We cannot expect them to become better citizens if we do not change the narrative around them.
Sizeable sections of the public have pilloried Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Mansor for suggesting that the streets of Kuala Lumpur be used to facilitate races for the Mat Rempit. Derision and criticism have poured out even from his fellow ministers.
To many Malaysians, the Mat Rempit are a plague on decent society. They make a spectacle of themselves with their outrageous antics on the road, indecent behaviour, and tendency to race in the dead of night.
It’s not uncommon to hear comments like “run them over” from the more extreme segments of society whenever a Mat Rempit case makes the news. Yet, they never seem perturbed. They continue with their culture despite attempts by authorities to punish and rehabilitate them and despite the disdain of society.
But let’s pause for a minute and consider whether our attitude isn’t part of the problem. Our disdain for them and our tendency to ridicule ideas about giving them a place to indulge their habits suggest that we see them as dregs with no place in civilised society. It could be that it’s our prejudice that traps the Mat Rempit in a vicious cycle of working at low paying jobs and resorting to their hooligan behaviour to let off steam.
This is not to say that we should open up the streets of KL for motorcycle races. For one, it is impractical. Safety will always be a concern as our city roads are not exactly pristine examples of superior roadwork and engineering.
It is worth reviving the idea of creating racetracks for the Mat Rempit to use, and expanding on it. You see, motor racing cultures are prevalent all over the world. There will always be bike enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies, but what sets the Rempit apart in Malaysian eyes is their association with drug abuse, premarital sex and violent behaviour on the road.
In other words, it is their culture that we believe is unacceptable according to our civilised standards. But our unwillingness to engage them does not help us deal with this social issue at all.
There is an opportunity to create a positive racing culture among the Rempits should proper thought be given to providing them with tracks and organising race days on those tracks.
Perhaps we should create a new culture surrounding the track days, with food trucks and vendors coming in to capitalise on the fact that Mat Rempit traditionally congregate in huge numbers. This could create a positive atmosphere in which their habits are placed in a safer environment for themselves and for the public. Use those track days to attract them to crafts and jobs they themselves may have never seen as options for a future.
In short, we could take the culture off the streets and into a system that allows them to express themselves but within a monitored environment that not only entertains them but helps them transition into working society.