INTERVIEW By shining a light on a reality that is more often than not ignored, dismissed or ridiculed, P Uthayakumar has had to pay a steep price.
This reality, the reality of the marginalised Indian poor, an underclass that struggles with lack of the necessities of life in contemporary Malaysia and confronted by a state and in many ways a society that has perfected the art of discrimination, has found expression in Hindraf and Uthayakumar.
The canard that Hindraf is demanding "quotas" is one of the more odious lies spread by Pakatan Rakyat apparatchiks. In the Hindraf 18-point demand, the Indian/Tamil/Hindu community is mentioned only in three points, with reference to land titles to Tamil schools, Hindu temples and cemeteries and the "de-gerrymandering" for Indian representation in Parliament.
The remaining 15 points cover Malaysians regardless of ethnicity and in fact argues for the removal of race-based quotas. The first point in the demand is the recognition of bumiputera status for anyone born in Malaysia.
So far DAP, PKR or PAS has yet to make any such declarations in their supposed multiracial/cultural manifesto. Indeed Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has gone out of his way to assure his Malay partners that he has no intention of ever seeking the highest office in the land. So much for the vicious lie that Uthayakumar and Hindraf are "racist".
Uthayakumar understands that his is a lone crusade. He makes no apologies in the manner in which he chooses to make his stand. In my writings, I have been both critical and supportive of Hindraf.
My conversations with Uthayakumar were a continuous give-and-take about the "Indian problem" and how best to resolve it. I disagree with many of Uthayakumar's ideas but this interview is not the avenue to express them.
To the best of my knowledge, there has never been an in-depth interview with Uthayakumar. In this three-part interview, I have attempted to give a platform to the man, whom I have described as the last and best hope for the marginalised Indian community.
Could you define the Hindraf struggle?
Firstly, being a lawyer by training and a political activist rather than a politician per se, I beg leave to answer without fear or favour. I am prepared to take an unpopular stand, refusing to play to the majoritarian bi-racial 1Malay-sian political gallery by not taking a politically correct stand and am willing to receive brickbats from Malaysiakini readers.
The Hindraf struggle was founded on the 18-point demands. The thrust of the Hindraf struggle is against institutionalised Umno and Pakatan racist government and state policies. We strive for equal rights, equal opportunities and equal upward mobility opportunities on a needs basis against a system that victimises in particular the most vulnerable Indian poor in Malaysia.
The Hindraf struggle is about permanent and wholesome solutions from Umno and Pakatan state governments as granted to the bi-racial 1Malay-sian Malay and Chinese communities and not the temporary piecemeal solutions for the Indian poor like dishing out hampers, rice bags, ang pows, mock cheques and other handouts.
Hindraf supports regime change and wishes Pakatan all the best, but it does not want the federal government to be replaced by an Umno clone. Nevertheless, on a people-to-people basis the Indians have no or very little problems with the Malay or Chinese communities at the ground level.
Could you describe your experiences under the ISA and your early activism that led to conflicts with the state?
Prior to my ISA detention on Dec 13, 2007, I started from scratch and for about 16 years had to operate almost solo until just before the Nov 25, 2007 Hindraf rally. There were no takers for the real cause of the Indian poor, which does not draw very much political mileage nor is it "press worthy" by the standards of the bi-racial 1Malay-sian mainstream media and to a lesser extent the alternative media.
It was an uphill battle. With the odds stacked against us and propelled by my very strong belief in this serious plight of the Indian poor, I became hardened and was mentally prepared for the worst.
ISA was not the worst because back in 2003, at the height of my deaths in police custody and police shooting campaigns, I was attacked at gunpoint by police officers in civilian attire. Because of this, I must say that my suffering under ISA detention was minimal.
At Kamunting Prison, I used to read and write for about 14 to 15 hours daily. With time on my side, I managed to write two books, namely ‘Indian Political Empowerment Strategy' and ‘25th Nov 07 Hindraf Rally'.
My reading and making daily notes in my diaries for about six hours from the three mainstream dailies given to us only reaffirmed my earlier findings of the very serious level of racism, made far worse as the Indian poor do not even have the village-level social safety net, unlike the poor Malays, Orang Asli, Iban and Kadazan. Even the Chinese poor have 508 Chinese new villages as social safety nets nationwide.
It was in prison that I learnt to read Tamil. In prison, every day was a working day or rather every day was a working holiday. My secret of having kept well in prison was in not thinking about the outside world or the date I would be released, which was the key method of torture by our oppressors.
Unlike the many other famed ISA detainees, I think we were a lot more fortunate because of the extent of the Indian poor persistent campaigns and prayer meetings at Hindu temples nationwide. It was after these heightened public campaigns and March 8, 2008 political tsunami that eventually led to the abolishment of the ISA.
In fact, I was the very last political prisoner to have walked out of Kamunting Prison.
Could give us some examples of what has gone in your sedition trial and the kinds of ‘official' harassment you have encountered?
