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Feb 16, 2008

Hindraf rally: A plea of the dispossessed?


The Hindraf protests are, in effect, a cry of the dispossessed, says Subramaniam Pillay, and this could radically alter the future political landscape. If there is a much larger opposition in the next Parliament, the whole dynamics of human and economic rights will undergo a dramatic change.

In November 2007, two major rallies took place in Kuala Lumpur. The first, held on Saturday, 10 November, was organised by Bersih, a coalition of NGOs and political parties campaigning for a clean-up of the electoral process. The second, held on Sunday, 25 November, was organised by the Hindu Rights Action Front or Hindraf.

On the surface, they appear very different: one was fighting for free and fair elections while the other was highlighting the plight of the Indian community in Malaysia. Participation in the Bersih rally, although multi-ethnic, was largely Malay, while the Hindraf event was almost exclusively made up of Indian participants.

But there are many similarities too. Firstly, the turnout was huge in both cases in spite of the threats and intimidation from the police and government leaders both prior to and during the rallies. Secondly, they were both mainly peaceful till the police intervened with their heavy-handed reaction. Thirdly, in both the gatherings, the police fired tear gas canisters and sprayed water laced with toxic chemicals on some of the participants. Fourthly, in both cases a clear majority of the participants were from the lower income group. more...


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