Friday, May 22, 2015

Stop Indian Labourers Immigration to Malaya - P. Veerasenan

Looking in the appalling condition of estate labourers in Malaya, a huge protest was organised in Singapore by Singapore General Labour Union on 18th August 1946 (Sunday)
The Straits Times dated 19th August 1946 reported that a mass protest of 5000 hedl in Singapore by the Indian Section of the Singapore General Labour Union under leadership of P.Veerasenan (spelt wrongly as "P.Veerasingham" in the news).

The protest strongly criticized the Malayan Government's immigration policy and condemning negotiation by the government to bring in more Indians labourers to Malaya.

"We dislike our fellow labourers to be brought into this country to share our misfortune and our precarious position" - stated in the resolution.

An appeal also has been put forward to the Indian government, the Indian National Congress, the Indian Communist Party and All India Muslim League to help to check the proposed influx of Indians into Malaya.

The finding of the Pyke Committee was also severely criticized and rejected in meeting as the committee interests were more towards favouring the government.

The meeting too asked the government to prohibit the toddy drinking among the Indian labourers as it has adverse effects on the labourers. The meeting also condemned the selection of Advisory Council whom the members were among Indian community who do not represent the community at all.

(Note: It is interesting that Indian Communist Party was mentioned in the news. This shows that there have been some strong connections between the Indians in Malaya and the Indian Communist Party)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Klang Strike 1941 - Government Statement : Justifying Deportation of R.H Nathan

The Straits Times, May 24th, 1941 carried the statement by Government to justify on deportation of R.H Nathan to India.

The government stated that it was aware of the activities of a small group of persons which was subversive and contrary to public interest.

Even though demands for increase of wage were met in some estates, the government became concerned as the group has been visited estates urging more demand and strike.

The government claimed that the group has been sowing distrust toward the government and the labour department among labourers. Political doctrines which are foreign to Malaya too were preached.

As a result of this labour forces armed with sticks, changkols, parangs and knives came out to strike without formulating any grievances nor demands. In same cases the managers were assaulted and property was damaged, it claimed!

It also claimed that R.H Nathan who had never worked on rubber estates to be the leader of this small group. They linked R.H Nathan to foreign organisations which activities are inimical to public interests in Malaya.

Other allegation towards R.H Nathan were instigating violence towards estate managements and against police. R.H Nathan also uttered words which show his disloyalty to the Empire! 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

C.V Kuppusamy - Tamil Social Reformist - Oct 1939

I would like to expand my horizon to include another Indian leader known as C.V Kuppusamy. In one of my postings,  I have written that according to Mr Sudarman (Singapore), C.V Kuppusamy was a top ranking leader of Indian section under CPM, who was in charge of the publication and propaganda. C.V Kuppusamy with S.Amaloo had been acknowledged by Michael Stenson in several occasions in his work, Class, Race and Colonialism in West Malaysia - notably during the 1941 Klang Strike where C.V Kuppusamy and S. Amaloo had aided R.H Nathan.

Early records of C.V Kuppusamy involvements in social reform can be traced back to 1939. The Straits Times dated 29th October 1939, reported that Selangor Tamil Reform Society organizing talks for Tamils at a market ground in Banting and C.V Kuppusamy will speaking on "The Situation of Tamils"
ST - 29th Oct 1939
After 1948, C.V Kuppusamy still continue his involvement in Tamil Reform Movement. The Straits Times July 26th, 1952 reported that the Singapore Registrar of Society has approved the formation of the Tamil Diffusion League, an organisation to spread Tamil culture and art under the leadership of S.K Shanmugam. C.V Kuppusamy was one of the council members.
ST- 26th July 1952

R.G Balan Takes A Bride in KL - ST 26th June 1961

The Straits Time dated 26th June 1961, reported that R G Balan, 42, who was released from detention about a year ago, was married at Chettiar Hall Kuala Lumpur according to Hindu rites on Saturday - June 24th, 1961.
The bride, M. Sivapakiam is a machine operator at Malayan Railway Headquarters. Balan was employed with Ministry of Interior.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Fight for A Democratic Constitution is a Fight for Better Food and Clothing

The Malaya Tribune – 16th Oct 1947

Politics Is A Struggle For Food, Clothing Argues President of PMFTU

(Tribune Staff Reported)

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct.15 - “The fight for a democratic constitution is a fight for better food and clothing,” declared Mr. K. Ganapathy, President of PMFTU, addressing the 3rd session of the Executive Bureau at Ipoh this morning.

