Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said (NST, 9 January 2009) that nearly all schoolchildren about five million pupils in the country will be mobilised to protest against the Gaza offensive by Israeli forces.
When I first read this article, a number of questions rang in my mind. Would asking students including primary school children to attend a protest and demonstration be deemed exploiting the children? Do the children have consent from their parents as it seems that the Minister had made the decision without even consulting the parents? Would the police/AG charge the Minister under the Child Act? Would the Minister be expelled from Parliament for involving children? For the state of Selangor, would the CPO of Selangor rescue these children and return them to their parents? While waiting for their parents, will they be kept protected in the police station under the care of the welfare Department ? Would the parents be later called by the police for their statement to be recorded for allowing the Minister to use their children for the protest?
Would the parents be charged for neglecting their children or allowing them to participate in dangerous activities? Would the royalty advice the police to take stern action against the organizer? Since all the children protesting in the protest have a common aim in protesting against Israeli attack on Gaza , could this be mean that it is an illegal assemble or an illegal procession? Would the children attending this function be stopped in numerous roadblocks?
I am sorry that these questions kept bothering me after our two weeks of trauma of police harassment and intimidation on the issue of children above the age of 15 for cycling and wearing t-shirt on demands facing the Malaysian people.
Luckily, the Minister response in the media helped me understand the matter better as when the newspaper asked the Minister on the danger of exposing children to such atrocities, the minister said: "When they grow up, they will have to face global issue like peace, environment and the economic crisis."
Below is an article I wrote in 2005 when some people blamed us for bringing children to demonstration. People told that we are using the children as a human shield, the same way what the Israeli are saying when questioned about deaths of Palestine's children. This article was written when the Malaysia police attacked us during a anti war demonstration against US inversion in Iraq.
Why bring children to demonstrations?
Why bring children to demonstrations? Why not ?
In the last few days, since the water cannon treatment we received during the anti-war rally in front of the US embassy, this question was posed to me by four different people.
The first was the OCPD who ordered the water cannon laced with chemicals on people including children and elderly people. The OCPD told the press that most of the people who came didn't know why they were there and gave the impression that they were misled into attending the demonstration.
The second character, was more surprising. It was the SUHAKAM observer, who attended the rally. He felt that the police gave the people ample of time to demonstrate and that he personally felt that children should not be there because it was not save. The third was a friend of Premesh, who questioned PSM's motives in bringing children and community people to the demonstration. The fourth was my aunty from Penang, who saw it on TV and questioned me on what were children doing in a demonstrations. So I thought, four people, some may mean good, some not, But it is our responsibility to explain
When we watch a huge rally in a country where democracy and human rights are respected, we see huge numbers of people walking in the 4-6 lane roads. The TV camera would then focus on young children as well as old people to show that the rally has a variety of people supporting it. All watching it, would call it a successful mobilisation because the common people, the young and old were all there. The very young and the very old are seen with admiration and this creates a positive image.
The situation is a bit different here , when the local media call the demonstration illegal and unruly, and then focus on some children and giving the impression that these innocent children have been misled to attend the rally. Some of the people like my aunty was caught with this image. Here the media blames the victims and distorts the facts.
The media fail to say that in 200 other locations in the world, it was incident free.
Thinking people would ask, " Why did the police attack a crowd or children and elderly people?" . But the role of the controlled media is to instill fear as well as put the event in a bad light.
We need to understand what is a demonstration. In Malaysia, we have to continue to call demonstrations "peaceful demonstration" because the state has successfully blinded us to believe that demonstration means violence and illegal.
A demonstration or a protest is a carnival of expression of the people. It is colorful and it has variety. If those aspects were shown, with people singing songs, enjoying the music and shouting slogans, then we have a different perspective. Then these children and elderly citizen would not look that bad. When we organise a protest, we would want the people to enjoy and express their opinions. Most of the time, it is the state which makes a demonstration ugly like what we saw the other day.
My second argument is that, most of the community people who participated from the very young ones to the elderly ones have vast experience in handling such a situation. Most of them have been arrested before for struggling for their own issues- housing rights, farming rights, environmental issues etc. Most of them have themselves been victims of police brutality, paid thugs and in fact have more experience than a large number of Malaysian NGOs activist. They have stood in front of bulldozers who want to bring down their homes, participated in many street actions – demonstration, Have done more blockades and have stood in front of police stations fighting with police etc.
When they attend an anti war rally and get sprayed, they understand the situation. That is why you don't see them running away when the FRU came. They are seasoned people but as everyone else, they too would feel tensed during such a confrontation. Even I feel much tensed during such encounters. When a third party, who doesn't know these people, always look at them in a very pathetic and typical way, we have a problem. Most of these people who took part in the rally the other day were not window dressing or looking for handouts. They have learned that begging is not the solution and have moved to fighting for their rights.
My third point is that being working class people or from a lower income group, they cannot afford to hire a maid to take care of their children. Most of them would bring the whole family, while attending a meeting or when they are involved in a struggle. When they ask us, we never would stop them from bringing their family members as we believe that everyone learns from experience and this is a reality they live in.
The irony is most people(the public) don't give a damn how these children live, what they eat and how they suffer. They don't mind the low wages their parents take home, the houses they live in. But they do mind seeing them in a demonstration and water cannon being used on them.
During our meetings with the community, we make it a point to even ask the children's opinion. Most of them grow with the struggle and don't live in an artificial world like some rich kids do. Taking a line from Marx, " It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but on the contrary their social existence determines their consciousness.". It is therefore always nice to give the children the best of the world as most parents would want to but the reality of our society is not that. There are different classes and until these classes are wiped out, we would continue to see differences. Therefore in a struggle, most of these children along with their parents and elders fight for a better world for themselves.
My fourth point, is the rule adopted by PSM and its front organisation in mobilising people. First, meetings are held at local levels to explain an event and discussions are held. Local leader would then mobilise those who are interested. In the current anti war rally, ideology discussion on the war was held at most areas. Then the people are given briefing in the bas on all aspects including security issues. We believe that there is a dialectical relationship between their local struggle and the international struggle.
Socialist believe in better world for all people and stand by the slogan of workers of the world unite and therefore it is important for these community people to understand the sufferings of working common people in Iraq as well as other parts of the world. It is only through these actions can one understand issues or can sympathise with issues faced by the refugees and migrants. The sufferings in Iraq, the death of their people is something which cannot be accepted by most people and they come out in solidarity with that. Struggling in isolation or "mind your own business" is a trend promoted by certain people especially to ensure the people remain divided.
Lenin once said that the best schools for workers is a strike. Likewise people learn a lot from getting involved. That is the challenge in front of us. To get more people involved, to get the people from various ethnic group and religion to unite, to get the old and the very young into the struggle is the task ahead of us.
Other than blaming the enemy for brining disruption to our lives, most people take the easy road in blaming the victims. It is of course easier to blame the children, the elderly and the organisers rather that taking on the state and its police.
A better world is only possible if people believe in bringing about a change. A change can only take place if the majority of the people understand where they stand and how to move forward.
Struggle we will, Win we shall.
For a better world S