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Kugan: In latest death, gap between police and Indians widens

Contributed by Anonymous on Friday, January 23 @ 02:02:52 CST

National: Politics
By Baradan Kuppusamy,
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 23 — The latest death in police custody of a suspect from the Indian community, which comes just after another case last week where six policemen were charged with causing grievous hurt using boiling water on another suspect, also an Indian, is indicative of a deep credibility chasm between the police and the Tamil working class. The death of 22-year-old Kugan Ananthan, a suspected car thief, on Jan 17 has kicked up a huge storm not only here but also abroad among the Indian diaspora, putting the spotlight once again on the beleaguered police force.

Their hands are full, fighting rising violent crime, fending off daily opposition attacks of corruption and inefficiency and now another death in custody, which had abated in recent years, but is back again to spark emotions and anger in the Indian community. Although a minority, the Tamil poor are blamed, rightly or wrongly, for much of the violent crimes in the country. It is not surprising that study after study has shown a direct correlation between crime, poverty, marginalisation and alienation. Considering the socio-economic conditions of the Tamil working class, with so many living precariously on the edges of mainstream society, it is no surprise if Indian involvement in crime is higher compared to other communities. Police statistics year after year show a gradual increase in Indian youths being involved in gang activity, violent crimes and other criminal activities. Consequently the percentage of Indians in prison and police lock-ups is higher compared to their population size of 8 per cent. In some depressed regions of the country like Padang Serai in Kedah, Klang and Kapar in Selangor and Muar in Johor, where Indians predominate, the situation resembles a war zone with higher violence and disrespect for the law on all sides. Rape, murder, gang fights and contract killings are commonplace and people live with it. Victims are brutalised by the gang violence and police action replicates the brutality with the innocent also being caught in the dragnet, resulting in a self-feeding cycle of violence. Ultimately the death of Kugan is symptomatic of the spiral of violence that has gripped some sections of society, especially among the Tamil sub-class. The fact that Kugan's family and others stormed the Serdang Hospital mortuary to inspect his body and take photographs also indicates the deep credibility disconnect between them and not just the police but also other government agencies. Over the years poorer Indians have acquired and suffered the stigma that they are associated with crime. Many feel they are unfairly blamed for every theft or robbery in their neighbourhood, not just by society but also by police and law enforcement agencies. Stereotyping comes easily and is common among enforcement agencies. That is why people like Hindraf lawyer Uthayakumar Ponnusamy and Kapar MP S. Manikavasagam, who have cast themselves as "defenders of the defenceless", enjoy wide respect among the Indian poor and are regarded as heroes. Unfortunately by storming the mortuary, moving and photographing the body, they may have tampered with crucial evidence and compromised their own demands for justice. Credibility is a core issue in the growing angst between the police and the Tamil masses and has been for a long time, as far back as the 1996 incident where police shot dead a pregnant woman and others who were suspected of involvement in the kidnapping of a VIP's son. Photographs of the dead infant lying on the dead mother's stomach was exploited by the opposition during the 1999 general election but the impact on the Indian consciousness then was limited. But today with a huge Hindraf network reaching into the far-flung Indian diaspora, the photographs taken on Wednesday are already gracing huge banners that protestors paraded yesterday. Today, on the steps of the Indian Supreme Court in New Delhi and with prominent Indian human rights lawyers applauding, Hindraf chairman P. Waythamoorthy showed the same graphic photographs of the bruises on Kugan's body as he railed against the police and accused them of murdering Kugan. Another landmark incident in the police-Tamil masses fault-line is the Francis Udayappan case in 2006 and the inquest that followed which ruled he died by drowning in the river behind the Brickfields police station. The case became rallying cry among the Tamil poor and heightened their feeling of alienation and anger. The level of distrust is deep and that is why the crowd stormed the mortuary on Wednesday to see the body of Kugan for themselves and do what they did — cry, hug, take photographs and make accusations. With emotions running high, the fact that the police have acknowledged the bruises on the body, and were probing why and who was responsible, is easily ignored . Last week the authorities surprisingly took swift action to charge six policemen for causing grievous hurt in the "boiling water" case, in an indication that they wanted to close the credibility gap but this week they lost that initiative. Already, graphic photographs that the mob took are circulating on the Internet, and being delivered to the mail boxes of hundreds of thousands of people. Together it all makes for yet another explosive political disaster for the BN government, the latest in a long list that had alienated the Tamil working class and has given rise to quick-fix, severely jaundiced heroes like Uthayakumar. It is notable that the MIC has also joined with opposition MPs and angry family members to demonstrate outside the Selayang Hospital mortuary on Wednesday and demand justice. Party president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu himself visited Kugan's home, consoled his family and viewed the body. He also send MIC Youth leader T. Mohan and Deputy Minister Datuk S.K. Devamany to the mortuary to help the family and console them, winning instant kudos from the family and the Hindraf protestors. Another deputy minister, Senator T. Murugiah from the PPP, was also there to help, to co-ordinate and to console. The two deputy ministers now face questioning by police. Both defend their right, as elected representative and leaders of the Indian community, to be at the mortuary. Their case is being investigated under section 451 of the Penal Code for trespassing and section 506 of the Penal Code for criminal intimidation. But politically their presence — from midnight to the early morning hours — is an image re-building masterstroke that has elevated their political party's battered image with the Tamil media giving great play to their "help" and presence to console the families. "This is the way it should be," said a Kugan family member who had called both leaders on their mobile phones. "I asked them to come and both came." For the MIC it is part of rebranding to go out there and hold the banners and shout the slogans to "defend" the community. It had learnt a bitter lesson after losing badly at the ballot box on March 8 for keeping quiet and, worst, defending the indefensible. "We must set up a committee to monitor the welfare of all Indians currently in custody and also those in future to avoid this sort of abuse and murder," said Vel Paari, MIC Youth adviser in an e-mail message to The Malaysian Insider and to numerous other Indian Yahoo groups, here and abroad. "Truly a sad day for not only his parents but also our community," he said, referring to Kugan's death. Credibility is again a key issue and therefore there is an urgent need for a truly independent investigation into Kugan's death. That's something most people, including the 2006 Royal Commission on the Police Force, believe the police themselves cannot do. That is why the commission strongly recommended an oversight commission to investigate abuse, curb violations and return credibility and respectability to the police force and all other uniformed and enforcement agencies. Such an independent commission is long overdue and even if a tough one is set up, as promised by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi before he retires, it would still take years of intelligent and careful management to narrow the wide disconnect between the police rank and file and the Tamil masses.



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