Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rail Strikers Reject Ultimatum - The Straits Times April 30th, 1934

As we are looking at Indians earliest retaliation against his colonial master, again Federated Malay States (FMS) Railway, which employed many Tamils, proven to be vital in providing platform for radicalization of Indian labourers in Malaya.

It has been reported on 30th April 1934, another railway strike was orchestrated by the Indians. This time the demands that they put forwards surprised me in many ways as they were not demanding for mere survival but they are demanding their rights as workers. I see many elements of Marxism which propagates proletariat's rights in general. The FMS railway workers were very well aware of their rights as stated in the news that:

..that the strikers noted that the committee was prepared to submit a memorandum to the general manager for submission to the Government, but as there had been no indication that the memorandum would be sympathetic, they desired some assurance to the effect that the grievance would be reasonably redressed and that as a mark of good faith they asked the committee to give assurance that wages for the period of the strike would not be withheld. Only on these conditions they would resume work.”

The strike spread to Singapore and affected the whole country except Kedah and Kelantan. A memorandum which consists of 14 resolutions taken by the strikers, had been submitted to the general manager of FMS Railway and this to be forwarded to the British Government.

These resolutions were published in Tamil Nesan. The fourteen demands are:

1. 15% cut in wage to be discontinued as the labourers are put to very hardship

2. Cuts up the present day to be refunded

3. The bonus of two hours granted for them on Saturdays, which has been stopped, be returned

4. Increments should be granted yearly

5. Workmen receiving injuries at workshops and sent to hospital should received full wages

6. Every month labourers shall have three days leave without asking permissions

7. Children of the workmen shall be given work

8. Every workmen who receives a salary of $2 per day or more be allowed a second-class free pass on the railways

9. A ruling that was given that workmen who go to India for six months’ leave would not be given further work on return, should be cancelled.

10. In computing a gratuity for apprentices, the date they were taken into service should be considered.

11. As previously, apprentices should be granted increments every six months

12. When apprentices finish their course they should not be told there is no work for them. Work must be found.

13. The ruling made in 1934 that new workmen should pay house rent should be cancelled

14. The practice of discharging workmen who have put in seven or eight years ‘ service and enlisting temporary men should cease

I am particularly astonished with the resolution No 3, which was introduced in 1925 but later was withdrawn in November 1932. It allowed that workers to be paid for eight hours instead of work done for six hours! I am not sure why these concession was made earlier in 1925, but according to the news the concession was ceased with considering the economical situation during the Great Depression.

The committee also warned that if Government decided to terminate the workers, it will be regarded as unlawful termination.

April 30th, 1934 - The Straits Times


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Former Trade Unions President Hanged - The Malay Mail - May 4, 1949

Being a prominent newspaper in Malaya, The Malay Mail reported the execution of Ganapathy on the 4th May 1949 - the same day Ganapathy was hanged.
From the news, there are few things we can ascertain of:
1. Ganapathy disappeared from public when Emergency was announced in June 1948
2. Ganapathy was caught when he was in hiding in rubber estate on March 1st.
3. Ganapathy was caught by the acting manager of Waterfall Estate, J.W.W Simons with a group of special constables.
4. Ganapathy refused to surrender and put up a struggle, trying to draw his revolver from his belt.
5. Ganapathy was caught with a revolver and six rounds of ammunition 
6. Ganapathy was handed to the Rawang OCPD
7. Two of the special constables and the OCPD of Rawang gave evidence in Ganapathy's case.
9. Ganapathy's sentence was confirmed by the Selangor State Executive on April 23, 1949 once his appeal was dismissed in Supreme Court. 


May 4, 1949

Former Trade Unions President Hanged

Caught with Unlicensed Arms

A. Ganapathy, a Tamil who was formerly president of the proscribed Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Unions, was hanged at Pudu Goal, Kuala Lumpur, this morning. The sentence of death passed on him was confirmed by the Selangor State Executive on the April 23 after his appeal to the Supreme Court had been dismissed.

Ganapathy, aged 24, disappeared from Kuala Lumpur when the emergency was first declared in June, last year.

