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Preventing neighbourhood strife

FROM the sale of beer to the protest against the construction of a Hindu temple within a Muslim majority area, there seems to be no shortage of issues where the demands of one ethnic group are pitted against another.

When such conflicts happen, the call for the police to take action against the perceived wrongdoers will usually follow. Such calls only treat the symptoms. They do not resolve the underlying cause of the dissent.

Looking at these issues from a purely technical perspective, such disputes are a result of a failure to plan townships to cater to the needs of different ethnic groups with different cultural practices.

Bad planning

For example, there are issues of racial tension resulting from poor town planning in Petaling Jaya. One such issue is the Petaling Jaya City Council (or known by its Malay acronym, MBPJ) crematorium in Kampung Tunku, which has been in existence for many years.

Somehow, the previous government allowed several low-cost flats to be built nearby and with many Malay-Muslim Malaysians moving in to those flats, it soon became an issue for the residents. Whenever the crematorium held funeral services, ash from the burning corpse would inevitably fly into their homes.

In 2007, the clearing of the Sungai Buloh Forest Reserve to build the Kota Damansara cemetery became a religious issue for those who defended the building of the cemetery. This was even though the nearby residents who objected to the cemetery were mostly Malay-Muslim Malaysians themselves.

Actually, the objections to the cemetery were not an outright rejection either, but a request to look at the plans to ensure there was a sufficient buffer between the cemetery and the residents’ homes. The objectors also wanted an assurance that the rest of the forest would remain untouched by development as there was a proposal to gazette the rest of the forest for mixed development.

This just goes to show that ad hoc development can lead to more than just a traffic nightmare for the people living in the area, as racial tension can result from poor government decisions.

Of course, there are also elements of provocation that cannot be discounted, but the principle here is not to give a reason for people to get upset in the first place.

Moving forward

Recognising people’s different social needs is but the first step in coming up with a solution. Planning to provide needed facilities while ensuring public sensitivities are observed would be the next.

(Pic by vierdrie /
Whether the local councils presently have the necessary expertise to do such planning however, is another issue entirely.

MBPJ councillor KW Mak had to force-feed his cat bitter medication recently. Every attempt to pop the pill into his cat’s mouth was accompanied by howls of protest, and struggles. He is glad that all is forgiven, and his cat still leaps unto his lap for short naps.

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