Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Kedah Riot - AM Samy Wanted Labourers to be Repatriated to India

As the clash between labourers and police intensified in Kedah during the infamous Kedah Riot in March 1947, The Straits Times dated 7th March 1947 reported that the Representative of Government of India to Malaya, S.K Chettur, and other prominent Indians arrived in Sungai Petani for inquiry into the Kedah troubles. 

A.M Samy
The 60-year old leader of 26,000 estate Indian labourers, A.M Samy told the reporter that the labourers wanted to be repatriated to India where they would be better off. Samy was the President of Indian section of Rubber Workers General Labour Union (RWGLU) and Vice President of Kedah Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Union (PMFTU). Kedah PMFTU had an affiliation of 54 unions.
The President of the Kedah PMFTU, Chong Woon and Samy met Deputy Commissioner of Labour, J.T Rea seeking explanation why two mass arrests were made and whether the labourers have the rights to strike.

Rea replied that two men that resisted the police in the exercising their power had nothing to do with labour conditions. Samy was told that the present troubles arose through the activities of the Youth-Corps which had been going around beating up conductors, tying workers up for drinking toddy and trespassing on estates against the wishes and often without permission of the managers. 

Meanwhile The United Kedah Planters blamed subversive elements using political agitation coupled with intimidation and extortion were behind the grave situation in Kedah. The association alluded to "external dictation" to estate labourers - an obvious accusation against PMFTU. The planter association too blamed the situation further deteriorated the government as little had been done to formulated mechanism to allow legal contact to be achieved between labourers and employers. 

The planter association stated three requirements necessary to resolve the situation - law and order to be re-established and maintained, labour union must realised their part in rehabilitation of the industry and country (after war) and labour must be free itself from external dictation.

It was reported that according to J.T Rea, that "agitators" were active in Tonghurst Estate in South Kedah which may go on strike again. But the Union men said Rea was forcing them to continue with the strike and attempting to engineer strikes on other five more estates - Dublin, Kuala Dingin, Batu Lintang, Somme and Ghim Khoon. 

Rea said the Indian workers on Sungai Toh Pawang Estate wanted to return to work but prevented by local union secretary for working or leaving the estate.

At Bukit Sembilan Estate, workers were reported willing to return to work. The police have been maintaining a guard. The ringleader (named as Samy in other reports) was killed in the clash in Bedong on 28th February.

(Note: The so-called "ringleader" of Bukit Sembilan Estate who was killed in the Bedong Toddy shop protest was known as Saminathan. During the protest, it is reported that Saminathan stood up in the crowd and told the police that the Indians were not against the government but against the toddy shop operation in Bedong. This prompted a British policeman (of a Punjabi origin) to strike a blow to Saminathan's head who later succumbed to his injuries at Penang Hospital)

Extracted from Christopher Bayly's "The Forgotten War"

""In February 1947, a crowd of a thousand or so Thondar Padai descended on Bedong, only to be confronted by police. A labourer came forward: We are not anti government,' he cried, 'We are only against the drinking of toddy." He was clubbed to the ground and later died in hospital. The coroner recorded a death of 'justifiable homicide.' A series of protest strikes erupted in the area. At Bukit Sembilan estate on 3rd March 1947 trouble was triggered by dismissal of a woman activist, and police faced orchestrated resistance."Women were to be forefront armed with pepper." it was reported; "boiling water was kept ready; men were to be armed with sticks, stones and bottle full of sand, trees were to be cut down make road blocks." Sixty-six people were arrested, and all but two women of them sent to jail after a trial that lasted only a day. Fearing a rescue attempt, the police closed hearing to public. An investigation by the Malayan Indian Congress revealed collusion and premeditation on the part of local planters and police, S.K Chettur claimed that women were beaten and there were allegations that two young girls were raped in custody.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Kedah Riot - Bukit Sembilan Estate Incident on 3rd March, 1947 - Women Took Front Row in the Fight Against Police

In a fierce clash between police force and Indian labourers on Bukit Sembilan Estate on the 17th February 1947, resulted in 66 labourers arrested and 21 were injured. Among the arrested were several women.   

