Friday, December 24, 2010

Communist : Malaysia, protest and revolt

This article is Dr Abraham’s ‘Malaysia, protest and revolt’ entry in the International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest (published by Blackwell Publishing, 2009). It is reproduced in full by CPI with permission by the author.

Malaysia is a multicultural society that was born in the throes of protest, largely influenced by British colonialism. The historical effect of British colonialism on Malaysia brought into sharper focus the fusion of protest and revolution into the body of social theory.
Because colonial intervention, since its very inception in 1874, was accompanied by decades of both political and military anti-colonial struggles, it engendered a substantial ability to resist colonial domination through protest, ultimately leading to revolution. Indeed, such was the ferocity of the protests and uprisings that the colonial government did not enjoy a continuous period of peace for more than six months during its entire rule, up to the granting of political independence in 1957.
Located at the confluence of the main trade routes from the West, Southwest Asia, and East Asia, Malaysia was the center of trade and commerce of seafaring nations, especially prior to the initial advent of European mercantile capitalism. The country’s location resulted in a range of economic and political forces converging in the town of Malacca, creating a vast transient population made up of an estimated 90 different ethnic groups. The resulting pattern of inter and intra-ethnic relationships led to cultural assimilation that evolved into a new community known as Baba Chinese (the offspring of indigenous Malays and Chinese residents.)
In 1824, after the signing of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty, the British government obtained sole and exclusive overall jurisdiction to enter into mutually acceptable treaty obligations with the Malay States, while at the same time allowing the nominal exercise of sovereignty of the local rulers. The practical application of contemporary ideals by the new colonial power became essential to the political economy in Malaysia. The demands of the industrial revolution, especially for the vital raw materials of rubber and tin, as well as the successful emergence of portfolio investment capital, radically undermined the existing local feudal-type subsistence economy. The importance and need for “good government” and law and order was paramount if political and economic interests were to be protected and sustained toward revenue generation and profit maximization.

Accordingly, because what was at stake was literally the transformation of villages and towns through the creation of modern institutions, the colonial government more or less issued a blank cheque to encourage foreign capital investment. But in practice such investment radically disrupted the feudal-type subsistence economy and especially the social structure of the indigenous people. This development crucially undermined the historical and traditional basis of interpersonal relationships and mutual responsibilities from being status-oriented to contractual-based relationships. The further maturing of the capitalist market economy through technology driven modernization, and transnational economic integration with the intervention of multinational corporations, resulted in a dependent political economy where local political and economic institutions were suppressed and became mere appendages as satellites to the colonial metropolis.

The new economic and political developments that accompanied modernization did not benefit all segments of society. Indeed, apart from the more urbanized areas centered around towns and cities that were linked to the cash nexus of the colonial economy, vast sectors of the rural economy relied almost entirely on the subsistence mode of production. Therefore, an economic dichotomy came into existence where the modern sector depended on the export of tin and rubber whereas the indigenous economy depended on agriculture. Largely, Chinese and Indian immigrants made up the workforce of tin and rubber industries, leaving the indigenous Malays confined to the subsistence sector. This factor would lead the indigenous population to resent the loss of their political sovereignty to the British as well as their economic opportunities to those imported workers.
  Picture courtesy of
Accordingly, a militant revolution and more widespread local resistance ensued, not only against colonial domination itself, but also, and more importantly, between the local ruling class that espoused a society based on the perpetuation of dominant vested interests, and a subject class seeking free association within democratic institutions. This ruling-class dominance was a formidable repressive force because it was in cahoots with the colonial power and took on an identity of its own, giving rise to unique patterns of resistance against progressive social change. These developments played a pivotal role in the evolution and transformation of the entire societal structure and ushered in profound changes in inter- and intra-ethnic and race perceptions. The intertwining of these perceptions occurred, in turn, within the polarization of ethnicity and race within the class structure.

The roots of protest and revolution in Malaysia, then, can be traced to the juxtaposition of ethnic and social variables as they became intertwined with political considerations. The British literally “inherited” a society that was ready-made for ethnic division. Such divisions were further exacerbated by overlapping geopolitical factors, such as enclaves of different groups living separately in settlements, mixing only for ad hoc domestic and social purposes, but never mingling. Eventually, Malayan society would evolve around “closed” institutions that were initially highly stratified and repressive in nature, both internally and externally.