Mr. Ganapathy  said that a democratic constitution was most vital to the promotion of the standard of living of the workers. He added: If the economic and the financial of the country is to be improved so as to place industries in a position to pay higher wages, if we are to have better social services, if there is to be equitable distribution of income and resources, these can only be secured by influencing the legislation of the country.”

He said that the PMFTU gave its whole-hearted support to the Malaya-wide campaign now being carried on by the Putera and the AMCJA against the acceptance of Revised Constitutional Proposals.

Following is a summary of his address:

“The Trade Union movement in Malaya is today passing through a very critical period in her history. The movement is confronted with several frightfully huge impediments that have to surmounted.
The working class movement in no other country faces a more formidable task that the PMFTU. Nowhere have the forces of progress met with a greater challenge than in Malaya.

“Firstly, Malayan economy is precariously unbalanced. Labour capital and initiative are solely concentrated on the exploitation of the raw material resources of the country. Here too the exploitation is confined mainly to rubber and tin only. Over 80 per cent of the total labour force in the country is employed in the rubber industry.

“The rubber industry being not modernized the percentage of acreage under clonal rubber being only 18, confronted with thread of the synthetic produce. Furthermore when the rehabilitation of the plantation in East Indies starts the rubber market is bound to slump.

“Thus Malaya’s dependence on the rubber has thrown her economy in a precarious condition. But still the Government has not shown any anxiety to take steps to place Malayan economy on a sound basis by working out a plan of balancing economic development.


“Secondly inflation has set in thus causing real wage to shrink the reducing the standard of living of the workers to starvation level.

“The chief causes of inflation have been absence of direct taxation, heavy indirect taxation, lack of an efficient system of price control, and unplanned and extravagant expenditure.

“Thirdly, in no country in the Empire does one find such curtailment of civil liberties as in Malaya. Examples of such curtailment are Societies’ Ordinance, the House to House Collections Ordinance, requirement of 10 days’ notice to the police for calling a mass meeting, trespassing restrictions in the plantation, the Banishment Ordinance etc.

"Fourthly, Malaya has no democratic constitution. In the Revised Constitutional Proposals that have been accepted by His Majesty’s Government there is no provision for elections and no transfer of responsibility to the people.

“If the economy of Malaya is balanced, if the civil liberties are guaranteed and if there is democratic constitution through which the will of the people could influence Legislation it would be much easier to promote the standard of living of the workers and alleviated his sufferings.

“But the impediments will not influence the PMFTU to pause or falter in its determination and efforts to make the lot of the workers a tolerable one.

“Now let me consider the task before us

Attempt to Divide

“Though the government makes pious declaration of promoting trade unionism in Malaya yet its action are the contrary. The Trade Union Ordinance provides that Government workers shall not combine with non-government workers. The workers belong to a single class. In this class there can be no radical, national or any other barriers. For the healthy democratic development of any country it is essential that the workers should be united. But here the Government foster a division. This division cannot but be meant to weaken the trade union movement in the country and curtain its achievements. The working class must strongly resist such attempts to divide them. The Government workers and the PMFTU should work for the repeal of this provision in the Trade Union Ordnance.

“Another impediment to the development of trade unionism in Malay is the trespass law in the plantations. The law keeps nearly 80 percent of the working class movement in the country in state of impotency. It deprives the state workers his right and dignity as human being and reduces his status to that is an serf. The trespass restrictions is an insult to the the working class and a scandal to Malayan people and the Government. The PMFTU and the entire working class movement of this country should ceaselessly work for the lifting of these restrictions. The lifting of these restriction are essential to lay stable foundations to the development of democracy in Malaya.

“There is another move by the Government to weaken the trade union movement. That is by fostering docile unions.  But this is a minor matter. We would advise the Government that docile unions are not practical proposition. The legitimate interests of the workers are bound to class with the docility of the union and then the leader or leaders who promote such docility will betray and this destroy himself or themselves.

“Another vital problem that engages the urgent attention of the working class is the question of a minimum wage. The Wages Commission did not attempt to tackle this problem.

“Today when real wages have shrunken to an alarmingly low level at a time when the working class is awakening in realize their rights the fixing of a minimum wage is not vital for the quick rehabilitation of the country.

“The minimum wage should be calculated on a minimum cost if living for a family of five. A family of five is the average family in Malaya. When the diet expenditure of the workers is calculated it should be done not on the minimum calories essential for his existence but on the minimum calories of his traditional diet that are necessary to keep him fit.