In the fight, the Chief of Police of Kedah A.C Maxwell  received a long cut on the scalp when a women hit him with a stick. Two constables received minor injuries.

The clash was reported due to a visit to Bukit Sembilan Estate by a strong party of police headed by Maxwell and five European officers.

The police went to the estate to bring in an estate labourer (Dresser Paliah/Balaiah) on warrant for alleged criminal intimidation. Apparently, the police who wanted to search the labourers' line were stop by the labourers. The labourers refused to give permission and brandished sticks - some with iron and nails at the end. Even reported that one labourer had a brass weighted "tongkat".

The Chief Police gave repeated warning and waited for an hour before started to move in clearing five-foot way of the labourer line. The police met with Tamil men, women and children who retaliated with sticks and packets of chili pepper. The women and children armed themselves with chili powder took the front row of the fight.
Cans of boiling water which the women had prepared during the hour wait were prepared for the fight, but were said to be kicked over by the police and not used.

Police said the man (Balaiah) who to be arrested had presumably escaped. The police also covered a lorry which was seized by the labourers on the estate last month. 

(My Observation) Well, this was what has been reported in The Straits Times on the 4th March 1947, with regards to police and labourer clash on Bukit Sembilan Estate, that saw not only men but women labourers too participated.

It is obvious the news was siding the law enforcement and the estate owners, but we need to look into what actually happened to these labourers of Bukit Sembilan Estate.

It all started when a estate dresser (very much like a Medical Assistant but without holding any medical qualification or properly trained) named Paliah or Balaiah stopped a lorry carrying fresh water to the manager's bungalow. The Malay driver who accompanied by the manager were stopped by the a group of workers headed by Paliah. Now, the next question is - why the workers stopped the lorry carrying water to the manager's bungalow? 

Well, it was known fact in the estate that the management had told the workers to seek for their own source of water - from the rivers and ponds. It is said that the estate management was not responsible to provide clean drinking water for the workers - refer to work by Christopher Bayly and T N Harper - Forgotten Wars- The End of Britain's Asian Empire) . The workers had no choice to depend of ravines and ponds which they shared with their cattle. The labourers needed to seek their own source of water for survival.

Being neglected without clean drinking water and with increasing cases of disease related unhygienic conditions  among labourers and their children, prompted the young dresser and the workers to seize the lorry which brought clean water the manager's bungalow.   

What follow next was mayhem. In the process of arresting Paliah, the labourers stood against the police. Clash broke out between police and workers. Among those arrested were women, two of them have been raped in police custody. 
Note: In the Forgotten Wars- The End of Britain's Asian Empire, Christopher Bayly and T N Harper :

 "Condition at Bukit Sembilan estate were particularly dire: the only supply of water came from ravines and labourers shared it with their cattle; the manager has their water brought from town lorry. The strikers' demand focused on wages and family needs, such as creches (day care centres), better housing and equal pay for women. But the real source of anger was the summary dismissal of workers: "Managers feel that because we reside on the estate we are as much as their property as rubber tress."

The Strait Times - March 4th, 1947

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Kedah Riot 1947: Malayan Indian Female Labour Unionist - Ananthayn and Manidammal

The Kedah Riot which was considered to be another uprise of Indian labourers in Malaya - after the infamous Klang Strike 1941, did not only see men standing up against oppressive regime and capitalists, but also recorded involvement of Indian women as labour leaders in organizing labour strikes. 

Not many articles described these women's specific roles and responsibilities and their organisation structure, but their activities were related to the "Youth-Corps" also known as the "Thondar Padai". The Thondar Padai was an informal organisation formed by ex-INA members after WWII. They were easily to be identified by their "khaki" military outfits and would be caring long staffs. Even though, the Thondar-Padai movement existed in many states in Malaya, but their prominent involvements were recorded and associated with The Kedah Riot in 1947. 

