Tuesday, August 24, 2021

UM Student Union Days - the Malaysian student movement today? Concern about the poor or Malaysia?

University Students continue to be suppressed by the University and University Colleges Act, despite the fact that Malaysia is already moving towards giving Malaysians aged 18 and above the right to vote. PH Plus(which earlier included BERSATU) made promises to do the needed but still our students are being 'suppressed'. In any event, this is no real justification for failing to do the needful for justice and Malaysia..

Malaysian University Students have a great history of speaking up and fighting for the rights of the poor and marginalized. In the early years, there were also involved in the struggle for independence and the anti-colonialist movement. Some of the other well known struggles

Telok Gong - Poor landless peasants struggle to obtain land. In 1967, the peasants, led by Hamid Tuah, cleared some forest land in the Teluk Gong region of Selangor where they tilled the land and built houses. Not long afterwards, the government destroyed the crops and demolished the houses of the peasants. Hamid Tuah and his followers were arrested. The cruelty inflicted by the government upon the poor peasants of Teluk Gong was angrily denounced by the students of the University of Malaya. Several years later, again the students came out in support of squatters in Tasik Utara Iin 1974) [See also The Student Movement In Malaysia, 1967 - 74 by Hassan Karim]

Then, another case was Baling, when university students again came out in support of poor farmers. 

Of course, the government response was the University and University Colleges Act - a means to 'control' and suppress student activism.

Then, i move on to 1982-83, when I managed to get into the University Malaya Students Union[Persatuan Mahasiswa University Malaya] - by then the University had already taken over the building belonging to the Students Union, and the Student Union was push into a small office(some say previously the place where the University Bus drivers hanged out). The Petrol Station, that once belong to the students were also no more. Picture below of some of my Union members, I am the middle one standing behind the then Prof Ungku Aziz

Through this new 'draconian law', not only property and monies of the students taken away - but even monies raised was controlled by the University authorities. If the Union needed to use 'their own money', they had to apply to the University Authority for approval/permission. In terms of activities also, the democratically elected Student Union had to apply for permission from the University. Hence, to even organise forums, many speakers that the Union wanted to invite to speak was rejected by the University - the Student Affairs Division(Bahagian Hal Ehwal Pelajar).

But, in 1982-83 Student Union, there were a few of us that wanted to not just compromise with the then existing norm - but to fight to restore the student movement, and despite the risks, we struggled and did many things... Interestingly, in that Union, our current Prime Minister was the Union President - and he believed in our struggle..

Some of the things that we did that year...

The Union Newspaper

- Well, at that time, as mentioned before, everything had to have the University's approval - from the content and the funds. If we did that, then it really would not have been a true Student Union paper - but rather a University approved paper. We were University Students - not school students but we faced more control and restrictions compared to even school students then, in our opinion.

- So, the Student Union (or rather a number of active progressive Union leaders and many student members) decided to do OUR own newspaper - unedited and 'uncensored' by the University authorities. First we needed monies to print and publish, so some of us collected donations amongst the students. Some started writing articles, and we had to identify outside printers. Once the paper was printed, after 12 midnight, at every residential college, active students took these papers and slipped it under each and every door of the residents - an activity that saw the involvement of about 100 brave students or more. At the next morning, when students living outside came to campus, we were at the University gates handing out the newspapers - then at the start of the working day, the Union President and a few of us went to see the Deputy Chancelor in charge of Student Affairs to inform him that the Union has produced a newspaper.

- The action was very positive for the student movement and the Student Union - despite all the hurdles, we had finally managed to let the REAL students' voices be heard - not the 'university approved - students' voice'.

- The University authority then allowed the publication of the students' newspaper provided that the authorities have the right of censorship, etc - well, we did not want to do this. So, a 2nd Student Union newspaper was done in the same way as before, and it was done several days before the final exams. Oops, some Union leaders were affected, and forced to refer some papers (not repeat the year) - and we all passed in our referral exams.

PESTA RIA - Boycott in 1983

- this was a Student Union program, that happened during Convocation. The primary object was to raise funds for the Student Union Loan Program. But the reality was the control of the University Authorities even with regard to program, and even the later control of the funds. The Student Union, when I was there, wanted to get back the control of at least the program from the University authorities, but the University was not interested. There were many issues, but one issue was the selection of an artist-singer. The University wanted to get Anita Sarawak, but the Union objected as the fees that we had to pay her was just too high, so much so there will be no profit from the Concert - hence the Student Loan Fund support. The Union was proposing other artist like Sudirman Arshad which will cost so much less. Whilst discussions was still on-going, the University proceeded to sign the contract with Anita Sarawak - and this ultimately led to the Students Union BOYCOTTING the Pesta Ria - and letting it be done by the University rather that the Students Union. This was an unprecedented move when the Student Union stood up on principle.

