A hawker is busy at work and returns to find his home demolished.
It was close to lunchtime that Maranan, a Brickfields hawker, received a phone call from his neighbours. An excavator had torn down his 31-year-old house without warning at around 12pm, completing the task in a matter of minutes.
His son, M Mahesan, rushed over, expecting the worst. But nothing could prepare him for what he was about to see.
The excavator had levelled everything. Almost nothing was spared in its destruction. The roof was caved in, and the walls had followed suit. Furniture had been converted into firewood, and bundles of clothes torn into strips.
Not even the family’s five dogs were spared from the violence. Two of them were killed as the excavator did its work. Two were spared, although they suffered injuries of their own. Another ran away, never to return.
To add insult to injury, the perpetrators carted off some of Maranan’s potted plants.
Luckily for Maranan, none of his family was inside the house while it was being destroyed.
All in all, it was a message from property developer, Seri Tiara Development Sdn Bhd, telling the family to get out.
(Seri Tiara Development is also one of United Overseas Australia’s controlled entities, according to its 2008 annual report.)
“Nobody gave us any trouble. Until now,” Mahesan told FMT, pointing at the house he grew up in. He and his mother A Puspawathy were distraught when they visisted the site.
Seri Tiara, Mahesan said, offered each villager RM3,000 as compensation. Without land titles of their own, nearly all of them took the money.
Maranan, however, was hesitant to follow in his neighbours’ footsteps. Much of the house was built by his own bare hands.
The hawker even had a 1980 letter from Umno that allowed the family to stay on that land, which belonged to Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTMB). Mahesan proudly told FMT that this letter had dissuaded KL City Hall (DBKL) from molesting their house in the past.
Even with these factors in tow, Maranan wasn’t against moving out of his house. He asked Seri Tiara for RM10,000 instead.
But the company refused to pay him the extra money, and tried to chase his family out of Kampung Udara. This prompted Mahesan’s father to file a case against Seri Tiara before the Kuala Lumpur High Court in 2009.
After a year of legal tussles, the family won the case. The High Court said that they could keep the house, but had to demolish the parts of it that stood on Seri Tiara land.
In return, the developers needed to pay the family RM15,000 in compensation.
However, the impatient Seri Tiara decided to take matters into its own hands. Just minutes before they sent the excavator over to smash Maranan’s house, the company handed an RM15,000 cheque to his lawyers.
The company’s lawyers even admitted to destroying the house in a Jan 17 letter to Maranan’s legal advisers, calling it an “unstable structure”.
Naturally, the family was not happy with Seri Tiara’s brazen act. “They gave our lawyer a RM15,000 cheque and then smashed the house one hour later,” Mahesan told FMT angrily.
“If they wanted to destroy our house, they should have given us notice. They had our phone numbers, why didn’t they call? How can they do this?”
Mahesan estimated that the losses incurred by his family came up to RM80,000. After making a police report over the destruction, his family demanded compensation.
A few days later, Maranan was allegedly told several times by Seri Tiara that the company would rebuild his house. But it was an empty promise, as the family waited in vain for a construction team to show up.
Seri Tiara was also claimed to have dared the family to file another case before the High Court.
Most families would have been given up after seeing the developer’s show of force and intimidation. But not Maranan, who now has to stay in a Seri Kembangan apartment.
The swathe of destruction only strengthened his family’s resolve to stay put, and to rebuild their Kampung Udara house anew.
Determined, his son, Mahesan told FMT: “My family will not leave. Even if Seri Tiara gave us RM100,000, we will not leave.”