Profound transformations of these rigid institutions gradually galvanized groups to seek more flexible arrangements that in turn made demands on the colonial social structure that were inimical to the status quo and sowed the seeds for organized protest and revolution. Such protests among the different ethnic and social class groups began mainly because their specific economic interests overlapped with their identities, so that the colonial power in fact managed successfully to suppress protests through the policy of divide and rule. This happened as a reaction when the protest movements gradually evolved and expanded their scope to include more than one economic activity and on a pan-Malayan basis, so that membership became multi-ethnic and interclass in composition. This development saw protest movements being propelled into new social formations in the political arena with the emphasis now on the ideology of anti-colonialism.

In the twentieth century the British government continued its policy of indirect rule and in doing so failed to shape a constitutional ideology in Malaysia. Instead, it continued on a path that regarded the Malays as amiable but unsophisticated and rather lazy. While the British utilized them as good soldiers during World War I, in the end they deemed them incapable of self-government. As for the Chinese, the British held them as a formidable ally and foe, considering them both clever and dangerous. In the 1920s and 1930s, with political events in China coming to a climax, the Chinese Nationalist Party and the Communist Party of China began to build their own rival clandestine organizations in Malaya. This development led to constant conflicts in the Chinese towns which further led the British to believe that there would never be any form of solidarity among such a disparate array of different races.
By the end of World War II the British government would find itself in near financial ruin as it became tied to the United States for basic support for its ailing economy. Nowhere was this scenario felt more clearly than in Malaya. Because the revenue earnings from tin and rubber exceeded that of all other colonies put together throughout the entire British Empire, the colonial government treated Malaya as the “jewel in the crown” for sustaining the British economy with the latter’s essential export-driven economy. It was consequently imperative to consolidate military and political power to ensure that the revenue-earning capacity of the colony was not disrupted, and toward this end various repressive measures against local movements were adopted, such as toward trade unions where industrial strike action was damaging vital exports.
In response, these movements themselves were forced to adopt militant strategies to fight back and achieve their objectives that ultimately resulted in having to fight for political independence itself. Certain other movements, such as political parties of the left, also gradually came under the influence of the ideologically committed leadership of the Malayan Communist Party. For the first time, the negative implications for the political economy became evident when a nationwide work protest hartal (total work stoppage) was successfully carried out that included Singapore, creating alarm in the colonial government because it established the link between the working classes and the peasantry. A final total rejection of constitutional plans for reforms in the form of a comprehensive “Peoples’ Constitution” by the colonial government set the stage for the demand for outright political independence among all protest groups, including those that espoused a militant revolution.
In the light of widespread industrial unrest, and the accompanying retaliation against the provisions for colonial law and order, the government declared a state of emergency, which in effect meant rule by the military forces, including that under the Anglo-Malayan Defense Treaty, as well as local police forces. The rationale claimed by the British was that the Malayan Communist Party had initiated complete disruption of the economy, resulting in the breakdown of law and order in an attempt to take over the government and establish a communist state. In this connection it was also submitted that the political parties of the left were legitimate targets to maintain law and order, and accordingly the British implemented widespread repressive measures, many of which violated basic human rights.

The strategy of utilizing the massive propaganda machine was intended to demolish the popular nationalist demands for constitutional reforms, leading to a popularly elected democratic and independent government. These measures, both external and internal, did in fact achieve the objective of crushing the protest and revolutionary movements in Malaysia. The central theme that runs through Malaysian protest is a “top-bottom” scenario of society, where decisions involving power and its implementation were essentially the domain and monopoly of the traditional, political, bureaucratic, and social elite groups of the main ethnic and racial communities in the country. These elite formations were the direct legacy of colonialism that would later be inherited by the government of independent Malaya and Malaysia. After independence these elite groups continued to be intertwined in the structure of the post-colonial power status quo as they further consolidated and entrenched the unequal distributive system.