On March 1 this year, while patrolling his estate with a party of special constables the acting manager of Waterfall Estate, Mr. J.W.W. Simons came across Ganapathy sitting in the rubber. (Waterfall Estate is on the 20th mile Rawang - Kuala Selangor Road)

Mr. Simons instructed his special constables to bring Ganapathy with their party. When told to put up his hands Ganapathy refused, showed fight and grabbed the revolver which he had in his belt.

In the struggle that followed Ganapathy was overpowered. The revolver was seized and in it were six rounds of ammunition. The revolver was serviceable.

Ganapathy had no license for it or for the ammunition.

Following his arrest Ganapathy was tried and convicted on March 15. Two special constables, who took part in the struggle, gave evidence of finding the loaded revolver on Ganapathy’s person. The O.C.P.D Rawang, to whom Ganapathy, the revolver and ammunition were handed over, gave evidence that the revolver was serviceable and that Ganapathy had no license for it or for the ammunition.

The charge on which Ganapathy was tried was being in unlawful possession of a revolver and carrying six rounds of ammunition. 
The Malay Mail - May 4, 1949

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

FMS Railway Workers on Strike - 16th July 1913 - The Earliest Record of Indian Retaliation in Malaya

I am was curious to find out when was the earliest strike took place among Indian workers. I was sure at one point that retaliation among Indians would have been taken place in a plantation. But this was proven to be wrong.

One of the earliest records of Indians retaliating in strike in Malaya can be found in news articles published in The Straits Times. The newspaper dated 17th July 1913, reported that a group of 80 Tamils employed as fireman (the one who shovels coal into burning chamber and checks the boilers) by Federated Malay States Railways staged a strike for they were unhappy with the menial and degrading tasks assigned to them. Even though, the Malay Mail (which initially reported the workers grievances) was not able to find out the root cause of the trouble, some sources claimed wages and uniform could be two of the major grievances.

Fireman (source:
Another sources claim that these menial tasks referred to tasks that required cleaning.  

The railway authority claimed that the strike was frivolous. The authority also claimed that the strike was been induced by an agitator.

The strike effected the train scheduled to Singapore and Penang. The service to Seremban had been suspended.

The authority had announced that they will be filling up these gaps left by the strikers with fresh men as a lesson for staging strikes.

I am puzzled to understand the logic behind this. Indians who were brought to Malaya were docile in nature, obedient with a slave mentality. Referring to the Klang Strikes 1941, the whole phenomena of retaliation occurred because there were elements of radicalism of Tamil educationists, Indian nationalist and awareness of suppression. The elements proven to be a dangerous mixture by the British.

But, who were these Tamils who retaliated almost three decades much earlier to the Klang unrest? Why they were different that the earlier migrated Tamils?  

Answers to these questions are lies in the recruitment of Tamils by the British to build and operate railways in Malaya. To run the railway network effectively and efficiently, the British needed a labour force who could think, make decisions and work independently with minimum supervisions. 

At that time, the British government in India was known for operating a huge network of railways in South India. The Malayan British government too ambitious to implement the same system in Malaya especially in transporting tins and rubber to be exported to Europe via Part Swettenham and Singapore. The Malayan British recruited these Tamils who had experience in serving the Indian Railways, including many technical and administrative officers. Thus, Malaya saw a different breed of Tamil migration.  The railways sector in Malaya saw domination of Tamils to the extend the work instructions were given in Tamil language and signboard were designed in Tamil language .          

Sign board with Tamil in middle 

Notice the sizes of the fonts - Tamil shows domination among Bahasa and Mandarin 

The Straits Times 17th July 1913

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Klang Strikes' Causalities - Rengasamy and Yellamalle in Bukit Panjang Estate Strike

Many of us knew that Klang Strikes 1941, was one of the earliest strikes organised by plantation workers in Malaya.

