Malaysiakini Letter

Sybil Kathigasu was also a freedom fighter

Vijay Shanmugam
Published:  |  Modified:

I refer to the comments from the former chief justice of Malaysia, Abdul Hamid Mohamad, in which he said that it was only the Malays who truly fought for the country’s independence. For the rest, non-Malay citizens of this land - it was simply for a personal gain which is truly a ‘seditious’ statement from the learned former judge who should be the pinnacle of wisdom compared to the man on the street.

The former chief justice, whom I believe was born before Independence, ought to know it was our forefathers regardless of their race and creed who toiled in this land called home away from their native birth place.

Unfortunately, due to their pendatang (trespassers) status, most of their struggles went unnoticed and only the stories of a handful of that so-called ‘preferred race’ were documented and preserved in the annals of our history as freedom fighters.

One fine example I can think of happened in my own hometown during the Japanese colonial days, a freedom fighter none other than Sybil Kathigasu.

Despite being a female nurse, she was tortured and interrogated by the Japanese military police while she was based in Ipoh, Perak with her husband, an Indian doctor. She persisted in her efforts to support the resistance forces and in consequence, incarcerated in the Batu Gajah jail until the Japanese forces were defeated. She is undoubtedly the only Malayan woman to be decorated with Britain’s George Medal for bravery.

Both the husband and wife team, I believe not for a moment in their lives thought about their personal gain when they supplied medical services and information to the resistance forces until they were arrested in 1943.

Her life story and struggles are immortalised in the book called ‘No Dram of Mercy’ by Neville Spearman (Oxford University Press, 1954). Besides this gutsy woman, definitely there are many more that we might have forgotten for their contribution towards our Independence.

Sometimes, I think the senior retired judge’s myopic views are a blessing in disguise because without his comments, many of the non-Malays’ struggles prior to Independence might go in vain and I wouldn’t have the discernment to rebuke his statement. In recent  times where bigots are running amok spewing ethnic-related hatred, it is in good faith that he should apologise for his insensitive remarks towards the  members of those fallen freedom fighters’ families.

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