Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Religious authorities stripping basic liberties

10:45AM Jun 11, 2014
COMMENT The excuses have to stop. The glaring fact is that, with a hat trick of distasteful “raids” in three separate states within the space of two weeks, our religious authorities seem to be good at only one thing these days - rejecting the human being’s fundamental liberties in this civilised nation.

I’m not even going into the discourse about secularism, the position of Islam, or on the rights of certain communities. Because, for these authorities -weddings or deathsdo not matter - they assume the absolute right to walk into any temple or place to conduct raids in order to exercise their power.

It has long been said that in Malaysia, the authorities perceive anybody who is anti-establishment to be in the wrong. But now, it is just plain wrong to be, well, yourself. You can mind your own business, but can still run foul of these men who hunt down people who supposedly make mistakes.

A woman can’t marry within confines of a temple, the body of another woman can’t be buried by her grieving family members, and in the latest case on Sunday, transgender women were ushered away from a private wedding ceremony at which they were serving as bridal artists.

Parties such as MCA and Gerakan seem to have got their priorities all wrong by trying to somehow tie the religious raids with Pakatan-led state governments. However, this is a plague that transcends politics, and threatens the very fabric of Malaysia’s multi-cultural society.

If right-thinking Malaysians continue to sit in silence and keep complaining in the confines of their coffee shops, meeting rooms and at private discussions while accepting “political and cultural realities”, they can’t have much to grouse at should the problem finds its way to their own doorstep someday.

Najib’s elegant silence

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak cannot be expected to make any statement on this matter, as he has done nothing but maintain an elegant silence whenever an important, yet fiery, discourse dominates the country.

At the  most, we can expect Najib to say, cryptically, that we must respect one another, without coming down hard on these religious authorities - which, by the way, is akin to saying nothing constructive at all.

It is becoming increasingly clear that civil society, and the people, must take up this cause to protect marginalised people in this country. Make no mistake, the victims of these raids are not just Hindus or Buddhists, they are the minority and the marginalised.

It takes one moment of illiteracy of an ancestor to inadvertently convert the religion of all of his or her descendants, affecting generation after generation. These people are bullied about, creating a section of society that lives constantly in fear to openly profess what they believe in.

Rehabilitate? Or cause more suffering?

If the Negri Sembilan authorities would like to continue raiding establishments and private homes to weed out transgenders (or cross-dressing men as they would like to call it), how will they rehabilitate these individuals?

By shaving their heads and throwing them into cells with a group of men, where they are likely to suffer abuse and severe psychological damage?

What have these people exactly done that is so detrimental to the society, except for the fact that they are merely being themselves?

In Malaysia, our conventions already mean there is no recognition for a person without a black-and-white gender or religion definition. This already makes lives it difficult for so many of the marginalised community.

Do we really have to make it worse by clamping down on them indiscriminately?

Under the name of religion and policing, there are humans who are only serving to further divide the country by spreading ill-feelings.

If Malaysians, including the ministers and politicians, do not raise their voices higher to truly speak their mind, we will just be in complicit with them when we do give more power to the select few under the name of religion and not merit.

RAM ANAND is a member of the Malaysiakini Team.
~ Malaysiakini

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