The government was at the receiving end of much criticism for its decision to ban Hindraf, starting with the country’s officially sanctioned human rights organisation.
“Suhakam is of the opinion that a ban on Hindraf will not resolve the issues being championed by this group of individuals and therefore encourages the relevant agencies to address the genuine grievances which are socio-economic in nature,” said commissioners Simon Sipaun, Michael Yeoh and Denison Jayasooria in a joint statement.
They were concerned that the ban would further alienate the group from mainstream Malaysian society and asked for the ban to be rescinded.
The trio want the government to produce evidence of the movement being a threat to public order and morality – a feeling shared by others.
“It was cowardice and arrogance – a clampdown of genuine voices of dissent,” said DAP Ipoh Barat MP M Kulasegaran.
“Its (18-point) demands should indeed be incorporated into the national socio-economic policy,” he said – critical of Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar for not informing Parliament beforehand.
Bukit Bendera MP Liew Chin Tong characterised it as the government “burying itself in the sand like an ostrich” and losing further Indian support.
“The government should understand that with or without Hindraf, the community was unhappy with the way their cultural, religious and basic needs were trampled on,” he said.
Liew lambasted socio-economic policies which marginalised the lower income groups in Malaysia, making many Indians, Malays and Chinese living in abject poverty.
“The government had kow-towed to demands made by a small group of Umno right-wing advocates to ban Hindraf,” he said.
Civil rights activist and former Gerakan leader Dr Toh Kin Woon called it distasteful and ridiculous since they are banning a NGO struggling for disenfranchised Indians.
“If the federal government is sincere, it’ll find the root causes of Indian dissatisfaction, rather than to resort to such harsh actions,” he said.
Toh argued that poor Indians – not unlike other ethnicities – lack upward social mobility opportunities, and are mired in generational poverty. Therefore the government should work with Hindraf to address the issues.
“Declaring Hindraf illegal will not only resolve the problem, but exacerbate the situation,” he summed up.
Hindu Action Network (HAN) chief coordinator G Mugunthan asked Syed Hamid to clarify his decision.
“Hindraf was never an armed struggle. It was a harmless movement championing the cause of marginalised minorities and protesting against repressive security laws,” he said, repeating similar calls to revoke the ban.
Save Ourselves secretary BK Ong questioned the legal basis of the decision.
“Without such evidence, the charges are rather unfounded and libellous,” he said adding that the reasons behind the decision were questionable.
He postulated that if Syed Hamid was doing this because of Hindraf’s illegal assemblies, then Umno and PAS too should be banned for their NEP demonstrations in Penang and Bar Council’s forum intrusion in Kuala Lumpur respectively.
“Ban on Hindraf was blatant prejudice and injustice.
“Is this the sign of things to come after the Umno leadership change?” he asked.
“If the movement was a threat to national security, then former Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi’s Ahimsa movement should also be deemed as a terrorist organisation,” said United Hindu Religious Council (UHRC) deputy president AK Suppayah
He believes the ban was a bad omen for the BN federal government, just like how police brutality at the Nov 25 Hindraf rally last year led to their electoral losses in March.
Bayan Baru MCA division vice-chairperson Ooi Chuan Aik felt that the government should have adopted a softer approach.
Anti-ISA Movement (GMI) chairperson Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh said the ban would not change the situation since the issue was about managing and engaging’ Hindraf and its demands.
Penang Makkal Sakti Welfare Association (Pemaswa) deputy chairperson MC Pitchay views the ban as part of government strategy to quell the community’s insurgence against injustice and discrimination.
“The government may have a hidden agenda to establish a camouflaged pro-BN NGO in Hindraf’s mould to hoodwink the Indian community,” he said.
PAS national unity chairperson Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa said the government should have dealt with the movement professionally and not politically, calling on the accusations against the movement to be heard in court.
He also invited Hindraf to move into mainstream civil rights struggles in the country and to appear less as an extreme Hindu movement.
MIBA president, Sivakumar felt that banning Hindraf would do little good for the ruling coalition as it failed to address the core issues.
“Banning Hindraf is one thing, but the mother of all Indian protests which happened in the March 8 general election, the Makkal Sakthi (people’s power), is the feeling of being sidelined under the New Economic Policy for far too long.
“It is about the desire to be treated equally and to be given a fair share of opportunities in the civil, business and education sectors as well as the need to respect their places of worship in terms of indiscriminate demolitions,” he said.
“These are the grouses of the community, no one can imprison this spirit,” he stressed.