Last Ponggal at Kg Railway Sentul Indian Settlement

P Uthayakumar

Modified 16 Jan 2012, 9:09 am

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Indians were brought in with the railways in 1885 to then Malaya from India in building the Malayan railways.

The first settlement of these Indian railway families was in Kg Railway, Sentul, Kuala Lumpur as the locomotives, coaches and railway tracks were assembled and later repaired and maintained from here.

Even the ‘tablet' - the signal key secured in a ring passed and taken from one railway station to another, was written in Tamil and Malay.

The first railway system was from Taiping to Port Weld (Teluk Sepetualang today).

It was all from the heartstrings of Sentul that the railways were set up in stages right from Padang Besar to Tanjung Pagar in Singapore and from Gemas to Tumpat in Kelantan and from Kuala Lumpur to Port Klang and Port Dickson.

This was related by myself to reporters and some 150 over people on 15/1/2012 at 3.00pm at the possibly the last Ponggal festival held at the Thavamuniswarar Hindu temple at Kg Railway Sentul Indian Settlement, Kuala Lumpur.

This bit of history had been related to me by my father, the late Ponnusamy Arunasalam, who had joined the Malayan Railways when he was just a minor at 14 years of age and his last posting being a locomotive driver (D 356).

He had driven trains powered by coal, steam, tar and finally diesel.

He had served the Malayan Railways for almost 40 years including having been forced by the Japanese army to also serve in the Siam-Burmese Death railway together with tens of thousands of other ethnic Indians.

My late grandfather Arunasalam was in this first batch of railway workers who brought into Malaysia.

M Subramaniam (76) the oldest resident at this Sentul railway Village recounted how railwaymen would leave their wife and children behind in Kg Railway Sentul and the Sentul Railway Quarters and go on work stints in far away Kelantan, Johor, Perlis etc for months, if not years.

They cleared thick jungles almost with their bare hands as they then did not have modern machinery as we have today.

They laid railway tracks, built railway stations, loco sheds, signal systems, water, electricity and railway telecommunications, railway quarters, for the railway families and communities nationwide.

And how the festive environment used to light up Sentul during Ponggal, Deepavali, Tamil New Year, Karthigai etc.

And today the very last symbol of this Indian contribution to the Malayan railways - the Kg Railway Sentul Indian Settlement - is slated to be socially "ethnically cleansed" under the racist Umno Biro Tatanegara to completely wipe out the Indian contribution in building the Malayan Railways.

At Independence in 1957, some 80% of the Malayan railway staff were Indians. Today it has been systematically reduced to an estimated 1%.

Today even an office boy's job is denied to an Indian not only in the Malayan Railways but in the whole of the 1 Malaysian civil service.

Not forgetting that Sentul town has already been wiped out as an Indian railway town, this Kg Railway Sentul Indian Settlement being the last bastion.

Be that as it may, the Kg Railway Sentul Indian Settlement will not give a walkover to the Umno linked YTL and Sentul Raya Sdn Bhd without putting up a fight.

As solicitors for these residents we were instructed and had indeed on 12/1/12 filed an affidavit in reply to the eviction proceedings at the Kuala Lumpur High Court questioning how YTL's RM2 Sentul Raya Sdn Bhd had become the registered owners of government prime land worth billions of ringgit in development.

Further suspicion are fuelled when attempts to conduct a search at the Wilayah Persekutuan Land Office is proving futile.

Just as in the case of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, we expect justice not only to be done but must manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done also for these Kg Railway Sentul Indian villagers.

Unlike the injustices dispensed to the Kg Buah Pala villagers, the last Indian heritage village in Penang, the Kg Medan racial attack victims included five murdered Indians and over one hundred with grievous bodily injuries.

Despite appeals by these residents to no less than the 1 Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Kg Railway Sentul Indian Settlement has been denied the right to be preserved as a National Heritage just like Kg Baru in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Khoo Kongsi and Weld Quay in Penang, 607 Chinese New Villages nationwide and the thousands of Malay, Kadazan, Iban, Penan, Dayak, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu etc, villages nationwide.

Why pick on this one and very last Kg Railway Sentul Indian Settlement?

Because they are vulnerable? Soft targets? With no economic and political clout? That they do not appeal to the 92% Malay, native and Chinese political gallery?

This year's Ponggal may not be the last after all. This last bastion of railway workers will certainly fight for many more Ponggals to be celebrated here. And HRP Hindraf will be with them.