The woman who squeezed an orange and made a vow on Deepavali day

The woman who squeezed an orange and made a vow on Deepavali day

On Friday, a friend send me a video via Whatsapp which led me to a dream.

In the video, a wife weeps and pleads for the government to release her husband, the father of her children. With her are two other wives.

Their husbands have been detained by the police for alleged involvement in terrorism related to Sri Lankan Tamils. They and nine others are being held under Sosma, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012.

The three women are on a hunger strike, outside Bukit Aman. They are demanding that their husbands be released. They are disgusted with the government.

Two of the detainees are elected members of state assemblies: P Gunasekaran (DAP-Seremban Jaya) and G Saminathan (DAP-Gadek). Many are said to be affiliated to Pakatan Harapan, the ruling coalition.

No one I know has seen a complete list of the detainees’ names, let alone their ages, occupations and party affiliations.

The only support the wives seem to have are lawyers appointed by political parties (DAP and MIC). The lawyers have made (habeas corpus) applications to ask courts to release the twelve.

The wives are disgusted with the government because their husbands are “government men,” because they have been detained under Sosma which the Pakatan Harapan promised to abolish, and because they are not receiving meaningful support from political parties.

What does that have to do with oranges?

In the 60’s, on Deepavali eve, my brother and I would look forward to Ah Pek arriving at our doorstep. Ah Pek was the delivery man for the sundry shop from which my parents bought groceries.

Ah Pek would deliver, on his tricycle, several crates of Orange Crush, bottled by Fraser & Neave (F&N). My brother and I would nag my mother to let us drink some of the thick, sweet nectar as soon as it arrived.

We did not think about why the drink of choice was orange flavoured. We may have thought oranges signify prosperity for Indians, as it does for the Chinese. I don’t know. All we cared about was enjoyment.

Decades later, oranges came to have a very different meaning for me.

I learned that scholars who have studied the history of Indians in Malaysia spoke of Indians, mainly Tamils, as sucked oranges.

 Their research also showed that of four million Indians who came to work in Malaya, about 2.8 million returned to India – more accurately, “were returned” – mainly because they were too old to work.

Their research revealed that of the 1.2 million who remained, a very high proportion, perhaps amounting to 400,000 persons, died of disease, snake bites, exhaustion and malnutrition.

It also showed that about 60,000 Indians may have died working on the ‘death railway’ during the Japanese occupation of Malaya.

The British and the Japanese colonial governments used laws and policies to squeeze those Indians and extract compliance from them. Today, we have many laws and policies which are used to squeeze people to extract compliance.

Sosma is one of the laws. (I’ve included more on Sosma – and the ISA – at the end of this article).

‘My dream’

Deepavali is over. Three Indian women are still fasting and pleading in front of the police headquarters. Their husbands “political friends” are not with the women. The government is unwilling to intervene.

We are enraged that the government which promised, in its manifesto, to abolish Sosma, now insists that the law must remain. What can we do? In a dream last night, I saw what one Indian woman did.

She got an orange and a black marker pen. She wrote “Sosma” on the orange. She also wrote a Malay name on the orange – I sensed that it was the name of a person whose life had been ruined by 28 days or more of detention under Sosma. She cut the orange in two.

With others gathered around her, she squeezed the two halves of the orange, while repeating these words:

2.8 million abused Indians were sent back to India; 400,000 others died due to diseases and injuries; 60,000 others died of abuse when they were forced to work on the death railway. This must never happen to anyone, whatever their race or religion.

Sosma is making it happen. Sosma must go.

No one drank the juice. She poured it into a sink. Everyone wept. Then she made this vow:

“I will not drink any orange-flavoured drink until Sosma is abolished. I resolve not to be a victim. I resolve to be a tiger for Malaysia Baru.”

If you’d like to know more about Sosma, please read further.

‘Sosma’

In 2012, Sosma replaced the ISA (Internal Security Act, 1960). It is in some ways better than the ISA. I’ll give two examples: period of detention and notification of families.

‘Period of detention’

In the ISA era, the police could detain a person for 61 days “pending investigation.” Then, the Home Minister could lock up the detainee for periods up to two years. The Minister could renew the order indefinitely. The detainee would never be tried in court.

In the Sosma era, the police can detain a person for 29 days “pending investigation.” Then, they can release the detainee, or keep him under detention if the Attorney General agrees there is enough evidence to try the detainee in court.

 It is “better” because the Home Minister has no say.

‘Right to legal advice’

The ISA was silent about the detainee’s right to a lawyer (legal representation). According to analysts, the detainee’s right to consult a lawyer, a guarantee enshrined in Article 5(3) of the Federal Constitution, was presumed not to apply.

Sosma includes, in Section 5(1), a provision that the police Investigating Officer must notify the family of the detainee and allows a maximum delay of 48 hours before the detainee may consult a lawyer. (In most criminal cases the right to consult a lawyer is immediate.)

But Sosma is still abhorrent. Why? I will  give just three examples.

One, if the government decides to try the detainee in court, he will remain in detention until the last appeal in the Federal Court. This may take years and will ruin the lives of the detainee and his family.

Two, able and healthy adult males charged under Sosma cannot apply to be released on bail. Perplexingly, adult women charged for the same offences can seek to be released on bail – though they may be required to wear an Electronic Monitoring Device and be put under restricted residence.

Three, all kinds of unverifiable evidence may be presented by the prosecution during the trial. This includes statements the accused may have made under duress, statements made by persons dead or untraceable and persons whose identity is hidden from the defence.

Perhaps the most detestable thing about Sosma is its potential for abuse. There have been allegations that detainees can “buy” privileges from cops who hold them in lockups and can “buy off” Investigating Officers who are supposed to be gathering evidence against them.

Rama Ramanathan is an activist for Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of The Leaders Online.

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