Monday, 17 August 2009

Of Malaysian Communists and Communist Fighters

Malaysiakini featured a series of articles over this year's Merdeka Day celebration period by correspondent, K. Kabilan about members of the Communist Party of Malaysia (CPM) who are now residing in Southern Thailand. Apart from the featuring one of the last surviving members of the CPM armed struggle days, Abdullah CD there was a story on Asi, arguably the last Indian Malaysian Communist alive who also referred to one CPM Indian operative named Perumal.

Then there was the "revelation" by Tunku's son that Chin Peng in a 1954 letter to Tunku actually assured Tunku "protection" as a fellow struggler for the nation's independence.
I would like to refer to the stories and some emotional responses from certain quarters.

The Perumal Story and responses:

The last of CPM's Indian communists

With the Japanese finally forced out after a hard fought war, the British had regained power in Malaya and were trying to redeem severely dented pride. There appeared two options-winning the hearts and minds of Malayans who had lost their faith in them or launch a brutal elimination of their fiercest opposition.It was a time of high uncertainly with many groups working at different levels to gain political mileage in a nation ripe for independence.

It was also a time when the communist insurgency, through the Malayan National Liberation Army, was gaining a strong foothold in the country, especially in Perak and Selangor.

The year was 1952, Malaya was under Emergency then and the one place which exemplified the ongoing battle for public support, among the British and the communists was undoubtedly Sungai Siput, Perak.

Living in an estate a few kilometres away from Sungai Siput, 11-year-old Asi (not his real name) was always impressed by two things: the manner with which the communists got the better of the British and the way an Indian gentleman called Perumal propagated an independent nation.

"I was in awe of the communists. They would come to my estate at night. Some will be hurt after fighting. Some of them were fathers of my friends and they were all very friendly with us," started Asi.

"And then there was Perumal, a communist too but not a fighter. His job was to explain to the people all about communism and he was highly effective... I was impressed with what he had to say," he added.

"These two factors pulled me to become a communist at the age of 11," he told Malaysiakini recently.

Today, he is the only Indian Malaysian communist alive.In good care of elder comradesAsi lives in a communist village in southern Thailand which was set up after the 1989 peace talks between the Malaysian and Thai governments. The village is inhabited by former members of the formidable 10th Regiment of the Communist Party of Malaya, led by Abdullah CD and his wife Suriani Abdullah. Asi was a member of this regiment.

"I have no regrets at all about joining this revolution. I think I have achieved the main aim - to get rid of the British and free Malaya," said this frail-looking man who had spent 40 years of his life in the jungle.

It would of course be wrong to judge the 68-year-old by his delicate appearance. Asi is very much fit and able and continues to wake up at 4am daily to tap rubber in the nearby plantation, which has about 100 trees planted in a six-acre plot, courtesy of the Thai government after the peace deal.

He is married to a Thai communist comrade - "she has been in war with me" - and they have a daughter, who is married to a Thai and settled in the same 'peace village'.

"I have led a very dangerous life but it has been exciting. Communism has always been and is my way of living. My friends are all my ex-comrades. Abdullah and Suriani are like my parents. They took me under their wings from the very beginning," he said.

Asi is also not bothered by the fact that he is the only non-Malay communist in the village. In fact he has forgotten what it is like be an Indian."

In the jungle, we were all fighting for survival and a common cause. The spirit of camaraderie was very strong, with no one caring about what race you were. I'm very close to these friends here and for them I'm like one of them. Since I joined the movement at a young age, I was looked after by senior Malay comrades," he said in flawless Malay. His Tamil, however, is understandably rusty.

Asi also readily admits that he was one-of-a-kind simply because there were not many Indian communists in the movement.

"The number of Indians was not many. At one time, there were about 85 of us. Right now, I'm sure I'm the only living Indian communist from Malaya," he said with a smile.

The jungle years

Asi joined the movement with four of his childhood friends in Sungai Siput. In the early days he helped out Perumal by distributing communist propaganda material.

