Seeking clarification from a young Hindraf member, I asked him if the issues were mainly about compensation and constitutional rights, as widely reported. He said by and large, the destruction of Hindu temples is the core issue, everything else is complementary.
He added that when such temple demolition is being seen as desecration, the issue takes on another dimension. According to him, in 2006 alone, about 70 temples were brought down. It comes to an average of five to six temples a month. He said that Hindraf members are aware of the statistics and are ready to remobilise on short notice.
I reminded him of 1969 when people ran 'amok' and racial strife ensued. I told him the government at that time misread this and allowed people their constitutional right to assemble. When violence erupted and Malaysians at large faced the specter of the 'amok', it was too late. In essence, the constitutional rights of a few jeopardised the freedom and safety of many. There was no religious factor in the equation then.
Subsequent governments faced the delicate balancing act of pleasing a myriad of cultures and religions, managing to keep the peace so far, which is an amazing feat by any standards. With the Article 11 road shows recently, the government micro-managed this to avoid the specter. Although constitutional rights were compromised in the process, the safety of the masses were ensured.
I remember one Malay minister who said, "It is not for no reason that the word 'amok' comes from the Malay community." I thought the minister's self-critique was misplaced but I am certain he was managing the balance even when he bandied the Internal Security Act then, as he is doing now.
I told the Hindraf member that history has shown religions to be impetus to actions, sometimes detrimental ones. I told him destruction of temples, churches and even mosques, pales in comparison when the safety and well-being of our children are at stake.
Therefore defending religion in the public domain should not even be considered if the response is likely to result in anarchy. I told him to look at "religious and cultural oppression" in other parts of the world and he will realise that the safety and well-being of our children is paramount, everything else is complementary.