Of all the 200-odd arrests over the last couple of weeks, none is a more glaring instance of injustice than the cruel detention without trial of Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj.
As a journalist, I have known Jeyakumar for over a dozen years now and have been closely tracking his career, interviewing him on a number of occasions.
We are talking about a man who was once awarded a gold medal by the Malaysian Medical Association for outstanding community service.
Deeply concerned about the poor and marginalised, he has raised issues concerning their plight in Parliament on numerous occasions.
Not only has he served his constituents diligently, he has attempted to analyse the root or structural causes of poverty and the growing gap between the rich and the poor.
He is especially concerned about neo-liberal economic policies such as privatisation and its impact on the growing gap between the rich and the poor. As a former government medical specialist (a respiratory physician by training), he is clearly able to see the impact on the poor of the privatisation of health care support services, the introduction of private wings in government hospitals, the trend of ‘medical tourism’, and the mushrooming of private hospitals including those established by government-linked corporations. As part of the Coalition Against Health Care Privatisation, he was instrumental in coming up with a People’s Proposal to provide an alternative model of health care financing.
He and his party colleagues have championed the rights of the landless and workers and opposed attempts to erode their rights. They have pushed for a minimum wage and opposed the introduction of GST. Because of all this, the ruling elite and their corporate cronies must have considered them a threat to their interests.
In the light of the global economic crisis, the soft-spoken Jeyakumar has provided a timely critique of the shortcomings and weaknesses of the present economic order and has pointed to more people-centred alternatives.
Within his constituency, he has highlighted the denial of federal allocations for his constituency, taking the issue to court.
He and his colleagues holding public office have also led the way by declaring their assets to the public annually, putting other elected reps to shame.
With sheer persistence and a solid track record of serving the constituency, Jeyakumar took on the MIC giant Samy Vellu in three successive general elections, finally defeating him in 2008. It was a victory for dogged persistence and solid service to the community even in defeat and adversity.
His approach in his constituency has not been to create a culture of dependency among the Sungai Siput people by using a top-down decision-making approach. Instead of simply dishing out aid money, he has sought to empower the people by encouraging a participatory approach to decision-making so that the people take ownership of the projects introduced. His quiet, determined persistence, away from the limelight, keeps winning him new admirers. And he has always been seen in public with an “Abolish ISA” badge pinned on his shirt.
In short, Jeyakumar has been a model Member of Parliament – one of the most ethical, analytical and caring politicians around.
What kind of upside-down world do we live in when such a principled MP of unimpeachable integrity – along with his party colleagues, so concerned for the dispossessed and the marginalised – is treated like a common criminal and cruelly incarcerated under harsh security laws? Meanwhile, the corrupt, the unethical and the unprincipled roam free.
It is not only a gross violation of human rights. What does it say about us as a nation? Shouldn’t we feel utterly ashamed that we have locked up such people?