Yoursay: May 13 – never forget, never repeat


Modified 15 May 2019, 2:47 am

YOURSAY | ‘The memory of those dark terrible days still evoke shock and unbelievable pain.’

50 years on, seeking the path to reconciliation after the May 13 riots

Vijay47: May 13, 1969. At 72 years old, I refuse to read any article here on that topic. I am unable to read even a line without tears streaming down my face.

I may have not been personally caught in the epicentre of the slaughter and massacre that was unleashed on unfavoured citizens, but 50 years on, the memory of those dark terrible days still evoke the shock and unbelievable pain that I felt then.

It is simply impossible for me to read articles or view photos of that fateful date without being wreaked by tremors throughout my body.

Yes, we must learn from our past, but I do not wish to be reminded of it.

My youthful age was spent in a then small town, Alor Setar, and my close friends were other boys, they were not Indians or Malays or Chinese, they were just other boys. The closeness we enjoyed was shared by our families – every mother had children who were Chinese, Indians, and Malays, all to be equally scolded, fed and pampered over.

And then came May 13 and all the Alor Setars of the country were wiped off the map. I am not a historian or philosopher, and I can measure the effects of those savage seven days only from the perspective of a simple-minded person.

What did May 13 do, what did it achieve? Clearly it destroyed irrevocably that social fabric we all once thrived on. We have become Malays, Chinese, and Indians. And ironically, May 13 saw the destruction of a race – the masters became slaves to greed and demands with the hand perpetually stretched out.

For sure, we have good guys and bad guys, but I do not see the glass as half-full; it is empty and getting emptier by the day.

I envy the young of today, those below 50 or 60 years of age. To them, May 13 was a distant, even meaningless time their parents like to jabber about, just like the Japanese occupation to an older generation.

To the youth, the Malaysian sky is bright blue and rosy pink, with the future beckoning. Perhaps that must be how it should always be.

Freethinker: In the current political condition now, nothing will change the perception of May 13 no matter which party you are with.

Remember, history is written by the victor. Any change in narrative of May 13 will not be accepted, no matter how much evidence you produce. Moving forward is how we are going to educate our next generation.

Religious-centric teaching should be rationalised and critical thinking learning is to be encouraged. Else, the herd mentality will persist. Corrections of history textbooks, and revisions of our education system would be the key.

Such changes are so much to expect from our current education minister, which are as yet forthcoming.

Abasir: May 13 is significant to me for two reasons. It was on that day, I realised the full import of race-based politics and the demons bottled within it. It is also on that date, some 31 years later that I lost my father who had served with the Malaysian SB (Special Branch) for almost four decades.

Whenever Malaysians commemorate the anniversary of this dark day by a predictable binge of public reminiscing (like we see in Malaysiakini), three groups appear to emerge - one which airily notes the date as a historical curiosity, one which simply wants to forget and move on, and another which sees value in confronting the demons that reside within just as they restlessly lurk below the surface of the body politic.

I belong to the latter, only because I believe reflecting on our sorrowed history with available facts and asking the vital question "why" will enable collective clarity about our fragilities, our biases and our proclivity for quick fixes.

It will invariably surface some lessons learnt and point us towards alternatives and paths other than the binary ones favoured by politicians. It will help the nation arrive at a compact - to distil what we must stop doing, do more of as a people, and do perhaps for the first time...regardless of what the loudest and crudest of self-serving politicians and their proxies keep repeating from their privileged pulpits.

Justice for those slaughtered on this day and the subsequent ones will not result from such an exercise...nor should that be the aim. They should be remembered, not so much as the innocent victims which they were, but as Malaysians whose cruel deaths have done nothing to build a better nation.

The instigating politicians and rampaging mobs then may not have realised that violence was not the answer. Whether the present regime and the mobs they control realise that now after living through the after-effects of all that blood-letting, remains a question that awaits an answer.

Orang Putih PJ: Kuala Lumpur is not always a ‘pretty’ city. If you go around parts of the older districts such as Chow Kit, Bukit Bintang, or Pudu, you see the scars.

It’s like the dentures put in place in a pensioner of a life well lived, with rich food, plenty of illicit sex, gambling, whoring, deal-making, hard drugs, rock-and-roll, drinking to excess, and the occasional bar fight or three.

Except - the dentures were made by an illegal backstreet black market dentist. Cheap, nasty, but effective enough to look sociable, and they’re good for eating beef rendang, or char siew mee, or a mutton varuval in Brickfields, but no use on an expensive steak at the Coliseum (KL’s oldest Western restaurant from 1923), or the Ship (1974).

Architecturally, the 1970s were pretty grim. So you’ll see this - what should be a nice clean symmetrical row of shophouses from the 1900s, and then, ‘BANG’, a big bloody ugly monstrosity in the gap. Those are the physical scars from that bar fight.

It’s been 50 years since the May 13 incident, and sometimes people want to ask about it or discuss it.

Taking a gulp of my Teh O Ais, I say: “What good will come of it. We all have our opinions, there was no Internet back then, and it’s the winners who write the narrative. Leave it be, let it sleep lah.”

For it haunted the psyche, and a remarkably peaceful transition to a ‘new’ government has taken place, which, while not perfect, is better than what was.

So your KL grandad is still alive and kicking, and that’s good. He’s alive to warn you, and it’s now down to the children and grandchildren to do what’s best, behave themselves, and love one another.

And everyone knows the KL grandad could afford proper dentures, but he is terrified of dentists. They remind the old boy too much of the Japanese golf vacation of 1941-1945, and he’d much rather leave the cash to the kids and grandkids.

Here endeth the lesson. Live long and prosper, my friends.

50 years on, it's time to declassify the secrets of May 13

Plo: I support the call for a truth and reconciliation commission. Only then will we know the truth.

If, after 50 years, the Malaysian government is reluctant to declassify the secrets of May 13, this substantiates the argument that the government has something to hide.

Justice For All: I disagree with writer Kua Kia Soong. It has been 50 years now. I was one of the medical students on that terrible night given the macabre task of unloading the corpses brought in by police Black Marias to the morgue.

I vomited then, and had nightmares for a long time after that. Whatever has been said about the unfortunate incident has been said.

Most of us who lived through that dark episode of Malaysian history knows what actually transpired and who the real culprits were and their ghastly motives behind what they did.

Enough has been said. Let it be. It’s not about sweeping things under the carpet.

It’s just that a new Malaysia has emerged. Let’s focus on constructing it together for the future and not dig up the past that has long been buried.

Durian Lazat: From my childhood, I remember the curfew, the radio broadcasts and the fear. How unexpected it all was.

Eyewitness friends of the family visiting from Kuala Lumpur, telling of marches (not riots) down streets with parangs attacking peaceful families sitting on their garden swing et cetera, some decapitated.

May 13 changed the mood of the whole country overnight.

Truthseeker: Wishful thinking, Kua. It takes great moral courage and honesty to form the truth and reconciliation commission as there are still many persons alive and parties that benefitted as a result of the riots.

Also, Umno still persists in using the threat of May 13 as a weapon to beat non-Malays into submission.


May 13, never again

Murder and mayhem in Kampung Baru - my May 13 story

Risking my life to save my neighbours on May 13, 1969

50 years on, seeking the path to reconciliation after the May 13 riots

Readers' stories on May 13

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