“I stress most strongly the needs for fixing a minimum wage because it is vital for the preservation of law and order in Malaya. His Excellency the Governor in his talk over Radio Malaya pointed out,
“The state of crime whether serious crime or petty, is generally found to have some relation with employment.” But His Excellency went on to say there was full employment in Malaya. Then what is the economic cause for the rise in crime except the inadequate in wages. I wonder why His Excellency did not push his argument to its logical conclusion.

“Here I wish to express the support of the PMFTU to the demand made for the PMCGW. Their demand for a minimum wage is much below the minimum cost of living. We refuse to believe that the finances of the Government cannot be so adjusted to meet their demands.

“Finally there is the struggle for a democratic constitution. The Putera and AMCJA  have launched a Malaya-wide campaign against the acceptance of the Revised Constitution Proposals. We give our wholehearted support to the campaign.

“A democratic constitution is most vital to the struggle for the improvement of our standard of living. If the economic and financial situation of the country is to be so improved so as to place industries in a position to pay higher wages, if we are to have better social services, if there is to be equitable distribution of income these can only be secured by influencing legislation in the country. This cannot be done without a democratic constitution through which the will of the people can be expressed.

“Therefore the fight for a democratic constitution is a fight for better food and clothing.  

“I appeal to the workers throughout Malaya to remain united and to be prepared for sacrifices. Nothing can be achieved without suffering, without tears and sweat.  

“Workers of Malaya, you alone know how you are sweating blood to keep you, your wives and children alive on the pittance that is given you as your wages, you alone know how you are condemned, insulted and abused for asking for nothing more than food and clothing.

“There is only one way out of all this, there is only one way for a better life and that is through unity , through greater solidarity of the working class.

“Workers of Malaya do not flinch or falter from the path to your goal just because the forces against you are temporary powerful and under great advantage. The only power that carries you alone on your path to your goal is hunger! That is a powerful force. It is powerful enough to blast everything before it. Furthermore, history is on your side. So dear comrades march on and stop not till your goal is reached.      

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ganapathy was Not the First and Last Indian Sent to Gallows

During the Emergency, it is known fact that many were given death penalty for illegal possession arms. Many of them were Chinese from the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) and labour unions front. There were a few Malays have been hanged for same offense. It has been widely spoken by many Malaysian Indians that S.A Ganapathy was the only Indian sentenced to death for arm possession and another Indian, Sambasivam, sentenced to death for the same offense has been saved by Indian government. This is to prove how determined were the Indian leaders to save every Indian subjected to death penalty in Malaya.

But only a few knew that Ganapathy was not the first and last to be hanged. Another Indian, Karrupiah, who have been active in union front and like many others joined the MNLA also sentenced to death.

The Straits Times on the 22nd February 1951, reported that an Indian, Karrupiah was sentenced to death at the Johore Assizes for being a bandit agent and collector. Attempts were made by Indian Government to save Karrupiah through Privy Council after his appeal was rejected in Federal Court of Appeal. The execution was still carried out.

No one have done any studies on Karrupiah's case nor his background.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Gurney Requested to Advise Sultan to Give Full Weight on Sambasivam's Case

The Secretary of States for the Colonies, Arthur Creech Jones has written to High Commissioner of Malaya, Sir Henry Gurney on the 9th May 1949 at 2315hrs explaining situation post Ganapathy's execution in India where Nehru is being heavy criticised by the Left-wing for his policy of free association with the Commonwealth.
According to Jones, the execution of Ganapathy “came at a most inappropriate moment” and putting Nehru and his Congress in wrong limelight.

Nehru was scheduled to speak to the Parliament on the 16th May 1949 on the outcome of Prime Minister Conference, where India's participation in Commonwealth accepted despite being a republic nation. Nehru is in a dire state to prove to the parliament that efforts have been taken to save another Indian who is waiting to be hanged - Sambasivam

The Secretary of States for the Colonies requesting Gurney to look into Sambasivam’s case as Indian government has made representation to the British government through their High Commissioner in UK – Krishna Menon.
His Majesty Sultan of Johor Sultan Ibrahim
With taking into constitutional difficulties in Malaya (where the prerogatives to pardon an accused vested with Sultan) Creech Jones requesting Gurney to advise the Sultan to give a full weight in the case of Sambasivam for the consideration of granting reprieve.