"And then later in the year, the British offensive became too risky for us to remain in Sungai Siput. We joined Perumal in going into the jungle and we hooked up with the 5th regiment."

There were about 85 active Indian communists at that time. Many others were not involved in fighting but in trade unions and propaganda division. During that period of 1952, many sleeper Indian communists were arrested, especially those involved in unions.

"But the 85 of us joined the 5th Regiment and we had a platoon called the Indian platoon, led by Perumal and I was the youngest. It was while in the jungle that I had the full exposure to communism. The ideology was taught to us by an officer named Muthusamy."

Recounting his life in the jungle at that time, Asi said that he was subsequently taken under the wings of a regiment leader called Liau Liew (or better known as Sukong).

"I was very young and he was worried I would be killed if left with the 5th regiment. He took me to his headquarters deep in the jungle and I was with him from 1952 to 1959," he said.

The year 1959 brought about another life changing experience for Asi as he was involved in a major fight with the British in Betong.

"Many of my friends died. Another Indian comrade named Alou and myself were then sent over to the Pahang jungle to be with Abdullah. By this time, the Indian platoon had been wiped out and only a handful of us remained."

"With Abdullah's regiment, I was at first tasked to be the messenger boy, meaning I had to deliver messages to other units. This would sometimes take days. After sometime, I was put in charge of hunting for animals to feed the comrades."

"That was an exciting period. Did you know that the Perak jungle had huge deer those days?"

Hunting required the little boy to be trained in weapon usage and slowly Asi was moved into the fighting unit. From then on he became involved in more than 40 fights, mostly against the British and the Gurkhas, and has many wounds to show as evidence of his jungle warfare.

Nationalist or terrorist?

He gets emotional when asked about being labelled a terrorist.

"That's wrong! How about the other side, the British? They committed atrocities in kampungs and blamed us for that...they were violent as well."

"Don't forget it was a period of war. If we didn't defend ourselves, we would have been killed! We were fighting for a free nation and they were protecting their colony from being liberated," he said."

"But sadly, we are not recognised for our role in winning independence. We are also accused of causing atrocities."

"No matter how bitter or bloody it was, it was a fight for the independence of our nation... no one would hand out independence on the plate for nothing like what is being claimed by the present government," he added."

"There is no truth in the myth espoused that Malaysia gained independence without shedding a drop of blood. WE shed our blood and lives for this. It is only right we are recognised for that," he stressed, saying that the Malaysian history must be rewritten to indicate this.

He stressed in his soft voice that he still believed in the ideologies of communism.

"For me, my struggle with MCP was noble. I'm a patriot, along with my comrades. Please revise the history," he said.

Returning to Malaysia

On that note, he also expressed his disappointment that people in Malaysia were ignorant of their history.

He has been back to Sungai Siput quite regularly but has always found it difficult to settle in. He still has families back in Perak - including his elder brother and nephew but is happy to be his Southern Thailand village.

However, there is still one thing which he wants corrected in Malaysia - he wants to convert his red IC to a proper MyKad.

"I'm a Malaysian citizen. I was born in Sungai Siput. My father was a known figure in the estate and yet I have been denied my right."

"I have travelled up and down many times to get the identity card and have spent almost RM10,000 for this cause. I have met Malaysian politicians and civil servants but have had no success," he added with bitterness.

"Maybe the government is punishing me for my past but strangely all my other comrades have proper citizenship. It's just me who is left out," he said.

It was for this reason Asi refused to reveal his real name for he fears he will be blocked altogether from entering into Malaysia if the border authorities know who he is."

I wish I'm properly recognised as a citizen as well as for my role along with my comrades on freeing Malaya from the occupiers," he ended with a forlorn hope.

