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Heed needs of urban poor, says group

Star 18/03/01
PETALING JAYA: There is an urgent need for the Government to recognise issues faced by urban-poor families and develop a different set of socio-economic indicators, the MIC-owned social arm Yayasan Strategik Social (YSS) said yesterday.

YSS executive director Dr Denison Jayasooria said it was important to prevent a recurrence of the Old Klang Road squatter-community incident. He said the incident had brought to public attention the cries, concerns and
issues facing low-income families in urban areas.

"The definition of poverty, based on a household income of RM510 for a family of five in West Malaysia, is inadequate to measure urban poverty. "Policymakers have not recognised the connection between poverty and social ills such as crime, gang activities, alcoholism, domestic violence and school drop-out rates,'' Dr Jayasooria said. There was no government agency overseeing urban poverty, he said.

He said there was a need to set up agencies to implement comprehensive social intervention programmes addressing issues like housing, public facilities, education and economic well-being.

Saturday, March 17, 2001

Juvenile among 43 charged

By Charanjeet Kaur and Chen Mei Ling

PETALING JAYA: Another 43 people, including a juvenile, were charged in two magistrate's courts here yesterday with various offences linked to the recent clashes at the Kampung Medan area, bringing the number charged to 75. All claimed trial to the charges which included participating in an unlawful assembly and possession of offensive weapons in public places.

Eleven of the 43 were brought before magistrate Noor Hayati Mat. Seven of them, Sharuddin Wahab, 30, Azanizam Md Ali,
26, Zahari Hashim, 36, Mohd Yusof Bero, 33, Abdul Tauhid Abd Latif, 33, Roshaimi Rashidi, 33 and Mohd Easan Rawyan, 57, from Taman Datuk Harun, pleaded not guilty to being part of an unlawful assembly along the main road of Taman Medan on March 10 at 2.20am.

They were each allowed RM3,000 bail with one surety by Noor Hayati and hearing was set for April 25. Only Mohd Easan was represented by a counsel from the legal aid centre. Four others, brothers Ros Azean Baba, 21, and Rosman Baba, 29, Mohd Shahril Md Nasir, 21, and Ahmad Syahrill Zainuddin, 19, denied possessing offensive weapons at Dewan Orang Ramai in Taman Lindungan on March 10 at 1.20am.

Ros Azean, Rosman and Ahmad Syahrill are from Taman Dato Harun while Mohd Shahril is from Taman Medan. Noor Hayati later granted the four men bail at RM5,000 with one surety each and fixed April 20 for trial. Yesterday, the court's compound was packed with reporters, police officers and family members of the accused. Some broke down when their loved ones were brought there in police trucks.

Earlier, Ismail Husin, 27, and Samsudin Abas, 53, two of the seven men who pleaded guilty on Thursday to possession of offensive weapons and voluntarily causing hurt, were jailed six months. The other five, however, withdrew their guilty pleas at the last minute. They were allowed bail at RM5,000 with one surety each and hearing of the cases were fixed for April.

Ismail's guilty plea to his second charge of causing hurt to 26-year-old K. Muralitharan was rejected by Noor Hayati yesterday after he told the court that he had never hit the victim. The magistrate fixed April 18 for trial. During mitigation, Ismail asked the court for a lenient sentence saying that this was his first offence.

Samsudin, in pleading for a non-custodial sentence, said he was only holding the parang to protect his house and his family. He added that he was not at all involved in the clashes. The prosecution team, led by Datuk Abdul Gani Patail, pressed for a
deterrent sentence saying that the accused's offences were serious as they had affected national security and public order.

"We urge this court to consider public interest and impose a sentence which would be able to reflect the dissatisfaction of the public regarding this incident. "We plead for a deterrent one, so that future offenders would realise how
the court views such offences seriously and that they would not be able to get away with the wrongdoings so easily,'' he said.