Charles Gamba in his work - The Origins of Trade Unionism in Malaya: A Study in Colonial Labour Unrest mentioned the roles played by the Thondar Padai in social reforms among estate workers in Kedah. It has been noted that Thondar Padai not only played roles in volunteering in "Thaipusam" festival in Sungai Petani but also demolishing toddy shops in estates, punishing those patronizing toddy shops and organizing labour strikes demanding better salary and living conditions. Their leaders would also meted out judgement for small family disputes including punishing abusing and alcoholic husbands. One of the known punishments would be tying up to poles or trees (refer to records in Gamba's work on punishment meted out to drunk workers by AM Samy of Harvard Estate Sungai Petani)  

In the Kedah Riot which saw labourers of Bukit Sembilan Estate stood up demanding clean water, the police force was deployed to suppress the strike. Clashed between labourers and police erupted which resulted to one death. 66 labourers were detained and two of them were women leaders. The Thondar Padai was outlawed after this incident. A series of allegations and criminal proceedings were brought against these 66 labourers. One of the cases was against a group of five workers including two women from Bukit Sembilan Estate. I assumed that these women mentioned in the news (reported in The Straits Times dated 21st April 1947) could be the same women leaders. The report mentioned five workers - Govindarajoo, Kuppusamy, Suppiah and two women labourers named Ananthayn and Manidammal.      
If these were the same women leaders, then it is assured that women could have been recruited to form part of Thondar Padai's movement. As the Rani of Jhansi Women Regiment under INA saw many dedicated participation of estate women, I presume that these radicalized women would have continued their struggle against British Raj in Thondar Padai movement and participated in labour strikes. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Sambasivam Case Set A Precedence for Right of Appeal to Privy Council in Malay States

The Straits Times dated 24th March 1949 reported the Sambasivam Narayanasamy was sentenced to death for possession of illegal arms. The former Secretary of the Segamat Rubber Workers Union, was sentenced to death by Justice Storr after former had been found of carrying arms.

It also stated that Sambasivam pulled out an automatic revolver during a struggle in which he and two Chinese companions fought with three Malays at Bukit Kepong.

Sambasivam was represented by P.V Chary. Chary who served as the Honorary Secretary of Johor Bar Council in 1949 and the first Indian to be appointed to Johore Council of State in 1949.

In his defence, Sambasivam said he did not know where the automatic revolver came from nor the reason why he was attacked by the Malays.

But almost a year later, the same daily carried the news on Sambasivam's release. This was due to the efforts taken by John Thivy who filed an appeal for Privy Council in June 1949. Sambasivam's case should be considered important as it set the precedence for the Malay States which had no right of appeal to the Privy Council in criminal proceedings prior to WW2.

In the case, the judges took a unusual step of retiring to discuss the case privately for an hour and half before delivering judgement in London.

Sambasivam was sentenced to death for illegal possession of an automatic revolver by the Johor Bahru High Court in March 1949.
In the first trial, Sambasivam was acquitted of possessing unauthorized ammunition, but a second retrial was ordered on the possession of revolver. He was convicted and his appeal was dismissed. Interesting to notice that Privy Council noted that there was no certificate from Public Prosecutor authorizing the second trial.

Another point to concern is the admissibility of a statement said to have made by Sambasivam within a few hours of being gravely wounded in the fight.

The news also stated that the Malays involved in the fight described the affair as an unprovoked attack upon them by these three "Communists" . They handed over a revolver which they alleged had been captured from Sambasivam to the local headman.  

