KUALA LUMPUR: A human rights advocate has urged Putrajaya to build a monument in memory of the over 100,000 Tamils from Malaya who perished as forced labour on the infamous Siam-Burma Death Railway during World War II.
“The Malaysian Government needs to officially recognise the deaths of these Malayans,” said Hindraf Makkal Sakthi Chairman P. Waythamoorthy in a telephone interview.
The Death Railway Interest Group (DRIG) will highlight this aspect during a Symposium on the Death Railway on September 16, Malaysia Day, in Kuala Lumpur.
Waytha, a senior lawyer in private practice, was in the British capital to follow up on a case he had initiated against the UK Government.
The Hindraf Chief called on the Malaysian Government to work with the Thai, Myanmar, Japanese and other governments on building the monument. “Their descendents will then have a place to honour their memory.”
Many of the forced labour has so far been forgotten by history, added Waytha. “In fact, 270,000 Asian forced labourers, mostly Indian, slaved on the Japanese Army planned Death Railway.”
Waytha was commenting on recent independent research by Dr. David John Bogget, a scholar at a Japanese University, on the Death Railway. “Bogget said the figure for Tamils from Malaya may well be more than the 100,000 he has estimated.”
The National Archives, he said, should follow up on Bogget’s research. “Bogget will be Special Guest at the DRIG Symposium.”
He urged that Putrajaya take a leaf from western governments on the Railway.
They reburied their nationals, who perished on the Railway, in Chungkai and Kanchanaburi in Thailand and Thanbyuzayat in Myanmar.
“About 13,000 western prisoners of war (PoWs) who died on the Railway were recognised by their governments,” said Waytha. “Their families were also compensated.”
The travails of the western PoWs were immortalised in two dozen memoirs, documented as history by the governments concerned, and romanticised in “Bridge on the River Kwai”, the 1957 Hollywood classic.
In contrast, he lamented, the Asian victims of the Death Railway have nothing. “This is an Asian Holocaust.”
Yet, he pointed out, the victims have been forgotten so far by history. “The graves of these Asians should be marked.”
On 18 November 1990, he recalled, Bangkok Post reported the bones of over 400 Asian labourers were discovered at Kanchanaburi. “Nothing happened to honour them.”
“The bones were destroyed.”
The 270, 000 Asian labourers does not include thousands from Myanmar and Java who also worked on the Death Railway. They were forced labour along with western PoWs, working in deplorable conditions, surviving on meagre rations, sleeping on lice-infested bamboo mats.
The forced labour, during the Japanese Occupation, worked on roads and airfields besides the Railway.