Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Former Trade Unions President Hanged - The Malay Mail - May 4, 1949

Being a prominent newspaper in Malaya, The Malay Mail reported the execution of Ganapathy on the 4th May 1949 - the same day Ganapathy was hanged.
From the news, there are few things we can ascertain of:
1. Ganapathy disappeared from public when Emergency was announced in June 1948
2. Ganapathy was caught when he was in hiding in rubber estate on March 1st.
3. Ganapathy was caught by the acting manager of Waterfall Estate, J.W.W Simons with a group of special constables.
4. Ganapathy refused to surrender and put up a struggle, trying to draw his revolver from his belt.
5. Ganapathy was caught with a revolver and six rounds of ammunition 
6. Ganapathy was handed to the Rawang OCPD
7. Two of the special constables and the OCPD of Rawang gave evidence in Ganapathy's case.
9. Ganapathy's sentence was confirmed by the Selangor State Executive on April 23, 1949 once his appeal was dismissed in Supreme Court. 

Former Trade Unions President Hanged

Caught with Unlicensed Arms
May 4, 1949

A. Ganapathy, a Tamil who was formerly president of the proscribed Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Unions, was hanged at Pudu Goal, Kuala Lumpur, this morning. The sentence of death passed on him was confirmed by the Selangor State Executive on the April 23 after his appeal to the Supreme Court had been dismissed.

Ganapathy, aged 24, disappeared from Kuala Lumpur when the emergency was first declared in June, last year.

On March 1 this year, while patrolling his estate with a party of special constables the acting manager of Waterfall Estate, Mr. J.W.W. Simons came across Ganapathy sitting in the rubber. (Waterfall Estate is on the 20th mile Rawang - Kuala Selangor Road)

Mr. Simons instructed his special constables to bring Ganapathy with their party. When told to put up his hands Ganapathy refused, showed fight and grabbed the revolver which he had in his belt.

In the struggle that followed Ganapathy was overpowered. The revolver was seized and in it were six rounds of ammunition. The revolver was serviceable.

Ganapathy had no license for it or for the ammunition.

Following his arrest Ganapathy was tried and convicted on March 15. Two special constables, who took part in the struggle, gave evidence of finding the loaded revolver on Ganapathy’s person. The O.C.P.D Rawang, to whom Ganapathy, the revolver and ammunition were handed over, gave evidence that the revolver was serviceable and that Ganapathy had no license for it or for the ammunition.

The charge on which Ganapathy was tried was being in unlawful possession of a revolver and carrying six rounds of ammunition. 
The Malay Mail - May 4, 1949

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

FMS Railway Workers on Strike - 16th July 1913 - The Earliest Record of Indian Retaliation in Malaya

I am was curious to find out when was the earliest strike took place among Indian workers. I was sure at one point that retaliation among Indians would have been taken place in a plantation. But this was proven to be wrong.

One of the earliest records of Indians retaliating in strike in Malaya can be found in news articles published in The Straits Times. The newspaper dated 17th July 1913, reported that a group of 80 Tamils employed as fireman (the one who shovels coal into burning chamber and checks the boilers) by Federated Malay States Railways staged a strike for they were unhappy with the menial and degrading tasks assigned to them. Even though, the Malay Mail (which initially reported the workers grievances) was not able to find out the root cause of the trouble, some sources claimed wages and uniform could be two of the major grievances.

Fireman (source:
Another sources claim that these menial tasks referred to tasks that required cleaning.  

The railway authority claimed that the strike was frivolous. The authority also claimed that the strike was been induced by an agitator.

The strike effected the train scheduled to Singapore and Penang. The service to Seremban had been suspended.

The authority had announced that they will be filling up these gaps left by the strikers with fresh men as a lesson for staging strikes.

I am puzzled to understand the logic behind this. Indians who were brought to Malaya were docile in nature, obedient with a slave mentality. Referring to the Klang Strikes 1941, the whole phenomena of retaliation occurred because there were elements of radicalism of Tamil educationists, Indian nationalist and awareness of suppression. The elements proven to be a dangerous mixture by the British.

