Let’s make women’s rights personal

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. After all these decades, we still have a special day to celebrate womanhood. Men don’t have a special day for themselves, so, why do women have a day designated for them?

It may be a sign that women are still not equals as a person. I don’t want to say we should be equal as men, then, I would be measuring our equality to the standard men have set for themselves. No, women should be equals as all human beings, whatever their race, religion, culture, social, economic or educational status, income category, particular background or lifestyle choices, are equals and should be treated as such.

We should all be equally treated as people deserving recognition of our human or citizenship rights. No one should be discriminated against for whatever reason.

This does not mean that we can justify immoral choices in the guise of human rights. For example, if a person chooses to enjoy sex with as many partners as he or she can get without having to settle down with any, it is still immoral to us. But, that doesn’t mean we should treat him or her any less.

We may not agree with his or her lifestyle choices but we should support every effort to ensure that that person is not deprived of his or her human rights. That person should be allowed to vote, to receive all the benefits due to him or her as a citizen, to be protected by law and allowed to live as he or she wants to. If it’s a moral issue, family members, relatives and friends can advise him on the best course of action to take. But, that’s a personal matter.

As a matter public interest that person has the right to choose the way to live as long as it is legal. If illegal, the law will take its course.

It is encouraging to note that governments, including Malaysia, are taking steps to ensure gender equality. They are introducing laws to prevent discrimination against women.

The recent revelations of sexual harassment by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein highlight the price women have to pay to get a break in filmdom. I believe such news have more impact in raising awareness of the obstacles women face in pursuing their interests than laws and women rights groups.

More such news will keep men alert on good behaviour and encourage women not to submit to the generally accepted practice of playing ball with men to get ahead.

Essentially, a woman’s liberation is in her hands — not in some non-government organisation fighting for women’s causes even if it’s legitimate, and, certainly, not with the government. The latter two can help in creating an environment for women to progress, but women ourselves must assume responsibilities for our actions and make the fight personal to realise our potential and break the barriers limiting us.

We need to find it within us to defy the odds. That would require some sacrifices and thick-skinned behaviour! It involves digging in our heels and facing the music! If we fail to get what we want, we have the dignity of losing with our head held high. There are other opportunities we can follow, another time.

We need to weigh our options and choose the course of action where we can best live with ourselves with self-respect.

So, women, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, hurrah for taking control of your lives, and making choices that will be an example for more women to follow!

Let’s all be comfortable in our skin!

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Move on to live and heal

As I grow older, I realise that there are even more things I don’t know anything about! When I was younger I was pretty clear about the issues I confronted. Growing older, however, and, perhaps, knowing more I seem to know even less!

There are so many things I don’t know: why things happened they way they did; why some suffer more than others; why there’s so much of pain and suffering; why some  of that pain and anguish is needless; why it couldn’t have been avoided; why the shame is so unbearable; why there’s no escape, etc, etc, etc…. .

I don’t know the answers. But, one thing I do know. No matter what the pain, suffering, struggle or shame and no matter how deep it is, we need to move on.

Moving on is the way out. We need to leave the negativity behind and every day take a step or more to move forwards. While watching an episode of the TV show Designated Survivor today, I heard a phrase which expresses my point clearly. The lead star — the US president — is in counselling to deal with the grief of the loss of his wife in an accident. The counsellor observes that staying with his grief is like treading water.

In a moment of realisation, the president says, “You know what happens when you tread water for long? (Heavy pause) You drown.” (I often get pearls of wisdom from TV scripts!)

Taking those first few steps to swim is moving forwards and on. After a while, we realise we have been swimming in the place where we used to get stuck in and the memory of it fades away. We heal.

That’s what moving on does: We live and life is a powerful medicine to heal.


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Fake news is the price for good news

I really don’t know what’s all this hooha about introducing a law to check this so-called fake news. Fake news isn’t anything new. It’s just a new term for blatant online lying.

Human beings have been lying since time immemorial and it’s nothing new. What, perhaps, is new is not creating a story out of nothing but posting it online as news. Previously, creating a story out of nothing — lying — was simply transmitted through the grapevine. Also known as gossiping!

Women were — still are — experts at it! Now, men have joined in and made it more masculine and glamorous by writing it in the form of news and posting it online!

The point is lying is a human condition. And no amount of regulation is going to stop people from doing what we do quite naturally! That is not to say that lying is all right. It isn’t and we shouldn’t be doing it.

As it is human to lie, it is also human to learn not to lie. And we should make an effort in that direction. But, rules won’t stop people from lying. As history has shown, we just find another way to do it!

Those in authority who favour rules to control human behavior don’t seem to realize that that is not their job. Oftentimes when they want to control other people’s behavior it is always to protect themselves from arrows shot at them. They use their powers to control the shooters, which is using their powers for self-serving purposes.

