Ambiga Sreenevasan got anonymous death threats for her work on the rights of women whose husbands convert to Islam in Muslim-majority Malaysia four years ago. After leading a rally calling for electoral reforms in April, she was accused of treason by a ruling party lawmaker.
The 55-year-old former Malaysian Bar Council president, who received the International Women of Courage Award from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009, hasn’t stopped challenging the government’s human rights policies.
“They underestimate right-thinking Malaysians,” she said in an interview. “We don’t like bullying.”
While Prime Minister Najib Razak, who must call elections by early 2013, has agreed to some of the demands of Ambiga’s Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, or Bersih, for fairer voting procedures such as the use of indelible ink, his government has declared the civil society group illegal and she has become the focus of personal attacks. Opposition leaders have championed Bersih’s campaign and called the attacks racist.
“She is seen as somebody who’s a professional, has the aspirations of the middle class, believes in things like human rights and good governance,” said James Chin, a professor of political science at the Malaysian campus of Australia’s Monash University outside Kuala Lumpur. “She symbolizes that: Somebody who holds the Malaysian authorities accountable for their actions.”
The mother of two believes her “demonization” has intensified because government supporters want to undermine the credibility of the non-partisan campaign for free and fair elections.
As an Indian, Hindu and woman, “I’m a minority in every sense of the word and I think they thought it would be easy to do,” she said.
In the 2008 elections, Najib’s multiparty, multiethnic National Front coalition had its worst showing in five decades of unbroken rule as urban Malays as well as Chinese and Indian minorities supported opposition parties pledging policies that don’t discriminate in favor of the Malay-Muslim majority.
Harassment of Ambiga since the April demonstration has included traders setting up outside her home and serving free beef burgers and Malay army veterans stretching and shaking their buttocks near her house.
Ruling party lawmaker Mohamad Aziz withdrew his June 26 comment about Ambiga’s possible treason – a crime which carries the death penalty – two days later following complaints from the ruling coalition’s ethnic Indian party leaders.
“Her rather calm and methodical responses to many of the different challenges and the personal attacks,” havegiven a sense of pride to the Indian Malaysian community, according to Bridget Welsh, Associate Professor of Political Science at the Singapore Management University. “By allowing the people who attacked her to gowithout prosecution or condemnation — this has actually had an electoral impact.”
Indians account for about 7 percent of Malaysia’s population of 29 million. Najib’s approval ratings dropped to 69 percent in June from 72 percent in May among the ethnic Indian community, possibly due to dissatisfaction over statements toward Ambiga, according to a Merdeka Center for Opinion Research survey released July 26.
Mohamad Aziz’s comments were personal and didn’t reflect the National Front’s stand, the coalition said June 27. Najib said two days later that statements that hurt the feelings of other races shouldn’t be made.
Besides the use of indelible ink, the next election will allow Malaysians living overseas to vote as part of “unprecedented measures” to strengthen the electoral process, a government spokesman said.
Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said in an interview that Ambiga led “unreasonable” attacks against the government when she was heading the bar council.
“She seems to have some grudge against the government,” said Mahathir, who resigned in 2003 after 22 years in power. “I think this country has done much better than any other developing country and yet to her it’s wrong, it’s all wrong.”
Ambiga insists she is non-partisan and will not enter politics “so when you say something, it’s not because of politics and not because of which party I belong to, but because it is right, because it’s the law.”
Bersih, which last month won a court order overturning the government’s declaration it is an illegal organization, will continue to push for greater transparency in the voting system, saying the changes announced by the government aren’t substantial enough or haven’t yet been implemented.
After receiving death threats including a detailed one by e-mail on June 30, Ambiga now travels with bodyguards, but she doesn’t believe that Malaysia, which saw racial clashes and the suspension of parliament when the ruling party lost support in 1969 elections, will experience political violence.
“If enough people want change, there’s very little anyone can do to stop it,” she said. “Malaysians are generally peace- loving — we are nowhere near what was happening in the Middle East, Tunisia and Egypt. We are at the right point in time for positive change, and if we are going to bring change, we only want to do it by clean and fair elections.”
The lawyer intends to step down from Bersih after Malaysia’s next election to focus on her work at her firm specializing in commercial, intellectual property and industrial law. Personal interests like cricket and the arts have also been set aside, she said.