But, who were these Tamils who retaliated almost three decades much earlier to the Klang unrest? Why they were different that the earlier migrated Tamils?  

Answers to these questions are lies in the recruitment of Tamils by the British to build and operate railways in Malaya. To run the railway network effectively and efficiently, the British needed a labour force who could think, make decisions and work independently with minimum supervisions. 

At that time, the British government in India was known for operating a huge network of railways in South India. The Malayan British government too ambitious to implement the same system in Malaya especially in transporting tins and rubber to be exported to Europe via Part Swettenham and Singapore. The Malayan British recruited these Tamils who had experience in serving the Indian Railways, including many technical and administrative officers. Thus, Malaya saw a different breed of Tamil migration.  The railways sector in Malaya saw domination of Tamils to the extend the work instructions were given in Tamil language and signboard were designed in Tamil language .          

Sign board with Tamil in middle 

Notice the sizes of the fonts - Tamil shows domination among Bahasa and Mandarin 

The Straits Times 17th July 1913

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Klang Strikes' Casualities - Rengasamy and Yellamalle in Bukit Panjang Estate Strike

Many of us knew that Klang Strikes 1941, was one of the earliest strikes organised by plantation workers in Malaya.

Tai Yuen in his work "Labour Unrest in Malaya 1934 to 1942" stated that Klang strikes as

“One of the largest, best organised and most militant strike by Indian workers which Malaya had ever seen”

Rajeshwari Ambalavanar, in her book "The Indian Minority and Political Change in Malaya 1945-1957" remarked the event as an event that gave birth to political consciousness among Indian labourers

“The strike, though quickly crushed by vigorous police action, lasted long enough to establish clear political consciousness among labourers. Vernacular educated radicals, working with Kanganies and Tamil teachers in estate schools, successfully encouraged the tappers the question the basis cause of their depressed economic and social position”

Though much were discussed on the overall and outcome of the strikes among labourers, not many reference are made to give us exactly on details of the strikes such as where it occurred, who were responsible, those who died etc.

Taking efforts to seek for some of the details, there were 39 estates involved and I managed to find out names of some of the estates involved based on reports in newspapers.

1. Beveriac Estate

2. Blackacres Estate

3. Brooklands Estate

4. Bukit Cheedong Estate

5. Bukit Cheraka Estate

6. Bukit Chu Estate

7. Bukit Kamuning Estate

8. Bukit Panjang Estate

9. Carey Island Estate

10. Damansara Estate (7th Mile)

11. Effingham Estate

12. Glenmarie Estate

13. Haron Estate

14. Highlands Estate

15. Kundang Estate

16. Mary Estate, Batang Berjuntai

17. Midlands Estate

18. Morton Estate

19. North Hummock Estate

20. Philmoor Estate Petaling

21. Port Swettenham Estate

22. Raja Muda Estate

23. Seaport Estate

24. Sungai Buluh Estate

25. Sungai Sedu Estate

26. Sungai Tinggi Estate

27. Sungei Rasak Estate

28. Sungei Way Estate

29. Tanah Bharu Estate

30. Telok Datok Estate

31. Telok Ganting Estate

32. Vallembrose Estate

33. Whiteacres Estate

34. Wilkinson Estate

The Straits Times reported on the 18th June 1941, that District Officer of Kuala Selangor A.D York who sat as a coroner in the Kuala Selangor Court postponed two inquires into the death of two Tamil labourers in Klang Strike.

They were Rengasamy from Bukit Cheraka Estate, Jeram and Yellamalle from Highlands Estate.

From the article, we understood from the accounts given by a witness named Menon, Rengasamy succumbed to head injuries that he received during a clash with police at Bukit Panjang Estate, Jeram. Menon who treated Rengasamy told the coroner that Rengasamy appeared drowsy and vomited blood the next day due to concussion of brain.

According to A.J Gomm, the manager of Bukit Panjang Estate, the labourers went on strike on the 21st April and remained out until 16th May. There were some rubber packs kept in the packing shed. His attempt to remove them failed as the labourers did not permitted the removal of the rubber packs. On the 8th May 1941, Gromm consulted the Chief Police of Selangor, H. B Langworthy, to assist him. The police came with a party of 160 strong . They were confronted by 75 labourers who armed themselves with sticks.

