Jottings of an Island Miss

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Thaipusam Boycott at Batu Caves

Right now I am lamenting that there are just not enough Indian political bloggers (or maybe I’m not familiar with their blogs?).

I am half a world away and on Thaipusam morning in Malaysia I was impatiently scouring the internet in search of some scraps of news on the crowd numbers at Batu Caves that morning. Why was I so anxious for such news? Because it was a very important political indicator of the Indian community’s voting sentiment come Election Day. Imagine my frustration when I came up empty handed after going through usual political blogs and some not so usual blogs. The only first hand news I got was from my folks in Penang telling me that the crowd in Penang was much larger than normal and Anil Netto’s blog (he’s based in Penang) that had second hand news that the early morning crowd at Batu Caves was thinner than normal. But some solid news on Batu Caves Thaipusam? NIL, NADA, ZILCH – until Malaysiakini finally had a report up at 3.09pm – by then I was fast asleep with the 12 hour difference.

But now, a full 24 hours has passed and I’m trying to collate as much informtion as possible here.

Why the Boycott?

Since the brutal crackdown on the Hindraf rally that took place on 25th Nov 2007, calls have been going around the Indian community via SMS to boycott the annual Thaipusam festivities at the Batu Caves Sri Subramaniar temple. This is due to the collusion of the Batu Caves Temple Committee in assisting the Malaysian police (read: FRU Storm Troopers) in perpetrating violent acts upon Malaysian citizens that had gathered at the temple the night before the Hindraf rally. The people had gathered – not to rally at Batu Caves itself – but to pray and to find shelter for the night (these were the poor Hindus from out of town that could ill afford hotels). Pre-dawn on the 25th of Nov, the BN Storm Troopers descended upon the peaceful gathering at the Batu Caves temple with big batons, riot shields and tear gas and did this:



The FRU Storm Troopers barred the peaceful crowd from leaving the temple grounds, locked them behind the gate and then opened fire on the crowd with tear gas and chemically laced water. Not content with that, the Attorney-General, Gani Patail, in a travesty of justice, then tried to pin a ludicrious attempted murder charge on 31 of the individuals arrested for 1 allegedly thrown brick at a policeman (how 31 hands could grab 1 brick boggles the mind) – but logic does not apply as this was the BN Gomen meting out high-handed punishment.

The police later said they acted only after they were called in by the Batu Caves Temple Committee headed by R. Nadarajah. This Nadarajah alleges that crowd had trespassed into the temple after closing hours (is a place of worship private property?) and had damaged temple property (See here  for the lies reported by The Star).

However, pictures of the incident tell a VERY DIFFERENT STORY and and gives TRUTH to the LIES told by both the Inspector General of Police and The Star (read: Gomen Mouthpiece). Please see my earlier post on the incident that had me so incensed (here).

No prizes for guessing where the loyalties of Nadarajah and the Temple Committee lie. Both are closely linked to our Semi-Valued minister – the term “MIC stooges” would not be far off.

Calls for a Boycott

Since December, text messages (SMS) have been making the rounds among the Indian community calling for Hindus not to fulfill their spiritual vows at Batu Caves in protest of the Temple Committee’s complicity in supporting the violent dispersal of Hindus at Batu Caves on the 25th of November.

Lord Muruga resides in Batu Caves, the foremost spiritual centre of Hindu religion in Malaysia. Every year on Thaipusam Day, more than a million devotees will journey from far and wide to pay tribute to Him on this day and fulfill any vows they have taken in his name. I am sure all Malaysian are familiar with how important the religious undertaking on Thaipusam day is to a Hindu.

The gathering of devotees on that single Thaipusam Day generates millions of dollars for the coffers of the Temple Committee through donations, rental of stalls and fees for the arrachana (prayer), paal-kudams (milk pots) and kavadis. I would easily estimate an income of RM7million for the Temple. The boy-cott was intended to make them hurt where it hurts most -the wallet. (Does anyone know how much income the temple collected last Thaipusam? Surely there is an audited report somewhere.)

The boycott does not only solely mean it is a protest over just the Temple Committee’s actions, but it is an implied snubbed to the Semi Valued minister (whose party has failed as the defender of Indian rights) and it is an implied expression of support for Hindraf. In fact one SMS called for devotees to throw their sandals (a grave insult for Indians) at Semi Value during his Thaipusam speech.

Hindraf has denied being behind the boycott. Hindraf co-ordinator, RS Thanenthiran made the following statement:

“How can we ask people not to pray. Of course we at Hindraf are angry with the Batu Caves temple committee, but that doesn’t mean we can ask people to boycott Lord Muruga,” he said.

“It is a temple and we will not stop people from praying there. But if it is their choice to boycott, we can’t do anything about that,” he added.

Malaysiakini (5 Jan 2008)

Rightly said. You cannot ask Hindus to boycott Lord Muruga – and Hindraf has not lent their name to this boycott.

However, the text messages doing their rounds have reminded Hindus that Batu Caves is not the only place to fulfill their spiritual vows to Lord Muruga. There are many temples devoted to Lord Muruga in Malaysia. In fact, Penang sees the next largest gathering outside Batu Caves with a 100,000 pilgrims making their way to the hilltop temple at Waterfall and celebrating in a street-like carnival atmosphere. It is also celebrated to a lesser extent in Malacca and Ipoh. The text messages asks why should Batu Caves receive the most donations on Thaipusam, other Murugan temples need donations too.

