Saturday, 8 December 2007

Nathaniel Tan's Letter To HINDRAF

I was very impressed with this letter written by Nate Tan:

Open Letter to Mr. Uthayakumar - One Step Away From Gandhi

Dear Mr. Uthayakumar,

Salam perjuangan, I hope this finds you well. I write this letter to you with as much sincerity as my heart can muster because at this point, Hindraf has effectively become you alone, and you alone have become Hindraf.

While Malaysia talks of Hindraf and imagines the Indians, I feel that you and your small circle determine what “Hindraf” is, and not any wider community.

You thus now hold within your hands the ability to lead Indian Malaysians in this country out from marginalisation and into a life of dignity and prosperity. In this regard, you stand in the same place Gandhi did at the beginning of his struggle.

You have succeeded where none have before in uniting the Indian Malaysian community, inspiring them to leave behind their fears and to stand up bravely in pursuit of justice and a better life.

You now face however, the prospect that the massive opportunities that these successes presented may be slowly slipping through our fingers. To lose these opportunities, which we may never see again in our lifetimes, would be a tragedy not only for Indian Malaysians but for all Malaysians.

Where once Hindraf stood as the next wave of a Malaysian movement demanding the return of integrity and justice to our government, it has now become twisted into a lightning rod of polarisation which plays directly into the hands of Barisan Nasional’s racially divisive politics.

We can stand the tide of oppression, of vilification and the use of unjust laws against us, but only if we hold fast to the right principles and choose the right paths.

I am writing to you sir, to implore you to prioritise results as well as a sustainable and just solution for the long term over whatever short term gains current strategies may yield.

I beg you to consider the fact that some of the current approaches will not only worsen ethnic relations in Malaysia, but also frustrate any attempt to realise the changes so desperately needed by the Indian Malaysian community.

Now, more than ever, it is imperative that your movement does not sacrifice its ultimate goals in the pursuit of fleeting satisfaction. Your movement is but a step or two away from truly inheriting the legacy of the Gandhi-led Indian struggle for independence from Britain, and the time has come to close that distance.

Unassailable Moral High Ground

It is also now that our commitment to Gandhian principles is most tested.

On a logical level, I can perhaps understand to some extent statements about how violence cannot be ruled out due to the uncontrollable nature of crowds.

But for a leader in your position to refuse to rule out violence as a part of your movement is both unacceptable and unbecoming of the Mahatma’s legacy.

Clearly, the government’s attempt to brand you as a terrorist is a desperate ploy. To respond in kind however, and wildly accuse the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General of having links to Al-Qaeda is to practice exactly the eye for an eye logic that will indeed leave the whole world blind.

The importance of holding the highest moral ground cannot possibly be overstated; it may well determine whether the lot of Indian Malaysians will ever truly be improved.

Images showing police firing laced water cannons against supporters sitting peacefully and bravely holding their ground holding Malaysian flags and pictures of Gandhi is exactly the type of moral shaming that brought down the British Empire in India.

Holding fast to these approaches will expose to the world the government’s injustice towards Indian Malaysians and towards Malaysia; refusal to rule out violence and striking back blindly in anger will send your movement down the annals of history as nothing but rabble rousers.

A Commitment to the Truth

Your interview with Malaysiakini revealed that your use of the terms “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” were not without due consideration on your part. They have also obviously succeeded somewhat in attracting wider global attention.

Once again however, I plead with you to consider the wider implications.

It is highly unreasonable to expect Malaysians to believe that what happened in Rwanda and Bosnia is happening here in Malaysia.

I firmly agree with you that there is a clear and present danger of failing to address these problems, and thus one day going down that road; but it is ridiculous to suggest that we are already there.

The entire credibility of a leader rests on the words he or she chooses, and I regret to say that such poor choice of words risks putting you in the category of the boy who cried wolf.

I do congratulate you on bringing the matter to the attention of legislators in India, the UK and the US – this was no small feat. To use such sensationalist means to achieve this goal however may be akin to “Menang bersorak, kampung tergadai.” A significant fear of mine is that your movement may hope for more dramatic clashes in order to heighten international attention.

