MAY 13 – SO WHAT??

May 17, 2009 at 8:50 am 1 comment

Sunday, 17 May 2009 13:32

Four decades have passed. Yet, it appears that as a nation, we have not gotten over May 13. Although much has been achieved in terms of advancing development since then, Malaysia as a whole is not a happy nation.

By LILEI CHOW, mysinchew

Last Wednesday over the office water cooler, I said to my colleague, “So, May 13, huh?”

He looked over at me and replied, “Yeah. So?”

“Don’t you care?” I demanded to know.

“No, not really,” he said and shrugged. “To me, it happened. We’ve been brought up to believe that we must always remember May 13 as something awful, terrible, something we shouldn’t speak about. But it happened and a whole bunch of policies were implemented to make sure it didn’t happen again. What’s more important to me is how we move forward.”

Walking back to my cubicle, I realised that he had a point. Growing up over a decade after May 13, I had two versions of the story. One which I heard from my father, during long distance car rides, as a young child, and the other, the textbook version which I read as a secondary school student.

As a child, unable to contextualise the complicated factors that led to the massacre, I imagined instead my father and my mother, afraid to leave their homes for fear of angry mobs. I imagined shop houses being torched and streets emptied out as night fell. It instilled in me a sense of fear about what could have been. I felt grateful that we had been “saved” from such tragedy.

Some years later, I read about May 13 again, this time as part of a mandatory history lesson. I was decidedly disappointed. The whole event was summarised into a whitewashed, simplistic account which occupied probably about a page in the entire year’s curriculum.

Still, as with many of my generation, we did not question. Ours was a generation that were the main beneficiaries of the schooling reforms that were implemented to promote the use of the national language in the hopes that it would bring the various communities closer and forge a sense of national identity.

Ours was a generation that witnessed the rapid transformation of the economy from a predominantly agriculture base to manufacturing, and saw skyscrapers and huge infrastructure projects change the face of Kuala Lumpur forever.

In many ways, we had opportunities that our parents could only dream of. But in many ways, we were the guinea pigs of the country’s social reengineering efforts – the first generation to grow from childhood to adulthood with the NEP (affirmative economic policy) as the country’s guiding development paradigm.

Four decades have passed. Yet, it appears that as a nation, we have not gotten over May 13. Although much has been achieved in terms of advancing development since then, Malaysia as a whole is not a happy nation.

The people are restless and tired. The difference between now and a decade ago, I believe is the fact that the sense of relative deprivation is shared among wide segments of the population.

As young adults, the citizens of my generation are asking, “What next?” The old development paradigm no longer fits reality. We want to know how we can forge a more inclusive society, where differences are celebrated instead of suppressed, where debate and dialogue and a free exchange of ideas flourish as a part of a vibrant civil society.

We are demanding development – economic, social, political – that moves all communities forward, instead of at the expense of another.

The celebrated thought leader, Amartya Sen argued that development requires the removal of sources of “unfreedom” – poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities, as well as systemic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities and intolerance or overactivity of repressive states.

In as much as it’s important that we are reminded of ghosts from the past, it is time that we ask ourselves what sort of development we want for our children and hold our leadership accountable to it.

Driving home from work yesterday, I thought about what my colleague said again. I called my father and asked him again where he was on 13 May 1969.

“Ipoh,” he answered, and then chuckled.

“Ironically, Ipoh on 13 May 1969 was more peaceful and harmonious than Ipoh 13 May 2009,” he lamented.

LILEI CHOW is a communications officer with an international development NGO in Kuala Lumpur


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

I felt a deep sense of betrayal HASSAN MUTHALIB’S MAY 13 PHOTO GALLERY

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. anonymous  |  July 27, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    what you believed was true, was what you’ve read. the true history that is written through time cannot be changed, that’s true.but the history that is written by man can be altered through the writer’s pen.for those who care, that still cling onto this matter so tight, is not because we are still hating.we only want the truth. For the people who were there, that sacrificed their lives, the least they deserve is the truth.If it doesn’t mater anymore what happened, if you say it won’t change anything anyway, then why do they still keep the truth classified.They are more brainy than most think,they are not dumb, like most fact,they are brilliant.When the sins they’ve done are exposed,they will first stir up a huge media wild fire, then slowly,when the fire is burning at the highest temperature,they will cool it down by starting another combustion to counter attack the recent flame.the counter attack will successfully get everyone’s attention away from the wild fire until it is finally forgotten. it just goes on and on without an ending…just like (May 13th).


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