A group of teenage boys around 16 years old claimed to pelt the police with stone. All hell broke loose! Eight labourers injured during the clash including Rengasamy and Yellamalle. Later, the labourers regrouped at around 5 pm and this time it was 600 to 700 and demanded that the injured labourers to be sent to Klang Hospital.

Refused to heed orders of the CPO to disperse, the CPO order another “lathi” charge towards the crowd.

The Straits Times - 18th June 1941

Monday, June 8, 2015

Book Review : Kattu Perumal – Hero or Traitor

Poster : Book Launch "Kaattu Perumal"

I was fortunate to present a talk on the “Radicalization of Indian Plantation Labourers in Malaya” - a topic which rarely finds its way to public domains - in conjunction to the launching of Dave Anthony’s latest book “Kaatu Perumal – The Folk Hero of Sungai Siput”.

The other panelists were Dr.Kumar (MP Sungai Siput) and the author, Dave Anthony, himself. The book being a collection of oral history, takes great efforts to be compiled into a written format. And this needs to be done with great care so that the attention of the readers would be distorted.

As the book was based on stories and experience shared by local estate folks who had knew Perumal as a friend and enthusiastic footballer, the author should have also presented the perspective portrayed by British through the local newspapers.

For example, Perumal was believed to be leading an Indian unit attached to Independent Platoon 32 of Regiment 5 in Perak. The news which appeared in The Straits Times titled “Reward of $12,000 for Perumal – Sungai Siput’s Red Scourge” dated 7th August 1956, stated that Perumal was a District Committee Member (DCM) of Malayan Communist Party (MCP). It also stated that a reward of $12,000 shall be given to those who helped to capture him alive.
Ranked as one of the most notorious Indian Communists, Perumal also had other “nom de guerre” in Chinese – Mee Sai or Mee See.

ST - 19th June 1957
Another article in The Straits Times titled, “Death Comes to Scourge of Sungei Siput” dated 19th June 1957, reported that Perumal who nicknamed as “Sungei Siput Scourge” was executed in July 1956 by his own men. Munusamy, a member of his unit who surrendered to the British reiterated that Perumal was killed on the orders of a member of Perak Central Committee of Malayan Communist Party known as Muthu.
(Reader may find this infomation in Rajeswari Ambalavanar's Indian Minority and Political Change in Malaya 1945–1957 New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1981)
ST - 7th August 1956

According to Rajeswary Ambalavanar, Perumal was an ex-member of Indian National Army (INA) and was holding the rank of Corporal. (Even though Perumal's daughter, Jegathambal, denied the claim that his father was a member of INA)

Instead, according to Jegathambal (based on information told by Perumal's wife, Pappa), her father returned from Singapore after serving in the British army – a claim that seemed to have no much basis in it.

If Perumal would have served the British army during the Japanese invasion, his loyalty would have been with the British when latter returned to Malaya. But, why was Perumal so critical of the British especially against the white capitalists planters? Why did Perumal decided to join the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) to fight against British?

In 1956 and 1957, there were two news article appeared in The Straits Times.

From these two articles, we understand that:

1. Perumal was a corporal in Indian National Army (INA) –The Straits Times, June 19, 1957

2. Perumal was a Commander of Platoon 8 – 2nd Company of 5th Regiment (Perak Region) of Malayan Liberation National Army (MNLA) - The Straits Times, June 19, 1957

3. Surrendered MNLA one Munusamy witnessed that Perumal was executed by MNLA men under order of MCP State Committee Member – Muthu in June 1956 –The Straits Times June 19, 1957

4. Perumal was a District Committee Member of MCP – leading an Indian Unit under 32nd Independent Platoon of 5th Regiment. He had other names: (Chinese names) Mee Sai and Mee San - The Straits Times August 7, 1956

Other sources of Perumal can be found in Boris Hembry's "The Malayan Spymaster". 
Hembry, a former plantation manager with Kamunting Estate, had regarded Perumal as an intellectual young man and intended to recruit Perumal in estate management. Hembry had also sponsored Perumal's education at Sungai Siput using the profits earned through "Toddy"[1] sales.  

