When the Federation of Malaya was born, I was in Standard 1 at the Ibrahim Primary School in Sungai Petani, Kedah. In fact, my father was already an elected town councillor. He stood as an Independent and beat the Umno candidate.
I was trained in character and discipline at the Royal Military College, and got into Universiti Malaya when it was still the best in the region. Upon graduation, I applied and was shortlisted for an interview at Jalan Young, and attended the Public Services Commission (PSC) interview with my RMC classmate from Batu Gajah.
We both were found to be suitable but then my classmate, who held a Federal Bursary Scholarship, was back-dated to an April date for the Administrative and Diplomatic Service (PTD) appointment, but mine was post-dated to Sept 4, 1972. I never fully understood why.
Public service – serving to lead?
We both started work in the public service and were posted to the Implementation and Coordination Unit of the Prime Minister’s Department. Our current man’s father was our prime minister. I met the younger man when he as “interning with the Petroleum Development Unit” under the PM’s Department. That was the precursor to what we call Petronas Berhad today.
My first assignment was the publication of a grand book which listed all projects federally-funded and executed by the federal departments. What I did not know then was that these expenditure and reports were part and parcel of the ruling government’s agenda to seek re-election at the general election (GE) of 1974.
My next assignment was with the National Institute of Public Administration (Intan), as a trainer for new public service appointees. What was more than strange was that I had never been trained as my classmates who were instead selected as temporary public servants even before their appointments into the Administrative and Diplomatic Service of the government of Malaysia.
‘Pendatang dari Kedah’
If the word ‘pendatang’ means newcomer or immigrant to the country, let me assure every other Malaysian that I am and may be more Malayan than most. My father is a founder-member of the MIC in Kedah. He was one of the four founders together with Chandra Muzaffar’s grandfather.
More than that, in fact, I have two forms of citizenship certificates in my possession, with one being the birth certificate and dated before Merdeka. My parents are well-established citizens of Kedah and we have many photos with the present sultan’s parents as proof.
‘The Legacy of A Father’s Love’ is a book we wrote about our parents and their contributions towards our blessed life in Malaysia. We launched and distributed the book for our dad’s 90th birthday. Unfortunately, mom had passed on by then.
Dr Mahathir Mohamed wrote the foreword to the book. He, too, like his grandfather and Chandra’s parents, come from the same home-state as my parents. Are they pendatang, too?
Mar Thoma Christians
If the PAS president was more gracious with his interpretation of the Quran; we can and should be considered as “people of the book”. It is reputed that Thomas, often called Doubting Thomas who was the disciple who wanted empirical proof of Jesus resurrected body, went to India in 52AD and preached the Gospel and thereby our forefathers became Christians. They are called Syrian Christians of India.
My father was trustee for one piece of land which the Mar Thoma Church bought in 1955 in Sungai Lallang, Sungai Petani. Today, a Mar Thoma Community Centre sits on that plot of land, and it had to be rebuilt after it was 80-percent burned down because of an arsonist. Thanks to a gracious donation of RM100, 000.00 by the then-prime minister, we were able to rebuild that destroyed community hall.
I was sent on study leave by the government of Malaysia to complete my studies, and when my proposal to “study dignity in the workplace” was tabled, I met obvious objections from the American faculty for my scriptural definition of “dignity”.
Therefore and as a consequence, I had to invite University Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Iranian, to come on board my committee to defend the starting point of the dignity of man; as one assigned and prescribed by God Almighty.
Thereafter,“as a result of this clash of worldviews” I even stated a biodata summary of my faith and origins in the appendix to my thesis. I also elected to establish and state the fact that in Malaysia we extol the Rukunegara as our national ideology or philosophy.
Therefore the current debate today about its relevance as a preamble is really moot. It is our ideology and it is too late to reject it now. We must therefore seriously consider and decide if it must be unconditionally accepted as our preamble to avoid untoward interpretation of the Federal Constitution in newer hindsight.
Mar Thoma Christians in Malaysia are mostly all Malayalees and while the originals are in fact mostly ‘pendatang’ from Kerala, India, the concept of ‘pendatang’ does not apply any more. In the USA, for example, the concept of an ‘alien’ denotes ‘foreigners’ and are usually limited to non-citizens. It cannot become an ethnic classifier for all and sundry; especially citizens.
What then is the core roles and responsibilities of every citizen of any modern nation-state? The modern nation-state is only slightly more than 60 years old to start with; almost beginning with the birth of the United Nations Assembly; after the two world wars.
I have a therefore generalised public theory to give a meaning to such modern citizenship for all citizens in the global community of nation-states. My theory proposes that every human being has at least five layers of both; of roles and consequent responsibilities as modern citizens:
- The most primary is our role of citizenship; that of Malaysian nation-statehood. To me it means a few things. I am proud of being Malaysian more than any other form of citizenship or residency; in spite of choices I have. That assumes that I am not a citizen of two states concurrently. I have also learnt to speak Malay, and good English. I honour and respect our Federal Constitution and am sworn to defend our flag and all its meanings under the rule of law principle.
- I am also Christian, which means I believe in the Bible as the Word of God. My heritage as an Eastern Christian means my faith is not a Western one but really a universal version which holds true to the Word of God. Someone recently described it accurately as“principled pluralism”. I agree.
- My ethnicity is Malayalee, and I cannot deny it as much as I may try. For one simple example, as a younger person, throughout my 20s, my favourite food was Malaysian nasi lemak but I found out that in my 40s, I realised that ‘thosai’ was my real favourite, while nasi lemak is still a liked menu. My only explanation is that my mother-tongue now rules my taste.
- I am also a Type A personality, while my wife is Type B. Opposites do attract and I have learnt over the last 35 years, the definition of who is the boss is very different at home than in the workplace.
- Finally also, every human being has a conscience given by God and which distinguishes us from the animal kingdom; therefore, each of us can choose between right and wrong, and cannot absolve ourselves from the idea of human responsibility and accountability for things done, or left undone. We are also accountable for all our time here and in the thereafter.
Culture of ‘cheating, stealing and lying’ or ‘CSL’
In my last four columns, I have been outspoken about matters which are very close to my heart. They related to the debate on Act 355 and 3-5-6, the abuse of my lived neighbourhood by the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ), the apparent ignorance demonstrated by the inspector-general of police (IGP) in the case of the missing pastor, and the now demonstrated close one-eye-culture by the chief secretary to the government.
Truth matters in all of life. In traditional faith cultures; like within the historical Catholic Church, they then believed that the earth was the centre of the universe until Copernicus and Galileo provided proof from physical science that it was the sun and not the earth that was the centre of the universe.
Any personal and owned-faith system must mature over time to move from being that of one’s parents’ faith or religion, to one that is honestly, authentically, and truthfully one’s own. When such an applied faith role is assumed by our religious spirit, what we consequently believe becomes the basis and guide for all thoughts and actions. That I call Theory R.
Personal faith is a religious spirit which guides any human being in all phases and spaces of life, especially in dealing with others; and more specifically the big other. Some religious spirit systems, have no external ‘other’ per se, but internalises all the above values through a self-consciousness and self-awareness which denies selfishness in all forms. It becomes a kind of “otherness”.
My prayer is that all Malaysians can transcend the weakness of needing to classify others in one’s spiritual terms, and display the humility to recognise that such a determination belongs to a Supreme Being; and never a small and insignificant, and rather imperfect human person.
I rest my case.
KJ JOHN, PhD, was in public service for 32 years having served as a researcher, trainer, and policy adviser to the International Trade and Industry Ministry and the National IT Council (NITC) of the government of Malaysia.
Source : @ Malaysiakini