Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Mourning our mentors and leaders

Brave New World (The Star)
30 April 2014

When the generation above us move on, then whom are we to turn to for advice, for support, for encouragement?


IT has been a horrible month.
Over the last thirty days or so, I have paid my final respects to three people whom I have always held in the highest regard; Irene Fernandez, Bernard Khoo and Karpal Singh.
Apart from the obvious feelings of sadness and sympathy for their families, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of loss. It would be fair to say that Irene, Bernard and Karpal were not spring chickens.
They were all of a generation of whom I would normally be calling aunty and uncle. Although I dare say that if ever I did try to call Bernard “uncle” he would have in all likelihood hit me on the head with his pipe.
But because they were older and more experienced, I had viewed them as mentors and leaders.
I do not, for one second, claim that they personally were mentors to me, as my contact with them was not extensive, but in an odd way, I felt that by virtue of being junior to them, it was as though they were on the front line in the battles for justice and fair play and I was merely trailing in their tracks. In a weird way, this was quite comforting.
But when the generation above us move on, then whom are we to turn to for advice, for support, for encouragement? Which trail can we follow now that the trailblazers have died?
It was this sense of loss that permeated my feelings as I went from one wake to another. With each passing one, the feeling just got stronger.
It has taken some time for this miasma of gloom to lift, but lift it has for if there is anything I can learn from these three people is that there are many avenues when seeking change.
One only has to recognise them and grab them. They did it and so can anyone, with the requisite will.
Individually, they have all done so much to further the cause of justice in Malaysia. Collectively, they represent the many facets of activism in this country.
Irene chose the path of working in a non-governmental organisation, focusing primarily on issues of migrant workers and their rights. Karpal famously and successfully took the route of party politics and Bernard did all that he could as an ordinary citizen of this country; expressing himself through his blog and participating in as many civil society initiatives as he could.
Did they make a difference? I would say that they did. It is easy to be cynical in this country of ours seeing how bad things are and continue to be.
But how much worse would things be if Irene and people like her did not raise awareness and fight for the rights of the migrant worker? Just how out of control would the government be if it was not for Karpal and his colleagues battling in Parliament and beyond?
And if it weren’t for citizens like Bernard making claims for greater rights and dignity, the complacency of the powers that be would be tenfold as they cannot be trusted to uphold such values and only the sustained cries of the ordinary citizen could force them to make whatever (paltry) concessions that they have made.
No one said that freedom and rights are easy to come by; the powerful do not relinquish their power without a fight. It is a constant battle and even when the day comes and Malaysia has the semblance of a democratic humanist state, the battle will continue in the form of what Thomas Jefferson called “eternal vigilance”.
These three outstanding people may be gone, but they have showed us the many ways with which we can continue with this effort, this struggle. It is up to us to take up that mantle and in the words oft spoken by Karpal; “we carry on”.

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