The Storm and The Rainbow

A Reformasi Diary by Sabri Zain

Record of shame
May 22nd, 1999

".... and if any ruler puts a single one of his subjects to shame, that shall be a sign that his kingdom shall be destroyed by Almighty God” - Demang Lebar Daun to Sang Utama Sri Tri Buana, from the Malay Annals

PRM President Dr Syed Husin Ali's voice quivered as he cried out to the 15,000- strong audience at the PRM rally in Sungai Nibong, Penang, last Saturday, the 22nd of May. "Anwar was put to shame, arrested and beaten!"

“His wife was put to shame….”

“His children were put to shame…”

“The Malays were put to shame…”

“All the people of Malaysia have been put to shame!”

The word boomed over the loudspeakers into the still Penang night. “Dimalukan!” (“Put to shame!”)

“And we have been put to shame not just by the trial,” Syed continued. “We were put to shame by the police! We were put to shame by the way the media was used! We need change. We need a strong opposition that will not allow the government to do whatever it likes.”

“If we do not have change now, it may be far too late,” he warned. “This could be our last - and only - chance.”

DAP Secretary-General Lim Kit Siang added another entry to this record of shame. “It took exactly one year for Anwar Ibrahim's assailant, Rahim Noor, to be brought to trial. Exactly one year after he assaulted Anwar! Rahim Noor was never arrested, he was not once handcuffed, there was even no need for bail.” “He was only summoned to court - as thought it was just for a minor traffic offence!”

“But they took just a few weeks to try Anwar Ibrahim - after storming into his home to arrest him, beating him in detention, refusing him bail …..” Lim continued.

“Is this fair?!”

“The struggle is bigger than Anwar,” Keadilan president Dr Wan Azizah reminded the audience. “How can we, as Malaysians, accept all that has happened?”

“If you cannot accept it, show them! It is your responsibility as a free people to show them. We must not be afraid of change! We must not be silent!”

She described the Judgement Day, the day her husband was sentenced to six years imprisonment. “Before the trial, we waited in the lock-up under the court - what we called the ‘Lubang Tikus’ (‘Mousehole’). He told me not to cry, that this was part of the struggle. We then heard the judgement. I did not cry then. But my fourteen-year old son who has never cried all this time, burst into tears.”

“My family has been shamed,” she declared. “Kids came up to my daughter in school and taunted her: ‘Why did he get only six years? Why didn't he get ten?!’”

“What do I tell my children? How do I explain to them?” she pleaded.

She paused, as if to hold something back. “This was the judgement from a court of law of the country I loved, the country I had served faithfully …..” Dr Wan Azizah's voice broke at that moment, and she could not speak for a few seconds. The crowd became silent, the air was charged with emotion. A police siren could be heard far in the distance.

“Lawan, Datin Seri!” (“Fight, Datin Seri!”) a lone voice cried from the audience, breaking the dead silence.

She looked up from the podium and her face brightened. “Yes, we fight on!” she declared with renewed courage. “Come on! Let's all make a change for the better! Let's have change!”

The crowd roared in approval as they surged forward to the stage towards her. With more Chinese and Indians than in most other ceramahs I had been to, it was a more mixed crowd here in Penang. But everyone that night - of all races, ages and walks of life - shared a deep admiration for the quiet courage and determination shown by this woman.

One young girl wept because her brother failed to take a picture of her shaking hands with Datin Seri Wan Azizah. It takes a lot to command that sort of love and respect. Despite (or maybe because of) all the attempts to shame her and her family, that love and respect grows daily, among people of all races, young and old, all over the country.

That night, Datin Seri Wan Azizah did not have to talk about the complexities of politics or the finer points of law or issues. She did not have to play the part of the silver-tongued politician or fiery orator. She just needed to be what she was - a woman, a fellow Malaysian, who had been put to shame and was seeking justice. And we all felt that shame.

Today, we all live in an atmosphere of fear - and shame. Sadly, shamefully, that is what our country has become - a record of shame. We are ashamed of the headlines screaming sodomy. We are ashamed of policemen storming into a home to the screams of women and children. We are ashamed of self-inflicted wounds. We are ashamed of policemen who behave more like thugs. We are ashamed of stinking mattresses gracing our highest courts of law. We are ashamed of irrelevant truths. It is a shame that transcends party politics or race or religion.

And most of all, we are ashamed of ourselves and of the fact that we have allowed all this wickedness to happen. I never wonder to see the wickedness in men - but I often wonder why I do not see them ashamed.

Perhaps they are still blissfully unaware of that fateful social contract made by our rulers of old to the people that is found in the ancient Malay Annals, Sejarah Melayu. A covenant was struck between Sang Utama Sri Tri Buana (the Palembang ruler from whom all Malay royalty claims descent) and Demang Lebar Daun (his minister, representing the people) . Demang Lebar Daun promised that "the descendants of your humble servants shall be the subjects of your majesty's throne, but they must be well-treated by your descendants. If they offend, they shall not, however grave their offence, be disgraced or reviled with evil words: if their offence is grave, let them be out to death, if that is in accordance with Muslim law".

Sang Utama replied " I agree to give the undertaking for which you ask, but I in turn require an undertaking from you ... that your descendants shall never for the rest of time be disloyal to my descendants, oppress them and behave in an evil way to them." To which Demang Lebar Daun agreed "... but if your descendants depart from the terms of the pact, then so will mine… subjects shall never be disloyal or treacherous to their rulers, even if their rulers behave cruelly and immorally ... and if any ruler puts a single one of his subjects to shame, that shall be a sign that his kingdom shall be destroyed by Almighty God."

Standards were therefore set for centuries to come. On the one hand, subjects owed absolute loyalty to the ruler - no matter how badly he behaved. On the other hand, the ruler must be the protector of the people and not put them to shame. And if one breached the contract, the other could as well.

Perhaps we are today seeing the consequences of breaching that fragile covenant between ruler and people, resulting in that conflict within the Malay mind that seeks expression in that uniquely Malay word - 'amok', a rupture of the bonds that bind him. Our 'rulers' would do well to set right their record of shame, for as the Malay Annals warn, "if any ruler puts a single one of his subjects to shame, that shall be a sign that his kingdom shall be destroyed by Almighty God."