Sambasivam was a clerk of Rubber Worker Union Segamat in Johor. He was arrested on the 13th September 1948 at Bukit Kepong, Johor. At the time of his arrest he was in the company of two Chinese who were armed. In fight broke between groups of three Malays armed with knives (parangs) with the Chinese. Sambasivam was seriously wounded. One of Chinese was killed and other Chinese escaped. The arms including a revolver (the subject of the charge in his case) were recovered at the scene.

Sambasivam was discharged from hospital on 28th February 1949 when he was brought to trial at the Johor Supreme Court on the 2nd and 3rd March 1949 for unlawfully carrying arms. The assessors found him not guilty but the trial judge disagreed and orders a retrial.

In the retrial which took place on 22nd March 1949, he was convicted by both assessors (a Malay and an Indian) and found guilty. He was sentenced to death.

The court of Appeal dismissed his appeal on 28th April 1948. All the three Appeal Judges (including the Chief Justice) agreed with the Trial Judge. The execution was decided to take place on the 4th June 1949.

Thivy took enormous efforts to save Sambasivam by pursuing Sambasivam in person to sign the application for leave to appeal to the Privy Council on the 3rd of June 1949 - a day before his execution.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Four Dead After Clash Between Armed Men and Military Force - Straits Times 17th May 1941

The Straits Times dated 17th May 1941 carried the news of four labourers died in a clash between estate labourers and armed forces in Banting.
It was reported that the troops fired in self-defence.  Three labourers were shot dead and two received bayonet wounds. A contingent of Malays Regiment has been sent to Negeri Sembilan to stop labourers from traveling from one estate to another estate spreading the call for strike.
124 labourers/strikers have been arrested and strikes have so far spread at 39 estates in Selangor. The situation has been so bad that the British Resident of Selangor, G.M Kidd has to declare state of emergency in Selangor. Units of Volunteer Force are standing by at Rifle Camp in case of emergency. Chief Police Officer of Selangor, H.B Langworthy is directing police operation in Klang and G.R Livett, head of Criminal Intelligence Branch directing operation from Kuala Lumpur. 
Even though, the news did not mention on shooting orders by G.M Kidd, I am sure we will find something in the colonial reports. 

1941 Klang Strike - Labourers Peddled Spearding Call for Strike - The Straits Times 14th May 1941.

One of the paramount labour struggles against oppressive planters and always been regarded as an uprising among labourers in Malaya was the 1941 Klang Strike.

I would like to pen down a few details of events which unfolded along the struggle, on the individuals who involved in the strikes and what were the pushing factors behind it. And also what was the reaction of daily mails in Malaya that time – both English and Tamil.

Interestingly many have written on Klang Strike but they were not widely discussed as many considered this as an agitation caused by Indians over poor wage issues. According to may scholars the strike is "one of the largest, best organised and most militant strike by Indians workers which Malaya had ever seen" (Tai Yuen - Labour Unrest in Malaya 1934-1942)

Around 20000 estate Indian labourers from 100 over estates involved. The government and its agencies which have been in favour of the planters decided to flex their muscles to teach the labourers a lesson - “not to ever and ever go against their master!”. Huge police force coupled with military personnel was used to curb the strikes resulted four deaths, hundreds injured, arrested and detained. Many were deported including the so called the master mind of the unrest– RH Nathan, who strike fear in the hearts of planters. 

The strike ended with 6 workers dead, 21 deported and 95 accepting volunteer repatriation. Of the 300 arrested and imprisoned, 186 were subsequently released on condition that they did not return to the estate where they were employed once. The Klang District Indian Union was deregistered. (Tai Yuen - Labour Unrest in Malaya 1934-1942) 

John Tully in his book "The Devil's Milk" gave a detail insight of the unrest. 

The Klang Strike was said to be started when a stoppages began at the Damansara Estate, on March 17, 1941 when four laborers were arrested for allegedly intimidating the others into ceasing work.

As a Colonial Office report noted, there were actually two consecutive strike waves. The first broke out early in the year and was inspired by the desire for parity in wage rates with Chinese plantation workers and by widespread resentment that despite a vast increase in profits since the Depression, wage cuts had not been restored.

The synchronicity of the strikes with similar demands was made possible by the formation of a new illegal workers’ organization, the Klang District Indian Union, by two “agitators” called Y. S. Menon and R. H. Nathan (whom the British described as members of the Indian National Congress with “strong socialist sympathies”). Further support came from the Indian Communist R. K. Thangaiah and the CIAM’s Mr. N. Raghaven. The strikes were successful in that the Indian laborers were granted a general wage increase to sixty cents a day for men and fifty cents for women, although this still fell short of the rates paid to their Chinese counterparts.

