In my pervious post titled Deja Vu: Planet of the Apes I discussed the imprint made on my mind by the violent chase scenes in the said film. This impression was revived by the recent border patrol images coming out of Del Rio, Texas. I noted in that post how this is one of two images brought forth in me, the other being that of the “historical injustices suffered by black people in the US..” Upon further reflection, however, I have come to realize that these two images are infact one and the same. Urko and his fellow gorillas are literally black, while the regressed, abject, Yahooesque humans are Caucasian. This seems to be an artistic inversion of the historical image of the American slave patrol and I suggest that it is in this very reversal that the power of these chase scenes lies.
I wonder if the authors of this filmic scenario were conscious (I would like to think they were) of the Slave Patrol predecessor of their image, and further, if they intended a progressive parody or if it was merely a reactionary pastiche. However, regardless of this authorial intent, I am convinced that this recurring image is etched into the American psyche and is sublimated in all that is now referred to as ‘structural’ in that nations institutions.
Writing on Juneteenth 2020, Phillis Coley cites historian Gary Potter’s three functions of the Southern slave patrol – (1) to chase down, apprehend, and return to their owners, runaway slaves; (2) to provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts; and, (3) to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who were subject to summary justice, outside the law.
She goes on to note that the use of these patrols to capture runaway slaves was a precursor to the formal police force in America and its ethos has persisted as an element of policing role even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
I am delighted to note that according to Malaysiakini the Malaysian Attorney General has discontinued proceedings against the 12 Indians on trial for alleged links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) with immediate effect.In his statement he reveals the poverty of reasoning behind the charges as follows, ” the common thread among all of them was that they simply had photos of slain LTTE leaders such as Velupillai Prabhakaran in their phones or Facebook accounts”, and quite rightly, if belatedly, he acknowledges that “If such conduct can constitute a criminal offence, it would bring the law into disrepute.” He has saved the nation’s legal system from the absurdity that was arising in the context of these charges against Indians for celebrating the cause of Tamil Elam and the defunkt Tamil Tigers! The Attorney General’s full statement is available here and is definitely worth a read!
As an aside, I can not help but speculate on the implications of the timing of this withdrawal of charges against the 12 Indians, which comes on the heels of the announcement of the transfer of the policeman responsible for these arrests, Malaysian counterterrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, to a new position as head the police force in Johor state.
In a post titled Indian Vote: Entha Kabali? made before the Malaysian federal election in 2018, I wrote, . … “Whatever happens in the voting, it looks like it is indeed going to be close and, perhaps, the Indian vote is going to be important.” Further, I asked, ” … does the opposition look like they will treat us any different [from Barisan]? Just look at how they made unholy exaggerations and unfulfillable promises on the Stateless Indians issue … should they not be shown that the Indian vote, just like the vote of the other communities, has to be earned?” While I was skeptical about the outcome for Indians, I did, as indicated in my post titled Kabali Da!, cast my lot with the new Malaysia promised by the Pakatan Harapan opposition led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Well, it came to pass that Mahathir and Harapan did win and, in the 2 years since, many have become disillusioned and dissatisfied with New Malaysia for their many unfulfilled promises. One such promise pertains to the Indian statelessness problem. Indeed, in this matter Harapan has been deeply disappointing. They promised a complete solution within 100 days, but their re-branded ‘Indian affairs’ body, the Malaysian Indian Transformation Unit (MITRA) has not solved the this problem as yet. As far as I can ascertain, the last statement issued by the minister responsible states that MITRA was still working “to outline a comprehensive solution to the stateless issue, in line with the PH government’s manifesto promise”.
Since then another issue has arisen to affect the Indian community at an equally deep symbolic level – the spate of LTTE related arrests and charges. I have discussed the apparent pervisity of these arrests and detentions under SOSMA of 12 Indians including 2 government MPs previously in this series (beginning with On Being a Malaysian Tamil 1) and the question I explore here is how one might understand the implications for the Harappan government visa vis the Indian vote. The perceived involvement of government, even if it is misplaced, will surely be detrimental to their ability to garner Indian votes in the next general elections
In principle the police act independently of the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Judiciary and the government is distant from the decisions of all these bodies. While the judiciary is independent by virtue of the separation of powers expected in Malaysia’s Westminster based legal system, the police and the AG’s chambers are extensions of the executive. They too, however, are expected to act independently of executive interference and without improper collusion with one another. If all is running as it should be in our nation’s governance, no blame can be laid at the feet of the Harappan government for these LTTE arrests, detentions, changes and for the eventual judicial outcomes, whatever they might turn out to be. However, the history of the relationships concerned in Malaysia is such that it will be very difficult for the people to believe in the integrity of the system, even if it were true.
