Bad time to die, the unfortunate death of a Malaysian Indian guard

SEPTEMBER 2 — The CCTV footage is surreal. Perhaps not as much as our national realpolitik and its effects on justice at local levels.

Covid-19 had a supporting role in kicking this off.

This happened at the tail-end of 2020. Guest and security staff disagree on swimming pool usage at an Ipoh condominium due to pandemic SOPs.

Upset, man slams a table on the frail-looking employee and leaves him lying on the floor with a bleeding head on December 29, 2020.

The bedridden guard endured almost nine months in a hospital and eight surgeries only to return home and die days later on August 27, 2021. In the patriotic month coinciding with a new prime minister.

It is immeasurably sad.

To suffer through most of the year in hopes of healing only to succumb to injuries, what cruelty!

With his death, the case has changed dimensions with the Attorney General's Chambers expected to escalate the charges to murder. Next week, court convenes.

S. Thava Sagayam, born in 1957, did not last till 2021’s Merdeka Day.

He will not be mentioned by name in social conversations, referred casually as the Ipoh condominium security allegedly killed by guest rage.

Though the Indian name matters.

For any number of reasons. He’s from Buntong, the ethnic enclave in the Perak capital, famous for kacang putih and cooking sensation S. Pavithra — with her own personal tragedies. Gangs, poverty and trouble are synonymous with the area, not unlike my own childhood patch, Kuala Lumpur’s Kampung Pandan. 

Buntong is one of the three state constituencies under Ipoh Barat, therefore naturally its parliamentary member and prominent lawyer M. Kulasegaran took the lead to represent the widow E. Philomena. 

The former minister from the disgraced Pakatan Harapan administration is lead for many Malaysian Indian related causes like the Indira Gandhi child custody battle. Fair to sum up his forte in his party, DAP, is representing Indian causes nationally.

The columnist here is Malaysian Indian.

Which tends to colour the whole process to get justice done for the deceased.

The man charged initially with the attack is a Malaysian Malay allegedly from a different state holidaying in Perak during the incident, residing at the said condominium.

Here’s where technology does help us mere mortals — inclined to tribalism and cultural bias — to decide. Very few can empathise with the assailant after viewing the spliced video of two camera angles.

Yet, it is far from clear cut.

Not a time for mistakes

Malaysia’s political stalemate renders leaders on either side of the aisle to be circumspect about race relations, more so when it ends in death.

These latest events recall developments from 2018 when Pakatan Harapan was in its first and only year in power.

Ipoh Barat MP M. Kulasegaran speaks during a press conference in Ipoh March 5, 2021. — Picture by Farhan Najib
Ipoh Barat MP M. Kulasegaran speaks during a press conference in Ipoh March 5, 2021. — Picture by Farhan Najib

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Pakatan's Indian leaders, not the least Kulasegaran, in the 2018 Seafield temple related riots appeared critical of police even when they were in government. And shortly after, the hurting of fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim — who died weeks later — turned the episode fully racial. The right bayed for blood and Kulasegaran’s name was mentioned most.

The noise drove community sentiments one way and was a key reference point to allege the Pakatan government was anti-Malay. The Pakatan government collapsed less than three months later in February 2020.

Which is why Barisan Nasional, Perikatan Nasional, BN plus minus or PN minus plus, or whatever the latest version has to be called, is extra wary of race relations.

Umno and Bersatu form the government together while vying for the heartstrings of rural Malay voters to defeat the other at the next general election, it is not wise to be on the wrong side of Malay sentiment.

Umno and Bersatu, what a pair.

To look collected as a government, to look at odds as parties, and fight for the same votes come polling day. It is diabolical.

The complications are myriad.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri has to contend with Umno President Zahid Hamidi for numero uno in the unofficial race to be the better Malay leader, first in the party and then in the country. 

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad set mad standards on what is to be an out and out Malay leader which every leader in all parties compete to best.

Zahid is from Perak, where Ipoh and more pertinently the court which presides over the Thava Sagayam death sits. Ismail will be extra careful when things occur in the president’s state.

Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin leaves it to police and the attorney general to take the lead in the case. For the record, the Bersatu secretary-general won Perak’s Larut as an Umno candidate in 2018, and all of Umno Perak prepares to unseat him at GE15. Former colleagues plot his fall.

PAS, the third force inside the current administration, lets the two play it out and shape their strategy on avoiding any mistakes they commit.

It is not that these blokes are burning the candle at both ends but that they are shocked there are only two ends to light up.

Setting the tone for the “awareness” is new Communications and Multimedia Minister Annuar Musa, original Umno Baru member and parliamentarian from Kelantan. An ally of Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin, just as Ismail was or still is.

After the prime minister, he is the most important man when it comes to containing news and information, including coverage of court cases.

What about the individual Malay politicians?

With Umno and Bersatu memberships interchangeable, every Malay MP and every potential candidate for a Malay majority seat does not want to appear overeager to be multicultural. The usual suspects are quiet over Thava Sagayam for the same reason.

They’ll speak up about how their party even if race exclusive is not race blind in the leadup to Malaysia Day, while their blinkers are on to avoid seeing an old man die in Buntong.

Buntong Ria

People use private vehicles to get around Ipoh, and Philomena headed back and forth to Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun to be with her warded husband for those nine months, did she have a car or motorbike?

It would measure her patience.

How would she look at her national leaders?

She would have appreciated leadership from all those men with great titles, in regards to Thava Sagayam’s failed convalescence or her own spirits in their home.

Instead, she sits at home, a widow, waiting for justice when politics trumps all.

But it is her own leadership of hope which lights up the end of the tunnel for all. She said she’d forgive the assailant if he apologised. 

The simplicity of her outlook tells that the overcalculation of all decisions by seasoned politicians may yield electoral results but lacks a superior element, humanity.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.


 

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