Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ganapathy was Not the First and Last Indian Sent to Gallows

During the Emergency, it is a known fact that many were given death penalty for illegal possession arms. Many of them were Chinese from the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) and labour unions front. There were a few Malays who have been hanged for same offense. It has been widely spoken by many Malaysian Indians that S.A Ganapathy was the only Indian sentenced to death for arm possession and another Indian, Sambasivam, sentenced to death for the same offense has been saved by Indian government. This is to prove how determined were the Indian leaders to save every Indian subjected to death penalty in Malaya.

But only a few knew that Ganapathy was not the first and last to be sentenced to death. Another Indian, Karrupiah, who have been active in union front and like many others joined the MNLA also sentenced to death.

The Straits Times on the 22nd February 1951, reported that an Indian, Karrupiah was sentenced to death at the Johore Assizes for being a bandit agent and collector. Attempts were made by Indian Government to save Karrupiah through Privy Council after his appeal was rejected in Federal Court of Appeal.

Details of Karrupiah's case nor his background remains unknown.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Gurney Requested to Advise Sultan to Give Full Weight on Sambasivam's Case

The Secretary of States for the Colonies, Arthur Creech Jones has written to High Commissioner of Malaya, Sir Henry Gurney on the 9th May 1949 at 2315hrs explaining situation post Ganapathy's execution in India where Nehru is being heavy criticised by the Left-wing for his policy of free association with the Commonwealth.

According to Jones, the execution of Ganapathy “came at a most inappropriate moment” and putting Nehru and his Congress in wrong limelight.

Nehru was scheduled to speak to the Parliament on the 16th May 1949 on the outcome of Prime Minister Conference, where India's participation in Commonwealth accepted despite being a republic nation. Nehru is in a dire state to prove to the parliament that efforts have been taken to save another Indian who is waiting to be hanged - Sambasivam

The Secretary of States for the Colonies requesting Gurney to look into Sambasivam’s case as Indian government has made representation to the British government through their High Commissioner in UK – Krishna Menon.
His Majesty Sultan of Johor Sultan Ibrahim
With taking into constitutional difficulties in Malaya (where the prerogatives to pardon an accused vested with Sultan) Creech Jones requesting Gurney to advise the Sultan to give a full weight in the case of Sambasivam for the consideration of granting reprieve.

Sambasivam was a clerk of Rubber Worker Union Segamat in Johor. He was arrested on the 13th September 1948 at Bukit Kepong, Johor. At the time of his arrest he was in the company of two Chinese who were armed. In fight broke between groups of three Malays armed with knives (parangs) with the Chinese. Sambasivam was seriously wounded. One of Chinese was killed and other Chinese escaped. The arms including a revolver (the subject of the charge in his case) were recovered at the scene.

 Sambasivam was discharged from hospital on 28th February 1949 when he was brought to trial at the Johor Supreme Court on the 2nd and 3rd March 1949 for unlawfully carrying arms. The assessors found him not guilty but the trial judge disagreed and orders a retrial.

In the retrial which took place on 22nd March 1949, he was convicted by both assessors (a Malay and an Indian) and found guilty. He was sentenced to death.

The court of Appeal dismissed his appeal on 28th April 1948. All the three Appeal Judges (including the Chief Justice) agreed with the Trial Judge. The execution was decided to take place on the 4th June 1949.

Thivy took enormous efforts to save Sambasivam by pursuing Sambasivam in person to sign the application for leave to appeal to the Privy Council on the 3rd of June 1949 - a day before his execution.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Four Labourers Dead at Brooklands Estate - Singapore Free Press 17th May 1941

It was a clever articulation by the British when reporting on the situation of Klang Strike in 1941. There is nowhere mentioned that Indian troops (which were stationed in Malaya to counter any possible attacks by Japanese Army) were used to subdue the labour uprise (detail of Indians troops used was given by H.E Wilson in Klang Strikes 1941 - Labour and Capital in Colonial Malaya). The detail incident which caused the death of four men were reported in local newspapers. At least now we knew that those four died in an incident occurred on Brooklands Estate, Banting on 16th May 1941.

The Singapore Free Press dated 17th May 1941 reported that four Indian labourers were shot dead by the army during a protest at Banting on 16th May 1941. It also reported that the army fired the shots in self-defence. Three strikers were killed and two received bayonet wounds which one of them subsequently proving fatal.

The incident took place on Brooklands Estate. When two men were arrested on Sungai Sedu Estate, the estate workers of 300 surrounded the residence of Brooklands Estate Manager, P.C Fisher where the Sungai Sedu Estate’s Manager, C.B Wheeler, took refuge with. They demanded the release of these 2 men. They labourers were armed with parangs, sticks and cangkul.

The military assistance was summoned. Forbes Wallace arrived the police and military troops. When the police tried to disperse the crowd, the violent broke out. The three dead Tamils and the injured were taken to Klang.

Another incident that also report in the same news was the unrest at Teluk Datok Estate where military were summoned to suppress the strikers. Arrests were made. Around 124 workers were arrested and conveyed to Kuala Lumpur by bus.

By 17th May 1941, situation of strike deteriorated with 39 estates involved in Kuala Lumpur District. The strike spread as far as Sungai Tinggi.

The government had called for units of Volunteer Force on stand-by at Rifle Range Camp. Chief of Police Selangor H.B Langworthy was directing in Klang and head of Criminal Intelligence Branch G.R Livett directing operation in Kuala Lumpur.

British Resident of Selangor, G.M Kidd has to declare state of emergency in Selangor. Units of Volunteer Force are standing by at Rifle Camp in case of emergency.

1941 Klang Strike - Labourers Peddled Spearding Call for Strike - The Straits Times 14th May 1941.

One of the paramount labour struggles against oppressive planters and always been regarded as an uprising among labourers in Malaya was the 1941 Klang Strike.

