PETALING JAYA: A young man, driven by anger and violence, ends up on the wrong side of the law. After years of incarceration, including stints in solitary confinement, he decides to turn a new leaf and give back to the society he once took so much from.
No, this is not a Tamil movie storyline. Instead, it is the life of NGO leader A Muraly.
Muraly, who now leads the Tamilan Uthavum Karangal (Tamilan Helping Hands) reminisced about his life to FMT recently.
Having dropped out of school when he was in Form 5, Muraly’s first run in with the law occurred when he was just 19, back in the year 1990. He was helping his father at the family’s meat stall then.
“I stabbed a trader in the Selayang wet market, following a misunderstanding.
“The person ended up in the Intensive Care Unit and I went into hiding, both from the police and the victim’s friends,” he recalled.
Muraly soon fled to Singapore to avoid being arrested but it didn’t take long before he took to violence there, only to return home soon afterwards.
When he was back here, he saw “fear” in people’s eyes when he went to his “old turf” and that motivated him to dabble in criminal activities once again – beating and chopping up people over the slightest provocation.
The law soon caught up with him and he was detained under the Emergency Ordinance, aged only 22, after being dubbed “Ketua samseng” (Thug leader).
He was sent to the Simpang Renggam detention centre in Johor after a brief stint in Pulau Jerejak, Penang.
What was supposed to be two years in detention became six years behind bars, as Muraly was involved in numerous fights while in detention, some even with prison guards.
He even beat up an inspector on duty once, causing him to suffer the “beating of my life at the hands of a battalion of cops.”
It was the more than two weeks in solitary confinement following this beating that turned Muraly’s life around.
“I couldn’t get up or even lift my hands while I was in the solitary cell. The guards would push the plate of food under the steel door and I would have to eat it like a dog, as I couldn’t move any of my limbs,” he recalls, with glints of tears welling in his eyes.
That period got him reflecting on his misdeeds and to wonder “what the heck have I done with my life?”
When he was put back into the normal cell, he took to reading books – up to five a day. He read the life story of Nelson Mandela and The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief V Prabhakaran and learned the “sacrifices” they made for their own people.
“I felt ashamed of myself for causing so much misery, not only to my family, but to my race in general.”
When he was finally released after six long years, he couldn’t even recognise his old house, thanks to the development that had taken place. Although his family accepted him back, he still kept his distance, out of a “guilty conscience” more than anything else.
“I was 28, and had no job, no money, nothing. Once, I was praying to Lord Muruga at the foot of the Batu Caves temple to show me the right way forward when I saw a wheelchair-bound man praying.
“Something ignited in me and I called four friends, who always cared for my wellbeing, to come there. Then we carried the disabled man up the 272 steps of the temple,” he recalled.
The following year (1999), he mobilised 200 men to carry 50 wheelchair-bound people up the same flight of stairs, in conjunction with his father’s birthday.
“My father was happy for what I was doing and people were even telling him that he was lucky to have a son like me. Then, I knew I had made it into his good books.”
Muraly and members of his NGO, now numbering about 700 nationwide, have been carrying wheelchair-bound devotees up the Batu Caves stairs for 17 years now.
He spent 10 years working in Singapore after his release and now runs a successful meat business. Where machetes and knives once adorned the shelves of his home, there are now books.
Apart from his annual Batu Caves stint, Muraly also donates food, cash and necessities to homes for the elderly and orphanages on a monthly basis, and gives talks in schools to students on the importance of staying away from crime.
“It is sad that Indians, despite being the minority in the country, still make up the largest prison population. I think our community is too fragmented, evident from the number of political parties catering to Indians. None of these are doing enough for the Indian community, particularly when it comes to keeping them off violence.
Muraly, a father of two, is aware that he cannot change the current predicament faced by the Indian community overnight, but “I do my part, whatever little it achieves.” He also accepts full responsibility for every decision he has taken in his life.
“I will not blame my upbringing or my education for my earlier predicament. Where I was, and where I am today, is totally my doing.
“My advice to Indian youth, is think before you act. Never make any decisions when you are angry. Respect from people is more important than commanding fear,” he said.