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Time: Neighborly Hat Red [Kg Medan]
By Simon Elegant

24/3/2001 11:55 am Sat

[Tragedi Kg Medan berlaku akibat prasangka dan marah yang tidak tentu hala. Seolah-olah kaum India bersalah sedangkan kerajaan sebenarnya yang bersalah kerana meminggirkan masalah sosio ekonomi seperti setinggan dan kemiskinan di bandar. Padahal kawasan ini menyumbang banyak undi buat BN sekian lama.

Unsur perkauman mewarnai pergaduhan ini kerana rakyat asyik dihujani aktiviti yang membakarnya. Mahathir dan wakil rakyat Umno sendiri memberi ucapan yang sering berbau perkauman tetapi polis tidakpun bertindak apa-apa. Slogan "Takkan Melayu Hilang di Dunia", "Mandi Darah", dan "Melayu Perlu Berperang Dalam Satu" semuanya berasal dari mulut pemimpin Umno belaka. Patutlah begitu tragis jadinya.

Baru kini kerajaan mahu mengirim pembangunan kerana inilah punca sebenar ketegangan. Adalah sukar untuk seseorang tidak kepanasan baran jika hidup dalam tertekan serta dinafikan kemajuan semata-mata kerana mereka bergelar setinggan. Nyatalah hanya segelintir pihak sahaja yang dapat mengecapi nikmat kekayaan setelah 43 tahun ekonomi membesar. Patutlah Mahathir tidak kepingin memijakkan kaki ke hospital untuk melihat mangsa Kg Medan.

Keadaan kini sudah semakin reda, tetapi banyak hati masih berdebar dan tidak yakin walaupun polis ramai di sana. Kematian dan kecederaan yang dahsyat itu masih terus berparut di dalam hidup mereka yang mengalaminya. Seribu polis pun tidak akan mampu memadamkannya mungkin sampai bila-bila. Mereka sudah tidak percaya.
- Editor

Time Magazine

Issue March 26, 2001

Neighborly Hat Red

Violence outside Kuala Lumpur pit ethnic Malays against Indians, who share at least one thing: living on the edge of Malaysia's prosperity


Zainal and Indran have much in common. They are skinny, intense young men struggling to make ends meet in adjoining squatter settlements outside Kuala Lumpur. Both have lived in constant fear since their neighborhoods were engulfed in violence two weeks ago that killed six and left 48 others seriously wounded, in what was the worst ethnic discord in Malaysia in 30 years. But Zainal is ethnically Malay and Indran is Indian. The only thing they have in common these days: a hope that peace will return to their shantytowns.

Zainal says tension between the Malays and Indians, the largest ethnic groups in five roiled squatter settlements on the fringes of the capital, is an old story. Squatting on a plastic stool outside his home, a jerry-built shed of wooden planks and sheets of corrugated iron, he describes a life of constant vigilance. He avoids Indian areas, where the risk of confrontation is high, and watches his back when returning home from the night shift at a nearby factory.

Indran, on the other hand, feels more than free-floating anxiety. The tall, gawky 16-year-old with close-cropped hair rubs a long row of stitches on his left temple as he describes, in a quavering voice, how a group of 15 Malay youths attacked him around 10:45 p.m. on March 8 with wooden sticks and stones. To defend himself, Indran fell to the ground and curled up: there are marks on his back where his assailants jumped on him and kicked him. In the midst of the attack, he spotted a Malay running toward him with a machete in his hand. In desperation, Indran got to his feet and ran. The next thing he remembers is waking up in a hospital. "I am really very scared," says Indran, who hasn't been able to leave his home since returning from the hospital. "I cannot forget what happened to me."

Malaysia's rich mix of cultures - Malay, Chinese, Indian, indigenous tribal, Eurasian - is justly celebrated in its tourism advertisements. But the national nightmare is all about race. In May 1969, hundreds died in a paroxysm of politically sparked mob butchery, mainly between bumiputras, mostly Malays, who comprise 58% of the population, and Chinese, who make up 25%. That accounts for the government's grave reaction to the recent outburst of violence. Hundreds of people have been arrested, the majority of them Malays. Daily life has returned to normal in communities such as Kampung Lindungan and Kampung Medan, where much of the violence occurred. But the government isn't taking any chances. Helicopters clatter overhead at night. Some 700 security personnel patrol the settlement.

