Let’s get serious about ending discrimination

Let’s get serious about ending discrimination

The sad truth about prejudice against the disabled is that it continues to rear its ugly head frequently and I wonder what the late Karpal Singh would have to say about this?

KarpalOver the past fortnight, I’ve been thinking about nothing else but that dirty 14-letter word called ‘discrimination’ in our society.

The Cambridge dictionary defines it as “treating a person or particular group of people differently, especially in a worse way from the way in which you treat other people, because of their skin colour, religion, sex, etc.”

The ‘etcetera’ part refers to disability for persons with handicaps. One of our nation’s greatest human rights fighter, Karpal Singh, died and left us a fortnight ago. For the last part of the legend’s struggle for the people, he ended up in a wheelchair through an accident.

It only made the highly-respected MP stronger, rather than weaker, as he continued to effectively carry out his service for his fellow men and women. However, even a giant of a man like Karpal couldn’t help becoming vulnerable to attacks of discrimination as a wheelchair user for nearly 10 years.

In early 2008, a couple of parliamentarians poked fun at his disability when he was addressing serious issues on governance in the House. One of them said, “as a disabled (Karpal Singh) should act like one, but his mouth is not like a disabled”

Karpal was not only quick to reprimand the offensive remark but also pointed out that it further condemned and insulted all disabled people.

“Such a statement coming from him (MP) not only demeans his status as an MP, but also brings into disrepute the august house of Parliament,” Karpal added. He went on to say he was “deeply moved by wheelchair-bound citizens who demanded (the MP who made the insensitive remark) to apologise.”

Karpal was referring to about 30 disabled people who turned up to show their solidarity with the parliamentarian. I was most privileged to be appointed leader of the group. Our intention was also to nip in the bud each and every form of discrimination against disabled persons in our society.

Later the legend made it a point to meet us all. He came by and greeted us, one by one, with a warm smile and a big “Thank you” for what we had done.

“What you all did not only touched my heart deeply but it was a very important statement to make and a lesson to learn for anyone who discriminates against disabled people in Malaysia!” he beamed.

In early 2010, however, we found ourselves in a situation where we had to do it again. This time, we packed our wheelchairs and our walking sticks and crutches and headed straight over to Federal House.

We were at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in Kuala Lumpur. Karpal was made a victim of that dirty word again, this time by the commission’s legal representative in the late Teoh Beng Hock (TBH) inquest.

The Karpal was holding a watching brief for TBH’s family. During a verbal exchange on an application to cite a MACC officer for contempt at the inquest, the MACC’s lawyer retorted: “I can sit down but Karpal cannot stand up. Although the lawyer later apologised and withdrew his remark, we felt the act of insulting disabled Malaysians was too serious a matter for a professional like him to simply say “sorry” and then get away with it.

Double standard

The insult on Karpal’s disability wasn’t just to Karpal, but to every disabled person in our country. If people in authority such as the MACC and others do not know how to respect the disabled, then what example are we setting for the rest of the country?

And so, we decided to demand a public apology for all disabled Malaysians from Abu Kassimthe MACC prosecution chief then, Abu Kassim Mohamed. Nothing quite surprised us as to the response we got from the MACC after we handed over our memorandum to them.

The MACC apologised! (I guess not everyone is as stone-hearted as some of our parliamentarians who refuse to admit their wrongs). The MACC issued a press statement the very next day, apologising to Karpal for insulting him.It also admitted that it was insensitive with its remarks and pointed out that it had no intention to offend any party. In response, Karpal said, “I accept the apology by the MACC in good grace.”

He also said he hoped that “such an incident will not occur again, not only to him but to any disabled person in the country.” But the sad truth about discrimination and prejudice against disabled people is that it continues to rear its ugly head every now and again. Sometimes it appears subtly. Other times it is glaring.

To those who have been following the story on Free Malaysia Today and other media, the Sivan temple in Bukit Gasing in Petaling Jaya is currently under fire for barring wheelchair using devotees into its premises citing ‘dirt’ and ‘lack of space’.

The temple’s latest argument now is the spot the disabled want to go to, near the altar, is too dangerous for them. To exacerbate things, a permanent signboard at the temple says, “Wheelchairs are not permitted within (the) temple’s premises as with the general rules of shoes and slippers.”

Last Saturday more than 50 persons, many of them in their wheelchairs and walking sticks, held a protest outside the temple demanding to be treated just like any other Hindu devotee. I take my hat off to these guys. Some of them were from other faiths. They came because they didn’t want to see such rules in other places of worship too.

Some had weak bones and limbs. Any mishap, such as falling off their wheelchairs or slipping whilst transferring in and out of their cars could result in even severe and permanent injuries. But they braved it all in order to confront discrimination and double standard.