There is no question that the majority of Malaysian Tamils, like most of their fellows throughout the world support the Elam struggle, regardless of their misgivings about the terror tactics of the LTTE. Certainly, most of us feel there was an equal amount of state terror being deployed by the Sri Lankan government in this conflict and that the Terrorist organization designation applied to the LTTE, however justified it might be, is ultimately a political assignation. Indeed, the evidence for this suggestion is the fact that the Tigers were not so designated in Malaysia till 2014, years after the war ended and all acts or terror had ceased. Given this fact and the fact that our Malaysian institutions of state are known for being questionably interdependent, it is going to be difficult for Harapan to win the hearts of the Indian community and, of course, this may have a bearing on their votes in the next elections.
According to a report in FMT, on 18 January 2020, hundreds of people rallied to call for the release 12 Malaysian Tamils detained under the draconian Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) for alleged links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This gathering commemorated 100 days of detention for the 12 men who were arrested under the, commonly called Sosma.
The article also claims that the gathering called on Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and the Pakatan Harapan Cabinet to release the men and abolish Sosma in keeping with their manifesto promise. I would like to note that, while Harapan promised to abolish some laws SOSMA was not one of these. Indeed, the widely held notion that Harapan promised to abolish SOSMA is incorrect. Here is what Promise 27 of the Harapan Manifesto said on the matter –
…. The Pakatan Harapan Government will also abolish draconian provisions in the following Acts: • Penal Code 1997 especially on peaceful assembly and activities harmful to democracy • Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 • Security Offences (special measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) • Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 • Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) 2015″
So what exactly the people can hold the Harapan government to, depends on an interpretation of the phrase ‘draconian measures.’ In this regard, the manifesto itself states that a Harapan government would “ensure an effective check and balance” by revoking “all clauses that prevent the Court from reviewing decisions of the Government or the laws introduced by the Government.” I suggest that the provisions of SOSMA that allow for police detention without bail before trial are just such ‘draconian measures’, as they grant licence to the agents of the executive to incarce suspects outside of the ambit of judicial review.
In fact, as reported in Bernama, on Nov 29, the High Court ruled that this portion of SOSMA is unconstitutional “because it divests from the courts the judicial discretionary power to evaluate whether or not to grant or refuse bail.” These are the provisions that can be misused, and will be seen to be misused even when they are used with good intent. In the interest of all accused persons and for the good name of the Malaysian judicial process, these provisions must be revoked immediately.
As I have suggested before, the 12 Malaysian Tamils are being held on the basis of charges that, at best, seem to defy logic. As they sit out their 100th day in prison, and while their appeals for bail to work slowly through the courts system, there is, as yet, no credible sign that the LTTE exists. At worst, these charges are based on guile and malice. As Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy, is reported to have said on behalf of his organization, “We feel that these arrests are politically motivated.” Please see On Being Malaysian Tamil 7
Despite my origins in Jaffna, I am far removed from the Tamils of Sri Lanka in my lived identity. I am a Malaysian first and, as a Malaysian, my ethnic identification is with the wider group of Malaysian Indians. Historically Ceylonese Tamils have tried to preserve a distinct identity as Malaysians and officially we are not classified as Indians. Nevertheless, I believe that it is appropriate and meaningful that, to the extent that the Indians will accept us, Ceylon Tamils should join Indian Tamils and be absorbed into the identity of ‘Malaysian Indian’. I do not renounce my Jaffna background. Rather, I feel it should be integrated into the wider Malaysian Indian mosaic. With my recent immigration to British Columbia, I am even further removed from my Sri Lankan Tamil identity.
The LTTE fought a vicious war for a Tamil homeland. They exchanged terror for terror with the Sri Lankan state actors and proxies,. They valiantly fought the mighty Indian army. They even set up and ran up a de facto state but in the end they seemed to have pitted themselves against the whole world. They were utterly defeated and now the ordinary Tamil people are picking up the pieces after an alleged genocide, under the demeaning conditions of a Sinhala occupation. Although I have relatives (my mother’s family) who were directly impacted by this war, I have generally lived my own life beyond the reach of the emotions raised by this communal tragedy. Nevertheless, I have followed the situation and when I reflect upon it closely, I feel the pain of my kith and kin!