In another court, five people claimed trial to possessing offensive weapons.Those who pleaded not guilty were a van driver Nor Abdul Malek Salim, 53, and his two sons, sales assistant Mohamad Hidzir Nor Abdul Malek, 21 and clerk Mohamad Munzir Nor, 24. The other two were a TV3 Academy broadcasting student Saiful Bahari Nordin, 19, and music studio operations manager Mohamed Mansur Awang, 24.

They were jointly charged with allegedly possessing weapons such as golok (machete), knives, a modified iron rod and a baton at the entrance of the road leading to the junction of Kampung Medan at 1.50am on March 9. They were all charged under Section 6(1) of the Corrosive and Explosive Substances and Offensive Weapons which carries a maximum two years'
jail and whipping upon conviction.

Nor Abdul Malek, Mohamad Hidzir, Mohamad Munzir and Mohamed Mansur were released on bail set at RM6,000 each with one surety while Saiful was allowed bail of RM5,000. Magistrate Suraiya Mustafa Kamal fixed April 19 for trial. Later in the afternoon, 27 others also claimed trial at the same court for disobeying the police to disperse from a gathering at a non-public area.

Those who pleaded not guilty were a 17-year-old juvenile, S.Sellvam, (age unknown), from Bandar Sunway, S. Sivakumar, 20, from Sungai Way, Charles Sagaran, 21, from Taman Desaria, P. Pandian, 33, from Taman Medan, Vincent Madhavan, 26, from Taman Medan, R. Thavasekar, 31, from Puchong, S. Muthalagan, 29, from Bandar Sunway, N. Sivabalan, 27, from Sungai Way, I. Rateinthram, 35, from Taman Desaria, N. Purushothmalingam, 23, from Kajang, V. Rahoo, 31, from Kg. Penaga, S. Sivakumar, 29, from Desa Ria, N. Sukumaran, 38, from Shah Alam, V. Chandrasegaran (age unknown), from Pantai Dalam, C. Thevaraj, 18, from Desa Ria, S. George Edwin, 21, from Taman Desaria, R. Subramaniam, 23, from Bidor, Perak, T. Ravi, 26, from Kampung Medan, S. Murugadevan, 32, from Sungai Way, V. Sugumaran, 28, from Tapah, Perak, S. Gobinath, 20, from Tasek Ampang, S. Damodaran, 40, from Jalan Kelang Lama, D. Subramaniam, 32, from Taman Desaria, S. Balamurugan, 23, from Jalan Kuchai Lama, L. Saravana Kumar, 24, from Subang Perdana and N. Harichandran, 30, from Taman Desaria.

They were alleged to have committed the offence at a scrap metal shop at Jalan PJS 7/16, in Bandar Sunway at about 6.30pm on March 10. They were released on bail set at RM3,000 each with one surety. Suraiya fixed April 24 for trial.

From The Sunday Star
18th March 2001

Fed up of being left out so long Focus

For more than 15 years, the urban poor in Taman Medan had pleaded for better housing and amenities but it fell on deaf ears. Last weekend, through he voice of violence, these residents captured international attention. TAN JU-ENG and WONG LI ZA look at whether proposed changes will become reality.

THE streets in Taman Medan have probably never been this clean nor have there been so many VIP visitors in an area better known for gangsterism, squalid living conditions and, to a certain extent, its lawlessness. Following the clashes in Taman Medan last week, politicians and NGOs have been flocking there to lend a hand, a sympathetic ear or offer words of assurance to the victims, their families and the rest of the terrified residents.

However, it didn't take long before the authorities concurred with sociologists and academicians that poverty was the root cause of the clashes which left six dead and 24 hospitalised. Although the situation is now under control and life is slowly
returning to normal - with heaps of garbage continuously being carted away and the National Unity and Social Welfare Development Ministry working overtime to come up with unity programmes for the area - some things have yet to change.

Labourer Azmi Mohd Razali, 24, who lives in the KTM longhouse in Taman Medan, expects zinc roofs to continue to be blown off in thunderstorms before he sees light of the offer for a low-cost house. ''Many of the houses here have two or three families under one roof. This is because they have been waiting for a house for so long that their children have grown up and married. Then, the children stay on in the house because they couldn't afford to leave,'' said Azmi.