The Singapore Free Press publication dated 31st March 1950 and Malaya Tribune 30th March 1950, further revealed that there was no reasons given why the judges retired and discussed the case in privately for 90 minutes, which considered unusual for the Privy Council. The appeal before the council was done by Counsel D.A Scott Cairns. The Counsel made five points during the appeal:

1. No certification from Public Prosecutor authorizing a second trial
2. Admissibility of a statement given by Sambasivam within a few hours after being gravely wounded in the attack
3. The Malays who attacked him described the affair as an unprovoked attack by three "Communists"
4. The Malays handed over an automatic revolver to the headman which they alleged captured from Sambasivam
5. Acquitted from charges of possessing illegal ammunition

(I would consider all these points would spelled out some degrees of doubts whether the automatic revolver was indeed in Sambasivam's possession)

Rt. Hon. Sir David Arnold Scott Cairns (5 March 1902 – 8 September 1987)
Privy Council who represented Sambasivam (Source: Wikipedia) 

Lord Simonds, upon releasing Sambasivam announced that their Lordships' reasons would be given in due course.
(Note: 1st January 1985 marks the end of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Malaysia. Prior to 1946, litigants in some of the 11 states in Malaya had the right to appeal to the councils in the respect of civil matter only. Sambasivam's case set the precedence for the Malay States which had no right of appeal to the Privy Council in criminal proceedings prior to WW2. Later, from 1st January 1978 to 31st December 1984, again the Privy council's jurisdiction was limited to civil appeals only)

Jananayakam, the leftist's mouthpiece reported on the 18th May 1949 that Sambasivam was born in Durban in 1925. On July 27th 1927, Sambasivam arrived in Malaya with his sister and mother. The single mother settled down in Sitiawan, Perak.
Sambasivam studied until Standard 5 at the Sithambaram Tamil School and from 1940 to May 1942 he served as an Assistance Teacher at the same school.
It is said that Sambasivam had 2 brothers and 6 sisters. He moved to Singapore to live his sister in June 1942. After the war, he took up profession as a Tamil school teacher in Paloh, Johor. He is known for his sense of caring for the poor and labourers. The family lost touch with Sambasivam and only knew his whereabouts after he was hospitalised. The mother visited him at the hospital. The daily also mentioned that Sambasivam's uncle spend his wealth for his trial. ECC Thuraisingam was Sambasivam's council for appeal.
Strait Times - 24th March 1949

Straits Times - 1st April 1950
Singapore Free Press - 31st March 1950
Malayan Tribune 30 March 1950

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Contempt of Court - Tamil Nesan was fined $ 1750 for defending Sambasivam

The Straits Times dated 20th August 1949 reported that a Malayan Tamil daily, Tamil Nesan, was fined for contempt of court for publishing article related to Ganapathy and Sambasivam. The proprietor of Tamil Nesan, Mayandy Chettiar was fined $750 and the editor cum publisher of the newspaper, Athi Nahappan, was fined $1000 in the Supreme Court, Kuala Lumpur.

Both of them ordered to pay half the cost of the case $250. The case was due to an article published in Tamil Nesan titled "Save Sambasivam."

In giving the judgement, Justice Spencer Wilkinson said that the article deliberately attacked the course of justice administered by the court. The article too contained unfounded attack upon the judge sentenced.

According to the news, Sambasivam Narayanasamy was charged for illegal arms possession on the 2nd and 3rd March before the Johor Bahru High Court. At the end of the trial, the assessors found Sambasivam was not guilty but the judge, Justice Laville disagreed and order a re-trial. (Also note here that S.A Ganapathy was arrested around the same time - 1st March 1949)

The re-trial of Sambasivam was held in Johor Bahru High Court on the 21 and 22nd March before a different judge (Justice Paul Storr of Ipoh) and different assessors. The judge and the assessors found him guilty as charged and was sentenced to death. His appeal to appeal court was rejected on 28th April 1949 (based on telegram from Lord Listowel -http://www.malaya-ganapathy.com/2014/06/why-more-efforts-were-taken-place-to.html)

The Straits Times - 23rd March 1949

Interesting to note here that that a week earlier to this, S.A Ganapathy was tried and sentenced on the 15th March 1949. Ganapathy was sentenced be to hanged on 4th May 1949 and Sambasivam on the 4th June 1949.  

