Articles, Opinions & Views: What message is Penang sending to children? - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy

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What message is Penang sending to children? - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Monday, June 03, 2019
Malaysiakini : “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” ― Anne Frank
COMMENT | I read with dismay the news report of a Penang Island city councillor wanting the police to look into the matter of the participation of children at a climate change protest by NGOs hostile to the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) initiative. I get that this project is controversial, with public opinion is mired in partisanship and there are people who support or oppose the project. This call by the city councillor for the police to harass the NGOs is typical of BN era politics, which was supposed to be in decline in Malaysia Baru.
The hypocrisy is evident. Back when Pakatan Harapan (in its various incarnations) held protests against the Umno/BN state, children were always brought along. Indeed, personnel of the state security apparatus expressed (to me) their irritation that protesters were bringing along children, claiming that these protesters were using children as some sort of human shields. My response to this was always, why would they need human shields?
If you go on social media, there are hundreds of pictures of children in Bersih T-shirts protesting with their parents. They are even pictures of infants in Bersih garb. When I attended the anti-Icerd (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) rally, there were children there too.
There is a discussion to be had about the role of children in protest rallies. However, the reality in this instance is that this Penang state councillor is mendacious and hypocritical in wanting the state security apparatus to intervene in the protests of NGOs (and children) who are a part of civil society.
MIC Bayan Baru Youth leader Mathis Sarawanan is correct when he writes: “This entire suggestion rather looks like a desperate attempt to hopelessly defend the PTMP and PSR (Penang South Reclamation) projects, as well as warn off other civil society organisations about the consequences of going against the state.”
The ”sadness” that these children were “used” demonstrates that for all the talk by Harapan that they want young people involved in the political and social discourse, what it comes down to is that if children are protesting against the establishment, then they are being used by adults. Were the children protesting during the Umno/BN regime, being used by adults as some claimed at the time?
Education minister Mazlee Malik hailed the school some of these children were from as eco-warriors. This is probably why the children were wearing their school T-shirts. To get publicity for the school, which in turn could translate to funding. Why does the councillor get “perturbed” about something like this? Schools these days gets the wrong attention for the most upsetting issues. Encouraging a sense of community is what schooling should be about and is what the administrators of this school are doing. With all the pressures facing schoolchildren these days, protesting against climate change and a government project seems a far better alternative than the "social ills" we keep reading about.
Reform movement Aliran, which covered the event, reported: “Keeping an eye on the group was the school principal, Sangga Sinnayah, and Parent-Teacher Association chairman Vimalan Narayanan.
“Sangga said the pupils had received their parents’ permission to take part in the event. Two of the pupils were celebrating their birthday, but they had requested their parents to delay their celebrations as they wanted to participate in this climate event. They are learning so much by taking part in such activities.”
Forget about the children for a minute. What angers me is this city councillor asking the state security apparatus to investigate a protest using the same justifications that Umno/BN used to use against legitimate protests.
“Protest held illegally” and “no valid permits” made up the kind of duplicitous nonsense Umno/BN used when cracking down on dissent. I despise it when Harapan politicians or members of its bureaucracy talk this way because it is a betrayal of everything people who went out on the streets fought for. It is a betrayal of the principles that Harapan operatives talked about before they assumed power.
What kind of message is the Penang state government trying to send to young people? What kind of message is the Penang state government sending to civil society? On the one hand, people decry the apathy of young people and on the other, they accuse adults of manipulating them when they protest against things that affect them. What kind of message are the Penang authorities sending to schoolchildren when it comes to dissent? We have a government that wants to lower the voting age because it thinks this will help them politically. What about educating children on their basic democratic rights when it comes to participating in society? Don’t you think this will educate them on their voting choices as they grow older?
There is also this talk on teaching children about the dangers of kleptocracy and instilling in them the spirit of democracy. When they do demonstrate – and climate change is a bigissue with young people the world over – a city councillor tells the kids that what they did was wrong.
I think this city councillor is using these children to get back at the NGOs which the state government is at odds with. It fills me with sadness that this city councillor would use children as collateral damage to get back at the NGOs that are against the projects that the state wishes to carry out. Would this city councillor have approved if the state security apparatus had broken up this protest? What message is she sending to the children that adults who encourage their activism would be investigated by the state security apparatus?
Instead of intimidating NGOs using children, the city councillor should have held a dialogue with the school to explain the state’s position. This way, the state demonstrates how democracy works, through dialogue instead of fascist tactics like hoping the state security apparatus would investigate NGOs protesting against state initiatives.
There is a lesson here and it is not the children who need to learn it. Or maybe the children need to learn that whatever it may profess, the state is rarely interested in democratic first principles.
posted by Major D Swami (Retired) @ 8:28 AM  
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