Other issues that the Students Union was a reduction of rental for stalls by University Students themselves, be they from Residential Colleges or other university student clubs. This also was opposed by the University authorities.

Promoting Awareness and Human Rights

One of the issues that we had several programs was the PALESTINIAN ISSUE. Why? Like Malaysia, the Palestinian people were also multi-religious, and their struggle was a struggle for independence and self-determination. Some in Malaysia tries to portray it as an Islamic Struggle or 'jihad' - but the Palestinian people, including Yasser Arafat when he came to Malaysia later clarified that it was not a religious struggle but a national struggle. It must be pointed out for many that have forgotten that amongst the leaders of PLO/Palestine then, there were not just Muslims, but also Christians and Jews. 

BUDAYANEKA - this was a program to feature various dances from all around the world. The issue that the Union had to deal with was the issue of Chinese and Indian dances, where the Union wanted to introduce it as culture/dances of Malaysians recognizing the fact that Malaysia was a multi-racial and multi-cultural nation.

The move of the Union was to expose students to socio-economic and political issues that affect the country and the world. Many students, sadly are focused just in their studies and passing exams - blind to the reality and suffering of people in the nation/world - hence being 'self-centered' and disinterested of other injustices. Hence during one orientation week, Union reps promoted students to attend forums and talks to braden their understanding of society. On one night, the students had the option to attend a forum at the main Hall, or a cultural event in a smaller hall. What the University did at the eleventh hour, was to change the venue of the forum to a smaller hall - and hence, students at the 4th College, where I was, elected to boycott the program as they were not allowed to attend the forum. In its place, the College decided to have an 'Open Mike' program that allowed any student the opportunity to come and speak on whatever issue - it was rather successful, and the University officers came visiting. Some other residential colleges did similar protest actions. [Now, the Union reps did not force their decision on the students - but allowed the students to decide on their own - hence this was an action of the students themselves - an empowering exercise of their rights.]


To build a caring student, many programs of going down to the people. Tuition programs were organised at squatter communities in Kampung Kerinchi and Lembah Pantai which saw the participation of many students volunteering time at nights and week-ends to contribute their time and energy to community. There were other programs too like reading to the Blind, etc. If the community was predominantly Malay, then we encouraged non-Malay students to go, and same with the other communities. This was to create greater awareness of the different peoples of Malaysia - The efforts that started during the Union days continued on with the formation of the Social Service Club (Persatuan Perkhidmatan Masyarakat), and some of these programs lasted years. When the University students went on their holidays, the students of the nearby Teachers Training College stepped in - this ensured that the tuition programs continued undisrupted.

SADLY, what the Students Union started in the 1982-83 was not followed up by subsequent student unions... We hope for a revival of Malaysian university student movement - who will act for justice and human rights. It is sad that recent trends seems to indicate that the concern/focus seems to be narrowing to just student issues and academic freedom.

Our student union also worker closely with the leadership/members of many other Societies in UM...a very important strategy towards building a student movement. Any movement is not about the masses following a few leaders, but having the masses with the capacity to lead and participate in decision making. The people must be empowered so that they too can lead and help the development of the movement of caring people, who will without fear stand up against injustice and other violation of rights.

When I was in the Student Union, interestingly Ismail Sabri was the President of the Union. Other known persons would include Ragunath Kesavan(now a former Bar Council Chairman) and Patricia Tan Ghee Phaik(an Industrial Court Chairman). Of course, in our student union of many members, as usual there were maybe about 7 to 9 who did work so the numbers should not discourage you - many, as usual, seem to just end up in the Student Union - with no desire to do any more to help the movement or Malaysia... We often see the same today amongst our politicians...

The Ismail Sabri of then was a progressive that acted in accordance to values/principles for the good of the student movement, Malaysia and the world. Since then, he has joined political parties...and now, being the newly appointed Prime Minister - he again has the chance to make a significant difference.

When such opportunity is given, one need to ACT and not really be overly consumed with keeping political power or appeasing others to ensure continued power. 

Be it a few weeks or months, the people really will evaluate you based on what you did - achieved for the good of the people. 

Hope that the old Ismail Sabri of my Student Union days will re-emerge, and do things fast and simply make promises or give excuses...


see also an earlier post about students

Thai secondary school students are protesting - Malaysian students current apathy? Or wait after MCO?








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