On Nov 7, 2012, the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court decision was to call for my defence despite the following facts:
The Umno attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail on an extremely rare occasion appeared in court to personally prosecute me on Dec 11, 2007. He had informed the court that the prosecution has the witnesses to prove that the (Kampung Medan and other) "ethnic cleansing" did not take place in Malaysia.
The vindictive deputy public prosecutor (DPP) Noorin Badaruddin, in her opening speech, told the court that they have the witnesses who operated the website which had published the supposed seditious letter to the then-British prime minister Gordon Brown, which in any event did not bear my signature though it carried my name.
None of these witnesses was ever called. The policewatchmalaysia. com website that allegedly published this letter was closed down for good by the government the following month after my detention under the ISA on Dec 13, 2007 - two days after the sedition charge.
The alleged letter was never recovered from me, my office or premises or vehicles controlled by me despite an official police search. I was never arrested nor statements taken from me. I was abruptly arrested on my way to my office and was prosecuted on the very same day on Dec 11, 2007.
This was within days of ex-prime minister Ahmad Abdullah Badawi (left) making media statements upon returning from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at Harare where he was believed to have been embarrassed when questioned on the Hindraf letter to Gordon Brown.
He publicly declared that he seldom gets angry, but this time he was very angry with Hindraf. I was to be punished as the de facto leader of Hindraf, for organising and leading to the Nov 25, 2007 watershed Hindraf rally and for having succeeded in exposing to the world the state-sponsored and private sector racist victimisation of the most vulnerable Indian poor.
So where is the prima facie case for the defence to be called? The judge allowed almost all of the DPP's questions and objections but rejected almost all my applications and crucial questions to the prosecution witnesses, not even on a hint or baseless objections by the DPP.
In one day alone, 34 of my pertinent questions to the prosecution witnesses were rejected. All questions on Umno institutional racism and the systematic social "ethnic cleansing" of the Indian poor were not allowed.
Finally a three- and two-hour time limit was imposed on the two prosecution witnesses, the then deputy federal CID chief DCP Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani and the investigating officer, ASP Redzaime.
Moreover, my further 150 questions were not allowed after this time limit. Despite numerous applications, the judge had refused to recuse himself. Despite this predictable outcome, I have filed five appeals and two applications to the High Court, more for the record.
Despite the fact that the prime minister and the de facto law minister having announced the repeal of the Sedition Act as part of the government legal transformation programmes, as being obsolete and an admission that criticisms against the government are now allowed; to give effect to freedom of speech as is guaranteed by Article 10 of the federal constitution, even the apex Federal Court on Oct 16, 2012 dismissed my review application for the charges against me to be dismissed.
At first year of law school at Ealing College of Higher Education (now Thames Valley University), London in 1984, I was taught, "Justice must not only be done but must manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done". Res Ipsa Loquiteour. Now the trial has been fixed for hearing for two weeks and unusually even the submission date has been fixed in January 2013 despite that I have 41 witnesses.
This would mean that I would have to complete four witnesses in one day of trial. Umno's intended conviction would disqualify me from contesting in the imminent 13th general elections.
My intended witnesses include Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the Suhakam chairperson for not holding a royal commission of inquiry and Suhakam inquiry respectively, attorney-general Gani Patail for not prosecuting the criminals in the Kg Medan "ethnic cleansing" where five Indian poor were murdered and one hundred sustained grievous bodily injuries, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on this politically-motivated sedition charge, and the inspector-general of police for racially profiling Indian poor suspects.
As to whether the courts would issue subpoenas for these witnesses is yet another matter bearing in mind that the subpoena application for Gordon Brown (right) was dismissed.
For being one-and-a-half hours late to court as I was held up at the High Court, this judge forfeited RM7,000 of the bail and increased the bail from RM10,000 to RM15,000, with a final warning that bail would be revoked for good if it happens again. My repeated apology and an undertaking that it would not happen again did not help.
Whatever the outcome, should I be convicted even with a mere fine, I am considering not applying for stay but opting for jail as a matter of principle. I will do this in keeping to the Hindraf 18-point demands which I had drafted and for which I stand by and I have already served one-and-a-half years of ISA jail sentence. Double jeopardy?
Should I be convicted, the maximum punishment is a three-year jail sentence or RM5,000 fine, or both. (Penang Chief Minister) Lim Guan Eng previously served a one-and-a-half year jail sentence for sedition.
This is so as not to allow Umno to hold me ‘ransom' until the disposal of my appeals right up to the apex Federal Court, which outcomes are again predictable. During this imprisonment, I have decided to write my third book entitled ‘Never Won a Case in Malay-sian Courts - 50 Public Interest Cases'.
Tomorrow: Uthayakumar's uneasy ties with Pakatan
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. On Sunday, Nov 25, Hindraf will be celebrating the fifth anniversary of the historic 2007 rally.