Lessons in activism from the White-haired Force

First Published: 7:01am, Nov 28, 2013
Last Updated: 7:05am, Nov 28, 2013







Features


by Meena Lakshana


FZGRAPHICS


  • Arutchelvan said the impetus to pen the book was natural, following the philosophy of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.






WRITING comes naturally for Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) secretary general S Arutchelvan.

Commenting on his book titled Braemar – Bila Perempuan Tua & Anak Muda Bangkit (When the Old Women and Young Rise Up), Arutchelvan said the impetus to pen the book was natural, following the philosophy of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.

"Che Guevara used to write a page every night before he goes to sleep. So I am trying to follow his footsteps," he told fz.com at the launch of his book.

Arutchelvan said it was important to note the struggles PSM was fighting for, especially milestones achieved like that of the Braemar estate issue.

The Braemar estate issue spans a decade, beginning with tumult and ending in victory for the 14 former workers and their families residing there.

The estate land was sold by proprietor Golden Hope Plantation to one of its subsidiary companies for a luxury project known as Saujana Impian in 1993.

The former estate workers were forced with eviction, but 14 of them refused to vacate the area as the company had promised them in 1984 that if they continued to work there, they would be provided with housing when the land is earmarked for development.

For 10 years, beginning 1993, the landowner resorted to various means to force the estate workers to vacate from the land including ceasing water and electricity supply, encroaching upon the land with bulldozers, employing gangsters for intimidation and so on.

With PSM's help, the workers erected signboards 100 metres from their housing, stood their ground and prevented any developer's representatives to trespass the boundary.

The battle also holds a special significance for Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) executive director Nalini Elumalai, as the tussle between the former estate workers and developers for housing – a basic right to life – set her on the path that she is treading today.

She was 21, studying Political Science at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and was involved in the university's student group, helmed by Arutchelvan at that time.

Stumbling upon the issue after its conclusion, she delved into activism after being dared by the unlikely quarter of the former estate workers.

"Those 60-year-old women, who were affected by the issue, told me: 'We have done our part for society, what have you done?'" she told fz.com at the launch of Braemar.

"I took it as a challenge and it changed my life. I really got into activism after that," she added.

Angkatan Rambut Putih defends estate

Integral to the defence were the group of old women, who helped defend the estate from gangsters with brooms.

Arutchelvan, who along with PSM chairman Dr Mohd Nasir Hashim were supporting Braemar's workers from day one, said the group of old women was famously termed Kumpulan Rambut Putih or Angkatan Rambut Putih (White Haired Force).

"When the gangsters came to the estate to start trouble, we used the Angkatan Rambut Putih because they don't know how to fight with women you see. We stumped them that way," Arutchelvan said during his speech at the book launch.

After 10-years of the struggling, the developer yielded to the demands of the workers and constructed 20 low cost terrace houses for the workers, at no charge.

Braemar is not just about the struggle of the working class against the capitalist class, but is also about quintessential grassroots activism – what it takes to win the war.

Arutchelvan said the 100m barrier tactic employed by the activist group worked like a charm, as even authorities rendered it as law when it was not.

"We will always say where is the court order and the police bought it. Even the police now say they cannot enter the 100m barrier. People think it is the law," he said with laugh.

"It goes to show that when you assert something, it becomes a rule of law," he added.

The book also covers many amusing episodes in the struggle and the various characters who helped the fight end in victory.

Mohd Nasir, who was also at the launch, said the book serves as a historical document about a real struggle of the people.

"It gives the spirit that the rakyat can defend their rights. It features ordinary people and how they become tenacious, how they survive," he said.

"It is an important struggle for socialism because it goes against the power of the state-bureaucracy, capitalists, politicians and so on," he added.

A guide for other estates

One of the key leaders of the workers movement, D Ganesan, 52, was only 30-years old when he began his involvement with the struggle.

Ganesan said the episode changed his life as he became a PSM member and set up the Kajang branch of the political party.

"When we started, we were so inexperienced. We didn't know how to go against the developer," he said.

"But as a community we got stronger. Every decision made was reached unanimously after discussion with all members.

"The men did not get to spend a lot of time with their families because we had to deal with meetings and discussions after work so the burden of taking care of the households fell upon the women," he added.

Ganesan said all the tiny experiences of warding off police officers and gangsters bolstered the community's confidence.

"We went to other estates to help the workers who were facing similar issues," he added.


The book is priced at RM20. For more information on the book, call PSM at 03-22747791.









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