But later after the war ended, Hembry found that Perumal "as a changed man". Hembry in his book has mentioned Perumal in 6 occasions ( in pages: 308, 315, 327, 331, 347, 384) and always intended to kill Perumal as he regarded Perumal to be the most notorious bandit in Sungai Siput.

In one occasion, knowing that Perumal known for looting shop in the estate and always helped himself with bottles of orange squash, Hembry even suggested to the Special Branch to apply cyanide on the bottles so that Perumal could be caught dead after drinking them. But this idea was rejected by the Special Branch taking into considerations safety of others.

The radicalisation of Perumal would have been occurred during the war. Beside the alleged INA involvement, another possible movement that would influence Perumal was the Malayan People Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA). According to Cheah Boon Keng (author of Red Star Over Malaya) there were Indians were involved in MPAJA during the war such as R.G Balan and a Sikh named Gurchan Singh (also known as "Singa" - Lion in Malay) believed to be involved in MPAJA sabotaging Japanese plans in Malaya.

There is a strong reason to believe that Perumal was in MPAJA was his ranking in MCP political structure as District Committee Member for State of Perak based on statement given by his daughter that her father was serving the British Army in Singapore during war. Perumal would not have served the regular army; instead he would have been in MPAJA which was trained by Force 136 under John Davies, Spencer and Broome. Initially there were four groups trained at 101 Special Training School which controlled by The British Operation Executives in Singapore. These groups were sent to four major locations - Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and North Johor and South Johor. Eventually, these groups formed the first, second, third and forth regiments of Malayan National Liberation Army.

No Involvement in Trade Unions
Perumal involvements in trade unions were not clear. Beside statement given by resident of Kamunting Estate, no records have been found of his involvement especially in Pan Malayan Federation Trade Unions during pre and post war period.

Failed to Mobilize Masses
Unlike Ganapathy, Perumal failed to mobilize the masses into a clear direction either to fight for their rights as labourers or take arm against oppressive British administration.

Militant Approach - Gross Punishment
Based on accounts given by Hembry, Perumal was responsible for committing 20 cold murders around Sungai Siput. One of the gruesome murders committed by Perumal was during a morning muster where Perumal stabbed a conductor in front of some 250 estate labourers. Perumal’s sympathisers justify this murder as punishment metered to bullying conductors but Hembry regarded these as cold murders. Perumal would have failed to justify to estate workers for killing bullying conductors.

Hembry’s Good Reputation
Hembry succeeded in winning the hearts and minds of Kamunting estate workers. His effort to educate Perumal was seeing a great deal of charity by the labourers. When Hembry and his colleagues were targeted by Perumal, the labourers saw this as a betrayal act, as the saying goes “Biting the hand that feeds”, which regarded as ultimate act of treason in Tamil’s culture.

For estate workers, the “Periya Thorai" Hembry was regarded as “god” and created a fatherly image, who provided education for poor. Hembry was also portrayed as saviour and protector of the labourers as Hembry had his own home guard team called HOBA (Hembry’s Own Bloody Army).

Being a war veteran and involved in anti Japanese war, Hembry armed and trained his men on his own. In the event of shootings, he would rush to the scene setting example as a brave and daring leader. Therefore, Perumal was received with mixed feeling by the estate workers.

Perumal Portrayed - Womaniser 
As part of media propaganda to tarnish Perumal's reputation, often portrayed Perumal as a womaniser. He was often linked to one of his cadres named Rukumani [2]. Rukumani was named as his mistress and there was also a reward of $2000 for her head.

Last Indian Communist - Asi

Being a part of Platoon 32 of Regiment 5.
Asi is standing at extreme right in front row 

Selfie with Asi
Many Impersonators of “Kaatu Perumal(s)”
There were reports appeared in The Straits Times where many persons impersonated as Perumal extorted money from locals. The Straits Times dated 27th March 1954 reported that one Achutan was sentenced to four years of imprisonment for impersonation and extortion by Assize Court. Achutan extorted $175 from G.N Naidu, an overseer at Public Water Department in Lenggong, Perak.