But, will a law to criminalize fake news protect them? I doubt it. People will just find another way to shoot the arrows!

Those in authority also need to understand that with every human liberty comes the potential for abuse. Whether it is political, social, economic or religious freedom, someone somewhere will abuse it. Just because there’ll be abuse does not mean the the liberty should be constrained.

We already have laws to manage such abuse. But, freedom of information is one human right that should not be curtailed just because some people abuse it.

In the Malaysian context, where information is colored by the perspective of media owners, the digital media offers a much-needed alternative to access other perspectives to understand what’s really going on. A law to stop fake news may inadvertently shut down alternative news and that is bad news because news will become restrictive and the people will always be left in the dark.

To keep people in the know some fake news need to be accepted as the price for freedom of information.

Instead of restricting information flow, people should be taught to recognize fake news. When the news has no source, and is quite preposterous in nature, it’s better to take it with a pinch of salt.

If we access news from a variety of sources, we’ll be able to tell when one piece of news is not quite right.  If we can’t recognize it, a dissident version will come up somewhere and that should alert us to be cautious about believing the fake news.

Happy online reading!


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Gong Xi Fa Cai! Drive safe on British coffee and Swizz pastries!

There was a sputtering of crackling firecrackers at midnight to usher in the Year of the Dog and then everything went quiet! It seems like Malaysians have lost the festive sense of setting off loud firecrackers! Everything is just like another day! Maybe, Malaysians now like to spend their festive season out of the country or out of town.

The later tradition of “balik kampung” — of driving back home and the next day driving to the spouse’s home — is still carrying on. The porches on my street are without the cars usually parked there and there are many car-empty spaces on the grass verges in front of houses.

People are out driving back to the family homes! It really is a Malaysian tradition we should cherish. But, drive safe.

If you are a Shell driver, do try out its in-station Deli2go. Shell has the local franchise for Britain’s Costa coffee, which, I must say, is quite good. You get a good size tumbler of coffee for under RM10 without milk and it is strong enough to keep you alert at the wheels for close to four hours — well, that’s how long it kept me awake!

When you are travelling, you shouldn’t have a full meal (or, so, I’m told). Eat a small solid meal before you start on your drive and, for a snack, take a pick from Deli2go’s assortment of pastries. Swizz gourmet bakery Hiestand supplies the pre-cooked pastries which are baked in Hiestand ovens at the Shell petrol stations. So, you’ll be getting good, fresh stuff to go with your coffee!

I tried both the coffee and the pastries and was quite taken up by the fact that you can get cafe-style good coffee and pastries at your nearest Shell station!

It seems Shell stations are renovating to include a small section for its Deli2go. It has begun with the petrol stations in the Klang Valley, with some giving it considerable space for an al fresco cafe! The attendant at the Shell station where I fuel up said that Deli2go is expected to be available at Shell stations nationwide in time.

Drivers now have no reason to fall asleep at the wheels!

So, folks, if you are going on a long drive home this Chinese New Year season, get a good night’s sleep before you leave and take a break at a Shell station for some coffee and a snack, both of which I’m sure will perk you up and keep you alert for the rest of the drive home or to any other destination!

Enjoy your drive!

Gong Xi Fa Cai, all! Have an enjoyable festive weekend!

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We need checks to be human

It’s really scary what we human beings are capable of — even the very best among us. Look at the things we do. Parents imprison their children with some even raping them; adults ravaging babies; we kill when people don’t return our affections; we bully, sometimes, to the point of death; we torture, we steal, inflict pain on others … and the list goes on and on.

We tend to console ourselves that we don’t do these things. Others with criminal tendencies do, but we don’t. I think we need to take a good look at ourselves. All of us — without exception — are capable of the worst in humanity. If we are honest, each of us will be able to recall one or two unthinkable acts we carried out which we, perhaps, regret now.

Thankfully, that is our saving grace, remorse. Remorsefully, we vow never to do those acts again. And, many of us don’t. But the fact remains that we did those things. It is testament to the reality that we are capable of terrible things.

It’s not just the strong and powerful who are capable of inflicting pain and damage on others; the weak are capable of the same. Certain circumstances and the frame of mind we are in, sometimes, lead us to acts that have terrible consequences.

We need to be aware of what we are capable of and put checks and balances in our lives so that we are able to pull back from the brink of terrible acts of inhumanity. This is especially so if we are in positions of power and authority. We need constraints so that we don’t run ahead on our strengths without realising what damage it may be causing.

Leaders need checks and balances. That’s a premise of democracy and democratic institutions provide for it (that’s the reason why I am all for reforms to control corruption and abuse of power).