Throughout its colonial domination over Malaysia the British Empire never had more than a few months of breathing space without protests being mounted against it. Protests were a natural outgrowth of the situation in which political power was devolved to a consortium of local elitist groups, within a race-based political system, anxious to protect and perpetuate their colonial interests. Despite the seeming diversity of the groups involved in the movements for political independence (Malay nationalists, trade unions, Malay left, Islamic radical parties, the MDU, and the Malayan Communist Party), however, there was absolute unanimity in the struggle for freedom in the context of national unity and national integration.

On April 1, 1946, one year after the conclusion of World War II, Britain relinquished its power over Malaya, and a Malayan Union was formed without the inclusion of Singapore, which remained a crown colony. However, local Malays opposed the union because it had loose citizenship requirements and it reduced the Malayan power to rule. After a great amount of pressure was exerted, the Union was later replaced by the Federation of Malaya on January 31, 1948. Formally, the Federation gained independence on August 31, 1957 and later consolidated with other Malayan states, including Singapore, on September 16, 1963. It was then renamed Malaysia.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

World Federation Trade Union Demanding Enquiry over Ganapathy's Death (9th May 1949)

My reference sources at National Library of Singapore have become saturated now. Almost all articles contained the phase “S.A Ganapathy", I have laid my eyes upon. I was thinking that I have come to an end, not able to move forward, may be my next stop should be the Public Records Office, Kew, in London, which housed the most of declassified documents of colonial era.

But my intense focus in the matter drove me unintentionally to a book launch last Sunday, 19th Dec 2010. The author is no stranger to us, the Adviser of Human Right Party Malaysia, Lawyer P. Uthayakumar. His book "Nov 25, 2007-Hindaf Rally" was launched with another book contains declassified documents from Public Records Office titled " Public Forum on 50 Years of Violation of the Federation Constitution by The Malaysian Government", which in my opinion one of the fine great work ever produced. It taken me by surprised to read his dedication note in the book which goes like this:

“The research Publication is dedicated to Mr. Ganapathy, President of the Pan Malayan Federation Trade Unions who was executed by the British on 4/5/1949, his successor Mr. P. Veerasenan who was (mysteriously) shot dead by a patrol on 3/5/1949. Both championed Indian labour rights.”

Without wasting time, I flipped through the pages that contained letters of condemnation sent to British Embassy against S.A Ganapathy’s execution. One of the letters that caught my attention, which was written with severe condemnation and criticism without fear and favour against British government, was written by B. Gebert Assistant General Secretary of World Federation Trade Unions based in Paris, France. The letter as follows ( I shall be providing the scan copy later, extracted from "Public Forum on 50 Years of Violation of the Federation Constitution by The Malaysian Government")

World Federation of Trade Unions
Secretaire General
1 rue Vernet, Paris 8

9th May 1949

His Excellency
The British Ambassador
The British Embassy
39 rue du Fog.St.Honore

Your Excellency,

The WORLD FEDERATION OF TRADE UNIONS has the honour to request you to be good enough to transmit to your Government its energetic and indignant protest against the execution of Messrs. GANAPATHY and VEERA SENAN, leaders of the Pan-Malayan Federation of Trade unions (PMFTU)

Mr.GANAPATHY, a young trade union leader of 24 years of age whose only crime was to defend the interests of the workers of Malaya, was hung on may 4th 1949, in the prison of Kuala Lumpur on a ridiculous, improbable and inadmissible pretext.

In reality, the murder of Mr. GANAPATHY, which has aroused horror and indignation among all the workers of the world, gives proof of the resolute will of British authorities to impede, by every means, the functioning of free and representative trade union organisations, as well as the free exercise of trade unions rights in Malaya.

This attitude is not of recent origin. As early as 1945, a great number of trade union leaders were deported and imprisoned on the pretext of “intimidation” and “political agitation”.

In August 1946, the British authorities established a complicated procedure for registration of trade unions, designated to eliminate the trade unions truly representative of the workers. However, a great many trade unions were registered nevertheless and they then formed the Pan Malayan of Trade Unions, with a membership of 300,000 members and with which the WFTU established official relations.

