Where is your dignity?

anusha arumugam, malaysia, democracy, hegemony, human rightsby Anusha Arumugam

You are a human being worthy of honour and respect. You have the right to a livelihood; right to education; right to healthcare; right to a habitat; right to social, political, economic and cultural aspirations; and the right to express your demand for these necessities. This freedom is yours, as much as it is mine.

These rights cannot be compartmentalised or fragmented, but instead, they are mutually dependent. This means that it is a fallacy that some types of rights can be suppressed in the name of other rights.

But for our rights to be respected and protected, the pre-condition of the democratisation and humanisation of the State must be fulfilled.

If our democracy is failing, then our aspirations cannot be realised. Do you think, as a Malaysian, our democracy is shrinking?

Democracy means that as a member of this State, you can exercise your right to elect a representative. This representative meets with other elected representatives to make policies to safeguard and promote our inalienable and indivisible rights.

These policies are of great importance because they influence institutions like the judiciary, the police, the prosecutor’s office, and these policies are internalised within other institutions, like the executive, legislature, and other government institutions and sectors – universities, schools, hospitals, the Election Commission, banks, etc.

When these policies and practices get internalised, then the people working in these institutions also internalise them. That means, if our institutions implement race-biased policies, and dwell and drown in corrupt practices, then employees of these institutions are bound to follow suit.

We cannot blame them alone because they too are victims of dysfunctional institutions ruled by elitists. So how do we correct this?

We change how institutions function. How?

We change the policies. How?

We change the people making the policies. How?

We vote and exercise our democratic rights.

But in Malaysia, elections do not mean democracy. Our democracy is legitimacy deficit and we are dominated by a majoritarian political system. Why?

Because we have been ruled by a repressive, authoritarian regime for 59 years post-independence and this regime actually fears democracy.

In most other nations, the minority fears democracy because they fear the tyranny of the majority. Malaysia proves to be the contrary.

So the problem now is that we are unable to vote for the change we want because the State has created tools of oppression to keep the ruling regime in power. This regime has created a state capture.

There are arbitrary laws to indiscriminately prosecute people who highlight these issues.

So, we are faced with a fraudulent electoral process and a fraudulent electoral system,; our prosecutor practises selective prosecution, and our anti-corruption commission is not independent of the prime minister’s influence.

These oppressive mechanisms ultimately function because there is no separation of powers, as in, the institutions that are meant to function as a check and balance are instead heavily controlled by the ruling government’s regime.

What do we do?

Firstly, we need to put pressure on the government to bring about institutional change. Protesting is the most fundamental way. We have been speaking the truth to the power the powers that be for decades. But if we do not change who is in power, then the system will remain broken.

Secondly, it is imperative that we hold the judiciary, the police and the prosecutors accountable. They should be protecting our rights, not violating them. We must take them to task. We must speak about them, challenge them and not tolerate cronyism, incompetency and blatant discrimination.

Thirdly, talk to people about our violated rights. Write and read. Participate in discussions. Do not fear intimidation.

History tells us that battling hegemonic oppression is never without suffering, without losing out on luxuries, without learning tedious lessons. But we are born with the capacity to challenge, to question, to learn and to fight (peacefully) for what we know is right.

You are a fool if you think you can escape politics and remain disengaged. You are a greater fool if you think you will not make a difference. You are the greatest fool if you give up now.

Dignity can never be surrendered, it is what makes us human. History has gone a long way to give us that honour, any act of surrendering is a betrayal.

Anusha Arumugam is an FMT reader.

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