By Baradan Kuppusamy, themalaysianinsider.com
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.