Meanwhile the ongoing Malaysian LTTE fiasco seems quite perverse and unrelated to the Sri Lankan Tamil realities. So, I wonder, what does the LTTE signify in the Malaysian political scenario? Indian Tamils in Malaysia are mainly descendants of indentured labourers brought over to work in the rubber estates. Their fellows worked on tea estates in Sri Lanka. I must note, not without a sense of shame, that the Ceylon Tamils have set themselves apart from the estate Indians in Malaysia. In Sri Lanka we let the estate Indians down over the issue of citizenship in the early post-independence decades. Nevertheless, the Elam struggle has been a potent signifier and catalyst of a cogent Tamil identity within Dravidian politics of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Tamil ethno-nationalists, have hoisted the Elam flag as their own. Their sense of Dravidian pride was invested in the Elam struggle and, one could say that with the LTTE destroyed, they have stolen its fire for their own political engines.
Now, in Malaysia the Indians are a minority. One that is caught within the discriminations of a postcolonial communalism. They are diminished in political agency vis a vis the Malay majority and even the Chinese minority. They have been, in the last decades seeking catalysts for a vigorous political mobilization. For instance, the Hindraf agitation centred around Hindu identity and temple demolition. Perhaps the symbols of the LTTE play a similar moral boosting and formenting role in Malaysian Indian politics. The ethos of the LTTE may have had its origins in a just cause in Sri Lanka but its xtreme violence is disproportionate to the situation faced by Indians in Malaysia.
With regard to the 12 Malaysian Indians recently arrested and charged with terrorism related offences, while their allegedly excessive engagement with LTTE symbols might reasonably raise the government’s concern, there has as yet been no charge that clearly suggests a resurgent global LTTE. Nor is there any sign in the charges of a Malaysian based LTTE organization being set up. The possession of LTTE paraphernalia, the promotion of the defunkt LTTE cause on social media and the commemoration of dead LTTE heroes do not, in my view, suggest anything more than an entanglement with Tamil pride, Tamil sorrow and Tamil myth. The suggestion by the PDRM (police) of massive financial movements, which might by indicative of an imminent LTTE revival has not been actualized by way a related charge against even one of the 12 detainees. ,,, More in On Being a Malaysian Tamil 7
I am a Malaysian of Jaffna Tamil extraction. My late father was a Seremban born Malaysian but my Mother, also now deceased, was a Jaffna girl. Just as the Malays of the peninsular index the notion of a homeland with the term Tanah Melayu, the Tamils of Jaffna use the term Elam. Unlike the Indians and Chinese populations of Malaysia, the majority of whom came under the auspices of the British, the Tamils of Sri Lanka are the descendants of the subjects of ancient Tamil Kingdoms. As such, they have a sense of attachment and entitlement to the land commonly found in those who have occupied and ruled for centuries. Neither the majority Sinhalese nor the minority Tamils are beholden to any compromise or ‘social contract’ the one that binds Malays and non-Malays in Malaysia. This sense of entitlement lead to irresolvable conflict and I have observed this violent Elam struggle from afar. I have experienced it vicariously through news of grandparents and aunties caught in the crossfire between the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam)and the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force), cousins in being sent away to India and Canada as they reached their teenage years for fear of being killed by the SLA (Sri Lankan Army) or Forcibly recruited by the Tigers …. and there are many other such family situations that I have experienced vicariously, scenarios whose trauma I have felt through my own mother’s emotional responses.
My father was a pragmatist and a dove, “Minority Tamils need to compromise with the Sinhala majority! Given the demographics of post-colonial Sri Lanka, armed struggle is futile ,” I can imagine him encapsulating his position. My mother however, was a Tigress at heart! Metaphorically speaking,that is! “They have taken away our language and now they will push us into to the sea!” She could not stand the injustices, indignities and the cruelties experienced by the Tamils and once the war had begun she was emotionally behind “our boys and girls” fighting with the LTTE! You have to recall that the LTTE was not designated as a terrorist organization in Malaysia at the time of this war of independence. (It is much later in 2014 that the designation was given, long after the war had been lost and the LTTE decimated in 2009). And my mother’s openly emotional allegiance meant serious arguments with my father. Although, I was more interested in questions of race, nationality and justice in my own Malaysian milieu, I absorbed all the contrasting positions and sentiments … more in On Being a Malaysian Tamil 2