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Friday, June 9, 2017

The day will come when we’re all ‘Kelings’



“I did not tell you it would be okay because I never believed it would be okay.”
- Ta-Nehisi Coates
Before I begin, does anybody question why Watsons would think that such a video advertisement would be acceptable to Malaysians? It is a good strategy to claim that the ad was based on folklore - the myth itself is somewhat racist if you think about it - but really, the ad is merely a reflection of the consumer base.
When PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang says, "Report and leave the problems to the authorities,” does he mean the very same authorities that behave in a manner which defines the “samseng” culture which he decries? Does he mean the authorities that have a problem carrying out their duties when it comes to choosing between “secular” laws - which they are obligated to follow - and edicts coming from the syariah courts?
Nathaniel Tan’s piece on the ongoing Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) hearing into the death in custody of S Balamurugan is riveting, not only because it is lucidly written but also because it clearly articulates the silence of police officers who choose to do nothing where their actions would vindicate those of us who have said that the state security apparatus is not only staffed by violent thugs but also honourable men and women who would do the right thing.
The Balamurugan case is also evidence that some security personnel do not protect their sources. If a police officer does not protect his or her source from other police personnel, how then do they protect their sources from other criminal elements?
When inspector Mohd Noor Husri Johari says, “If I bring him to the hospital and he escapes or dies while en route, I would be held responsible," does this mean that he is not responsible for the death of Balamurugan when he eventually brought the prisoner to the destination he was ordered to?
If the police released the prisoner as was ordered instead of “rearrested”, then all this may have been avoided. As it is, there was a conspiracy to detain the deceased on “different” charges, police personnel who are ignorant of SOP (standard operating procedure), unquestioning in their obedience to superior officers, racist and only interested in safeguarding their positions even when the life of a prisoner is at stake. Only in Malaysia would an Islamic politician tell us to put our faith in people like these.
This is not an aberration in which the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) normally operates. I would argue that this is common practice in the manner in which the PDRM operates, and what is most damaging is that there has never been an outcry from the general public as there has been with corruption cases. There are, of course, many reasons for this.
The most important one is that marginalised communities face the brunt of police brutality and while there have been lawyers, activists and politicians who have been doing the hard work of representing these marginalised folks, there apparently is no room in urban middle politics for this kind of issue.
In the beginning of the year, referencing another great piece by Tan and the work of Aliran’s Perma Devaraj, I argued that the PDRM was a ‘service to some and a force to others’. Quoting Prema’s piece on the findings of the EAIC, I summarised a few key points, which I will reproduce here -
• The use of brutal violence on a detainee during interrogation;
• False entries in the station diary of lock-up D9, including tampering of times in the entries;
• False information in a police report about the death of the deceased;
• Serious misconduct in ordering the re-arrest of the deceased without justification (the deceased should have been released at the end of the first remand);
• An eight-day delay in allowing the right of the deceased to contact and have access to his family;
• The CCTV in lock-up D9 not being in working order since 2009;
• A lack of knowledge or awareness of standard operating procedures among officers and police personnel; and
• Overcrowding in the lock-up (more than four people). At times, there were between six and 16 people in the lock-up.
Why is this tolerated?
The problem here is that this so-called “samseng” culture that Hadi worries about so much is, in reality, the culture of the state security apparatus. It is public knowledge that the PDRM has been resistant to independent oversight and anyone following these deaths-in-custody cases can see why. Not to mention that corruption is part of the culture of the PDRM by their own admission.
If you speak to marginalised Indians and Indians from the criminal underclass, they would tell you that the most brutal of security personnel are Indians officers who have no problem working for racist superiors. This, of course, is an uncomfortable truth that many activists, lawyers and politicians understand but racial politics, political correctness and the argument that it is not productive to “racialise” police brutality, and thus it is not part of the national discourse.
In nearly every piece I have written about the state security apparatus, I have talked about that nexus between criminal enterprise and the security personnel of the state. It is difficult for me or anyone to make the case that there are “good” police officers out there when we have the “only following orders” police officers in these deaths-in-custody cases.
Are there good and true police officers in the force? I am sure there are. They talk to me about their frustrations very often, especially when cases like these come up.
But what use is frustration? What use is anything without action? The state security apparatus, if they were serious about cleaning up their image and correcting the systemic violence and corruption in the force, should be demanding independent oversight and not claiming in emails that independent oversight would restrict their normal operating procedures.
CID chief ASP Norsanizam Nordin said that referring to an Indian as “keling” was inappropriate in a workgroup chat and that he took immediate action after seeing them, which basically means it would be appropriate in a social setting? Didn’t a former prime minister use the word too and he was subsequently endorsed by certain parties (including me) as the only viable candidate for PM for Pakatan Harapan.
A Kugan, Aminulrasyid Amzah and Teoh Beng Hock, they were all “kelings”, except Malaysians never really saw them as such. Each death was politicised in its own way but they were not even Bangsa Malaysia in their deaths. Each death was ghettoised to fit a particular ethnic narrative instead of a Malaysian one.
You can say that I am generalising, that they are good people in the force, but then why are there so many deaths in custody. Why is this tolerated?
It is tolerated because Malaysians do not really care that this is happening. Our apathy makes it easier for them to get away with it. Testimony like the kind we are reading about would cause violent demonstrations in other parts of the civilised world and these demonstrations would be warranted.
Here, it’s just another excuse to hammer the kleptocracy.
The day will come when we are all “kelings”, when our economic and social standing will not shield us from the jackboot of the state.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. -Mkini

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