There are many versions existing with regards to Perumal’s death. One of the accounts which stated in Dave's book was Perumal was shot dead by his own men when he was bathing.

However as this account remains as an oral account, the official account also available.

The Straits Times in its publication dated March 1st, 1958 reported that Perumal had been shot in the back after a "jungle trial" conducted.

This was revealed in a series of talks conducted by Perak State Information Officer, Howard. According to Howard, who managed to recover Perumal's diary confirmed that racial discrimination within MCP ranks existed. Howard alleged that Perumal despite his rank in MCP was treated with contempt by Chinese rank and file members who ignored his orders and at times even abused him.

According to Howard, Perumal was executed by CPM for planning to surrender with his men. Account of Perumal's death had been obtained from a surrendered MNLA member named Munusamy.

The Straits Times -  1st March 1958

In Brian Swewart’s Smashing Terrorism in the Malayan EmergencyThe Vital Contribution of the Police, on execution of Perumal, Yuan Yuet Leng [3] accounted that:

In the June 1956 a party commanded by DCM Chan Fei executed the notorious and dreaded DCM Perumal. The reason for the execution was a report by one of Perumals’s men that Perumal had decided to bring his whole section out and surrender.

A member of the execution section, who surrendered later gave the following account of the affair.

“Over cover story was that we has been dispersed by Special Force action and had gone to the Indian camp looking for liaison. In the camp were Perumal and eight of his Indians: two others had gone off to get supplies. We confronted and disarmed the Indians who did not resist; Chan Fei announced the guilt of Perumal and Central Committee decision. Selvam then executed Perumal, after singing some sad Tamil songs.

One Indian Communist Terrorist, who surrendered because of the execution, voiced his wrath in the leaflet written for the information Department as follows:

The Chinese Communists hate and speak ill of the Indian people and Indian workers. They call Indian comrades Keling Kwai, “Indian Devils”. They are very partial in giving food more to Chinese and less to Indian comrades. They shot and killed Comrade Perumal unjustly. Perumal joined the Communist and worked so loyally for them. To placate the Chinese higher ups he even killed and wrought violence on them. No matter how hard you may have worked for them, one day your life will be in danger. You know one Communist comrade, Muniandy, a member of District Committee in Tapah who could not bear the indignities suffered by Indian comrades, committed suicide. I want you to realise it and come out of the jungle and surrender to the government”[4]

[1] Toddy - fermented liquor produced from coconut sap

[2] According to local news, Rukumani believed to be Perumal’s lover and Perumal took former after sending his wife to India. Interesting finding stated by Dave Anthony in his book that Perumal’s wife was not sent back to India, instead she was sent to live in a different estate with a different identity. Rukumani was reported to be notorious rebel as well and armed herself with grenades. The Straits Times dated 21st April 1959 -“Sungai Siput is Freed”, reported that Rukumani surrendered to the authority.The claim that Rukumani was really mistress of Perumal seems to be very vague. During my visit to Shukhirin Peace Village in Narathiwat province in Thailand, I was privileged to meet and interview, Asi - real name is Ramasamy Perumal. Asi was born in Sungai Siput on Rayla Estate and joined the MNLA at the age of 10. According to Asi, Perumal was not keen in recruiting Asi at first as the latter was only 10 year old. But due to persuasion from Rukumani, Perumal finally agreed to accept Asi into his unit. Asi was one of the youngest members in Perumal’s unit. They were a few children under 12 years old in the same unit. Rukumani used to take care of Asi’s and other under-aged children's well being in the unit. According to Asi, Rukumani was not a mistress of Perumal but she was married to a MNLA cadre called Sahastranaamam. The Straits Times on 21st April 1959, (titled “Sungai Siput is Freed”), reported that Rukumani surrendered to the authority.

[3] A former Special Branch officer who spent most of his life being hunted down by the communists during and after the Emergency years. He was also the former Sarawak Commissioner of Police from 1981 till his retirement in 1984 and Perak Chief Police Officer in 1975.

[4] Brian Stewart, Smashing terrorism in the Malayan Emergency: the vital contribution of the police (Kuala Lumpur, 2004) pp 170

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...