“My claim to fame was sharing the stage with Jit Murad about 37 years ago,” she said, referring to the comedian and actor who co-founded Malaysia’s Instant Cafe Theatre Company.
Ambiga also has some unfinished work from her previous campaign which first brought her death threats: Women’s rights.
Malaysia has a civil court system inherited from its former British colonial rulers as well as separate Islamic courts governing marriage, inheritance and other family matters for Muslims.
“The courts have abdicated their responsibility over a lot of family law issues in these situations involving both the Shariah courts and civil courts,” she said, citing cases where husbands have converted to Islam and unilaterally converted their children too, leaving wives in limbo.
While the government in 2008 proposed legislation requiring individuals wishing to convert to first inform family members and address custody issues, the process stalled at Malaysia’s council of Malay rulers, who have constitutional responsibility for Islamic affairs.
“This should be first in line for resolution,” Ambiga said. “The ordinary Malaysian is beginning to realize that it is not acceptable to play up religion and race in politics. There is a real maturing.”
TAKING US FOR A RIDE AS USUAL….
Amid much fireworks and fanfare, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak kicked off a two-month long ‘fly the Jalur Gemilang’ campaign at Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, also better known as ‘Little India’.
Among the promises he said the government had delivered were unity, peace, and transformation from an agrarian economy to a industrial nation, and now aspiring to be a high-income nation.
UNITY?….now we are more polarized because Najib has not muzzled Perkasa and Utusan says it is ok to spin against the opposition! The unity preached by BN is either cosmetic or manufactured. A glaring unity index is the uniform politicians are given free whilst Tees are supplied together with crash-helmets if you stand in two rows to give a rousing cheer to the VIPs. Have you heard this one:
PEACE? More housing estates are setting up their own security; more people are mugged in malls; snatch thievery is a daily occurrence; opposition ceremahs are marred with thuggery. From2003 1850 have died in police custody. Bersih2 and 3 were marred with police brutality.
TRANSFORMATION FROM AN AGRARIAN ECONOMY TO AN INDUSTRIAL NATION? This is capital bullshit. Native lands are taken for plantations; Felda settlers are exploited and duped! Money is freely given to buy votes.
…..NOW ASPIRING TO BE A HIGH-INCOME NATION? Dang, sweet dreams are made of this! LAST YEAR WAS THE 14TH CONSECUTIVE YEAR OUR GOVERNMENT OVERSPENT! Just read on:
What is a deficit?
When the government spends more than it earns, it incurs a deficit. The government spent RM229 billion in 20114. However, it earned only RM183 billion. So, it incurred a deficit of RM46 billion. A deficit, in plain language, is overspending.
Our government has overspent in every single year since 1998. 2011 was the 14th consecutive year our government overspent. The total overspend from 1998 to 2011 is RM344 billion. The overspend alone totals RM12,000 for each and every one of us – from babies to adults to senior citizens5. Do you think you got your money’s worth?
Not only has the government been overspending, it has also been extremely sloppy in adhering to its own Budget. For example, the government, when presenting Budget 2011 in October 2010, said it would spend RM211 billion in 2011. It ended up spending RM229 billion!
The overspend alone totals RM12,000 for each and every one of us – from babies to adults to senior citizens5. Do you think you got your money’s worth?
Not only has the government been overspending, it has also been extremely sloppy in adhering to its own Budget. For example, the government, when presenting Budget 2011 in October 2010, said it would spend RM211 billion in 2011. It ended up spending RM229 billion! This anomaly is not peculiar to only 2011. We found that the government has consistently exceeded its stated Budget for every single year since 1997 – a period of 15 years. It might be longer. We stopped looking after 1997. The reasons for spending more than budgeted are never adequately explained.
Or tomorrow night or ever. Asexuals add to the growing confusion
The gender-bender is now more of a corkscrew. Asexuals have been added to the list which comprise the hetero, homo, bi, poly and even pan-sexual. Unlike the rest, who have no problem with sex and differ only in who or what they want to have it with, asexuals simply don’t want it. It’s not that they can’t, it’s just that they won’t. It’s not because they want a hormonal holiday. Or because they want to withhold foreplay as an instrument of power play. Or because they have a headache, real or feigned. It’s just that they can’t seem to arouse any interest in the sexual act. Ever.