There are about 350 squatter houses in the 16-year-old longhouse settlement which has around 100 Malay families and 250 Indian families. It is one of 25 settlements in the Taman Medan area which comes under the Petaling Jaya constituency. Including settlements near Taman Medan, there are at least 6,000 squatter houses and a population of easily 30,000.

The KTM longhouse, Medan Harun longhouse, Kampung Gandhi, Kampung Medan Lama, Kampung Penaga and Kampung Lindungan come under the Subang constituency. Some settlements like Kampung Gandhi have existed for nearly three decades. ''It still floods when it rains, although the water only comes up to the second step,'' said Naimah Awang, 35, a mother of three, pointing to the short stairway leading up to her house. ''However, the back portion of the house almost collapsed one day due to the rainwater which loosened the earth beneath,'' she said of her kitchen. The small hall where she is sitting doubles up as a family room.

Situated along the Klang River, her wooden house on short stilts was built by her husband. Naimah began living there in 1992 with her husband who is a part-time swimming instructor. She trims small rubber components taken from a factory and earns RM100 to RM200 a month to supplement her husband's income. Her neighbours have also taken on the job to earn extra income.

''But this work is not stable. It depends on the size of the order that the factory receives,'' she said quietly, adding that earning a
living in the city has become very difficult. With two school-going children, the family's living expenses amount to about RM600 a month. Their only luxury is a television set. Naimah wants to move out as soon as they can find a better, affordable house.

''My husband has applied for a low-cost house countless times but we have failed to get one. Now, I think we'll just wait to be moved again. If we have a choice, we wouldn't stay here because it is hot, dirty and always floods,'' she said. If things do not change, they might move back to their kampung in Kelantan.

Behind Naimah's house is a mound of rubbish, which accounts for the stench, in the ditch near the river bank. She said the river used to overflow into her house during the rainy seasons before a concrete embankment was constructed. Apart from housing, delinquency is high among youngsters in that area. Most of the children lack motivation to attend school.

''According to a survey in 1999, one in every 12 school-going Indian children (aged 7-12) does not go to school, compared with 1:35 for Chinese and 1:25 for Malays,'' said K. Arumugam who works for the Child Information, Learning and Development Centre (CHILD). CHILD, which runs educational programmes for the underprivileged, has worked with children in Kampung Lindungan and Kampung Gandhi. They have established a preschool in Bandar Sunway for 70 of these
children.

''Education is needed for vertical mobility. For the people, it is both economical and socio-cultural. If some affirmative action can be focussed things can be improved. Just telling them to study hard to escape poverty will not make any sense to them,'' said Arumugam. Poverty and apathy, apart from the lack of amenities, are some reasons why students feel demotivated. This is partly because parents take on two jobs to make ends meet. Arumugam, who used to live in Kampung Gandhi, estimates that from the group of 300 families known to him, half would be able to move out of the settlement.

Premeela Krishnamoorthi, 18, who has applied for a place in Universiti Malaya, could be one of those who might escape the poor living conditions. Premeela and her mother, Parvathi Adaikan, 41, have lived in Kampung Lindungan for the past 15 years, and are waiting to move into a low-cost house or flat.

They run a small grocery shop next to their house - a common sight in squatter settlements. Kampung Lindungan is home to a mixture of Malay and Indian residents and is situated nearest to the middle-class Bandar Sunway area. ''What's the use of the census people coming all the time if they do not talk about offering us a house,'' lamented Parvathi, who has four sons.

''People (authorities, politicians and the press) come here only when something happens,'' she said, referring to frequent flooding in the area. According to Premeela, they were told recently that they had to wait four more years for low-cost housing.

''It seems the Government does not need the land here yet,'' she added. Earlier this week, the Government announced that Kampung Medan and the surrounding areas will undergo major restructuring and the squatters will be given priority to own low-cost houses. The Selangor Government also said it would revive the rent-andbuy scheme to allow squatters to own low-cost houses without having to make a down-payment.