The second wave broke on April 16 and was not directly wage-related. The Colonial Office considered the motives political and that, the underlying cause of the strikes was probably the fact that the earlier strikes had given the labourers an idea of their power and their victory had gone to their head. The workers demanded the right to wear “Gandhi hats” and fly Congress flags in their compounds, and wanted the abolition of the custom of coolies having to dismount from their bicycles if they met a planter’s car on the roads.

Such “insolence” outraged the High Commissioner, Sir Shenton Thomas, who told CIAM leaders, “the strike was a disgrace to the Indian community” and a “politically inspired . . .challenge to authority.” Nevertheless, Thomas downplayed the significance of the affair by claiming that “the men will soon get tired of the new fashion” of Gandhi caps. Sounding like the Wodehouse character Bertie Wooster, he claimed, “It is the custom of India to dismount from a bicycle when meeting a superior . . . just as we take off our hat to a lady.”

Arguably, the laborers were demanding to be treated with respect, and this collided with the racist stereotyping common among planters and British officials. Puzzled that “their” Tamils had become unruly, the British police blamed the whole situation on “agitators.” They reasoned, “if they could get rid of them, the rest of the labour force would be perfectly contented.”

High Commissioner Sir Shenton Thomas ordered the arrest of Nathan and Thangaiah, whom he blamed for leading the Tamils astray. In the monochrome world of racial stereotypes common to men of Thomas’s rank and class, it was inconceivable that “the mild Hindu” could act without outside influence. There is evidence that he had already decided to arrest the agitators before the start of the second wave of strikes but was waiting for the most opportune moment to act and thus behead the strike movement. The laborers, however, were incensed by the arrests, which added to their growing list of unresolved grievances. After his deportation to India, Nathan listed the strikers’ demands as follows:
  • Pay parity between Indian and Chinese [laborers] 
  • Removal of “brutal” Ceylonese and Malayalee staff and replacement with Tamils 
  • Proper education for children 
  • An end to the molestation of laborers’ womenfolk by Europeans and “black” Europeans 
  • Proper medical facilities 
  • Closing of toddy shops 
  • Freedom of speech and assembly 
  • Free access to estates for family and friends 
  • Laborers to remain mounted on bicycles in front of European and Asian staff 
  • Abolition of 10–12-hour days 
  • No victimizations 
  • Permission to form associations to represent their interests
(taken from Chapter 16 - Coolie Revolt - The Devil's Milk by John Tully)  

On the 14th May 1941, The Straits Times reported that the situation in estates in Selangor and around Kuala Lumpur is worsening as the wave of strikes spreading. It has been reported, agitators have peddling bicycles working their way from one estate to another estate in Kuala Lumpur resulting to 27 estates on strike.

On the 13th May, 30 labourers from Banting have been charged in Klang Court and remanded. 16 agitators have been detained at Bukit Darah Estate.

The labourers on Effingham Estate and Seventh Mile Estate on the Old Damansara Road have gone out on strike. 

A Tamil, Sithambaram was charged in court for intimidation. 

The High Commissioner, Sir Shenton Thomas had met with the government officials and UPAM's president S.B Palmer to discuss matters arsing from the labour unrest. 

The British Resident of Selangor has called out the European Company of 2nd Battalion Federated Malay State Volunteers to patrol the road in the vicinity of Kuala Lumpur.    

Please note the selection of words used by The Straits Times's editor - gangs of intimidators and agitators. Also interested that labourers have been using bicycles to mobilise their strength.  

Friday, January 30, 2015

Release Balan Or...... (ST 1st June 1948)

A resolution of condemning the Federation Government "in cunningly arrested" President of Planting Labourer Union of Perak, R.G Balan, was passed at the conference of Planting Labourer Union. This is said to be done to order to frighten the labourers. Balan was arrested on the 30th May 1948 - before the declaration of Emergency in Malaya.

The delegates also agree to have a one day strike on the 4th June 1948 to demand the Government to release Balan unconditionally as he was arrested without a course.

Reported strike over the weekend (30 and 31 May 1948);

1. Kamuning Estate, Sungai Siput - 640 Chinese tappers on strike

2. Sungai Krudda Estate, Sungai Petani - 75 Chinese tappers on strike

3. Kinta Valley Estate, Batu Gajah - 98 Chinese tappers on strike

4. River View Estate - 40 Chinese tapper on strike

5. Kati Estate, Kuala Kangsar - 32 Chinese tapper on strike

6. Strathisla and Chemur Estate still at strike