Recently, after the death of yet another National Service programme trainee, the deputy prime minister was quoted as saying that so far, ONLY 14 deaths have occurred among NS trainees. I find the word 'only' appalling. I am sure the learned and politically seasoned DPM did not and would not have uttered this word, but was merely misquoted by reporters.
The word 'only', when used in this type of context, gives a meaning that this is only a statistic and it is not that important. This is contrary to most views -including my own - that 'life' is sacred. Even one life lost is one too many.
I am also appalled by the news reports which said that young people like NS trainees can die of asthma. Asthma deaths can be entirely preventable especially in young people. No one should die of asthma if adequate medical facilities or treatment can be instituted early. So deaths due to asthma are unacceptable.
To read the newspapers, death is just a statistic. But to the people who are family or friends of the dead, it is not merely a statistic but someone dear that is lost forever. And to lose this precious life just because someone in charge is negligent or had a 'tidak apa' mentality is totally unacceptable.
The National Service programme is not aimed at producing soldiers. So the training should not be too vigorous, although a certain amount of fitness training is necessary. We do not expect five-star accommodation for the trainees, but at least the environment must be clean and free from disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes and flies. Food wise, it should be properly cleaned and freshly prepared.
For those who cannot tolerate hot and spicy food, an alternative must be made available. There are many stories of trainees surviving on biscuits or instant noodles because they are not used to the food provided, which is mainly of the hot and spicy type.
I would like to raise the point whether the NS programme has achieved its aim of fostering closer friendship among young people of the different ethnic groups. If it has not, then perhaps we should not continue this programme just because scrapping it would cause embarrassment to certain important people who first proposed the scheme.
I think our leaders are big and strong enough to realise that when certain schemes proposed are not working towards their objectives, then they should be reviewed or even dropped. In my opinion, the NS programme has not succeeded in fostering unity. True unity cannot be achieved by arbitrarily camping together young people of various ethnic groups.
True unity can only be achieved when every group feels that they have been fairly treated; that their culture and their way of life is respected; that there is no favouritism or discrimination against any one particular group.
One of the main hindrances to true unity in Malaysia is the presence of racially-orientated political parties. Race-based parties give rise to racial politics. Racial politics give rise to divisive policies. Divisive policies divide the people - this is as simple as one, two and three. So to unite the people, we must be farsighted and bold enough to take the first step to do away with racial politics and that means raced-based parties.
Not only that, now that we have achieved the 50th anniversary of nationhood, it is also time to do away with divisive and discriminative policies. New policies to implement affirmative actions based mainly on income instead of ethnicity should be adopted. All poor, regardless of urban or rural, regardless of colour, must be given assistance for them to enable them to have a better future. Universal values mean that the strong should help the weak, the rich should help the poor, the haves should help the have-nots.
No one can accept, after 50 years of nationhood, that it is fair for a multimillionaire to be given a discount of thousands of ringgit for buying a property or be given scholarships worth thousands of ringgit for his children just because of his ethnicity.
Only with a policy of helping the poor, regardless of race or colour, can there be a truly fair and equitable society. Only with a fair society, can true unity be achieved.