The state will allocate RM100mil for the purpose. About 30,000 squatters stand to benefit from the scheme called Tabung Perumahan Ehsan (Compassionate Housing Fund). MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu said he would seek an
allocation from the Government to build 2,800 low-cost houses costing nearly RM560mil for residents in Kampung Medan and its vicinity.

''There must be some minimum wage to allow the family to save to escape poverty and to buy a house,'' said Arumugam, in suggesting an affirmative action-based approach to help the very poor.

From The Sunday Star
18th March 2001

Looking inward to keep the peace

As calm is restored to the areas where violent clashes broke out last week, serious soul-searching begins for policy answers to avoid 'the fire next time.' BUNN NAGARA considers the issues as they relate to the problems and needs of a multiracial society.

THE mixed neighbourhood of Kampung Medan and its vicinity is no more racist or violent than other residential areas elsewhere. But like some neighbourhoods everywhere, it is depressed and volatile. Residents of different races have settled there for well over a decade, without feeling compelled to obliterate a neighbouring family, clan or community. Yet when the circumstances seem ripe, hatred conquers all.

Although poverty in itself seldom sparks violence, the dejection it produces makes for very flammable tinder. Kampung Medan is little more, or less, than Brixton in the 1980s or Los Angeles in the 1990s. From Ambon today to Wilmington two centuries ago, one universal feature of the human social condition is that like circumstances create like consequences. But most race riots have been more racial in their nature and history than at Kampung Medan last week.

Nonetheless, the recent clashes off Old Klang Road swiftly came to acquire racial overtones. This was despite the underlying causes being social and economic rather than racial per se, a situation that conforms with known experience. To ignore the socio-economic context in which the clashes occurred would be to deny that there can be any social or economic solution. It
would also play into the hands of those seeking to portray the clashes simply as race riots, and the residents as violent racists.

Race-implicated clashes did occur, if mostly among youths with no recollection of the wrenching mayhem of May 1969. That must say something about the precarious nature of race relations in Malaysia today. The prominence of young men this time is doubly tragic, since youths are the future of the nation. That Malaysia is a multiracial country is a fact, but what are the depth and direction of its multiracialism?

Citing a recent study last August, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi found that racial polarisation in the country had reached its worst levels. Growing polarisation among the major races is evident, and popular culture serves as a good source of signals. Children, students and adults prefer to stick to members of their own racial group more than ever before. It is an incremental characteristic from one generation to the next, effectively spelling national disunity.

Dietary restrictions mean that Muslims avoid not only pubs but also Chinese coffeeshops and dining in non-Muslim homes, where utensils and tableware are deemed "unclean.'' Meanwhile, minority educationists politicise campaigns for mother
tongue education.

Among the clearest indicators of ethnic division is media viewing. In private, videos and DVDs cater to different language groups much like different publications do. In the broadcast media, there are rare glimpses of elements of racial
integration: more Malays are watching Chinese dramas than before, coinciding with more Malay parents sending their children to Chinese schools.

Yet these signs are too oblique to be definitive. More often, they serve as symptoms rather than causes of racial integration. Across the different racial groups, English-language programmes seem the most popular. Among the reasons are slick production techniques, multimedia merchandising and international publicity and promotions that accompany the programmes--not the appeal of the English script or dialogue.

In public places like restaurants and shopping centres, a cursory survey shows that programmes that attract the biggest crowds are Mr Bean, WWF (World Wrestling Federation) bouts, "action'' films, football matches and wildlife documentaries. This is not because so many Malaysians happen to be fans of a droll Rowan Atkinson as well as of US-style showbiz wrestling, violent film sequences, soccer and the great outdoors all at the same time. The reason is more basic: all these programmes require minimal understanding of the dialogue to follow, at a time when the nation's understanding of English is at a low ebb.

While many Malaysians of various races may gather in public to watch these programmes, their alienation from one another is concealed. What appears superficially as racial integration at work is nothing of the kind. There are private communal spaces amid public social intermingling, which may help explain the ready racism in Kampung Medan and elsewhere in Petaling Selatan.

