Much ado about Maruah

Temasek Review
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This article is contributed by Veera W. Thiramoothy


Hot on the heels of the Little India riot, some “human rights” activists fervently stepped forward baying for justice for the workers who were repatriated. With obviously more sympathy for the workers who were part of the huge ruckus than the many Police and Civil Defence officers whose lives were threatened, these activists felt an injustice were served against those who were “unfairly” repatriated.

No due process, they claimed. Never mind that when the workers signed up to work in Singapore, they already know of the laws and regulations (remember the “drug offences lead to death penalty” announcements you hear on flights? The workers also have that and more told to them before they come over and when they arrive here as well). Never mind the glaring fact that if the Police were really indiscriminate, why did they choose only that exact 53 to repatriate? After all, they had a few thousand names to choose from, and they couldn’t have discriminated by mere mention of surname or region the 53 were from right?

I have been following their actions as a rather disinterested reader, as I have always felt that these people had ulterior motives for coming forward so keenly.

Till today.

I read Today’s report on how the Marketing Institute of Singapore was “tricked” into loaning out their premises to Maruah and I was struck by how its president Braema Mathi was as arrogant and void of empathy as she had often accused others to be. When asked if she was told that political and religious activities were not allowed on MIS’ premises, she confirmed she was told and assumed her organisation was clear, since the forum it was organizing was not political, but socio-political, and that whether Maruah was a political entity (it is) or not did not matter. To rub salt into MIS’ wound, Mathi adds further: “If the institute was concerned, it should seek clarification with the ROS on whether it can rent out rooms to political associations”.

For a human rights organisation, I find this absolutely unacceptable. You ask me if I can rent your premises. I tell you I have all these conditions. You tell me not to worry, I will fulfill your conditions and follow your rules. You do not follow them, and you say it’s my fault because I did not do my own checks with the Registrar of Societies? And if I did? You will claim I invaded your privacy by running up checks on you or I kowtowed to the Police. Heads you win, tails I lose.

If Maruah can do this to MIS, can you imagine the poor Indian restaurant owner Maruah tried to trick into renting them space in the first place? The poor chap did not know that the Police had already issued a security advisory for Little India earlier on, urging for any event that may touch on the riots to not be held in that area during this sensitive period. But Maruah knew that, and again, did not give a full account to the restaurant owner. When they Police shared the reason of the advisory and the owner decided to cancel the booking, Maruah went livid, claiming unfair Police interventions when it was they who had cheekily tried to disobey the security advisory in the first place.

Honestly, I think there should be space in society for responsible civil movements. But Maruah is selling itself short by running around lying and misleading just to get its way. It does not even spare a thought for the poor receptionist who handled their booking at MIS and who has now probably been reprimanded by her bosses for not doing her due diligence – collateral damage again, because Maruah’s concern are the poor repatriated workers who took part in the riot, not the Singaporeans who got into trouble because of their actions.

It is indeed a sad day for civil society.


Veera W. Thiramoothy

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