Tan Yuen in his work "Labour Unrest in Malaya 1934 to 1942" stated that Klang strikes as

“One of the largest, best organised and most militant strike by Indian workers which Malaya had ever seen”

Rajeshwari Ambalavanar, in her book "The Indian Minority and Political Change in Malaya 1945-1957" remarked the event as an event that gave birth to political consciousness among Indian labourers

“The strike, though quickly crushed by vigorous police action, lasted long enough to establish clear political consciousness among labourers. Vernacular educated radicals, working with Kanganies and Tamil teachers in estate schools, successfully encouraged the tappers the question the basis cause of their depressed economic and social position”

Though much were discussed on the overall and outcome of the strikes among labourers, not many reference are made to give us exactly on details of the strikes such as where it occurred, who were responsible, those who died etc.

Taking efforts to seek for some of the details, I found out there were 39 estates involved and I managed to find out names of some of the estates involved based on reports in newspapers.

1. Highlands Estate
2. Midlands Estate
3. Bukit Kamuning Estate
4. Haron Estate
5. Tanah Bharu Estate
6. Raja Muda Estate
7. Seaport Estate
8. 7th Mile Damansara Estate
9. Carey Island Estate
10. Bukit Panjang Estate
11. Kundang Estate
12. Philmoor Estate Petaling
13. Effingham Estate
14. Bukit Cheraka Estate
15. Sungai Tinggi Estate
16. Telok Datok Estate
17. Sungai Buluh Estate
18. Brooklands Estate
19. Sungai Sedu Estate
20. Mary Estate, Batang Berjuntai

The Straits Times reported on the 18th June 1941, that District Officer of Kuala Selangor A.D York who sad as a cononer in the Kuala Selangor Court postponed two inquires into the death of two Tamil labourers in Klang Strike.

They were Rengasamy from Bukit Cheraka Estate, Jeram and Yellamalle from Highlands Estate.

From the article, we understood from the accounts given by a witness named Menon, Rengasamy succumbed to head injuries that he received during a clash with police at Bukit Panjang Estate, Jeram. Menon who treated Rengasamy told the coroner that Rengasamy appeared drowsy and vomited blood the next day due to concussion of brain.

According to A.J Gomm, the manager of Bukit Panjang Estate, the labourers went on strike on the 21st April and remained out until 16th May. There were some rubber packs kept in the packing shed. His attempt to remove them failed as the labourers did not permitted the removal of the rubber packs. On the 8th May 1941, Gromm consulted the Chief Police of Selangor, H. B Langworthy, to assist him. The police came with a party of 160 strong . They were confronted by 75 labourers who armed themselves with sticks.

A group of teenage boys around 16 years old claimed to pelt the police with stone. All hell broke loose! Eight labourers injured during the clash including Rengasamy and Yellamalle. Later, the labourers regrouped at around 5 pm and this time it was 600 to 700 and demanded that the injured labourers to be sent to Klang Hospital.

Refused to heed orders of the CPO to disperse, the CPO order another “lathi” charge towards the crowd.

The Straits Times - 18th June 1941

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Book Review: Kaatu Perumal - Terrorist or Freedom Fighter? (Part 2)


One name which very much associated with Perumal is Rukumani. According to local news, Rukumani believed to be Perumal’s lover and Perumal took Rukumani after sending his wife to India. Interesting finding stated in the book that Perumal’s wife was not sent back to India, instead she was sent to live in a different estate with a different identity. This was done to conceal her identity from the British who constantly interrogate family members of suspected MNLA members and supporters.

Rukumani was reported to be notorious rebel as well and armed herself with grenades. She too had a price for her head - $2000! But according to news report which appeared in The Straits Times on 21st April 1959, titled “Sungai Siput is Freed”, it has been reported that Rukumani surrendered to the authority.

Rukumani - Mistress?

Whether, Rukumani was really mistress of Perumal seems to be very vague. During my visit to Shukhirin Peace Village in Narathiwat province in Thailand, I was privileged to meet and interview, Asi, the last Indian communist of Regiment 10.