Readers' Comments:

by Datuk Azmi Tan Sri A Hamid Bidin - 6 days ago
Dear Mr Kabilan, If you are really worth your salt, please I beg of you go and arrange for an interview with the family of the LATE Captain V Mohana Chandran, SP, Renjer. A CPM .22 on 12 Jun 71 killed my best friend at 24 years old in Singai Siput. I sure do like to hear your story as I am beginning to wonder what is your slant. Probably in the likes of my late father General Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bin Bidin may also be distorted in your presentation. At times like this I will forever miss my dear brother MGG Pillai. Reporting yes but please be fair from the inner most of hearts. Captain (R) Datuk Azmi Bin Abdul Hamid Bidin, Renjer

by Ravindranath - 6 days ago

To Datuk Azmi Tan Sri A Hamid Bidin, So on that similar vein of thought I guess we should kick out every Japanese company out of this country too, right? Most of these Japanese companies built the war machines that killed many Malayans. And what about every Japanese tourist whose grandfather/father who fought and killed so many Malayans. What have you to say about the Japanese themselves who refuse to be honest about their role in WWII. Well because it is not financially expedient while Asu and the others are. This is what they mean when one says history is written by the victorious. By the way I am Indian and I was not brought up during the insurgency era.

by ahmad iqhbal - 5 days ago

That moment in time...The end justifies the means...That ideology that droved these citizens of our country to free Malaya from the clutches of the Japanese and later the British...Sacrifices yes my friend,this side or that side depends on what you want to see,remembered and pass on...Tihe American!s called it "colateral damage" Syukurlah Alhamdulillah,theirs is not in vain,as we move forward in a Malaysia we come to know...err..the country mmm...not the politicians I mean.wassalamulaikum.

by Deva Guru - 5 days ago

Dear Datuk Azmi, I fully agree with you, no body speaks about Late Captain V Mohana Chandran who gave his life for this country. To all readers I do agree with the emotions, but there are alot victims of PKM as well, for example recently I read and article wrote by a Victim of CPM. Her dad was a school teacher, and was forced by PKM to propagate Communism to the student, when he refused, the killed him. Till today the victim says that he father death was not justified, he was mere school teacher. After Independence, what I dont understand is, PKM was still conducting its armed struggle, the British were out then, so whats the armed struggle for. My dad was an army officer and I still remember, there were alot of booby trap victims after 1975, what was PKM's objective to continue the war withe the Independent Malaya and Malaysia after 1963. What was their objective ?

