The general election looming just around the corner is dominating much of Malaysians’ everyday lives. But we should be wary of letting it distract us from other, equally important, issues.
Three weeks ago, 38-year-old driving instructor Thanabalan Subramaniam was arrested while dropping off one of his children at school.
Consider the effects this might have had on the child. The presence of a police car and the arrest by uniformed personnel would surely have set tongues wagging.
Children and teenagers can be very cruel. Gossip and criticism could have spread throughout the school following Thanabalan’s arrest. Was it really necessary for the police to alarm his child, the other children, the teachers, and the parents in this manner?
The child may now be shunned by others. Perhaps the parents of other students will pressure their children to end their friendship with Thanabalan’s child. Sadly, we do not live in a fair society.
If Thanabalan was crucial to police enquiries, why couldn’t they have arrested him at home and spared his family the humiliation?
We do not know why he was arrested, only that it was allegedly under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma).
A few days ago, Thanabalan’s family was informed that he had died from a heart attack. Their grief must be unimaginable. The child whom he sent to school was probably the last family member to have seen him alive, as other family members told reporters that none of them had been able to see Thanabalan during his incarceration.
Apparently, Thanabalan’s younger brother was also detained under Sosma.
Kapar incumbent G Manivannan said the post-mortem on Thanabalan could not confirm the cause of death, although there were no signs of physical abuse. Attempts are being made for a second post-mortem to be conducted.
Police have opened an investigation paper on the case, which has been classified as sudden death. But at the time of writing, there have been no reports of police visiting Thanabalan’s family to offer their condolences. That is the least they could do.
Thanabalan’s death followed a spate of similar cases. A man is arrested. Sometimes, a relative is also detained in another cell. One survives, the other does not. Perfectly healthy men with no known diseases return home in a box. The usual excuse is that they had an asthmatic fit or a heart attack.
Remember what happened to A Kugan, whose death shocked Malaysians several years ago. Remember N Dharmendran, Ahmad Sarbani, S Balamurugan and Teoh Beng Hock.
How many more people must die before there is a complete systemic shake-up? Questions are asked after each death, but no one is prosecuted. Political will is lacking.
Do not let the election divert attention from the deaths of Thanabalan and the many others.
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.