Majlis Bandaraya Shah Alam (MBSA) is not an organisation known for its compassion or respect for cultural and religious practices and sensitivities. They did not exactly cover themselves in glory by their high-handed and brutal action at Kg Rimba Jaya and Kg Karuppiah, Padang Jawa, on Oct 31, where scores of houses, a surau and a temple were flattened to ground.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi often laments the existence of Little Napoleons who sabotage the well-intentioned policies of the government. Well, MBSA is no Little Napoleon - it is an entire Roman Legion on the loose; rampaging and brutalising the very people they were meant to serve.
One can only wonder why MBSA is willing to act decisively and even be prepared to use force when powerful commercial interests are involved, but drags it feet and appears toothless in other more important issues of public interest. This certainly reflects very poorly upon the Selangor Menteri Besar Khir Toyo's administration.
Much has been said about the demolition of the 100-year-old (which is certainly an exaggeration) Sri Maha Mariamman temple by the MBSA and how MIC president S Samy Vellu was powerless to help the Indian community. However, the alternative media was strangely muted when the works minister managed, within days, to get both funds and land from the Selangor government to relocate and rebuild the temple.
Such selective reporting by the alternative media raises questions about its objectivity and impartiality. It also certainly gives credence to the accusations that those who expressed solidarity with the community on this issue are merely out to exploit the sentiments of the Indian community to score political points and paint the ruling coalition, especially Umno, as racist.
While I very much disagree with the high-handed tactics of MBSA, the fact remains that the residents do not have an iota of legal or ethical rights to the land they have been illegally occupying. While I am not familiar with the specifics of the case, I can guess what had probably transpired based on numerous previous instances. Truth is often the first victim when politics and emotions are involved and I don't think it was any different in this case.
In most of these cases, news reports fail to disclose the fact that the residents had been issued numerous evictions notices over the years. In many cases, the developer and the local government would have offered compensation (either in the form of money or housing) for the affected illegal squatters. Some would have taken up the offer and moved on.
However, there will be always a group of opportunists - agitated and encouraged by some NGOs and political parties - who would hold on and make outrageous and impossible demands. This group of people somehow fail to take cognisance of the fact that the offer is purely based on humanitarian grounds and the residents have no legal rights whatsoever for compensations.
In many cases, such negotiations dragged on for years. In the end, drastic actions such as demolitions were taken when the patience of the developer and the local government finally run dry. In fact, this might well be the case in Kg Rimba Jaya and Kg Karuppiah.
Now, coming back to the issue of temple demolition, I truly wish MBSA realises that demolishing a temple is an affront to the faith of the Indian community. This incident has been skilfully exploited by certain irresponsible elements, turning it into a racial and religious issue. This should serve as a lesson to all town councils and the state governments.
Interestingly, while the issue of temple demolitions in Malaysia has been given international publicity by some NGOs, such demolitions are common occurrences in India.
In fact, the relocation of the Seri Maha Mariamman temple of Kg Karuppiah is also totally unnecessary as there are more than enough temples in the vicinity of Padang Jawa/Klang area for the Hindus to fulfill their religious obligations.
The MIC and the Malaysian Hindu Sagham (MHS) are fully aware of the problem of illegal places of worship and are conducting a survey in order to "legalise" them and prevent further constructions of such illegal structures.
However, unlike the proactive efforts of the MIC and the MHS, Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) has been pursuing a destructive strategy and illegal action that would do nothing to improve the situation. Headed by individuals with a strong predilection for cheap publicity and melodrama, Hindraf has been nothing but a hindrance to an amicable and legal solution of the problem.
Hindraf's dangerous actions of confronting and obstructing the authorities, getting arrested in order to gain cheap publicity will not solve the problems of illegal temples in the country. On the contrary, such actions will put the Malaysia Hindus into a state of siege and worsen the situation.
Also Hindraf's refusal to cooperate with the MIC and the MHS in taking proactive measures exposes the fact that its leaders are merely using emotional issues in confronting society to achieve their personal agenda and are uninterested in finding a permanent solution.
Being a Hindu myself, I appeal to my fellow believers to refrain from building illegal religious structures as there are more than enough places of worship available for the community in the country. We cannot expect Samy Vellu to fight for an alternative site every time an illegal temple is demolished as there are hundreds of them and more are added daily. There are more than enough temples for Hindus to pray, and in fact I am willing to bet that in terms of per capita, there are more Hindu temples than mosques in Malaysia.
The Indian community needs to understand there is no persecution of Hindus and the blame lies solely with them for erecting places of worship without consideration to law or the sensitivities of the other communities in our multi-religious nation. Constitutional right allows us the freedom of religion but not the right to build temples wherever we wish to.