No one is sure about what sparked the killing spree, but all agree it was something petty: a Malay wedding party blocked an Indian funeral, or an Indian boy shattered the windshield of a Malay resident's car. Locals don't want to discuss it, and no wonder. Two people have already been arrested for rumormongering. The Indians took the brunt of the violence: 5 of the 6 killed were Indian, as were 47 of the 48 wounded. This is a fairly apt reading of the status of the Indian community, which makes up 7.2% of Malaysia's population. Indians are rapidly becoming a permanent underclass, riven by drug addiction, prostitution, alcoholism and a range of other social ills.

But the country's convulsion of unrest is less a flashback to the ethnically restive past than a wake-up call to fresh social problems. The government's actions concede as much: the squatter settlements have seen drastic improvements in the past few days. The omnipresent mounds of garbage disappeared last week for the first time in memory, and police are setting up permanent patrol sheds after years of complaints that they ignored the area. Government officials now say they will spend some $25 million to build low-cost homes for squatters and provide financial aid for people wanting them. Streetlights have finally been installed. "It is an indictment of the government," says Charles Santiago, an academic and frequent government critic, "that it took several deaths and so many wounded to get them to install streetlights here."

Why did it take an outburst of violence outside Kuala Lumpur for the country to recognize that years of rapid economic growth have brought skyscrapers and Starbucks - but also produced a large, resentful class of have-nots? Among the neglected are Malaysia's urban squatters - there are half a million around Kuala Lumpur alone and 50,000 in the settlements that house Zainal and Indran. "I put the blame squarely on the government," says P. Ramasamy, who teaches political science at the National University of Malaysia. "In 43 years of pushing economic growth it's always been the big boys who benefited most and the people in places like Kampung Lindungan who got nothing."

Slums like Kampung Medan are ground zero for Malaysia's have-not society. After the race riots of 1969, the government embarked on an ambitious affirmative action program aimed at raising education and income levels among Malays, who were significantly poorer than the Chinese. At the same time, Malaysia began its drive for the kind of export-led development that for decades fueled double-digit economic growth rates. The first factories to spring from that drive were built-and many still operate-in an industrial zone on the other side of the clogged highway from the alleys where the violence erupted.

Malays migrated en masse from rural villages to fill assembly-line jobs. The Indians came too, but with less hope. Their families had worked rubber and palm-oil plantations for generations, but the plantations were steadily lost to urban sprawl and industrialization. The Indians struggled to find housing and jobs, and many gravitated to squatter settlements near the factories.

Decades later, many of those immigrants are still living there, some of them worse off now than when they arrived. Zaidi, who sits astride an open drain into which he flicks cigarette ash, was born in Kampung Medan after his parents migrated from their rural village. He works at the Pioneer factory where he earns $150 a month, enough to live on but not even close to the sum needed to get out of Kampung Medan. Abdul Jalil, a Malay, runs a food stall selling nasi campur, rice and mixed curries. A bearded man in a sarong and skullcap, he politely ignores questions about the incident. Abdul's reluctance is understandable: parked a few feet away, directly in front of his stall, is the wreck of the car that belonged to Chandran, a 32-year-old who was one of the first Indians to be killed. Chandran died in the hospital after being dragged from the car and slashed with machetes. Abdul, who lives behind his stall, saw and heard nothing when Chandran was killed at around five in the morning. He doesn't know who the attackers were, but he's sure it couldn't have been his neighbors. "We are friends here. Indian and Malay boys come in here after playing soccer and sit together." He points to a young Indian drinking tea at a table. "He and I, we are like brothers."

The government has hinted that opposition parties may have provoked the violence for political ends. The Prime Minister himself declared: "There were no racial clashes but when people start spreading rumors that Indians are attacking Malays, then people come out and it happens." Many caution that unless someone recognizes the plight of Zainal, Indran and Zaidi, another flare-up could erupt. And once started, violence can be self-perpetuating. Mild-mannered Indran is already caught up in its deadly allure. "The Malays think we are incapable of fighting back," he says. "If they start fighting again, we will fight back. We are ready."

With reporting by Mageswary Ramakrishnan/Kuala Lumpur