6 Malaysians who don't back down
Siti Kasim - The Formidable
When the Federal Territories Islamic Department raided a private fundraiser for transgendered persons, Siti Kasim stood up to them. Incredulous, they shrieked for compliance and threatened incarceration. She raised her voice yet louder, challenging their legitimacy. None produced a warrant.
"Religious authorities like these are banking on the ignorance of the people," she said, "As long as our Federal Constitution is still there, we have hope."
A school teacher once wrote of her, "Seorang murid yang tidak takut berbahas dan bertanya." Was there ever a higher compliment? Siti Kasim will be suing the pants off the Department in the coming weeks, and we wish her good health and success in every undertaking.
Edmund Bon - The Intrepid
He's our representative to the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission of Human Rights. But as convoluted as red tape can be, he tells us, "Human rights is omnipresent and everyone experiences it. Your right to food, shelter, clothes, clean water, a safe environment, not to be killed, raped or tortured. Something as routine as reading the daily paper is enabled because we have laws guaranteeing freedom of information and media. It is necessary for everyone to work together to preserve this."
Before adding, "... Where we are at the moment is the result of all those people who have been fighting before 1957 for the Peninsular and 1963 for East Malaysia. If nobody decided to fight at that time, today's landscape will be more repressive."
Tuti - The Undaunted
When Nuraini Mohd Noor - better known as Tuti - was savaged for chasing her dreams on a reality show for up and coming models, she wisely recognized, "What really separates us is not skin colour or religion. It's opportunity."
"I've had to hustle everyday of my life. My dad even had to send me to modelling jobs on his motorbike. One day I'll be walking on the world's biggest fashion festivals. And I know it because I never stopped believe in myself, no matter what the braying crowds say."
Shanjhey Kumar Perumal - The Unflinching
Shanjhey's first feature length film, Jagat, is the real McCoy. It's an unadorned retelling of the lives and times of desperately impoverished Malaysian Indians. Raw and intense, it's also a tale of identity, compassion and forgiveness.
"I didn't want a commercial or artistic movie. Jagat is not for film festivals. Even though we have lived together for 50 years since Merdeka, we still only have a surface understanding of each other," he says. "But it's not a Tamil story. It's a Malaysian story," he adds.
With rave reviews from all quarters, Shanjhey plans to re-release it soon. "Only 1.5 million Malaysians go to the movies. But there are 30 million people across this country."
Eddin Khoo - The Steadfast
When he heard Kelantan's PAS had banned wayang kuli and mak yong as "syirik" or polytheistic with it's pre-Islamic origins, beliefs and rituals with a view to profligacy and licentiousness, he would record them for posterity.
As the founder/director of PUSAKA, Khoo has traversed the length and breadth of our country to document and encourage these traditional performing arts.
"When we are forced to stifle ourselves, we go mad and become fanatics. What is militancy and extremism if not the inability to deal with complexities?" he asks.
Lex Low - The Resolute
You'll find Low with a bunch of comrades, on Friday nights, around the Central Market area. He offers a listening ear and a free hair cut for KL's homeless. Together with his team, they've built a relationship with those on society's fringes.
"Some of them are hooked on drugs or they've got gambling problems. My job isn't to judge. We're living in a world where the everyday struggle can be hell. I can't change the whole world, but maybe I can change someone's world," he says.
He says everyone in his group uses whatever talents they have; some are doctors, others psychologists. The objective is the same, to leave this place a slightly better country then when they were here.
Read more about them in the August issue of August Man.