The impressive Malaysian melting pot can be deceiving: physical proximity of the different races does not necessarily equate with familiarity, fraternity or empathy. Nonetheless, multiracial neighbourhoods are not intrinsically unstable and should be
maintained. The contending communities in Petaling Selatan have openly talked of having "tolerated'' the "other''community in their midst for too long. But tolerance alone is never enough, because it implies a threshold beyond which chaos ensues.

Harmony in a multiracial society demands more from each community and individual: it requires joint recognition, mutual acceptance and shared appreciation of one another's distinctiveness. Legitimate differences do not make for troubling divergences. Since flashpoints like Kampung Medan are more likely to witness mindless violence than well-heeled neighbourhoods like Bangsar or Damansara Heights, the socio-economic factor is clear. Equally evident is how for Malaysia, like the rest of the region, the gravest security threat has long come from domestic disturbances.

The situation deserves sustained and comprehensive efforts at resolution. In keeping the peace, committing more resources to basic social and human needs should not be less of a priority than larger defence budgets for military hardware.

Tuesday March 20

NGOs rap gov’t for promoting racism
Leong Kar Yen

7:19pm, Tue: A group of NGOs took the government to task for failing to confront the problem of racism which it claimed resulted in the recent clashes in Kampung Medan, leaving six dead and scores injured.“The government has not addressed the problem of racism. It continues to deny the problem while promoting it in its action and policies,” said a memorandum that was handed to the Parliament this afternoon.

It added such actions have heightened racial sentiments among the different communities in the country. The memorandum was
presented by spokesperson for the Concerned Citizens Group (CCG), K Arumugam, and was endorsed by 46 groups which include Suaram, the National Human Rights Society of Malaysia and the Community Development Centre. The memorandum added that the government has also failed to take care of the poor in Malaysia.

“The people elect a government and the government delivers the goods, services, a peaceful environment and uplift the quality of life and standard of living. “This government has failed in providing for and taking care of poor Malaysians. This we believe is a violation of the social contract and trust placed on the elected government,” the memorandum added.

Approximately 200 people had also assembled at the gates of the Parliament in support of the memorandum. Not senior enough CCG handed the memorandum over to PAS secretary-general Nasharudin Isa, who received it on behalf of opposition leader Fadzil Nor. Also present were Keadilan president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, DAP secretary-general Kerk Kim Hock and MP for Seputeh Teresa Kok.

However, the group was unable to hand the memorandum over to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad despite having sent a letter earlier informing him that the NGOs would be in Parliament today. Two hours later Senator M Kayveas, the deputy minister for housing and local government, appeared to receive the memorandum, but CCG’s Charles Santiago refused to hand the document over to him because he was not a “senior minister”.

Kayveas was the first high-ranking government official to visit the Kampung Medan area following the clashes. The neighbourhood where the skirmishes occurred - which include Taman Datuk Harun, Kampung Lindungan, Kampung Medan, Taman Medan, Kampung Penaga, Kampung Ghandi and Kampung Muniandy - is populated by Malays, Indians, and Indonesian and Bangladeshi migrants, and comprises long houses, low-cost flats, terrace houses and wooden squatter houses.

The majority of the residents are from the lower income group, most being factory workers, mechanics and small-time businessmen. To date, police said that six have died, more than 40 injured and over 200 arrested in the clashes which began on March 9.

Royal commission

The 11-page long memorandum listed six recommendations which included calling for a royal commission of inquiry and setting up of a race relations commission “Only a royal commission of inquiry can ascertain the truth of the matter. The commission will ascertain the causes of the recent clashes; bring the perpetrators to justice and identify the structural weaknesses in present
poverty eradication programmes in order to prevent future recurrence of such a tragedy,” it said.

The race relations commission on the other hand should “be set up in order to eradicate all unfair discrimination”. The commission will have the power to investigate overt and institutional racism and to recommend possible remedies, it said. The memorandum also called for financial support for the affected families, socio-economic programmes, the setting up of a
multi-ethnic police task force to tackle drug abuse and gangsterism in the areas.

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