Big deal, you may say, citing all the evolved souls before and after Gandhiji. But asexuals haven’t consciously willed themselves into abstinence. They are genetically unwilling. Unlike the yogis who achieve the greatness of abstinence, or unfortunate spouses who have abstinence thrust upon them, this lot is simply born abstaining. You can either pity them or envy them or both at different times, depending on the prevailing state of your bedtime sorties.
Asexuals come closer to Platonic love than to heartless abstainers or misogynists because they reportedly see themselves as ‘hetero-romantic’ or ‘homo-romantic’. They are also presumably consumed by all the other genres of hidden trysts even if consummation isn’t even remotely on the agenda.
Asexuality is not new, its documentation is. Asexuals had organised themselves as a registered community as early as 2001 with the launch of a UK-based website. It gathered 50,000 followers worldwide in less time than it takes to say, “No, thank you”, in 50 languages. But it was only last month that they held their first non-academic conference, at London’s Southbank University. There’s also been a recent book, Understanding Asexuality. Its Canadian author breaks it up into two types, those who have no sex drive at all, and those who, like Master Bates, have it but direct it only at themselves. Our overworked sexperts may want to tweak their advice in the light of this ‘semenal’ research.
The London conference hoped to have asexuality “recognised as a valid sexual orientation rather than a disorder or something people have to hide”. This is the point being made with increasing emphasis by all the differently wired groups who comprise the ‘Guys, Let’s Be Tolerant’, or GLBT, community. But despite their passion and parades, the great unwashed, uninformed and unrepentant masses insist that everyone must be heterosexual, or else face the hate-rosexual.
Sometimes even the fully acculturated can be caught offguard. Like the courageous Teresita ‘Bai’ Bagasao who later became a UNAIDS country director. At a conference, she introduced herself to a delegate, saying, “I’m from the Philippines, and i’m Bai.” To which he responded, “I’m from the US, and i’m Gay.”
You may be alarmed/relieved to know that the number of asexuals is not as insignificant as a one-night stand. Latest estimates put it at a full 1% of the population. These stats are from Britain, where the only stiff anatomical appendage used to be the upper lip. Remember the 1971 comedy, ‘No Sex Please, We’re British’? Or the chapter titled ‘Sex’ in the hilarious book How To Be An Alien by Hungarian immigrant George Mikes? It comprised just one line: ‘Other people have sex, the English have hot-water bottles.’
That country has since achieved libidinous liberation, but will its erstwhile colony hope for reverse engineering for its own crown jewels? Here’s a thought. True asexuality could finally free the Indian male from his congenital sindrome of sex on the mind — and in any place where he can forcibly impose it. You could call it a retrosexual revolution.
Alec Smart said, “It’s now the ‘shot messaging service’.Three women from the Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot were convicted Friday of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marina Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were arrested in February following an uninvited “punk prayer” of protest against the iron fist and faux democracy of Russian president Vladimir Putin and calling to account the theological rubber-stamping of Putin’s repressive regime by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Their “performance prayer” titled “Hail Mary, Putin Run!” (see video and lyrics
) was offered to the Virgin Mary at the altar of Christ the Savior Orthodox Cathedral in Red Square. After spending five months in jail since the event, they were sentenced Friday to two years — time served credited against the sentence, so they’ve got another 19 months to go.
While some have directly attacked the band as anti-religious, others have attempted to more subtly undercut them by saying their actions are just publicity stunts to get money. I say, wrong and wrong. Acts of ecclesial disobedience are called for when institutions that are supposed to represent God fail to do so. And spending two years in a Russian prison — as a woman — is not the kind of thing we do for money.
“The girls’ actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church’s rules,” Judge Marina Syrova told the court as she spent three hours reading the verdict while the women stood watching in handcuffs inside a glass courtroom cage. … State prosecutors had requested a three-year jail term. Putin’s opponents portray the trial as part of a wider crackdown by the former KGB spy to crush their protest movement. “They are in jail because it is Putin’s personal revenge,” Alexei Navalny, one of the organizers of big protests against Putin during the winter, told reporters outside the court. “This verdict was written by Vladimir Putin.”