped the Sikhs in a horrifying middle ground. Why can't we as humans respect the rights and beliefs of others? Even amongst "Christian" congregations there are so many differences that one hardly knows what to believe in anymore.

Janice Thomson said...

Gosh Lgs these stories are so heartbreaking. Josie is right - it is everywhere in this planet as witnessed by Rwanda, Nigeria, Darfur, Iraq under Hussein etc etc. Thank you for sharing these with us. I had heard of similar cases from an acquaintance who lives there. In Egypt too there is a sad tale of missionaries having recently been shot and decapitated in the name of religion. Each one of us needs to pray every single day for world peace. The power of prayer CAN make a difference but it needs to be constantly not just when we hear about something like this. Do not give up hope on your beautiful country...God Bless.

...Kat said...

I grieve with you.

but know that this is no indictment against any one people or nation.... it is an indication of the deep divide existing in our species....that though we are capable of great goodness, there are those amongst us who are not..... and though such people may come to justice it is we rather who bear the pain and loss that their natures cannot comprehend nor feel...

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I realise that there is much wrong and injustice around the world but it always hits home hardest, well home. I've seen the intolerance grow in the last twenty years and really miss the older, kinder Malaysia. Racial & religious polarisation is growing but abuse of fellow humans is something I'd never expect in Malaysia until recently. The Malaysian society needs to be made alert to put a stop to this trend. The fear is we hide our heads in the sand and just hopes it goes away. It won't unless we speak about it and speak out against it.

there is a lot of beauty and good in the world. But the bad, the sad exists too. We need to remember to speak out against it or else it grows in the shadows. I am an optimist, there is enough beauty in the world for everyone if we try.

I haven't read that but it covers a horrifying period of history for India which is hardly ever mentioned any more. You'd think we would learn. That's why the abuse case makes no sense to me. Malaysians have experienced abuse working under others before. If anything, we should know how to emphatise with migrant workers. Instead we abuse them. Have we so quickly forgotten how it felt to be victimised?

Thanks. There are so many wonderful things about Malaysia but one mustn't hide the problems. These types of behavior must be placed in the hot sun in plain view so that it can wither in the heat of public outrage. Otherwise they fester and grow in the shadows.

Thanks. What you say is true. We all need to do what we can in our corner of the world.

Anonymous said...


You know, you hear of these kinds of stories in the news, and there are always the statistics that are out there, but when you hear of a specific story as these two stories and it becomes more personal and more vivid and real.

Too bad the young man had to die. As I was reading your post I was hoping for a nice ending for him.

The poor family. A terrible tale of injustice, indeed.

CS said...

These are indeed shameful stories. But you don't even have to look only at places like Dafur and Rwanda. In my own very powerful and wealthy country, you read about heart-breaking stories of child and elder abuse (including startvation), abuse of immimgrant labor (ever heard of WalMart?), and on and on. You report what is closest to you, of course, and that's to the good. But we, as a gllobcal society, have a long way to go in learning about compassion and tolerance.

nancycle said...


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