It would be unwise to assume that the international community can truly do much to improve the welfare of Indian Malaysians, which again should be the ultimate goal. Even if circumstances should turn more violent, if the world did not act in Rwanda, and still does not act in Burma, it will not act in Malaysia.


Mr. Uthayakumar,

I implore you not to walk this road alone. Perhaps you wanted the rally of the 25th of November to be primarily Indian Malaysian in composition because you wanted the community to prove to itself that it can stand on its own two feet.

This is understandable, but the time for walking alone has come and gone.

If any Hindraf leader were to be detained under the ISA, rest assured that I will stand with the multitudes on the streets demanding their freedom.

I only ask you to consider that if at this crucial stage you moderate your stance and truly internalise the teachings of Mahatma, you will make the struggle against injustice in such an event a one to one fight, rather than splitting the conflict into three corners – all of Malaysia could rise up to defend justice for all.

Otherwise, we will once again fail to unite, and fail to realise true change. In doing so, we will condemn yet another generation to hateful division and poverty.

I sympathise with your cynicism as to how other movements in Malaysia have failed to champion the cause of the Indian Malaysian community sufficiently. I myself take responsibility for my own failure to push this agenda sufficiently in my own efforts. If your intent has been to shame us, consider us shamed and appropriately humbled.

I am deeply hopeful that you will however have it in your heart to see the harsh reality that faces us all at a moment like this: there is no way your movement will ever succeed if it remains exclusively a Hindu or Indian movement. It is a stark and painful truth, but a truth nonetheless.

If the injustices of the powers that be are painfully difficult to break even when we stand united, they are entirely impossible to break standing divided.

There is also no doubt in my mind that the welfare of Indian Malaysians will never really improve unless we do indeed break those injustices.

I do feel that the Bersih model has struck fear in the hearts of those in power. If we can build on that model of a mass movement that incorporates all ethnic groups and elements of society, instead of being limited to certain segments, I feel we can build a momentum to achieve our ultimate goals – without which all our other goals will be rendered meaningless

Believe it or not, I have seen how the vast majority of the Malaysian public of all races is perfectly ready to support the Indian Malaysian community in their endeavour to seek a better life. If you are ready to accept some moderation and engage this greater public, I assure you the results will be phenomenal.

I know that it is a lot to ask of you, to sacrifice your approach and the rubric under which you have conceived your struggle. It is not something any of us should dare to ask lightly.

In fact I do not ask, I beg. I beg that you review your strategies, reject that which will not help Indian Malaysians in the long run, and adopt the tactics that are true to your principles of speaking truth to power and have a real chance of affecting change.

I beg that you consider the views around you, and weigh your actions against longer term successes – which are the only successes that matter. Stand united now, and we may have a chance of seeing those successes within our short lifetimes.

Mr. Uthayakumar,

I shall never forget the assistance you gave me when I was under detention.

I do not believe you are a racist, or harbour any truly ill intentions, and I do appreciate the pressures and historical difficulties that inform your struggle.

I only hope that in this decisive moment for all, you will be willing to make the right sacrifices, and not the wrong ones, in going beyond being good leader to being a Gandhi-like leader – one that Malaysians of all races need so very badly.

I remain ever available for any assistance you may require.

Be strong sir, take courage and take that last step.

My most sincere and heartfelt thanks,
Nathaniel Tan


Satria Asia said...

It is indeed an eloquent letter, and it would be foolhardy of Uthayakumar not to pay attention to its contents.

Anonymous said...

finally, hindraf has got everyone's attention.

Ramnath said...

A letter from your heart, Nathaniel Tan! Beautiful and eloquent! I am no Uthayakumar to reply but, I as thousands out there, can identify with HINDRAF's call. I am sure the Indian community will respond to the broader call the moment the collective psyche of Indians sees the sincerity of support, which was not there in past. But always,it is action which speak louder that words!(sorry) We will wait and see. Strategy cannot be changed midway without going to logical conclusion. The government is responding perfectly as it is expected to. What more Uthaya could ask for?
Thank you for reminding, an eye for eye makes the whole world blind. Uthaya must remember to be always humble, gentle and wise leader we all expect him to be. Use of force,is admission of intellectual bankruptcy. Our prayer will always be for our earnest leaders and HINDRAF brothers in spirit.