Wednesday, May 13, 2009

40th Anniversary of May 13

It was 40 years passed now! I am referring to the May 13 Racial Riots in Malaysia. In this 40th Anniversary of May 13, it is not a time of celebrations, but instead it is a time of reflection.

Where were you 40 years ago on that day? I was then a Form 1 (I studied Remove Class prior to that) student with Sekolah Menengah Jenis Kebangsaan (National Type Secondary School), Kepong.

I was in the afternoon class. Our class teacher was enthusiast of football. We had our PE classes twice a week at the last period. He used to work “overtime” by making the boys play football till into the dark. And we even played in the rain sometimes. We enjoyed the games.

In the evening on May 13 which was a Tuesday, as usual we played into the night. Soon after I reached home, my family members picked up the news from the street and told us about “Pai Wah” was taking place at Chow Kit Road. They claimed that Malays and Chinese were killing each other there. “Pai Wah” is a Cantonese term for “massacre of Chinese”. Vehicles heading towards Kuala Lumpur town were diverted back. It was chaotic along Kepong Road.

The government imposed a nation-wide curfew that evening with immediate effect. I had never understood what “curfew” was till I was told to confine myself at home. Kepong was only 10 miles away from Kampong Baru at Chow Kit Road where the racial riots broke out. Despite the proximity, Kepong was peaceful. For the next few days when the curfew was lifted for two hours so that people could shop for their groceries. On the streets, as usual, I met the familiar and friendly Kepong Policemen, both Malay and Chinese, who would smile at you.

And I began to wonder why a racial conflict when Malays, Chinese and Indians lived harmoniously all the while? In the schools we of different races studied together, ate together, played together, and even went camping together.

I remembered there were public rallies during the General Election period that year. Those days quite often we would wake up in the mornings and found paintings on Kepong main road asking people to boycott the election.

A Chinese youth from the Labor Party was shot dead for some reason. On the eve of the poll a large funeral procession with a crowd of thousands of people was passing by Kepong Road, but unfortunately mom prevented me from joining the procession. Hostile sentiments among the Chinese towards the authority were high. Somehow I sensed an evil omen was looming large.

That was only an isolated case which had not enough force to trigger a racial riot. What then was the cause? The first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku abdul Rahman, himself has alleged, “You know Harun was one of those – Harun, Mahathir, Ghazali Shafie – who were all working with Razak to oust me, to take over my place…” (“K. Das and Tunku tapes”, edited by Kua Kia Soong, SIRD 2002: 112).

Of course the official version of May 13 puts the blame on the opposition parties. The results of the General Election on May 10 shook the status quo of the Alliance. They had been holding a two third majority control since Independence. The Oppositions celebrated their victory on the nights of May 11 and 12. “The following day, the events that followed would tend to suggest that elements within UMNO (United Malays National Organization) had laid plans to teach a lesson to those who would challenge the predominance of UMNO. (“May 13”, Kua Kia Soong, 2007: 43).

The roots of the racial riots of May 13 will remain a mystery as long as the government is not open to put them into history. There have been books on the incidents banned. Due to ignorance of history by the public, often time May 13 had become a good tool for politicians from the ruling coalition to instill fears to the dissidents. For 40 years the spirit of May 13 had been haunting Malaysians. Take for example, last year on March 8 polling night, streets were deserted when news broke that Barisan Nasional (National Front) had suffered big losses!

I have witnessed how Malaysia fared these 40 years. What had transpired in my country was an utter disappointment. Leaders eroded the Constitution and Judiciary for political and selfish gain. The integrity as well as the dignity of the Royal Police Force has fallen to the deepest valley. There were also opportunists who played the race-cards for their political advancement.

Malaysia had been exemplary in her racial harmony in the eyes of the world until May 13, 1969. In the Biblical context, 40 years speak of one generation. The old generation has faded eventually and the new one has come. Therefore, it is high time for us to be free from the trauma. Malaysians need to come to a national reconciliation. Let us put down that baggage of racial disunity. However, just as what Dr. Kua has mentioned, “There is a need for a Special Commission to unearth the truth of the 1969 racial riots before there can be a genuine national reconciliation.” (“May 13”, 2007: 9). Yes we need to break that curse of May 13! If not, racial discrimination will be an issue which will haunt the country unceasingly.

No one can change history. If Malaysia were to progress, we must face the truth in history so that we will not repeat the folly acts of our ancestors. Now we have a young generation of people who are open to knowledge. Political Writer Dr. Azly Rahman said, “If we encourage our youth to explore the roots of the bloody conflict, we will have a better generation of thinkers. No more “Ketuanan Melayu (Malay Supremacy), China, India,” or whatsoever notions of self-aggrandizement – just the simple act of opening the dialogues of peace.” (

Psalm 145 - Prayer for Malaysia

1I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2Every day I will bless you
and praise your name forever and ever.
3Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
4One generation (of Malaysians) shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
5On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6They (Malaysians) shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
and I will declare your greatness.
7They (Malaysians) shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
8The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9The Lord is good to all (Malaysians),
and his mercy is over all (Malaysians) that he has made.
10All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
and all your saints (in Malaysia) shall bless you!
11They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom
and tell of your power,
12to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations (of Malaysians).

1 comment:

  1. Just as companies keep three accounts (one for the income tax, one for the investor and the hidden one for themselves), there are three accounts about May 13: the testimonies of people who lived in that time, the official version and the politicised version among politicians. The Internet is already the medium where we can wisely explore the truth and roots of May 13 without getting emotionally charged.

    We should praise God that the Internet has also connected Msians from all walks and races. We now need not be in the dark about the country if and when there is a curfew or an injustice committed (e.g. Perak assembly on 7 May).

    I remember those days in May 1969 in a Damansara Heights house when I was 7 yrs old: my family and I were huddled together in the dark listening to the BBC radio to find out what is happening to the country.

    Today, we have bloggers and You Tube to record the truth. Msia has learnt from her darkest hour and there is no turning back. UMNO or any bigoted racial group can use May 13 as a scare crow reminder to justify the ISA. But it remains a paper tiger even more now that bloggers and the yound generation have turned their backs on racism.