We also need checks and balances at the personal level. We always need to make ourselves “smaller” for the sake of the weaker so that we are sensitive to the latter and we don’t overwhelm them. When we hold back on our strengths to the vulnerable, we make it easier for them to learn and grow.

One good way of “holding back” is to build good relationships. In healthy relationships, we are always thinking of the other person and that acts as a constraint to doing what we like. Because it is a healthy relationship, we are sensitive, and our sensitivity acts to stop us from overwhelming others or imposing ourselves on them or insisting our will on them.

There is no better example on Earth that I can think of than the example of Jesus Christ. He is God. But when he walked this Earth for 33 years, he walked as a mortal man. He limited himself to become human so that he can relate with us.

If he came to us as he really is, God, it would destroy us. He is of a different realm and all-powerful. Meeting with us as He really is cannot but be a clash of the powerful with the weak. Death, surely, is certain.

That’s why He came as a man, entering our reality, powerless, devoid of His superior lineage, humble until death. He became “small” so that we can learn from Him and take part in His creative work to be better people, through whom His purposes are accomplished.

In whatever service we engage for others, we need to understand that though it puts us in an advantageous position over them, we need to to make ourselves “lesser” so that they can become bigger.

That’s the example of Jesus Christ, and, His followers, Christians, especially, need to follow in that example.

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The issue is to respect the rule of law

The best news I heard this week was the Federal Court Judges’ decision on allowing kindergarten teacher M Indira Gandhi’s appeal over the conversion of her three children in 2009 by her ex-husband, K Pathamanathan @ Muhammad Riduan Abdullah, who had converted to Islam.

I’m not a lawyer. As an ordinary law-abiding (yes, law-abiding!) citizen, I think the Judges unequivocally upheld the rule of law over the land, interpreting the law according to the provisions of the Federal Constitution. They were not swayed by religious beliefs.

They made it very clear what the law is: that both parents must consent to the religious conversion of minor children; that the civil courts have jurisdiction to hear cases when aggrieved parties question conversion to Islam. As a result, the certificates of conversion issued by the Perak Registrar of Muallafs on Tevi Darshiny, Karan Dinesh and Prasana Diksa (Indira’s children) are now null and void.

In effect, the judges maintained their neutral stance and upheld the rights of minority groups without diminishing the rights of the dominant majority group.

I understand some Muslims are upset by the decision because they think Islam has been made less important. Certainly not. The special position of Islam in the country remains but the apex court’s decision shows that even where the main religion is Islam, minorities have the right to practice the religion of their choice.

The Federal Court has made that crystal clear. The question is will the rest of the country abide by it, and respect the rule of law?

Some people have expressed concerns that the judges’ ruling might cause people to engage in acts of violence. If that happens, it is clear that emotional and irrational logic has taken over clear thinking!

According to a friend who is a Sabahan, and one who is very familiar with this issue, this seems to be a problem here in West Malaysia. “There (East Malaysia) it’s not a problem. They follow the constitution. If one spouse converts … the father doesn’t insist that the children must follow,” he said. The same is true if the mother converts; no one coerces the children to follow the religion of the converted parent.

“When they become adults and choose a different religion, that’s different. That’s their choice,” he continued, adding, “If the father insists, the wife’s side — the family and village — will come after him!”

This is the law of the land and practised in East Malaysia but is an issue here in Peninsular Malaysia. When it comes to religious issues, some people here in West Malaysia think they have to follow the religious laws even when it contravenes constitutional law because it is a superior law.

As a result, we have cases of pastors being abducted (Pastor Raymond Koh’s case) and disappearing from the face of the Earth without any trace of their whereabouts, and children kidnapped from their mothers’ bosoms and kept away from maternal nurturing.

The latter was what prompted Indira to file her appeal against her ex-husband who, after his conversion, took their 11-month-old baby girl, Prasana, away and converted her to Islam. That happened nine years ago and Indira hasn’t seen her daughter since then.

Indeed, the law of your faith is superior to any human law and if you follow it you must face the consequences, which is the human law, the law of the land. And, if you force your acts of faith on others as “divine justice”, isn’t that a transgression of the rights of others and, really, insensitive cruelty?

Is there any religion which claims that punitive “divine justice” and being cruel “in the name of God” is more righteous than respecting human rights?

Divine law is, no doubt, superior, but there are laws and exhortations in any credible religion which require its followers to never — by force, violence and evil intent — impose them on others. That requires a better understanding and interpretation of the adherents’ religious books, which, sadly, is wanting among those who take the law into their own hands.

With the latest Federal Court ruling, the expectation is that people of different religious faiths and views will abide peacefully under the rule of constitutional law.