But the authorities refused to recognise the PMFTU, although the trade unions affiliated to it were all officially registered. This refusal to recognise the PMFTU attributed to the desire to create a completely new official and government trade union movement which however met with no success among the workers.

In these conditions and being able no longer to tolerate the activity of the PMFTU which was directed towards uniting and defending all the workers, without discrimination and to nationality, race, religion, political or philosophic opinions, the British authorities obtained the adoption, on the 1st June 1948, of trade union rights, banned the federation of trade unions grouping workers of different trades.

Consequently, on 13th June, 1948, the disbanding of PMFTU was officially decreed.

This decision is to be explained by the fact that, since the end of hostilities in Asia, the workers of Malaya, increasingly conscious of their rights and their community of interests, have unleashed a vast movement in support of their demands, attempting in the way to change the miserable conditions of the existence in which they are forced to live. In fact, the well known poverty of the workers of Malaya have deteriorated even further since the end of hostilities as a result of the closing down of rubber factories, the employers’ policy of wage freezing and maintaining profile at a high level, and by the growth of the black market.

Instead of alleviating the situation of Malayan workers, the British authorities mobilised the police and army against the workers and arrested and assassinated a great number of tade union leaders. We would indicate as an example, the murder on 5th July 1948 of Mr. TAN KAN, President of the Johore Rubber Workers’ Trade Union.

These movements, which were purely in support of the workers demands, were described by British Commissioner-General for South East Asia as “a bestial campaign of agitation” and followings a now classic formula, the Commissioner-General attributed them “to the restless and impatient directors of international communism”.

The W.T.F.U openly declares that the situation existing todat is due to the inhuman exploitation of the Malayan workers by foreign monopolies and trusts, as well as to the desire of the British authorities to annihilate the spirit of resistance and the means of action of the Malayan workers. Moreover, our organisation can in no way stand aloof from the events in Malaya since the mission of the W.F.T.U is precisely that of defending and assisting the workers of the world, whatever their nationality, race, religion, political or philosophic opinions.

We therefore request your Government to take immediate measures to ensure the free exercise of trade union rights in Malaya, in accordance with the provisions of resolutions 84(V) of the Economy and Social Council of the United Nations and 128(II) of the General Assembly, and the article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, provisions which were approved by the British representatives within the United Nations bodies in question.

Already in 1946, the WFTU was considering the dispatch of a mission of enquiry to Malaya and its plans were received at the time with obvious hostility by the local authorities.

In the light of recent events, it appeared yet more urgent for the WFTU to make known to the workers of all countries the real situation which exists in Malaya. Consequently, we have the honour to request your government for permission for a trade union Commission of Enquiry appointed by the W.F.T.U to enter Malaya.

In asking you to be good enough to transit this letter to your Government and in the hope of favourable reply in the shortest possible time, we are,

Yours truly,

For the Secretariat of the

(signed) B. Gebert
Assistant General Secretary

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Brother Claimed that S.A Ganapathy was Not Armed- Accusation of Arms Possession was Fabrication

Sembaruthi: January 2010

Another controversy surrounding the death of S.A Ganapathy has surfaced recently. S.A Ganapathy was arrested at Waterfall Estate near Rawang on Tuesday 1st March 1949. He was allegedly accused of possessing arms - a hand pistol with 6 life ammunition. Two weeks later on Tuesday 15th March, Kuala Lumpur High Court sentenced him to be hang to death. On Wednesday early morning 4th May 1949 (less than 2 months after his arrest) he was hanged in Pudu Jail, Kuala Lumpur.

Recently, I came across an article on Ganapathy, published in Sembaruthi - January 2010 edition, that actually creates mysteries surrounding his arrest. The author of the article, A. V Kathaiah needs no introduction- a prominent unionist - currently also editor-in-chief for MalaysiaIndru – the Tamil Version of Malaysiakini

It was about an interview with S.A Ganapathy' younger brother, S.A Sargunam* which took place in September 2009 in a village at Parakkalak Kootam in Tanjavur district in Tamil Nadu, India. The article claimed that Sargunan was 94 years old when the interview was done. 

