(Used by permission)
by Maria J.Dass
FOR at least one neighbourhood, May 13 did the unpredictable: it inspired closer race relations and better neighbourliness.
Despite being in the middle of the route used by troublemakers from nearby villages, the residents of Laman Peel, Kuala Lumpur got through the difficult period without any untoward incident.
Still, K. Kanagendran, then 34, and his neighbours decided they should take steps to secure their neighbourhood and protect one another.
“We all signed a pledge to uphold peace and harmony, and to protect the various races living in the area,” the former Petaling District Office chief clerk for administration said in an interview.
The pledge, dated May 15, 1969, read: “We, the people of Laman Peel, Kuala Lumpur pledge to our government that we will carry on living as good neighbours among various races in our area. We will do all our best to support the government to keep peace and harmony among the various races. We promise not to let ourselves be influenced by outside elements.”
It was signed by 46 residents of different races.
The pledge also incorporated measures that would be used to stop invaders from causing trouble in the area. It was the residents’ own standard operating procedure which stated that all Chinese, Malays and Indians should come out and stop troublemakers of their own race from harming others in the neighbourhood.
Those with telephones had to call 999, while others were told to put on all their lights, blow whistles, beat empty tins and shout to wake their neighbours.
Kanagendran said a duty roster was drawn up with three shifts – between 11pm to 1am, 1am to 3am, and 3am to 5am. Families took turns to stay awake and keep watch.
“We were lucky to make it through that period without any problems. However, that was also a time when we all realised how important race relations were, and we learnt to appreciate each other more,” said Kanagendran, now 72.
Oddly enough, he said the relationship among the races was quite cold prior to May 13, and that the riots actually brought people together.
“There was always some degree of suspicion about each other and the neighbours hardly spoke to anyone. Everyone went to work, returned and kept to themselves,” said Kanagendran, who moved out of Laman Peel and into Bangsar where he now resides, in 1973.
“However, after the riots, we shared a better relationship with our neighbours and those of other races,” he said.
Kanagendran said he called the local authorities to clean up an overgrown open area within the housing estate so that the children could play and mingle together, “to erase prejudices”.
The residents got together to employ someone to maintain the field and the children did their part by picking up rubbish to keep the area clean.
“I would, of course, reward them with ice–cream,” laughed Kanagendran.
The field became a symbol of unity for the neighbourhood and a reminder to all that race relations could not be taken for granted.
Schoolgirl’s escape from death
by Regina William
HER family had given up hope of ever finding her alive when she disappeared for more than five days during the May 13 communal clashes in Kuala Lumpur.
Indeed, Uma Ramaswamy Iyer might have ended up dead had it not been for the kindness of two Malay men.
Uma, now 50, said she was a Form One student at Convent Bukit Nanas in 1969. Her family lived in Jalan Gurney, close to the epicentre of the clashes. “Usually, a Malay friend and I would stay back in school and take a bus home together.
“That day, at around 5pm, we waited but no buses seemed to be on the road and it was unusually quiet.
“A Chinese man came running down the street and asked us what we were doing. I remember his words clearly, ‘You better run, the Malays are killing the Chinese!’
“We were stumped. Even though we were close to tears, we started walking and managed to get out of Jalan Ampang. We decided to walk along the Klang river, to stay away from the main roads.
“We reached the Ahmad Safuan building at Kampung Baru, and as we were passing by, a Malay man inside a Securicor office shouted at us, asking us what we were doing on the streets. I told him we wanted to get to Jalan Gurney.
“He asked us not to proceed and got us into the building. I managed to call home to say I was stuck at Kampung Baru but before I could say anything else, the line went dead.
“From the building, we could see the shophouses – mostly run by Chinese on Campbell Street, parallel to where we were – up in smoke and we could hear ‘Melayu potong China’ repeatedly. We could see many people running around with parang,” she added.
Uma said there was a Chinese girl working in the Securicor office, and the armed men on the streets were calling for all the Chinese to be brought out. “The Malay man who took us in told us it was not safe for us to remain there, and led us to the back.
“There was a six–foot wall which I couldn’t climb but this man helped to push me and the others over the wall where we ended up at the Klang River bank.
“There were many people in groups along the river bank, trying to flee, and we joined them. Along the way, we could hear shouts and people screaming but we kept on walking.
“We went deep into the Malay heartland of Kampung Baru and took refuge at a mosque with the rest,” she added.
Uma said while others managed to go home after a few days, she couldn’t because her house was located in the centre of the clashes.
A “Haji” took care of her, bringing her food for five days at the mosque but when she got so homesick, she wouldn’t eat, he risked his life by going out to look for a patrol car to send her home.
“My parents were shocked to see me alive after five days – they had presumed I was dead,” she added.
She bumped into the “Haji” again five years later, and was surprised when it was he who remembered her first. However, she lost touch with him after that.
Uma, who is secretary to the Consumers Association of Penang president, said the only time she’s experienced racial tension in Malaysia was during May 13.
“Till today, I still have friends from all races.
“And even if there is any tension between the races, it can be easily resolved if everyone does their bit not to provoke each other.”