Many may not know about the bravery of the country's first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman who risked his life while on the trail to campaign for the country's freedom.According to Tunku Abdul Rahman's only son, Tunku Ahmad Nerang Putra, most of the British colonialists despised the senior Tunku due to his vocal demands for freedom of the nation.Tunku Ahmad Nerang said the late former prime minister had revealed a secret on an incident that happened in 1954 that brought concerns about his safety.At that time, the colonial government had appointed Tunku Abdul Rahman a member of the Federal Legislative Council and entrusted with the Transport portfolio.
In an official duty, Tunku Abdul Rahman boarded a British aircraft from the Kuala Lumpur Flying Club airstrip.Tunku Ahmad Nerang said his father then suspected that something was amiss when he saw only a single parachute available on the Beaver aircraft even though there were two people on board, Tunku Abdul Rahman and the British pilot.According to Tunku Ahmad Nerang, during the flight the pilot had asked his father all sorts of questions about the position of the British in Malaya after independence and demanded an assurance from Tunku Abdul Rahman that he would not expel the British nationals from Malaya."Tunku (Abdul Rahman) had calmly answered that Malaya still needed the British soldiers even though after independence particularly in fighting the communists and this assurance had pacified the British pilot," said Tunku Ahmad Nerang.He said after the plane had landed safely, his late father had confided that the pilot could have bailed out from the plane and left Tunku Abdul Rahman alone if the first prime minister had not given the assurance that the British man wanted.No security escortTunku Ahmad Nerang who is now 76, and resides in Kuala Lumpur, related another incident when he acted as the driver for his father when the latter visited 'hot spots' in Tanjung Malim in Perak, Kuala Kubu Baharu in Selangor and Raub in Pahang in 1954.
He said his father had sat in front next to him while behind them were Khir Johari and Tan Sri Syed Jaafar Albar."The road then was very narrow and several armoured cars had joined us to provide security and I had to drive close behind one armoured vehicle."Upon reaching a rest house in Raub, a police officer approached Tunku Ahmad Nerang and told him that it was dangerous to follow an armoured car very close from behind.He said Tunku Abdul Rahman had retorted: "I don't need the escort, those people behind me (Khir Johari and Jaafar Albar) are good enough." After resuming the trip, Tunku Abdul Rahman had told those in the car that he had received a letter from Chin Peng (Communist Party of Malaya leader) that gave the assurance on the former's safety and supported his struggle for independence.Tunku Abdul Rahman had even asked the police and British army not to escort him during his visits to black areas in Johor as he feared the presence of the security forces would endanger his life.Tunku Ahmad Nerang said in reciprocation, his father had assured the safety of Chin Peng during the Baling Peace Talk 1956.Dangerous train rideDuring the pre-Merdeka days, taking a train ride was considered risky but this had never scared the late Tunku Abdul Rahman.Tunku Ahmad Nerang recalled an incident when his father boarded a train from Kuala Lumpur bound for Butterworth."The train that we were on had to stop at Tapah station as the rail tracks at Tanjong Malim were sabotaged by the communists, forcing us to spend the night on the train".
They only knew the next day that the train was carrying many British soldiers and had come under the communists' threat.Tunku Abdul Rahman later received a letter from Chin Peng (left) who apologised over the incident as he did not know that Tunku Abdul Rahman was on board the train.Due to his tight work schedule, Tunku Abdul Rahman suffered a bout of pneumonia attack and sought treatment at Bangsar Hospital in Kuala Lumpur."An incident in front of my very own eyes happened when an Eurasian nurse gave an injection to Tunku but hurriedly left without removing the needle from his buttocks."However Tunku removed the needle himself and we left the hospital. That was how unpopular the late Tunku with British people in his vocal quest for the country's independence," said Tunku Ahmad Nerang.However the doctor that treated Tunku Abdul Rahman was a Malay by the name of Dr Latiff and a road at Kuala Lumpur Hospital was named Persiaran Dr Latiff.Stranded in floodwatersTunku Ahmad Nerang said his father worked hard to campaign for the country's independence, disregarding rain or shine.
One day in 1954, Tunku Abdul Rahman's car was stranded and trapped in a pool of mud during floods in Johor Baharu."There were Malay boys willing to push the car for a fee. Tunku offered them one ringgit but upon realising that Tunku was in the car, they declined the money," said Tunku Ahmad Nerang.However two other cars, each carrying Syed Esa Almashoor and Syed Abdullah Alsagoff respectively were also stuck in mud and the boys were given 20 sen each to push the vehicles clear from the muddy puddle.Another incident was in Kangar the same year."When we were about to leave our house in Alor Star, the rain came down heavily and when the rain subsided, I drove the car a bit too fast as Tunku did not like to keep people waiting."Our car skidded and crashed into a ditch in front of the Malay Regiment Camp in Kepala Batas. The army officer recognised Tunku and told his men to help pull out our car and we later continued the journey in a badly damaged car,” said Tunku Ahmad Nerang.
One day in 1955, Tunku Ahmad Nerang accompanied his father during the latter's campaigning. The trip was all day long as Tunku Abdul Rahman moved from Johor Baharu to Muar and later Batu Pahat meeting the villagers.They later returned to Johor Baharu late in the night and were too exhausted, as they had not eaten."Both of us were too tired and hungry as we had not eaten and there was no food at home. I found an egg in the fridge and I boiled it."I later knocked my father's room and asked him whether he wanted the boiled egg. Tunku touched my head and with tears in his eyes, asked me to eat it," said Tunku Ahmad Nerang.Tunku Ahmad Nerang said several days later, he left for Bombay, India to study at the Indian Military College.
"After arriving in Bombay, I read in the Indian Times about the news that Alliance Party in Malaya had won (the election) and Tunku was appointed the Chief Minister of Malaya," added Tunku Ahmad Nerang.
- Bernama

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