In the interview, Sargunam claimed that his brother was innocent and the whole drama of arms possession was fabricated by the police and British administration. According to Sargunam, he has visited his brother in Pudu Jail before the execution. At that time Sargunam was also detained in a prison in Pulau Belakang Mati, Singapore (old name for Pulau Sentosa) for suspicion of involvement in communist activities in Singapore. He obtained a special permission to visit his brother, Ganapathy in Kuala Lumpur after numerous attempts and applications to Governor of Singapore and appeal through Representative of Indian Government to Malaya, John Thivy. 

Sargunam was escorted by an investigation office called Ramalingam from Singapore. Upon arriving at the police commissioner’s office in Kuala Lumpur, he was brought to meet his brother by the police commissioner himself (who was a white) at 7.30am on Monday, (most probably on 25th April 1949). He also told Sembaruthi that when Ganapathy saw their entry to his cell; he stood up and saluted the commissioner and the commissioner returned his salute. Ganapathy spoke to the commissioner (in English) for a while. Then the commissioner told Sargunam to take his time and left the cell. Sargunam also told that there were 17 inmates who were kept in different cells (my guess is that all these inmates could have been convicted at the same time as Ganapathy). The cell was equipped with toilet and bathroom. Throughout the meeting Ganapathy looked calm and never at any point felt regretted of neither his acts nor his destiny.

In the conversation (could be one of Ganapathy’s last conversations), Ganapathy told his brother that he did not possess any arms when he was arrested. Calmly he told his brother that death is a must for all men and willing accepts his destiny for his countless sacrifices for the betterment of Malayan labourer.

According to the article, there were mass protest and opposition over the decision of Kuala Lumpur to hang Ganapathy. Indian Prime Minister, Nehru through Indian High Commissioner for Britain, V.K.K Menon has convinced British Prime Minister, Clement Atlee stop the execution and convert the sentence to life imprisonment. It also says that Atlee had send a telegram to then the Malayan High Commisoner, Sir Henry Gurney to stop the execution. (The telegram has been revealed in this blog) 

According to Sargunan who was totally immersed in sadness over his brother’s destiny, told Sembaruthi that Ganapathy was beaten up in prison and received medical treatment before he was hanged. 

Interestingly, Ganapathy has also spoken for some time with the investigation officer, Ramalingam, who escorted Sargunam. Apparently, Ganapathy and Ramalingam were close friends when Ramalingam was an active member in a democratic party in Singapore. Sargunam was not able to grasp the essence of discussion between Ganapathy and Ramalingam as he was totally immersed in shock and sadness not only over his brother’s sentence but also on how Ganapathy has accepted his death.Both Sargunam and Ramalingam left Ganapathy to Singapore. No words can be expressed the sadness and tragedy surrounding their farewell.
Pudu Jail - Ariel View-Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Pudu Jail, Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
                          The Horror of Pudu Jail - where Ganapathy spent his last days

Upon returning to Singapore, Sargunam learned the death of his brother on 5th May 1949. Later Sargunam was deported to India together with hundreds of Indian who involved in struggle against British. Not forgetting hundreds more who were shot death like P. Veerasenan for opposing British's rule in Malaya. Those martyrs were Malays, Chinese and Indians. All they wanted was equality regardless of race, religious and political ideology. What bond them together in solidarity was the struggle for a free and independent Malaya. They fought regardless of race and religion with one aim that is to cast off British from Malaya. But the British who were not able to bare the humiliation thus introduced Sate of Emergency in Malaya to eliminate these resistances. Later British introduced and blessed British pro-parties like UMNO (under leadership of Dato Onn Jaafar) and later Parti Perikatan (under leadership of Tunku) as Malayan’s representative for independence and continue to hold on to British interest in Malaya for several decades.

