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Thursday, May 27, 2004

Nirmala - it is about human rights, not image

Josh Hong
3:08pm Tue May 25th, 2004

Amidst the widespread anger and condemnation of the inhuman abuse of Nirmala, some of the vital issues involved need to be clarified in order for us to understand the severe implications of this shocking case.

First and foremost, Malaysians must indeed feel ashamed of a horrible crime. This has clearly shaken the myth that Malaysia is a model for the developing world. Having said that, we must also be careful enough not pass undue
judgment throw the first stone on the alleged perpetrator.

On this, I disagree strongly with Rais Yatim, the minister of culture, arts and heritage, who remarked that the adage of 'innocent until proven guilty' did not apply here. A golden rule is a golden rule, and there should be no two ways about it simply because of the horrible scale in this particular case.

In my view, the adage must be applicable to all suspects in all circumstances, including Osama bin Laden, who is said to have orchestrated the Sept 11 attacks on the United States. Yes, we are outraged and shocked,
but our righteous wrath must never be allowed to supplant judicial law, failing which a floodgate of miscarriage of justice will be opened.

Secondly, I cannot agree with the view of the many ministers, media professionals and members of the general public that this incident has damaged the 'image' of Malaysia.

More than a decade of the ?Malaysia boleh? brainwashing has instilled in the minds of many Malaysians a fallacy that there are certain special and superior qualities in being Malaysian. Because we are 'special', it is difficult for us to believe that such beastly crimes could have been perpetrated by a fellow citizen, while forgetting that we are all human, too and prone to evil.

So long as this myth and pride exists, a proper safeguarding of the rights of foreign maids will remain a tough battle. We must recognise the fact that our law, as it stands today, is ill-equipped to deal the abuse of foreign workers.

It is incumbent upon each and every one of us to fight for the welfare and protection of foreign workers and maids in our midst. The fact is, with the exception of a handful of non- governmental organisations, nearly all our political parties, groups and NGOs focus solely on their own interests and causes.

When was the last time we heard of Malaysian workers' unions speaking up for foreign workers? Have the DAP and the Parti Rakyat Malaysia, ever actively campaign for the rights of foreign workers and maids?

The first step towards the safeguarding the rights of foreign workers and maids is for Malaysians to search deep within ourselves. It could very well be that we are all influenced, knowingly or unknowingly, by the prejudice of our media, friends and relatives and that we tended to regard minor physical abuse of foreign maids as 'understandable and acceptable'.

We must also ponder hard on whether our anger right now is driven by the damage to our country's image, or because we are truly convinced that institutional and legal protection for foreign workers and maids is long overdue.

The latter will determine if another crime of this magnitude will be avoided for good.


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