In Kuala Lumpur’s Malay heartland, a movement for equality takes shape

BEBAS representative Azrul Mohd Khalib speaks at the launch of BEBAS in Kelab Sultan Sulaiman, Kuala Lumpur, on July 15, 2017.
BEBAS representative Azrul Mohd Khalib speaks at the launch of BEBAS in Kelab Sultan Sulaiman, Kuala Lumpur, on July 15, 2017.

KUALA LUMPUR, July 15 — Secular movement BEBAS formally launched at Kampung Baru here today, advocating for an Equality Act and talks on religious freedom.

BEBAS representative Azrul Mohd Khalib said the pro-equality group chose to hold its formal launch at Kelab Sultan Sulaiman because of the 1946 Malay congress that was held there which later inspired the birth of Umno.

“The move at that time had strengthened the determination and unity for the independence of a country and its people, but it was based on the racial politics of an immature society.

“Today, I say that at this historic place, we must strengthen our resolve to leave the ‘divide and conquer’ racial politics inherited from our colonialists, and move forward as a united people,” Azrul said before a turnout of 90 people.

BEBAS representative Boo Su-Lyn said the group would advocate for an Equality Act that outlaws discrimination in employment, education, and service provision in both the public and private sectors.

“At BEBAS, we believe that Malaysia can reach her fullest potential when all of us choose to embrace equality as a nation,” she said.

“If we want the private sector to be the country’s engine of growth, then we must make it illegal for companies to discriminate against workers and prospective employees, whether it’s over their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability.

“If we want more Malaysians to serve the country, we must give everyone equal opportunities to reach the top in the civil service, so talented and intelligent people can make good policies that benefit the people,” she added.

Boo said BEBAS planned to work with organisations to conduct diversity and non-discrimination training for the corporate sector and government-linked corporations (GLCs).

BEBAS also said it planned to conduct talks and forums on the right to freedom of religion enshrined in Article 11 of the Federal Constitution.

Malay Mail Online columnist Zurairi AR, who spoke at the event, said he wanted his daughter to grow up with gratefulness for her privilege.

“I will teach her to appreciate the past and to be proud of her identity and culture as a Malay, but not to use it as an excuse to be arrogant and to oppress other races. I will teach her to look at this life from the Malaysian lens, not from a narrow and racist lens,” he said.

Datuk Lim Chee Wee, member of the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) and former Malaysian Bar president, said the NUCC had faced strong objections to its position on equality and non-discrimination and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

“The objections were so strong to the extent that a group of influential Malays sought audience before the Conference of Rulers to oppose NUCC’s work. Needless to say, the Harmony Bills went nowhere,” Lim told the crowd.

The NUCC had submitted its proposals in 2015 for three sets of Bills, known as the Harmony Bills, that sought to outlaw racial and religious hate crimes; prevent discrimination based on religion, race, descent, place of birth, gender or disability; and to set up a commission to inquire into complaints of discrimination.