The Baling Incident of 1974

December 12, 2012

The Baling Incident of 1974 commemorated

by Terence Netto (11-12-12)@

Hishamuddin Rais at Baling Protest, 1974In the historical catalogue of events that have become signposts for the raising of human rights consciousness among Malaysians, the Baling incident of December 1974, which saw university students make common cause with impoverished peasants, has become an event rather like the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott was for the US civil rights movement.

Both events drew knee jerk repression from custodians of the status quo, while both a national audience and a watching world stood riveted by the spectacle of courageous defiance and the gamut of oppression it provoked.

Both episodes threw up charismatic leaders – Anwar Ibrahim in the Malaysian instance and Martin Luther King Jr in the American one – who would go on, with their statures enhanced by the travails they had to endure, to lead their embryonic movements to respective denouements, though in Anwar’s case the culmination is some way from its vindicatory apotheosis.

Thus, the commemoration of the 1974 Baling incident that Parti Keadilan Rakyat elected to organise at the Dewan Sivik in Petaling Jaya yesterday in conjunction with the marking of the World Human Rights Day was apposite for reasons at once simple and profound.

NONEThese were encapsulated by one of the commemoration’s speakers, Syed Hamid Ali (left), who was involved in the Baling incident and was detained under the ISA for his pains.

“For me, the significance of the Baling incident lies in a simple truism: Where there is oppression there will be opposition,” intoned the PKR leader who is the younger brother of Senator Dr Syed Husin Ali, the former deputy president of PKR who also spoke at the event.

Syed Hamid elaborated: “The Baling incident was just the symbolic effusion of a series of lead-up incidents during the early 1970s that culminated in university students and faculty members deciding that they could not stand apart from the sufferings of peasants in the rural areas and the labouring classes in towns who were feeling the effects of depressed rubber prices or were hungering for housing and other basic needs.”

Earlier, speakers Kamarazaman Yaakob and Professor Gurdial Singh Nijar, who were both held under the ISA for their parts in the episode, each related vignettes of their involvement, the former, a Universiti Malaya student leader at that time, the more evocative speaker for reason of his emotive recall of and reflections on aspects of ordeal endured by the arrested students, faculty members and NGO leaders who demonstrated their support for the peasants hit by the steep fall in rubber prices.

NONESenator Syed Husin Ali (right), then an Associate Pprofessor at University of Malaya who was held for six years under the ISA for his involvement – the longest span of detention suffered by a victim of the ISA dragnet that year – also spoke at yesterday’s memorial.

Syed Husin opined that his concept of human rights entailed working to make sure that people had occupations with a livable wage and affordable housing.

The final speaker was PKR adviser Anwar Ibrahim, who said that the concern for human rights should transcend boundaries of race and religion and that moral courage was a sine qua non of the fight against man’s inhumanity to man.

6 thoughts on “The Baling Incident of 1974

  1. I don’t follow. Why the Baling Incident rather than the Memali Incident? The former is clearly overshadowed by the latter The Baling Incident was about Anwar Ibrahim finding his niche among the Malay rural poor and underprivileged. It catapulted Anwar to rock star status among the Malay rural poor..That we know.

    Focus should be on the Memali Incident which in the final analysis was a public order exercise that went terribly wrong. Blame was put on Black Musa who in the end appeared to have acted beyond his expressed authority. The Old Goat had other ideas. He saw the storm clouds gathering, had no boiler plate response that he could follow and abandoned it to his deputy. And the idea that somehow it has ramifications which run parallel to another incident in far away U.S which went on to fuel . the civil rights movement is beyond me.

    It is a quantum leap that only Terrence Netto would take.- the same kind of leap that Hussin would take when he sees Goolbatok coming.

  2. Where was Ol’ Frank? I belive he was doing his masters in mass communications at an Ivy League university in Didi’s neck of the woods. Yours truly was busy learning the rope in Tokyo, Japan. – and in summer selling his meat to Ms Maria Ozawa.

  3. Me? I was trying to figure out whether THC (tetrahydrcarbinnol), er ganja, would scramble my neurons. So i smoked, but didn’t inhale. I was also being offered diverse educational pathways from medicine, engineering to physics from UK, that my parents couldn’t possibly afford; and i was too lazy to maintain a scholarship/bursary. So they told me to stay home and look after the dogs. That’s when i became a pariah..

    Being a ‘citified’ peasant, i supported the Baling protests from a distance, not understanding that land is life and poverty of spirit that hurts more than hunger. The Baling incident jogged a social awareness and empathy for the poor. But then, being an addled politician i could not be. So i did the next bast thing – i started smoking to help tobacco farmers. Accounts for my ‘tak nak’ sympathies, to whatever Establishment means, even if i were part of it. Complicated? Who isn’t..

  4. I was studying my Economic when one sub branch of the student union interrupted classes much like what Perkasa did. By then MU was surrounded by riot police and we had fun throwing back the tear gas; and after the Great Economic Debate, makmakutty send in the troops (which was unheard of then) and arrested many activists. And the Speakers’ Corner was subsequently demolised by the authorities.

    The new so-called speakers corner is a far cry from the yesteryears. That how clear the memory was on that fateful event that shook the students. Since then no students have dared to voice any opinion that is not BN approved. What a shame for a great university to descent to such a low level that it has never recovered from.

  5. Strange people are discussing the incident at UM without referencing what actually happened in Baling. I was there at MU when it happened. I also know Baling of the early 70s because I followed my father to open land there. Also, my uncle and his family lived there. I too also know poverty back then. There is certainly no mass hunger. Life was difficult but gradually but surely getting better. I do not know where DSAI got his information from, but it is quite difficult to starve living in rural Kedah. People from as far as Kelantan come to Kedah during those times to earn money. Look like someone made a mountain out of a mole hill, for his own selfish reason. Only 3-4 years earlier he was instigating people regarding the position of Bahasa Melayu, also causing riots when rioting would not help, but writing books in Bahasa would. How many books on useful subjects using Bahasa has he written?

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