What were the roles played by the races during and after the Japanese occupation? — K. Siladass

SEPTEMBER 16 — Nowadays, it seems, race bashings, accusing, and abusing other races and religions, especially the Chinese and Indians and non-Islamic religions have become a norm; yet, the authorities seem not to be concerned at this blatant violation of the law, and lack of respect for constitutional safeguards.

In the midst of all the provocative allegations, some have started to add, as if fueling the flames of racial and religious hatred, that it is only the Malays who fought against the Malayan Union and that the non-Malays opposed it only when they realised benefit would accrue to them. We can understand if this suggestion had emanated from those whose knowledge in history is suspect.

But, what must irk us is that such allegations come from those who are supposed to be well-endowed with education. Unless, they, for some reasons of their own, which cannot be wise, have chosen to turn a blind eye to history; or have no inclination to recognise the avert and covert acts of non-Malays during the Japanese occupation; with the co-operation of our Malay brethren.

Writing about Malayan Union, Barbara Watson Andaya and Leonard Y. Andaya, the authors of A History of Malaysia have this to say: (at page 267)

“Although the Chinese and Indian Communities could see that the Malayan Union promised certain advantages, they also did not give it unqualified approval. When the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) was formed in August 1946, its leadership initially supported the Malay position.”

AJ Stockwell in his meticulous monograph: British Policy and Malay Politics During the Malayan Union Experiment 1942-1948 (at p. 62) says that the “Malay press gave the October announcement [about the creation of Malayan Union] a cautious approach, the most radical Malay group welcomed it enthusiastically.”

Stockwell adds: (at p.62) “... the majority of the people were at this time pre-occupied with the problems of survival; 'rice riots', shortages of food and clothing, industrial conflict and general hardship rather than the constitutional future of the country were their immediate concerned. Until early 1946 the Malayan Communist Party (the political arm of the MPAJA) was able to take advantage of these problems to dominate what political activities there were in the peninsula.”

Subsequently, when the full impact of the Malayan Union was realised, the Malayan National Party, which had initially supported the Malayan Union, withdrew its support. (See Stockwell at p. 76). So much for the position initially adopted by the Malays and non-Malays. Taking the political situation of that era into consideration and the British attitude to negotiate only with the Sultans and subsequently with UMNO, the views of the non-Malays were totally ignored. Besides, with Britain’s single-minded concern to preserve its military bases in this region and to wipe out Communist influences, the British were prepared to sacrifice the interest of the non-Malays.

Despite all the dangers that were faced by the non-Malays, whether they were communists or otherwise; they did everything within their means to resist the Japanese. Anti-Japanese activities were not confined to armed struggle but they were others eg. taking care of the people without racial and religious prejudice when food was scarce and protecting innocent people from the sword-wielding Japanese. It may sound like a trivial affair today but it is worth noting it today for they exposed themselves to severe reprisals from the Japanese.

When the Supreme Court of the Malayan Union was opened on 1st June, 1948 by the Chief Justice Willan, he pointed out:

“As regard the records of the various Courts I am happy to say, that apart from Penang, the losses might have been more serious. In this Court our thanks are due to the members of the Court staff, particularly to Mr. Mahadevan my secretary, and to Mr. Samuel, now acting as Assistant Registrar, for their devotion and loyalty under difficult circumstances in preserving the major portion of the records in the Registry and also the Court libraries.”

The speech by Willan CJ can be found in 1946 [MLJ] at page xlvi.

The Mahadevan referred to by the Chief Justice is none other than the father of Dato Mahadev Shankar, a former Court of Appeal Judge in modern day Malaysia.

What should irk us here is that while there is so much reference made to Malayan Union and the struggle against it, the exemplary role of the Chinese and Indians during the Second World War is glossed over and made to look as insignificant and irrelevant.

The truth is that when the Japanese invaded Malaya, the British who were unprepared for this sudden assault had to retreat and prepare to retaliate against the Japanese. They believed that Singapore, the proud citadel, as they claimed would be sufficient to resist the Japanese advance. At last everything fell. British supremacy had been dealt with a serious blow. At that point of time there was not any political party to galvanise the people's support to resist the Japanese occupation.

The only party that had operated, albeit illegally, was the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). It was well organised and seemingly had an effective network. The MCP offered to work with the British against the Japanese but this was spurned by Sir Shenton Thomas, the governor of Singapore. Subsequently, there was a change of mind and the British agreed to work with the MCP.

This collaboration saw the British supplying arms and training members to the MCP. And the vehicle which helped this venture was the Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Association (MPAJA). It is true that the MCP was dominated by the Chinese, but there were also Malays and Indians deeply involved in it. Rashid Maidin and CD Abdullah are well known communists for their role in resisting the Japanese.

The British, in their grand effort to contain Communism spreading in Malaya, decided to take harsh measures against their wartime ally, the MCP.

If we look at the history of the Second World War, and the problems Malaya and the people faced, it cannot be denied that the Chinese-dominated MCP played a very important role and had always been a thorn in the flesh of the Japanese. The Malays and Indians who cherished freedom fought against the Japanese and many perished. However, some historians have chosen to give measured credit or completely blacked out of the MCP's role; the destruction of human lives, largely Chinese, followed by the Indians and lastly the Malays

is a historical fact that cannot be erased. Thus, to say that the non-Malays have not contributed towards the general struggle against British Colonialism and Japan's expansionism is but a convoluted representation of history.

There may be a grain of truth that the non-Malays saw the benefit that could be derived from emigrating to this country, but that thought did not gestate during the Malayan Union epoch. That thought must have germinated when Sri Francis Light founded Penang Island and established a factory there on behalf of the East India Company. Since the Malay Archipelago was not richly populated and lacked the human capital for industries, such a state would not ensure the success that Francis Light had envisaged.

He had to rely on a foreign workforce. That pioneer workforce must have seen the benefit that could be harvested from this region and they would have dreamt that this region could be turned into a viable place to work, live, raise families and settle down. They worked for the future, but whether the future that was controlled by the British colonialists treated them fairly and in a dignified manner is a moot point. The pain they suffered did not end, and their descendants have yet to be freed from such a pin. When will this end?

The accusation that the non-Malays only opposed the Malayan Union when they discovered the benefit is against history and cannot be supported.

It is made to antagonise the non-Malays and to create hatred in the minds of the Malays, a method Adolf Hitler adopted to promote and instill German nationalism, that is Nazism a propaganda pregnant with lies and distortions condemning the minorities for the failures and pitiable state of the majority.

It is patently mischievous and contemptible to sideline the contributions by the Chinese and Indians on the overall struggle against the British and the Japanese. The minority communities are aware that those who are embarking on this dangerous trend are a minority themselves as the majority of Malays have distanced themselves from this sordid dissemination of falsehood.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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