Meet S Arutchelvan, the strongman of PSM

Opinion  |  S Thayaparan
Published:  |  Modified:

“Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden.”
– Cormac McCarthy, The Road

INTERVIEW | It does seem strange. Ideologically, Parti Socialist Malaysia (PSM) and this writer have very little in common, yet I have persistently advocated the party as an alternative to mainstream Malay politics.

I have always wanted to interview S Arutchelvan, PSM’s indefatigable former secretary-general. Indeed, it is amazing how many in the state security apparatus, especially amongst the "working class", have a great admiration for this activist.

In this, the first of a two-part interview, Arutchelvan describes with candour the struggles of a grassroots party attempting to remain relevant in neo-Malaysia.

Could you describe your experiences when you were detained by the Umno state for your various political activities?

Arutchelvan: Some say I hold the record as one of those most arrested, competing with people like Tian Chua and Hishamuddin Rais.

Most of my arrests happened while fighting evictions and public assembly. I am so used to this and I understand I will be one of the targets even when I am not the main organiser.

So when I go for these events, the rule is to wear proper underwear, carry very little cash and documents in your wallet and let the people outside do the worrying on how to campaign to get me out.

Most of the times, the police officers handling us in detention are kind as they know why we are there. It is only when they get bad instruction that they have to follow, then we have tough times.

Though I have been arrested more than 40 times and charged a number of times, I have only been convicted once and that was later overturned in the High Court. This was for a case of criminal trespass in a temple in Brooklands Estate.

Being detained and seeing the others being detained, why they were there, has been a great educational process for me. It teaches us humanity. Every time when I come out, the support and solidarity we receive have always made me stronger and more prepared for the next round.

When one is put on a single cell, then one has the time to rest and the challenge will be on how to pass your time. Anyway, it is a nice time to do some reflection and plan the next move.

Getting arrested with a team of other activists in spite of the anxiety and having one’s freedom curbed, is always a pleasure, full of laughter, songs and storytelling and listening.

There is a nice song, ‘Buruh, Tani, Mahasiswa’, the lyrics are:

Marilah kawan mari kita kabarkan
Di tangan kita tergenggam arah bangsa
Marilah kawan mari kita nyanyikan
Sebuah lagu tentang pembebasan
Di bawah kuasa tirani
Kususuri garis jalan ini
Berjuta kali turun aksi
Bagiku satu langkah pasti...

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