The judge also commented that the article "Save Sambasivam" suggested that Government of India should take political action in London to prevent Sambasivam's execution without awaiting the result of appeal to the Privy Council. The article further commented that owing to lack of experience to the newly introduced illegal arms possession procedure which resulted Ganapathy's death. For this, the article suggest that the government of India have to interfere to ensure justice is done in Sambasivam's case.

Background of Sambasivam:

Sambasivam was a Secretary 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 plain clothed Chinese who were allegedly armed. Three Malays armed with knives (parangs) tried to arrest him and it was reported Sambasivam was wounded in the fight. One of the two Chinese was killed and other escaped. An automatic revolver and 10 rounds of ammunition found on Sambasivam during his arrest. Due to his injuries he was hospitalised for more than 5 months and was discharged on 28th February 1949.

Sambasivam was tried at the Johor Bahru High 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.

A retrial took place on 22nd March 1949 where Sambasivam was found guilty by both assessors (a Malay and an Indian). Sambasivam further appeal at the Court of Appeal.

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. He was sentenced to death. The execution was scheduled to take place on the 4th June 1949. But John Thivy took enormous efforts to save Sambasivam by pursuing latter in person to sign the application for leave to appeal to the Privy Council on the 3rd of June 1949 - a day before his scheduled execution.

Eventually on 31st March 1950, Sambasivam was found not guilty by the Privy Council and he was released and deported to India. He returned to his village, Vanakkampaadi in Arcot Taluk in Tamil Nadu. He was actively involved in social reformation by setting up schools for poor children in his village. This eventually invited unwanted animosity with a few individuals who attacked and killed him. He left behind his wife and four daughters and three sons.

Athi Nahappan with wife Janaki Thevar 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Sambasivam Not to Die Yet - Singapore Free Press 18th May 1949

SFP - 18th May 1949
The Singapore Free Press dated 18th May 1949, confirmed that Sambasivam was not hanged. The Sultan of Johor had not yet to confirmed the death sentence passed on Sambasivam.

The Representative of the Government of India, John Thivy had made a plea but the final decision does not rest with the government but the Sultan-in Council.
All India Radio reported on 17th May 1949, that the execution of Sambasivam which was scheduled for 9th May 1949, had been stayed as the Sultan was "reconsidering the case"  

Contempt of Court - Tamil Nesan for "Save Sambasivam" Article

In the attempt to save another Indian unionist from being hanged, the local Tamil daily "Tamil Nesan" took a bold move to published an article titled "Save Sambasivam". The article was written by Athi Nahappan, who later elected as minister. He had also chaired the Royal Commission of enquiry into the workings of local government in Malaysia. His report which is known as the “Athi Nahappan Report “ was a 2 feet high (4 volumes) is regarded as one of the most comprehensive reports ever published by our government. With great pride I would like to inform that this report sits in the Harvard library as a basis for how local governments should function.
(To understand the importance of the the Athi Nahappan Report please read - http://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/292928)

Now, back to our story on Sambasivam, the Singapore Free Press dated 2nd July 1949 reported that the Attorney General of Malaya Foster Sutton applied in the High Court for an order against two proprietors of  the Tamil Nesan - S.R.N Palaniappan and M.Mayandi Chettiar and the editor, printer and publisher , Athi Nahappan for contempt of court. 

It was made on the grounds that Nesan had published an article on 9th June what purported to be part of an article published in Madras Dhinamani on June 3rd. The article referred to the case of Sambasivam who was sentenced to death for carrying arms. Sambasivam had applied for for leave to appeal to the Privy Council.

In was reported that, the AG said that the article which also made references to Ganapathy's case, inferred that justice had not been fairly and impartiality administered in the case of Sambasivam.   

"The article as a whole was calculated to bring the administration of justice by this court into contempt", said Sutton.

Justice Spenser Wilkinson granted the order and case to be heard on the July 18th. 

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...