Five men on a hunger strike over the Effingham Tamil school land issue are looking at the 'bigger picture', which is about the 'basic rights of a child to an education in a condusive environment'.
KUALA LUMPUR: Overlooking the ostentatious elephant fountain in Brickfields are five men who have been on a hunger strike since last Saturday morning – 8.20am to be exact. They are seeking the return of three acres of land belonging to Effingham Tamil School in Bandar Utama which they said MIC took.
Four days on, the scorching heat and cascading water from the permanently hoisted elephant trunks seem an especially cruel taunt.
Add that to the fact that the scent of delicious curries and fried delectables wafts up from the restaurants surrounding the hunger strike area –and you have a large a recipe for a large serving of self-control and determination.
Food aromas aside, there is one other thing the hunger strikers have to contend with.
Looking on at them almost benevolently from across the road is a large poster of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak who is flanked on his right by Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin, Minister of Federal Territories and Urban Well-being and several other BN politicians.
A passerby jokingly remarked that this might be a bigger challenge for the hunger strikers than going without food or water.
But the five men are unperturbed by larger-than-life posters of politicians. Neither are they hampered by weather conditions or by the incessant dust and debris blown their way by traffic.
For them, seeking the return of three acres of land belonging to the Effingham Tamil School in Bandar Utama is worth the tribulation in its varied forms.
‘They ignored us’
Return Effingham Land Action Team (Reflax) vice-chairman T Loganathan, who is also the leader of the hunger strikers, said that it is not so much a volunteer effort, but more of a concerted one for a common cause.
“There are three of us here who attended Effingham while one is now a PIBG [Parent-Teacher Association] member. Then we have people like [Michael] Tamilarasan. He has previous experience in fighting for land for a school and he is very passionate about this issue, which isn’t a new one.
“We have repeatedly made appeal for the land to be returned. A police report… was filed, but to no avail.
The drastic action Loganathan alluded to is the hunger strike which came 14 weeks after a weekly Saturday night candlelight vigil was held for the same cause and at the same fountain area.
Seeing there was no reponse, Reflax decided that a non-violent hunger strike was the way to go. It was, they deemed, a last resort.
“Effingham Tamil School is located in Bandar Utama – which is considered a relatively elite area.
“The school, however, doesn’t reflect that and there is much work that needs to be done for the school. The three acres of land would allow for much expansion.
“The schoolchildren can’t even race a full 100 metres because the land stretches out for only 70 metres.
“So many of these students received a rude shock when they went on to secondary school to see how much they have been denied,” added Loganathan.
‘Just give us back land’
He added that there are now 471 students at Effingham Tamil School and recess has to be split into two sessions – one at 10am and another one half an hour later.
Loganathan also spoke of the staff room where the teachers have to share tables and chairs, with teachers taking over the seating area of colleagues who are occupied in class.
“So the funds are just sitting there and we can’t do anything but wait – and this is for the children so they can get a better headstart in education.
“We’re not even looking at things like building a badmninton court, which will be a bonus. Just please give us back the three acres and we’ll turn it into a model Tamil school,” said Loganathan.
The group of five are optimistic that some good will come out of the hunger strike – maybe even the three acres being returned.
The men agree that the effort is already a success when MIC vice-president and Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing Deputy Minister M Saravanan visited them yesterday evening.
Loganthan said that this would be the first time that MIC has given some attention to the initiative and that in itself is a success, adding that this has given them a boost.
Dr Streram Sinnasamy, who has been examining the five men, stopped by early this morning and after the regular check-up, pronounced the men in good health.
Hunger striker S Balakrishnan, who had experienced a wave of dizziness earlier, is adamant when he said, “We are not going anywhere until we receive confirmation that the land has been released.”
His eyes are bleary, and he is visibly fatigued, fingers reaching for medicated ointment now and then. He assuages the ache on his temples and smiled, “It’s all for a good cause and I have no regrets being here.”
‘Basic rights of a child’
Tamilarasan, who is a councillor in MPSJ, said his interest in this issue stems from an earlier involvement in seeking 2.5 acres of land for the Kinrara School in Puchong between 2008 and 2009.
“When you look at the bigger picture, you realise that this is a cause that is so much bigger than having means or a full stomach.
“It’s about the basic rights of a child to get an education in a conducive environment. I will be here for as long as it takes,” he said, leaning back on his pillow, arms behind his head.
To a question of what will be their first food or drink intake after the fast ends, Loganathan grinned: “We will be very happy with a glass of plain water. Even tap water would suffice.”
Others join Loganathan’s enthusiam at what they hope is a looming possibility of a settlement within the next day, or even better still, in the coming hours.
Soon, Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) officers approach and tell the men that they must remove one of the two 10ft by 10ft canopies put up as shelter.
There are no struggles and no protests. The canopy comes down in a matter of minutes and the DBKL officers are seemingly congratulating each other.
The five men then huddle under a single canopy, still in good spirits and laughing even.
Perhaps the success of this endeavour is not so much in the fact that an MIC official paid them a visit, but that in the face of so much adversity, these men have already triumphed.
[The five have stopped their hunger strike at about 12pm today (Tuesday) on "medical grounds" ]