Last Indian Communist - Asi
Asi (real name Ramasamy Perumal) was born in Sungai Siput (Rayla Estate) and joined the MNLA at the age of 10. He told in his interview that he joined the MNLA because he was impressed with Kaatu Perumal who seemed to be a good orator as well. Asi was attracted to personality of Kaatu Perumal and his struggle against oppressive British. According to Asi again, Perumal was not keen in recruiting Asi at first as the latter was very young. But due to persuasion from Rukumani, Perumal finally agreed to accept Asi into his unit. Asi was one of the youngest members in Perumal’s unit. They were a few under 12 years old in his Perumal’s unit. Asi remembered how Rukumani used to take care of Asi and being kind to other children in the unit. Asi always seen Rukumani as his own mother.

Being a part of Platoon 32 of Regiment 5.
Asi standing at extreme right in front row 

Selfie with Asi 

(Asi ran away from his abusive and alcoholic father. His mother died when he was very young)

According to Asi, Rukumani was not a mistress to Perumal but she was married to a MNLA cadre called Sahastranaamam. Sahastranaamam was a sickly person and Rukumani had a hard time looking after him in jungle.

"The rumours of Perumal keeping a mistress was always been the British's propaganda to tarnish Perumal's and MNLA's image among Malayans," said Asi.  

Monday, June 8, 2015

Book Review : Kattu Perumal – Terrorist or Freedom Fighter? (Part 1)

Poster : Book Launch "Kaattu Perumal"

I was fortunate to present a talk on the “Radicalization of Indian Plantation Labourers in Malaya” - a topic seldom discussed in public domains at a discussion forum in conjunction of the launching of Dave Anthony’s latest book “Kaatu Perumal – The Folk Hero of Sungai Siput”. The other panelists were Dr.Kumar (MP Sungai Siput) and Dave Anthony himself.  The book, being a collection of oral history, takes great efforts to be compiled into a written format. And this needs to be done with great care in a flow so that the attention of the readers would be distorted. 

As the book was based on stories and experience shared by local estate folks who had knew Perumal as a friend and enthusiastic footballer, the author should have also presented the perspective portrayed by British through the local newspapers.

For example, Perumal was believed to be leading an Indian unit attached to Independent Platoon 32 of Regiment 5 in Perak. The news which appeared in The Straits Times titled “Reward of $12,000 for Perumal – Sungai Siput’s Red Scourge” dated 7th August 1956, stated that Perumal was a district committee member of Malayan Communist Party (MCP). It also stated that a reward of $12,000 shall be given to those who helped to capture him alive. Ranked as one of the most notorious Indian Communists, Perumal also had other “nom de guerre” in Chinese – Mee Sai or Mee See.
ST - 19th June 1957
Another article in The Straits Times titled, “Death Comes to Scourge of Sungei Siput” dated 19th June 1957, reported that Perumal who nicknamed as “Sungei Siput Scourge” was executed in July 1956 by his own men. Munusamy, a member of his unit who surrendered to the British reiterated that Perumal was killed on the orders of a member of Perak Central Committee of Malayan Communist Party known as Muthu (Rajeswari Ambalavanar - Indian Minority and Political Change in Malaya 1945–1957 New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1981)
ST - 7th August 1956

According to Rajeswary Ambalavanar, Perumal was an ex-member of Indian National Army (INA) and was holding the rank of Corporal. Even though Perumal's daughter, Jegathambal, denied the claim that his father was a member of INA, there are evidences that Perumal was involved in INA.

Like many Malayan Indians who blamed INA for losing their male relatives in the hands of the cruel Japanese Imperial Army, diseases and malnutrition during the construction of the deadly Thai-Burma Death Railway where an estimation of 250,000 indentured Tamil labourers died, Jegathambal too may have felt that his father should not be further scrutinised or blamed for his association with an organization which “brought many ill-fates” to Malayan Indians during WWII.  Instead, according to Jegathambal (based on information told by Perumal's wife, Pappa), her father returned from Singapore after serving in the British army – a claim that seemed to have no much basis in it.
If Perumal would have served the British army during the Japanese invasion, his loyalty would have been with the British when latter returned to Malaya. But, why did Perumal was so critical of the British especially against the white capitalists planters? Why did Perumal decided to join the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) to fight against British?
 ........(to be continued) 

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.