KULIM: The normally quiet and unassuming Batu Grace Ashram in this rather isolated corner of Kedah was caught up in an unusual buzz recently.
Within its modest premises — a cluster of three single-storey homes hidden from the outside world in the rural township of Taman Desa Aman — are scores of Indian boys and girls between the ages of two and 20. They are orphaned, abandoned or come from broken homes, from the many estates and plantations that have existed in these parts since the days of the British.
Here in the ashram they have found a new family and new hope, cared for by the staff and volunteers under the guidance of the home’s founder Solomon BG Rajanthren.
The home recently had a welcome respite from its usual solitude for a special function. The police and Rela presence to help with the traffic outside the home indicated that a VIP was visiting on the evening of May 25.
A canopy had been put up, with a stage, some dinner tables, music and live singers. And on the main backdrop were the words “Congratulations and appreciation to Senator P Waythamoorthy, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department”.
This was the first public event the activist with the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) had attended since the surprise announcement was made by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak of Waythamoorthy’s appointment to the federal Cabinet.After getting Najib, the Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman, to agree to the Hindraf faction’s blueprint for the economic and social upliftment of the poor and sidelined Indian population in the country, Waythamoorthy’s camp was criticised and questioned over their move to cooperate with the BN government.
Now all eyes will be on Waythamoorthy to produce results.
But that Saturday night, he was being treated with a higher degree of respect — and hope. Those present included many folk from nearby estates who were invited to hear him speak.
He was ceremonially welcomed by the children, taken into a prayer hall where he listened to their devotional songs and hymns. He was handed one of the home’s infants to hold and to be photographed with.
The home’s youths performed an a capella song for him. Two teenage girls spoke emotionally about how they grew up in difficult conditions and how the home had sheltered and helped them.
Later, in his speech, Rajanthren, who had set up the ashram to provide refuge and guidance to the children, spoke about Waythamoorthy’s negotiations with the government, and the post he has now been given, and called him a “true champion” of the Malaysian Indians.
“I think,” Rajanthren told the gathering, “we are at the right time in the right place with the right man”.
In his speech, Waythamoorthy touched on the historical difficulties faced by the Indian community since the days of Tunku Abdul Rahman, including the massive problem of statelessness. The bulk of the problem, he said, is in the estates.
He spoke about a committee that will be set up, and pledged to look into a lasting solution. “We don’t want piecemeal solutions, we want a permanent solution,” he said to applause from the crowd.
A key factor in his appointment as deputy minister in the PM’s Department is understood to be a special unit to improve the lot of the Indians in the country.
Fz.com met with him the day after his visit to the home at a hotel in Penang and asked him about the preliminary plans for the unit and how he would coordinate with the different ministries. The problem of the Indians in Malaysia is complex — poverty, lack of education opportunities, statelessness.
He seemed pragmatic but determined. “It is difficult to coordinate. But someone has to do it, and we have to start somewhere. We have to push the agenda to help the Indian masses,” he said.
“Part of the job of the unit will be to form a steering committee,” he said, adding that it will do a study focusing on the needs of the Indian communities to be completed by October. It will incorporate studies that have already been done and are relevant.
We spoke about the children’s home and the local estate crowd that had come the night before. He asked me what I thought of the gathering. I said they seemed to be very simple, innocent folk.
“Those are the very people we want to help. The poor and the underclass,” he said. Indeed, the reception he received from the gathering of typically marginalised Indian children may well have been an apt signal of Waythamoorthy’s new role — not necessarily as a dignitary, but as a leader with a huge task and expectations ahead of him.
Now, as the criticism tapers away somewhat with time, all eyes will be on Waythamoorthy to produce results in actually activating and propelling a new initiative to uplift the indigent and struggling class of Indians in the country,whose plight — and hopes — were reflected in the faces of those who had welcomed him that night at the little-known children’s home in Kulim.
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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on May 30, 2013.