COMMENT Five years after the reverberating Hindraf protest of November 2007, the contest for the Indian vote at the 13th general election is headed for a decisive phase on a signal issue - the numbers of stateless residents and what’s to be done about their plight.

On Wednesday, a conjectural number of the stateless and their sympathisers will gather at the National Registration Department (NRD) to demonstrate their concerns and clamour for swift remedy.

NONEToday, a prominent activist for the stateless, PKR vice-president and lawyer N Surendran (left), will file an application in the Kuala Lumpur High Court asking for a judicial review of the NRD’s refusal to issue a blue MyKad to Sarojini and Mala, two stateless residents of Kapar, in Selangor.

Sarojini, 32, and Mala, 34, neither of whom have been to school, have long been denizens of that twilight zone to which the stateless are consigned in Malaysia.

Surendran will be asking the court to grant an order of mandamus against the NRD and the government to compel them to issue the two with a blue MyKad and also an order of certiorari to quash the decision not to grant them a blue MyKad, in addition to seeking a declaration that their fundamental rights were breached and that this merited damages.

Neither Sarojini nor Mala has been to school because they don’t have a birth certificate and an identity card, the indispensable accoutrements of citizenship.

Sarojini and Mala are Indian Malaysians but their stateless situation is not exclusive to indigent members of the community.

Though there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the stateless are Indians, in recent months it has come to light that not inconsiderable numbers of Dayak and Kadazan are similarly afflicted.

Whether the statelessness of these people is due to bureaucratic neglect or their own destitution, the issue is a gauge of the extent of the prevalence of dire poverty among Malaysia’s 28 million people.

The stateless exist in a twilight zone. Without birth certificates or identity cards, they cannot go to school, hospitals or be gainfully employed.

They are the wretched of the country, to borrow from Third World liberationist Frantz Fanon’s luminous phrase, ‘The Wretched of The Earth’, which is the title of a book he wrote.
Urgent need of remedy

At present, three parties espouse the point that the situation of the stateless is in urgent need of remedy - three parties, that is, and one man.

NONEThe three parties are PKR, which claims that the problem is considerable in magnitude and demands surgical remedy; MIC, which says that PKR is grandstanding on the extent of the problem that, it claims, is well on the way to rectification; and DAP, which has highlighted the problem through national vice-chairperson M Kulasegaran (right), but has gone beyond verbal espousal to take a step towards alleviation of the problem.

This step was the hiring last month by the Penang government of five officers who have been commissioned to ferret out the stateless wherever they are - not just in Penang - and compile a register of their names and addresses to commence the task of legitimising their presence in the country.

The abovementioned one man who has shown some solicitude for the stateless is Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who to the Indian Malaysian community in recent times has sounded like a regular Dr Marcus Welby, famed from the American TV programme as a general practitioner with a fetching bedside manner.

Najib, benign dispenser in last two years of palliatives for the problems of entrenched poverty in sections of the Indian Malaysia community, struck a characteristic note at the MIC convention yesterday when he suggested that the numbers of the stateless were in the four-digit region, far from the “exaggerated” six-digit levels dramatised by PKR.

This drew an immediate riposte from Surendran who accused the PM of grossly underestimating the numbers, an effect, the PKR veep held, of the general trivialisation with which problems to do with the Indian Malaysian community are regarded by the BN.

NONELast week Surendran was called up by the OCPD in Putrajaya for questioning about the planned protest to be staged by stateless people and their supporters on Dec 12.

After being questioned, Surendran told the press that the police were being officious about the planned protest whereas the organisers of the demonstrators had made plain their intention to dramatise the plight of the stateless.

“It’s a human rights issue,” argued the counsel who has made a name for himself in human rights advocacy in the last decade.

“By operation of law, these people are supposed to have been citizens of this country. That they are not is a crying shame and a huge injustice.”

Dramatisation of the issue has resulted in Pakatan Rakyat supremo Anwar Ibrahim announcing last Thursday at a public rally in Padang Serai, Kedah, that once elected, a Pakatan Rakyat government will make the stateless citizens in a month, virtually by a stroke of a federal pen.

The Pakatan leader has opted for a panacea to the BN chairperson’s placebo.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for close on four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them. It is the ideal occupation for a temperament that finds power fascinating and its exercise abhorrent.