Postmortem on Hindraf rally (1)

Posted on January 11, 2008

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By Helen Ang

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The authorities are now intimidating Hindraf donors. And Samy Vellu was in India, saying everything’s hunky-dory, defending his Umno bosses. While civil society here is grappling still with the ramifications of the Nov 25 rally. 

You may recall that Haris Ibrahim and Nat Tan were the two opinion shapers in cyberspace advancing antipodal schools of thought on the rally.  

On Nov 24, Haris posted “Why I will not walk this Sunday and why the walk must not proceed”, while Nat vice versa. Readership for both websites – the People’s Parliament and Nat’s blog – experienced a sharp spike during this period; ours eliciting 105 comments.  

Increased site traffic is an indicator of the influence that political blogs wield as opinion movers when information is blacked out or distorted in the mainstream media. In this regard, the lacuna was a dereliction of duty, that is, if MSM did not altogether abdicate duty at the behest of their political masters.  

The Indian grassroots agitation must have been building up discernibly, yet the Hindraf groundswell washed upon us as suddenly as the tsunami. Reporters, not Haris and Nat, are paid to do the job of informing the public. When you fork over your money for your day’s paper, you’re part-financing their operations to keep you informed. They did not give readers value for money. They sinned by omission.

 Now with the benefit of hindsight, it might be instructive to revisit the events of November that opened the curtain to the Hindraf saga.  

When we spoke on the eve of the rally, Haris voiced his concern that violence may be deliberately engineered. He was wary of what the powers-that-be were capable of resorting to. I remember feeling a stab of fear on hearing him. Usually Umno and its goons evoking May 13 would piss me off no end but this time I had genuine apprehensions.  

The security forces are all of one race. It worried me how our police and FRU would quell the crowds all of another race, or close one eye to provocateurs and agitators. I was indeed afraid there would be Indian blood spilled on the streets. 

It’s for this reason that Haris declared the walk must not proceed. It is certainly not because he’s a Malay chauvinist, a presumption that could have arisen because most of the Malay commentators had condemned Hindraf. The movement’s non-inclusive approach was polarising and its language had alienated the racial majority.  

Nonetheless, there developed a smear campaign against Haris for not supporting the march. I was saddened when he responded to the attacks with: “Those who know me, know me. Those who don’t, don’t”. 

This is what I know. Long before Hindraf burst onto the scene, Haris was already standing alongside our Indian brethren. He has been involved in the conversion-apostasy cases  – from Lina Joy (whose significant other is Indian) to Moorthy to Shamala, either as counsel or holding a watching brief. 

In fact, I interviewed Haris on the Rayappan body-snatching affair for my Malaysiakini column. He supported the decision of the deceased’s wife not to comply with the subpoena issued by the Syariah Court, saying “This matter was properly to have been before the civil courts”.  

Let me ask you how many Malay Muslims are willing to be associated with such religiously-tinged controversies, let alone take up the cases? Or be seen lending his support to a house of worship (Haris was at the Tambak Paya temple) to protest its demolishment by the Malacca local authorities?   

Haris has been at the forefront of the Article 11 movement to safeguard our constitutional guarantees to faith freedom – one of the Hindraf struggles. He has strongly questioned the enactment of Article 121 (1A) which has led to Indian-Hindu spouses landing in court jurisdiction limbo. He has warned about the Ketuanan Melayu-propelled Islamisation, which among other repercussions is impacting marginalised Indians drawn to convert.  

Like Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, Haris is on the Muslim fundamentalists’ hit list. Between being accused as traitor to Islam by one camp and a pro-Malay racist by the other, I daresay my friend – and honoured that he considers me such – has got the balance right.

(Part 2 to follow)