COMMENT | Every August since independence, under the BN regime, we were treated to a display of all manner of “patriotic” campaigns - slogans, songs, contests, exhibitions and marches.
But all the pomp aside, the people suffered under the yoke of BN's corrupt, kleptocratic, oppressive and divisive rule.
This year however, it surely must be different, since the people have got rid of BN and all its works, and have hopefully taken a large step towards real independence.
The change of government certainly bodes well for the country, but for some ordinary Malaysians, nothing has changed.
During this time, the first independence celebration of Malaysia Baru, how does the family of the late J Soosaimanicckam feel?
Soosaimanicckam, or Soosai, is the young cadet trainee who died in highly suspicious circumstances while at the Lumut navy base camp in Perak.
He went in for training on May 12, 2018 and died on May 19, 2018.
Shocked, grieving and desperate for answers, the brothers and father of Soosai came to Lawyers for Liberty for help.
No reasonable explanation for the death has been given by the navy; he was a perfectly healthy 27-year-old, and suddenly the family were told he had died of pulmonary oedema, or water accumulation in the lungs.
There was a chilling final phone message from the dying Soosai to his brother that he was being “tortured”, a message that now haunts his bereaved family daily.
Unlike the usual run of cases involving death in custody or police brutality, this case was different.
Soosai wasn’t arrested. He went to the place of his death of his own accord; he was picked for cadet training after having applied and re-applied over a period of five years. His qualifications were excellent - both academically and physically.
His brothers relate how Soosai was obsessed with serving the country's armed forces. He chose the navy; though difficult for him to get into, he never gave up.
Every year he would travel up to watch the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition. He would approach anyone in an officer’s uniform, shake their hands and proudly proclaim that he would one day serve this country as a navy officer.
He was one of only seven Indian Malaysians selected for his batch. Now there are six.
In the wake of this terrible tragedy for Soosai’s family, all they want now is justice; just a plain and true answer as to why he died.
All they got were denials, evasions and indifference from officialdom.
So the family finally held a press conference on July 12, 2018, and spoke of their plight. At first the defence minister responded quickly, unlike the previous government; there would be no cover-up, he said. This looked promising.
But it has been a month and a half since then, and there has been absolutely nothing more. No answers, no responses, no feedback.
In a statement, the defence minister passed the buck to the police, and has shown no further interest in getting to the bottom of this tragedy that happened under the Pakatan Harapan government's watch.
Showing scant interest, Perak police classified the case as “sudden death” and have been dragging their feet over the “investigation” ever since.
Meanwhile, Soosai’s family grieves, and wonders why their son died so pointlessly despite his great fervour to serve our country's armed forces.
Poor Soosai - he died for his country, and nobody cared.
There is more to Merdeka than pomp, pageantry, processions and platitudes.
Have we truly achieved it?
LATHEEFA KOYA is executive director of Lawyers for Liberty.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.