At the crossroads – Gurdial Singh Nijar

Source: TheSunDaily

(Deputy President, HAKAM)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” – thus Charles Dickens starts his novel, A Tale of Two Cities.

WITH all that is going on around us, these words written in 1859 seem to conjure up many social parallels with life today.

The best of times? Starkly visible impressive structures reaching to the sky. Townships sprouting like mushrooms after the rain; the ubiquitous though dubious hallmarks that we have arrived – fast-food outlets in rapidly-proliferating shopping havens. The proverbial “blooming of a thousand flowers” – the ISA expunged, space opened up for the growth of NGOs and the social media, and rallies of thousands not uncommon any more. A true breath of a revitalised democracy to lead up to the jewel in the crown – the promise that in five years our country will ascend to the ranks of a “developed country”!

The worst of times? A sense of lawlessness everywhere that threatens to rip society asunder.

At the micro level: impatient drivers ignoring red lights, motorists violating one-way signs, parking and double parking, and impatient drivers senselessly turning two-lane traffic into three or even four; and the eternal traffic jams with no solution in sight.

To this mix, add such scenes as (for example) – commuters at the KL University Hospital bus stop having to rush to the main road each time a bus arrives – because parked cars have taken over the entire bus space.

So people abandoning their sense of care for fellow citizens and in open disregard for the comfort of others. A sign of a growing malaise?

And where are the law enforcers in all this? To encourage respect for the laws and to punish the recalcitrant? Conspicuously absent – as we now take for granted!

On the larger canvas – whistle-blowers are hounded; the message deliverers of improprieties hauled through the criminal process. The internet access to publications which have exposed alleged wrongdoings blocked by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission. Much more is in the offing.

What has happened to the promise of an improved quality of life – with the advent of time-saving gadgets, improved and sophisticated communication systems, highways and byways, and the promised blossoming of freedoms guaranteed by our Federal Constitution?

Crime has multiplied; unemployment figures escalating – the Malaysian Employers Federation announcing 10,000 retrenched as of July this year and more to come; and the National Bank Employees Union lamenting the lay-off of 4,000 staff with another 4,000 in the offing; the ringgit fast depreciating in international exchange and domestic value; prices of consumer goods rising out of control; and an innocuous spark at a mall that threatened to cause an ethnic prairie fire. The authorities’ grudging gestures to staunch the growing religious and racial tensions emboldening the savage beasts of hate and even violence – completes the picture of a national unity at an all-time nadir.

The corruption-busters – the MACC – seemingly fighting a desperate battle to regain its credibility – amid stories swirling of corruption in the millions if not billions.

The question on everyone’s lips: can our country withstand leakages (and wastages) which have crippled even stronger economies in the West such as Italy, Spain and lately Puerto Rico and Greece?

Already a record number of 78 people have been charged under the obnoxious Sedition Act – now revamped to extend to statements made on the internet; under which a conviction can be secured without proving the intention (mens rea in legal jargon) of the accused. And new crimes constructed – acts “detrimental to parliamentary democracy” punishable with a 20-year jail term. Is it not old wine repackaged in new bottles? As seen in the arrests of students and activists under this newly-minted provision enacted as an amendment to the Penal Code.

Is this the society we aspire to create for ourselves and bequeath to our grandchildren? Will there be a cohesive, prosperous and peaceful country to bequeath, at all?

To continue with Dickens:

” … it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

Time then to sound a clarion call for all to put their shoulders to the wheel – to reclaim, and build upon our glorious past? Or throw up our hands in utter despair? The choice, my dear friends, is ours.

As spoke Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings”.

Gurdial Singh Nijar - file pic
Gurdial Singh Nijar – file pic


Gurdial is professor at the Law Faculty, University of Malaya, and HAKAM Deputy President.



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