Categorised | Found in Translation

The Hindraf rebel

Corrected at 2.45pm, 19 May 2009

P UTHAYAKUMAR, the last of the three remaining Hindraf leaders who were released last week, continued to dominate the headlines of Tamil news for the week of 11 to 17 May 2009.

Other stories included the promise by the Minister of Higher Education Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin to consider the proposal for Tamil to be taught at degree level at University Putra Malaysia, and the results of the Indian national election.

Uthayakumar addressing his supporters after being released on 9 May (Pic courtesy of Hindraf)

The defiant one

If the government thought that months of imprisonment under the Internal Security Act (ISA) had broken the spirits and cowed Hindraf leaders into submission, it was mistaken. At least in regards to Uthayakumar, always the most vocal before his detention. Post detention, he has not lost any of his fire.

Tamil Nesan and Malaysia Nanban ran the story on Uthayakumar on 12 May. The papers quoted him at the impromptu press conference outside the Shah Alam court. Uthayakumar had gone there to give his support to those who had been charged with gathering illegally at Batu Caves on 25 November 2007 during the Hindraf rally. Both papers quoted Uthayakumar extensively at the Q&A session outside the courthouse.

Malaysia Nanban ran the story under the headline The struggle for the community will continue — Uthayakumar. “I will sacrifice myself for the community and future generations,” said Uthayakumar. “We did not do anything wrong. We don’t have weapons and we did not engage in violent street demonstrations. We as people have a right to demonstrate. The government did not allow us to demonstrate for our rights. That is why I refused to admit my guilt.”

Commenting on his imprisonment for 514 days, Uthayakumar said he never regretted his actions. “I did not cry. In fact, my incarceration only made me stronger mentally and emotionally.”

He revealed the conditions of his imprisonment: “I did not even have the freedom to read the papers that I wanted. I was only given certain papers to read. I was observed all the time.”

But according to him, some good also came out of the imprisonment. “I read a lot. Everyday I would read for about 13 hours … I wrote a lot of pointers on what I read and on my thoughts. I wrote about 4,912 such pointers. These will be published soon.”

Asked on whether he would become a politician, he answered: “Is our struggle for the people or for political power? I have to think what is the best way to help the people and to ensure they get the benefits. I will discuss this with the people and do as the people wish.”

Tamil Nesan ran the same story but chose to highlight different aspects of it. Its headline for the story was Even if the opposition makes mistakes, I will not hesitate to criticise them, declares Uthayakumar. He advised those involved in championing the people to be fully honest and transparent. “Even if the opposition does anything wrong, we must not hesitate to criticise them,” he said.

When asked about his treatment while in prison, he said, “Except for putting beef in my food and refusing permission for me to seek medical treatment in a private clinic, I was treated fairly well.”

The paper also gloated that Uthayakumar learnt how to read Tamil during his imprisonment via Tamil Nesan. This is in contrast to the story carried in Malaysia Nanban, where he complained he was forced to read only one Tamil paper and refused access to others (referring to Malaysia Nanban and Makkal Osai).

Victory (of sorts) for MIC

For the last couple of weeks, Tamil papers, led by Tamil Nesan, have been carrying front-page news that University Putra Malaysia (UPM) does not have provision for Indian Malaysian students to study the Tamil language at the degree or postgraduate level. UPM offers such degrees in Mandarin, French, German and Arabic.

Samy Vellu (Pic courtesy of theSun)
The MIC, led by its president Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu, has been urging UPM to offer degree courses in Tamil for the benefit of Tamil Malaysians who want to study the language at university level. Samy Vellu personally took it upon himself to look into this matter and his persistence has paid off.

Tamil Nesan reported on its front page on 12 May that Samy Vellu’s mission was accomplished, under the headline MIC proposal will be looked into regarding offering degree in Tamil at Putra university. The story was illustrated with a picture of Minister of Higher Education Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin sitting across the table and listening to Samy Vellu’s points.

“The minister listened to our viewpoints and said they were fair. He gave us his assurance that he would look into it,” said Samy Vellu.

Malaysia Nanban ran an editorial on the matter the next day on 13 May titled Tamil degree at UPM. While welcoming the ministry’s move and the effort put in by MIC into the issue, it cautioned against celebrating prematurely.

“The MIC’s effort and the ministry’s willingness to look into this matter is just half the battle won. Only when Tamil classes actually begin at UPM can one finally heap laurels on the MIC and the Ministry of Higher Education.”

The paper further stated that even if the ministry gave the go-ahead to start the Tamil degree programme, the officials at UPM could drag their feet and the plan may never materialise.

“In the past there have been many instances where our leaders have said … yes … and then nothing happens. Indian [Malaysians] then subjected their leaders to severe criticism … In view of all this, we urge the MIC to work hard to keep reminding the ministry and the relevant parties of their promises until Tamil degree classes officially start at the university,” said the paper.

Congress triumphs

Tamil papers have always followed closely the political situation in India, in particular in Tamil Nadu. So, it is only natural that when the results of India’s national elections were declared on Saturday, they made front-page headline news in all Tamil papers, pushing the national news to a secondary role on Sunday 17 May.

Tamil Nesan‘s headline read Congress retains power. DMK coalition wins. Dravida Munetra Kalagam, headed by M Karunanidhi, is the ruling party in Tamil Nadu.

Malaysia Nanban’s headline was Congress coalition wins big. The story was illustrated with a smiling and waving Sonia Gandhi and a youthful-looking Karunanidhi posing with a swagger (a file picture; Karunanidhi is in his 80s and is mainly confined to a wheelchair these days due to his weak back). It also had a picture of a rather morose-looking J Jayalalitha, the former Tamil Nadu chief minister and Karunanidhi’s political nemesis, whose coalition lost badly in the elections.

Makkal Osai‘s main headline was DMK’s huge victory. The article read, “Despite harping on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue by Makkal TV and Jaya TV (a television station owned by Jayalalitha), Jaya’s coalition could only manage to muster 12 seats.”

(Corrected) The DMK coalition won 27 of 39 parliamentary seats in Tamil Nadu, and the sole Lok Sabha seat in Puducherry.

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One Response to “The Hindraf rebel”

  1. Issac Pandian says:

    Correction: “Tamil Nadu’s state assembly has 40 seats.” Lok Sabha election is the same as our parliamentary election. Thus, the Indian election was for the parliament not state assembly. Please correct the info.

    Editor’s note: Thank you for pointing that out. We will run the correction as soon as possible.

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

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