By Syerleena Abdul Rashid, DAP Wanita Bukit Bendera Political Education Director
Once again, another Barisan Nasional politician shows his sheer arrogance and contempt for those less fortunate.
This time it’s none other than Federal Territories Minister, Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan who has made a series of contemptuous statements with regards to the lingering issue of homelessness in Malaysia.
Attempting to solve this issue by imposing restrictions on NGOs running soup kitchens, whose main objective is only to provide basic food for the homeless, creates more damage to the communal psyche.
His idea of instilling discipline through showing unmoving indifference (i.e. imposing penalties or fines to givers of alms and beggars) further reiterates the arrogance often portrayed by the customary elitist mindset.
Truth be told, solving this issue will not be easy but if the government is really serious in finding a sound resolution, thorough reviews must be made to identify the real causes of homelessness.
Dismissing them as “lazy” is a coward’s way out but we all know that it is always easier to blame someone else rather than reassess outdated policies.
Judging from how things are in Malaysia at the moment, what was once a system that worked has now diminished to the point of embarrassment as a result of decades worth of complacency and apathy.
The key is to first identify what the real problems are. If cleanliness is the main issue, then rounding up our less fortunate brothers and sisters and moving them or their activities to a confined area, does not solve the problem.
The same issues will persist and the resultant ‘improvement’ will be only visual, much like the adage, ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
Soup kitchens address issues that the political elite do not care about because there is little to gain from them.
Issues relating to basic necessities such as food are extremely important in safeguarding public health.
Malnourishment leads to a variety of health complications and sometimes these diseases can be contagious, much like the reported tuberculosis outbreak that occurred at a detention centre a few years back.
While providing jobs and creating employment opportunities is one way that can help improve their situation, the issue of skills training and mental assessment must be given equal, if not greater, importance to provide long term solutions.
Leaders and policy makers must remain calm and compassionate when dealing with people who may (or may not) come from difficult or troubled backgrounds.
After all, living on the streets is not a choice anyone would voluntarily make and this is something everyone must understand.
Our society lacks this understanding only because some of us are influenced by what our leaders say or how they think.
What comes as a shock, is the fact that such remarks and suggestions were made during the holy month of Ramadhan, where Muslims from all sects dedicate the whole month to performing good deeds and contemplating on matters that can move them closer to God.
Such deeds also include embracing the values of tolerance, patience, respect and empathy towards those from all walks of life.
However Tengku Adnan seems unapologetic of his choice of words despite being aware of how some may perceive his comments as ‘un-Islamic’.
Yes, no amount of reasoning can justify such callousness and inconsideration towards the marginalised.
For someone in his position, it is important to exude decency and reason especially when dealing with difficult or complex issues.
It is bad enough that Malaysians have to deal with escalating criminal activities and religious violence. Let us not add more to the evils that already exist in our society.
* The views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the columnist