They wanted to show everyone that they were not going to tolerate prejudice against them anymore. According to those involved in the demonstration, the temple has agreed to their demands to remove the offending words and allow wheelchairs in. However, it is still left to be seen if the temple will keep to its promise. For now what is saddening, and I might add, disgraceful, is that their elected representative, Rajiv Rishyakaran, failed to turn up at the event even though he was invited.

Had the Bukit Gasing state assemblyman been there, he could have, at least,c.gabriel helped them. If not to physically assist them out of their cars and into their wheelchairs, at least he could have received their memorandum and stood by them in their hour of need.

Neither was their Petaling Jaya City Councillor for the area Cynthia Gabriel ( right) nor Pastor Sia Siew Chin who was appointed to look after disability issues in the city present. The latter also uses a wheelchair. I wonder what the late Mr Karpal Singh would have to say about all this?

Anthony SB Thanasayan is a wheelchair and animal activist. He is also a former city councillor.


13 thoughts on “Let’s get serious about ending discrimination

  1. How to eradicate discrimination when every so often commentators on this blog refer to President Obama as the Black President, Black Dude etc etc. Color has nothing to do with him being President of the United States. Obama is not President of the Black people of America or the white people of America. Obama is President of the United States.
    Malaysians have a long way to go towards eradicating discrimination , discrimination towards race, religion, faith and people with disabilities. See the person as a human being instead of his color or disability.

  2. Discrimination is a way of life here, especially by civil servants and officials. Why do I say that? In other coy tires I see wheelchair bound people moving about on their own without much assistance. They can get into a public buss or travel the underground as the facilities are designed to suit them. Here even strolling through anfive foot way is impossible! Each shop has their own pavement and some even with stairs. That stops every wheel bound person from strolling through shops. And we have officials to thank for. Either they are blind, which in this case they can be considered disabled, or they are totally heartless, which of course also mean they are equally disabled too. Why can’t they require these shops provide a smooth passage for the disabled. This in 2014, just a handful years away when our UMNO led leaders would proclaim shamelessly Malaysia
    a ‘developed’ nations. But our OKU are and will see hurdles every in their life! Malaysia Boleh.

  3. Anthony,some of our parliamentarians and lawyers are mentally handicapped . The great American president F.D. Roosevelt was wheel chair bound and he was a three term president ! As for the Gasing Sivan temple ,it is undergoing renovations and construction and it is dangerous for wheelchair bound visitors .The topography of the area speaks for itself . It is very steep going uphill and there is a steep drop at the edge of the temple ! The ruling is actually for your own good ! If you don’t understand that you should not go there !

  4. Alvin,
    Correction! I think you are talking about physically handicapped. Unless you are making statements on law makes such as Big Foot Kinabatangan MP. Yes, he’s mentally handicapped. Hahahaha! Seriously, the Lupus should pay him a visit

  5. Seriously, you can’t ‘demand’ Dignity with Respect while shouting from the rooftops. That only causes reactionary denial and sometimes misplaced disgust. That’s the nature of Man, for exceptionalism is often times seen as over-kill.

    In this case, we don’t really know the circumstances of the temple decision. Perhaps it’s not that the ‘sick, lame and defective’ are unwelcome within the sanctified precincts (notoriously like in the Jewish Temple of Jerusalem of antiquity), but lack of facilities to accommodate them. Perhaps, it the way that the ‘ban’ was communicated – as not all ‘religious’ authorities are ‘sensitive’.

    In fact, most religious conservatives are really bad at that. Look at the riff-raff and rabid ‘Exceptionalism’ of all Fundamentalists..

    Yes, polite chastising and reminders to bring out empathy and altruism that’s inbred. Brother Anthony is good at that. How’s the dogs?

    Black Dude? Here’s one:

  6. Meanwhile in the USA, some white dude by the name of Sterling done gone an got hisself banned from the NBA for his racist comment.

    His whitey comments were called a “black eye” for the NBA by Magic J.

    See, you can use colorful (pun intended) language without being racist. Even the great P Ramlee had his stereotyping moments.

    But a line has to be drawn when physical infirmities are mocked like Bolehland elites are wont to do.

    And saying that FDR was great despite his polio, and Hawkings a wheelchair- bound genius are also displays a kind of discrimination mindset. Just like the imbecile minister (sorry, i just can’ t seem to separate the two words when it comes to BL ministers) who said that he is not a racist just because his wife is Chinese.

  7. Bo,
    I do wonder if a real Mandela appears in Malaysia. Definitely not Anwar Ibrahim. He has failed utterly over many issues including the Hudud issue

  8. Not possible with a political party with the poisonous Mahathirist ideology of Malay supremacy dominating the political system.

  9. Remember that wheelchair-bound Karpal Singh was verbally abused by pro-regime thugs on the grounds of
    Parliament House itself !

  10. Phua,
    The funny thing is that Madhater has written down his race as Indian in National University of Singapore registrar. You can ask Madhater to sue me if I said wrongly.

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