 Vasantha Priya’s sacrifice

I must comment on this. It’s heart-breaking that a 14-year-old girl was driven to suicide by a teacher who valued her RM1,600 iphone6 more than the well-being of the student she was supposed to teach.

The Penang schoolgirl was accused of stealing her teacher’s handphone and interrogated and left alone in a room without food and drinks or a toilet break for five hours until she admitted to the offence, which she never did. She was hit by another teacher publicly. The accusing teacher and her husband (I don’t know how he got involved) then took her to her house, confronted her parents, who, then, left the house to “sort things out” with the teacher and her husband.

In the time they were out and having endured all this humiliation, Vasantha Priya hung herself from the air-cond vent with her shawl, leaving behind a note, “I didn’t take your phone, teacher.”

All this over a RM1,600 phone? What kind of people do things like this? That teacher is definitely NOT teaching material. She should never be seen in a classroom.

If the phone was more important to her than handling this girl in the most positive way possible as an educator to get to the root of the problem, she should give up teaching and go into the buying and selling business.

This is blatant bullying. If teachers do it, is it surprising that schoolboys and schoolgirls are resorting to bullying?

Many of the reports on this issue point to the lack of a standard operating procedure (SOP) in dealing with such disciplinary cases. Set up a humane SOP in disciplining students so that it is clear that they are not falsely accused and, if they are found guilty, they should be disciplined in a way that would help them come out of the experience a better person. That should be the educator’s role and purpose.

Now, a girl is dead and it is on the teacher. I wonder if the teacher would have treated the girl in the same way if she were a confident girl who wore designer clothes and was dropped off at school by a parent driving a BMW or Mercedes Benz. I think she wouldn’t have dared. But, Vasantha Priya was timid and the teacher found in the girl’s vulnerability an object to bully.

This has to stop. I hope Vasantha Priya’s death will result in some good so that she did not die in vain. I hope the education ministry will take greater care to select the right teachers in school so that girls and boys of Vasantha Priya’s lot do not come to a humiliating end as she did.


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We need to make change happen.

In my great optimism, I hope I didn’t imply in my last post that the opposition coalition of Pakatan Harapan (PH) is set to win the coming 14th general election (GE14). No, that isn’t a prediction I’m making. The odds are still stacked up against any alliance’s ability to seize control from the Umno-led Barisan Nasional.

But, I am saying that GE14, perhaps, is the last opportunity we have in the near future to change the government by popular vote. If BN wins, we can expect Malaysia to go on as it has in the past eight years. If PH wins, we can expect the winds of change to sweep through the government of this country and reforms instituted (not immediately but in time) for the well-being of this nation.

Reforms will constrain corruption and abuse of power and ensure equitable distribution of wealth and fair treatment of citizens. That is the hope we have in a PH-led government. It has been proven in the PH-held states of Selangor and Penang and we can expect it to be replicated in a PH-led national government.

PH was adrift leaderless for a very long time, but with the entry of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Pribumi), a strong leadership has emerged in the PH that has generated a good deal of optimism and enthusiasm and resentment. But, the fact is that PH is now ready to lead at the national level.

Indeed, it is. But, the reality on the ground must be confronted. Rural parliamentary constituencies, though representing a smaller bumiputra vote both in East and West Malaysia, are bigger in number and sufficient to support the incumbency. Only the elections will tell if  Pribumi’s inroads in the rural constituencies of West Malaysia translate to a swing of rural Malay votes to PH.

Another factor is PAS which is hell-bent on going for three-cornered fights which will only benefit Umno. If redelineation is passed by Parliament before GE14, that might also act in Umno’s favour. Umno is still in government and has access to government resources which can be used to turn votes to their side.

From the analyses I have read and the statements of political leaders, there are two ways to beat the system rigged to keep the incumbency.

One is to have an extraordinarily high voter turnout of more than 70%, especially among the Malays and East Malaysians, who are mostly rural. With a higher voter turnout and more voters favouring the PH, there’s a very good chance PH can make gains in the rural constituencies and where there are three-cornered fights.

That’s the reason why I write on the politics of this nation and GE14 — to generate discussion on the issues plaguing the nation and, hopefully, through the discussions, people will vote wisely for the good of the nation and more will vote. More and more voters need to be drawn into the discussions.

People need to be made aware of the options before them and encouraged to vote for change or they will be stuck with the current realities.  They particularly need to know that the likelihood of Umno losing its majority Malay support is happening or already happened. They also need to know that even with Umno possibly without majority Malay support in terms of numbers, it will still hang on to government on the technicality of winning a simple majority of rural and Malay-based rural constituencies.

The only way to end this stalemate is for the Malays and East Malaysians to come out in huge numbers to vote and give PH the mandate to institute change.

That’s the opportunity GE14 offers us. We, the people, have to seize it and make change happen. That’s my point.

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