Nothing ever changes until you will no longer endure what is

Posted on September 20, 2019

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn 1st December, 1955, on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, USA, Rosa Parks, aged 42, and seated in the section reserved for coloured folk, was told by the driver to give up her seat to a white passenger as the section reserved for whites was full.

The law, as it was then, required Rosa to comply with the directions of the bus driver.

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Rosa Parks

Rosa refused, was arrested, detained for a while, and then made to pay a fine.

In her book, Rosa Parks : My Storyshe refuted suggestions that she had refused to give up her seat because she was physically exhausted, having just gotten off from work.

“I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in., is how she put it.

Tired of giving in.

Life Magazine, in 1988 quoted her as saying : “Differences of race, nationality or religion should not be used to deny any human being citizenship rights or privileges. Life is to be lived to its fullest so that death is just another chapter” .

In 2016, soon after I was convicted by the Sessions Court on the sedition charge and sentenced to 8 months jail, and whilst out on bail pending my appeal to the High Court, a reporter caught up with me for an interview.

Sitting at my favourite mamak stall in Taman Desa, towards the end of the interview, she remarked to me that I was very brave to give up my freedom, given that I might still be going to jail for things that I said on the night of 13th May, 2013.

I laughed and said that I was not giving up my freedom, but she and everyone else had.

She said she did not understand.

I explained that if I went to jail, it was because I refused to give up my freedom and, in holding to my convictions, spoke up to condemn the cheating at the 13th GE.

On the other hand, she and many others silenced themselves, content to voice their unhappiness in whispered tones, or in the privacy of homes or amongst trusted friends.

“Who has given up their freedom?”, I asked.

She had no answer.

Rosa’s answer, on that late evening 64 years ago, was to not give in anymore.

Not give in anymore to what?

In my view, to the indignity of being treated a lesser human being because of her colour.

An indignity she had previously suffered.

Possibly, in silence.

My great grandfather, on my late mum’s side, came from Sri Lanka, worked hard, and left a legacy for the generations after him.

On 10th December, 1948, the United Nations, through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), declared each of us to be “born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

Another legacy left to all of us.

There is nothing in the Federal Constitution, 1957 that derogates from what is pronounced through the UDHR.

No clause providing for the  Bumi – non Bumi division of this nation.

There are no “special rights” entrenched for any citizens, to the exclusion of others.

“special position”, yes, but one clearly never intended to be forever.

Realising some time back that this Bumi – non Bumi was pure fiction to aid a continuance of the divide and rule, I have long renounced any such status or imagined rights flowing therefrom.

In truth, both classifications suffered their own indignities.

More on the indignities of being classified a Bumi on another day.

Why, then, do Malaysians who are categorised as non-Bumi, suffer the inequality that flows from this categorisation?

Why would a Malaysian fight tooth and claw for adequate compensation when faced with a compulsory acquisition order from the authorities, yet keep silent when the legacy of equality left by our forefathers and the UDHR is refused him?

Simplistically, I can only surmise two possible reasons.

First, when the comforts of an economically cushy job, business or other opportunity is seen as too much to risk losing if one chose to fight for the right to be treated as an equal.

Second, fear.

Of many things, some real, most imagined, and brought on by authorities who do little to deal with loud, bullying voices.

I said no to this indignity a  long time ago.

I guess when, like Rosa in 1955, Malaysians get “tired of giving in”, when dignity means more then economic comfort or safety, maybe then we can see the beginnings of being a nation of a single people, all equal.