(Note: *heard from a friend of mine that S.A Sargunam passed away in somewhere in February or March this year..May the his soul will find eternal peace in the Kingdom of God)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Malaya S. A Ganapathy

This is an humble effort initiated after a long search (kind of a soul search for me as well). Every time when I read about those brave battles episodes of elite unit Force 136 under Spencer Chapman, who fought against the Japanese atrocities in Malaya, when reading the furious battle of Bukit Chandu which almost shaken the Japanese Imperial Army- under the command of a young Malay named Lieutenant Adnan Saidi of Malay Regiment, one question shall persist in my mind; why was there not a single Malayan Indian who stood up and fought for his people and this land?
As my mind started the journey unintentionally to find answer to this question, slowly I have been exposed to pieces of jig-saw puzzles- just like a moving magnet picking up small particles of metal, I started to attract information from all kind of sources. Let me confess here that I am yet to fix these pieces together as I do not know where to start or where to end. Hence, I have created a blog for this great "unsung" hero called Srimugu Arumugadevar Ganapathy (S.A Ganapathy) or also known as Malaya Ganapathy, who was sentenced to gallows - hanged to death by the British on 4th May 1949.

Who actually this Ganapathy was? Why he posed such a huge threat to the British in Malaya until he has to be put off? What was his involvement in Indian National Army in Singapore under the leadership of Subhas Chandra Bose? What were his struggles? What made him so dangerous to the capitalists in Malaya? Why was not there a single line ever been written about this man (forget about those Umno composed "history books", but not even in Malayan Indian history and literature)? Nobody ever spoke about him? Why certain people traumatized with this name..S. A Ganapathy?

The reason behind the creation of this blog is to encourage bloggers and visitors to contribute their experience and views associated to this man and with the hope that one day the history will be re-written; that will make every Indian in this country feel proud for this Indian - as we also can finally stand tall proudly calling out load this man as a Malayan Indian who fought for his fellow working class people, for their freedom and independence of Malaya.

I will try (with my limited proficiency in English and Bahasa Melayu) slowly to exposed all those "pieces" about this man in this blog- his struggles, unfolding betrayal drama as he may or was a pawn in the hand of some Indian politicians. And as I mentioned earlier, I am always open up for criticisms and comments.

Thanking all in advance in helping me to pull all these puzzles together.

Ini merupakan satu usaha yang lahir daripada satu pencarian yang lama. Setiap kali saya terbaca kisah keberanian unit Force 136 di bawah pimpinan Spenser Chapman yang menentang penjajahan Jepun di Malaya, keberanian Leftenan Adnan Saidi yang berjuang sehingga ke titisan darah terakhir dalam pertempuran di Bukit Chandu menentang tentera Jepun di Singapura (pertempuran terakhir yang amat sengit ini menyebabkan tentera imperial Jepun tergaman dan terkejut melihat keutuhan dan kecekalan anak melayu ini)

Lt. Adnan Saidi

Di akhir pertempuran tentera Jepun cukup marah dengan Adnan Saidi sehinggakan beliau diseksa dan tubuhnya dicacak bertubi tubi dengan bonet sehingga hampir terputus lehernya, sering mengungkit persoalan yang tidak terjawab sehingga kini: kenapa tidak ada seorang pun dari keturunan India di Malaya tidak berani bangun untuk memperjuangkan dan mempertahankan kebebasan bangsanya? Dalam pencarian inilah saya bertemu dengan manusia yang bernama S. A Ganapathy atau dikenali juga dengan nama Malaya Ganapathy yang dihukum gantung di Penjara Pudu pada 4 Mei 1949 oleh British. Mengapa dia perlu dihukum sebegitu rupa? Apa kesalahannya? Mengapakah namanya tidak pernah tercacat dalam buku sejarah kita?

Saya percaya semua persoalan ini akan terjawab dalam blog khas ini. Saya berharap pembaca and pelawat blog ini akan menyumbang dan memperkenalkan pautan mengenai perwira ini di samping mengkritik secara membina untuk tatapan bangsa Malaysia. Mungkin satu hari nanti sejarah negara kita akan ditulis semula dengan memuatkan namanya sebagai India Malaya yang memperjuangkan hak golongan pekerja Malaya tanpa batasan agama dan ras serta memperjuangkan kemerdekaan negara ini.

Jananayagam - 5th May 1945 - Ganapathy's Short History

Jananayagam (Democracy) published on the 5th May 1949 carried the life story of Ganapathy on its first page - "Thukkilidapatta Ganapath...