I am the face of the invisible Malaysian hoi polloi – when was the last time you saw a wheelchair-bound person whiz by you? Almost never? A large part of that is due to the Third World mentality a significant portion of Malaysians have – that’s why the outrage when Bantuan Sara Hidup (BSH) was denied to single Malaysians, a big chunk of them are millennials just like me, except that most are ambulatory unlike me.
I can accept any other reason for the outrage but never the fact that it was the millennial generation that voted Pakatan Harapan into power. This is the mindset we need to migrate from, this undignified begging for handouts from the government – worst, the alms are demanded.
This was the prevailing mindset during Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional administration and Dr Mahathir Mohamad was right in saying “no” to the handout culture which I, a disabled, single millennial, wholeheartedly applauded.
Horrifically, Mahathir’s resolute stance didn’t last very long. We are back to square one, back to the cesspool of petty dependence on the government, as evidenced by BSH 2019 going-on.
I am diagnosed with a rare genetic disease known as Wilson’s disease – a copper metabolism disorder that disrupts the biological system. I’m a Malaysian of Indian descent and I am only educated up to Form 6. I never made it to university due to my disease’s onset when I was 19, going on 20.
While my peers were busy with lectures, assignments and dating, I was busy battling this disease’s adverse symptoms – I had to relearn how to feed and bathe and clothe myself, writing, chewing up food and eventually how to use a computer.
I am grateful that I completed Form 6 because these one and a half years taught me how to do things without having anyone to push me. Self-motivation and the association of it to human dignity – a precious lesson that I carry with myself.
‘I voted for PH on May 9, 2018’
I was one of the Malaysian millennials who voted for PH on May 9, 2018. My voting booth was upstairs and since I am wheelchair bound, arrangements were made for me to vote downstairs – the enthusiasm was infectious.
I also stayed awake all night with my smartphone being thumbed constantly until the historical event that changed Malaysia forever was confirmed – it was the dawn of a new Malaysia. Or so I thought until what followed; the political game and the simple-mindedness of Malaysians awash on the news – reading about Malaysian politics cured my low blood pressure. Literally.
My disease ain’t local – it’s out and foreign. I find myself reading about how the disabled live in the European Union.
I have a good friend who’s an Indian national studying in Austria. He constantly spoke to me about how the disabled there are so independent – they take the train on their own.
And, here, we blow our trumpet on AI installed in Proton cars instead of revamping the public transport to become as efficient as it is in Japan (Look East, yeah) that would bring so much power to all Malaysian citizens and people like me.
I can’t move outside – there are no ramps at most shophouse lots in this country and my mobility is severely restricted. It was rightly said: what’s the use for AI when there is no intelligence in this country? If Stephen Hawking had the misfortune of being born here, he would be a hopeless charity case – not a world-renowned astrophysicist.
I didn’t make it to university. Neither have I attended job interviews. But, I filled foreign university applications, did assignments, that include topics such as SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), federalism in the US, Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights Movement, to name a few, cover letters and resumes.
‘I freelance online’
I freelance online on a platform known as Fiverr. I earn in USD. And, that is what gives me the confidence to say “no” to not only BSH Bujang 2019 but also welfare money.
I get RM200 monthly from the Welfare Department. My mother has been applying (to no avail) for welfare money as she is caring for me. Her application was rejected because she has adult children who apparently can take care of her.
We are told that if I work, the welfare money would be increased to RM500. I do work and earn but, somehow, all the adults that I call family and friends actively guard that fact against the Welfare Department officers because I earn in USD.
Just to get the welfare money, I was made to pose like I am bedridden. There is no greater insult than that. It hurts my human dignity. So, I don’t understand how single Malaysians who are nowhere near as disadvantaged as I am can demand money from the newly-elected government, after voting out the government that did the same thing.
I don’t want to beg like this. While Malaysians of Indian descent, particularly the males, submerge in crime and inebriation, I fight my crippling disability and make money honestly, working up to 10 hours a day.
‘I don’t want money out of pity’
I don’t want money out of pity. I don’t want BSH or the welfare money. I earn and am financially independent. When I say this, I am termed “arrogant”.
I get asked, “Well, for now you are working. How sure are you that you can continue?” Well, we all have an expiry date – why don’t able-bodied people get asked this same question?
Why is my capacity, aptitude, sagaciousness and intelligence being killed? Why aren’t my capabilities viewed as an asset for this country? This is an ableist society that either elevates disabled people to the peak of Mt Everest or lowers them to the depths of the Mariana Trench, never seeing them as equals.
I will work till I die – pretty much like my heroes, Stephen Hawking and Mahathir. If I may add a third, it would be Rajinikanth.
While I don’t want BSH, there are things I do want from the government – sustainable resources for the millennial generation and our posterity. Fast internet, effective public transport, a disabled-friendly environment and the enabling of side hustle, with Japanese work ethics and discipline instilled.
The whole mentality needs an overhaul – a one-time RM100 will do little to nothing to uplift the lives of single Malaysians as it is with the whole BSH scheme.
Employment opportunities and side hustle enabling, along with an education system with a heuristic approach, will uplift Malaysians – read on how Singapore is preparing for the future.
My patriotism isn’t glorifying rhetoric and chanting feel-good national slogans. My patriotism is me striving to improve myself and, in turn, my country. Assuming that the disabled won’t need fast internet and giving a discount for them in exchange for torpid internet speed and then expecting them to live with the bare minimum is just diabolical, to say the least.
‘Disabled deserve same opportunities’
The disabled deserve the life, opportunities and the resources able-bodied people have — not alms. Mahathir started in the right direction and now he has succumbed to the Malaysian pettiness, which is more dangerous than my disease.
I am disabled, unmarried, child-free, I earn in USD, I have edited books for Americans and I do social service.
My ex-schoolmate and I founded and manage a Facebook page that focuses on intersectional feminism. The page has overreaching India reach and some global reach as well. It got featured on Indian media, The News Minute.
We write articles and create memes and they get derided as “essays” by the Malaysian Indian male pages who hate what’s written by the co-admin (some of whom I recruited from India to deal with Indian issues in depth) and I.
The odium has reached Tamil Nadu Indian male-administered pages and trolls who reported the page until Facebook took it down twice. Yet, the infamous page is still running by reincarnations.
I chose intersectional feminism so that I can slot in fighting for not only women but also the LGBTQ community, the Dalits, men and the disabled. I wish to turn the page and the brand into a media powerhouse like BuzzFeed.
I could well spend my time wallowing in self-pity, lamenting my fate and rely on the welfare money but I made the conscious decision not to.
If I can do this with so little resources, imagine what I can do with sustainable resources support. Dear millennial single Malaysians, why are you setting your standards so low? Set them sky high!
I voted for organic change – I know it’s not feasible for change to happen overnight. I didn’t vote for a sugarcoated and a short-lived revolution.
PH government, own up and up the ante. The current governing standards and political bickering, with race and religious cards, are grossly nauseating and are reminiscent of Najib’s time.
Quit Drama Sangat and exhume Majalah 3. Netflix is unnecessary. BBC Earth, Nova and Nat Geo deserve primetime TV time. Don’t devolve. Evolve.
Hemashree Krishnan is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.