I would like to pen down a few details of events which unfolded along the struggle, on the individuals who involved in the strikes and what were the pushing factors behind it. And also what was the reaction of daily mails in Malaya that time – both English and Tamil.

Interestingly many have written on Klang Strike but they were not widely discussed as many considered this as an agitation caused by Indians over poor wage issues. According to may scholars the strike is "one of the largest, best organised and most militant strike by Indians workers which Malaya had ever seen" (Tai Yuen - Labour Unrest in Malaya 1934-1942)

Around 20000 estate Indian labourers from 100 over estates involved. The government and its agencies which have been in favour of the planters decided to flex their muscles to teach the labourers a lesson - “not to ever and ever go against their master!”. Huge police force coupled with military personnel was used to curb the strikes resulted four deaths, hundreds injured, arrested and detained. Many were deported including the so called the master mind of the unrest– RH Nathan, who strike fear in the hearts of planters.

The strike ended with 6 workers dead, 21 deported and 95 accepting volunteer repatriation. Of the 300 arrested and imprisoned, 186 were subsequently released on condition that they did not return to the estate where they were employed once. The Klang District Indian Union was deregistered. (Tai Yuen - Labour Unrest in Malaya 1934-1942)

John Tully in his book "The Devil's Milk" gave a detail insight of the unrest.

The Klang Strike was said to be started when a stoppages began at the Damansara Estate, on March 17, 1941 when four laborers were arrested for allegedly intimidating the others into ceasing work.

As a Colonial Office report noted, there were actually two consecutive strike waves. The first broke out early in the year and was inspired by the desire for parity in wage rates with Chinese plantation workers and by widespread resentment that despite a vast increase in profits since the Depression, wage cuts had not been restored.

The synchronicity of the strikes with similar demands was made possible by the formation of a new illegal workers’ organization, the Klang District Indian Union, by two “agitators” called Y.K Menon and R. H. Nathan (whom the British described as members of the Indian National Congress with “strong socialist sympathies”). Further support came from the Indian Communist R. K. Thangaiah and the CIAM’s Mr. N. Raghaven. The strikes were successful in that the Indian laborers were granted a general wage increase to sixty cents a day for men and fifty cents for women, although this still fell short of the rates paid to their Chinese counterparts.

The second wave broke on April 16 and was not directly wage-related. The Colonial Office considered the motives political and that, the underlying cause of the strikes was probably the fact that the earlier strikes had given the labourers an idea of their power and their victory had gone to their head. The workers demanded the right to wear “Gandhi hats” and fly Congress flags in their compounds, and wanted the abolition of the custom of coolies having to dismount from their bicycles if they met a planter’s car on the roads.

Such “insolence” outraged the High Commissioner, Sir Shenton Thomas, who told CIAM leaders, “the strike was a disgrace to the Indian community” and a “politically inspired . . .challenge to authority.” Nevertheless, Thomas downplayed the significance of the affair by claiming that “the men will soon get tired of the new fashion” of Gandhi caps. Sounding like the Wodehouse character Bertie Wooster, he claimed, “It is the custom of India to dismount from a bicycle when meeting a superior . . . just as we take off our hat to a lady.”

Arguably, the laborers were demanding to be treated with respect, and this collided with the racist stereotyping common among planters and British officials. Puzzled that “their” Tamils had become unruly, the British police blamed the whole situation on “agitators.” They reasoned, “if they could get rid of them, the rest of the labour force would be perfectly contented.”

High Commissioner Sir Shenton Thomas ordered the arrest of Nathan and Thangaiah, whom he blamed for leading the Tamils astray. In the monochrome world of racial stereotypes common to men of Thomas’s rank and class, it was inconceivable that “the mild Hindu” could act without outside influence. There is evidence that he had already decided to arrest the agitators before the start of the second wave of strikes but was waiting for the most opportune moment to act and thus behead the strike movement. The laborers, however, were incensed by the arrests, which added to their growing list of unresolved grievances. After his deportation to India, Nathan listed the strikers’ demands as follows:

1. Pay parity between Indian and Chinese [laborers]
2. Removal of “brutal” Ceylonese and Malayalee staff and replacement with Tamils
3. Proper education for children
4. An end to the molestation of laborers’ womenfolk by Europeans and “black” Europeans
5. Proper medical facilities
6. Closing of toddy shops
7. Freedom of speech and assembly
8. Free access to estates for family and friends
9. Laborers to remain mounted on bicycles in front of European and Asian staff
10. Abolition of 10–12-hour days
11. No victimizations
12. Permission to form associations to represent their interests
(taken from Chapter 16 - Coolie Revolt - The Devil's Milk by John Tully)

On the 14th May 1941, The Straits Times reported that the situation in estates in Selangor and around Kuala Lumpur is worsening as the wave of strikes spreading. It has been reported, agitators have peddling bicycles working their way from one estate to another estate in Kuala Lumpur resulting to 27 estates on strike.

On the 13th May, 30 labourers from Banting have been charged in Klang Court and remanded. 16 agitators have been detained at Bukit Darah Estate.

The labourers on Effingham Estate and Seventh Mile Estate on the Old Damansara Road have gone out on strike.

A Tamil, Sithambaram was charged in court for intimidation.

The High Commissioner, Sir Shenton Thomas had met with the government officials and UPAM's president S.B Palmer to discuss matters arsing from the labour unrest.

The British Resident of Selangor has called out the European Company of 2nd Battalion Federated Malay State Volunteers to patrol the road in the vicinity of Kuala Lumpur.

Please note the selection of words used by The Straits Times's editor - gangs of intimidators and agitators. Also interested that labourers have been using bicycles to mobilise their strength.

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...