LETTER | How Malaysia continues to fail women like Kasthuriraani

Thulasy Suppiah

Modified 20 Jul 2020, 7:22 am

LETTER | Witnessing Batu Kawan member of Parliament Kasthuriraani Patto being torn-down, humiliated, ridiculed and shouted at was for me a personal nightmare – I relived many moments of my existence in those minutes and nearly broke down in tears as I watched that strong Indian woman stand her ground with no other women in sight standing up for or with her.

Which was painfully ironic, considering that Kasthuriraani (photo, above) stood up to question why there was insufficient female representation in Parliament select committees.

So, you see, it was not as easy for me to quickly jump on the bandwagon of so-called “anti-racists” and “anti-sexists”- it took me some time to recover from the trauma, process the incident to structure an adequate response to this issue.

By the end of last week, several prominent letters, posts, articles, talk-show segments had made the usual rounds – a fair number from non-Indians in what appears to be yet another convenient issue upon which they level criticism against the new government, its tired, old habits and its hopelessly familiar tactics to shout down opposition or criticism.

Because, you see, the current moral trend is to ally yourselves to #BlackLivesMatter, #antiracism, #antiblackness or whatever other hashtags are currently trending.

It doesn’t matter that you may not in fact properly understand the issues underlying the racism, sexism and colourism of the man that is Baling MP Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim or Tanjong Karang MP Noh Omar or Art Harun, the honourable Dewan Rakyat speaker. What matters, I suppose, is that you are “seen” to be on the right-side of this moral equation.

Let me stop you there and pose this question: Have you really been an ally to the anti-racist, anti-colourist and anti-sexist cause(s) or is it just convenient for you to do so now? From the relative safety of your keyboards and Instagram accounts.

Because unless you are a woman from a marginalised race of people in this country, chances are you cannot even begin to fully appreciate or understand the magnitude of what people from marginalised groups in this country suffer daily. You do not get to tell this Indian woman that as a Malaysian you were equally affected by Abdul Azeez’s blatant bigotry or Art Harun’s over-eagerness to dismiss the incident without giving even a ruling on Kasthuriraani Point of Order.

The trouble with optical allies or performative activists is this – they rarely get it right in their efforts to be seen to be on the moral right. That is disrespectful.

Allow me to cite an example of a silly woman’s response to the Kasthuriraani incident and how she comes off to many Indian women in this country as disrespectful and asinine – YB Hannah Yeoh’s tweet on the incident:

So, my question to all the non-Indians who are eager to show us how supportive they are of Kasthuriraani or the anti-racism and anti-sexism campaigns is this: How many of you would have actually stood-up with Kasthuriraani and lent your voices to her at the time she was being sieged and attacked by first, Abdul Azeez and then being callously dismissed, her mic frequently shut-off midspeech and her pleas for a ruling on Abdul Azeez’s misconduct ignored by the speaker and then to have the likes of Noh Omar trivialise the matter by peevishly asking if the word "gelap" should now be barred in Parliament.

Think deep and dig into your memories – how many of you would have been in similar positions in your lifetimes – when that female friend from a minority race is insulted, demeaned and degraded or her views and words dismissed or her concerns and grievances trivialised and minimised… did you visibly stand up for her and against the perpetrator? Or did you conveniently hide behind your privilege which insulated you from censure or embarrassment by association with that person.

Your ability to not be personally affected by this incident is your privilege. Start by acknowledging that. Your sympathies and plastic words of solidarity are not welcome. We do not need it. If you want to be an ally, a true compadre in the fight against racism and sexism – step out of your privilege and do more!

I can personally attest to being in countless situations when my friends and colleagues did nothing and were silently complicit with the perpetrators. Their actions, or non-actions, spoke loudly enough – that I did not matter.

Abdul Azeez does not exist in a vacuum… he is the quintessential representation of the Malaysia many Indians are familiar with – I refuse to mince my words. The Malaysia that I know is many good things. But it is also unabashedly racist and its most despicable colours are often directed against women especially those from minority races and members of other marginalised groups like the LGBTQ, Orang Asli and migrant worker communities.

Make no mistake – it is easy to identify and call-out obvious bigotry. Calling out Abdul Azeez comments as racist, sexist or colourist is the most obvious and easy thing to do.

What’s difficult is dismantling the power structures that enable him and others like him - be they men, women, Malay or Chinese or Indian men who perpetuate the cycle of hatred and violence against women in their community to continue with their bigotry.

There are many silent bigots amongst us who are clever enough to disguise their prejudices which result in discrimination such as hiring practices that discreetly discriminate against dark-skinned people, Indians, non-Chinese speaking recruits; exploiting these same groups by paying them lower salaries/wages than you would others; unconscious biases against these groups which result in higher barriers of entry to many socio-economic opportunities which prevent meaningful socio-economic upward mobility. And that’s barely the tip of the iceberg folks…

This is where your efforts count the most. So, I ask you again: When you last witnessed your friend from a marginalised group or a minority race being bullied, treated unfairly or unjustly by an individual, or a group of people or an organisation or the system – what did you do?

Because if you stood on the sidelines watching, you are complicit in upholding the very power structures that enable, facilitate and perpetuate racist and sexist systems which result in discrimination.

So, Malaysians, spare me your optical allyship and prosaic, well-written calls against racism and sexism and put your money where your mouth is.

The writer is the founder of Dear Indian Girls.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.