However, you must understand that despite this, it is very difficult for Hindus to boycott Batu Caves. I know people who have been fulfiling their vows there for more than 30 years. No matter how much displeasure a Hindu has for the MIC or how much support he / she has for Hindraf – the devotion to God is greater than mere politics. Thaipusam at Batu Caves is about Lord Muruga after all. As one Hindu states:

A long time kavadi-bearer at Batu Caves, P Batu Malai said that he would surely fulfill his vows by carrying a kavadi this year too at Batu Caves, although he was angry with the manner the temple committee handled the crowd on Nov 25.

“I was in the crowd and I know how the temple committee worked hand in hand with the police in getting us out of the temple compound,” he claimed.

“But that will not stop me from going there for Thaipusam. However I will not pay a single sen to the temple for any of its projects and charity drives. Neither will I be standing around to hear MIC president S Samy Vellu’s annual speech for Thaipusam at Batu Caves,” he added.

Malaysiakini (5 Jan 2008)

But make no mistake, many Hindus were preparing to stage a boycott. In Port Klang, for the first time in 160 years, the Sri Balasubramaniar Swamy Temple (a Murugan temple) had geared up to celebrate Thaipusam on a grand scale. The temple that normally receives 1,000 paal-kudams on Thaipusam had made preparation to receive a 100,000 kavadi bearers and devotees.

Indians are angry. Not only over the brutal crackdown of the Hindraf rally at Kuala Lumpur on the 25th of November and the arrests of 5 main Hindraf leaders – but also at many social, economic and religious issues all stemming from the marginalisation of Indians by the BN Gomen.

The boycott of Thaipusam at Batu Caves was a perfect opportunity to publicly display their displeasure without attracting more violence the Gomen.

Thaipusam Day at Batu Caves

I think the pictures will say more than words.

bc15.jpg   bc17.jpg  

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(Source: Multimid)


 (Source: Suara Keadilan)

Notice the gaps on the stairs and the almost non-existent queue at the bottom of the stairs. Many experienced Thaipusam pilgrims will tell you that this is not a normal crowd. People should be jam-packed like sardines. That empty road just outside Batu Caves? Not possible on Thaipusam Day. (I would dearly like to see more photos, or better yet, some independent video footage)

Here are relevant excerpts from the Malaysiakini report on the crowd size: 

Thaipusam festivities at the Batu Caves Temple in Kuala Lumpur have been somewhat lackluster this year, marred by a below-average turnout believed to be attributed to an apparent boycott campaign.

Visitors to Batu Caves yesterday evening and this morning reported that the crowds were relatively thinner this year – numbering only in their tens of thousands – unlike previous years where devotees could reach more than one million.

One seasoned visitor, businessman S Babu, 32, said he was at the temple at 6am this morning and was surprised by the lack of congestion at the temple.

Previous years, we can’t even walk. This morning however, it was as easy as an evening stroll,” said Babu ……..

…….. Several stallholders and devotees lamented the small turnout and said ethnic Indians should work together to promote their cause.

The crowd is normally double or triple this size. Now it’s so small, so there is not so much of a great mood this time,” said N Kumaran, 41, a civil servant who has taken part in the festival for the past 14 years.

Sweet seller Joga Singh said that with the crowds so thin he and other vendors were not making any money this year.

Malaysiakini (23 Jan 2008)

Anil Netto has reported in his blog that Batu Caves has noted at least a 30% drop in attendance. Here are some relevant exerpts:

A couple of eye-witnesses who visited Batu Caves this morning told me that the turnout for the Thaipusam festival early this morning was distinctly smaller.

Remember, this is despite Thaipusam now being a public holiday in KL from this year. One would have expected a bigger turnout with people having the day off there.

One source told me that he felt the turnout was about 30 per cent lower.

A second source told me that the drop exceeded 30 per cent but not as much as half. She told me that during the same time (early morning) last year, the entrance to the Batu Caves temple premises was jammed. But not today.

A third source told me that a climb that would normally take 3-4 hours to complete – inching one’s way up the steps leading to the temple at the top and back – this time took only an hour.

This morning, devotees could actually approach close to the altar with their paal koddum (milk pots) unhindered by the sea of humanity that would have obstructed their path in previous years. Many people had also turned up a couple of days earlier to fulfil their vows, said another source. And when they were asked for their chits (indicating they had paid about RM10) upon presentation of their paal koddum, many just glared back and refused to comply – which could be why the fee is reportedly only optional today.

Anil Netto

The UK Daily Telegraph’s correspondent in Kuala Lumpur reported here that “Normally hundreds of thousands pack the Batu Caves complex on the outskirts of the capital Kuala Lumpur, but this year the crowds were thin”. And most tellingly reported “Television news was forced to resort to footage of last year’s event“. My, my …. what is the Gomen trying to hide?

But here’s a better indicator than the human eye – for the first time in 40 years, the Divine Life Society has actually been forced to throw away the FREE food it gives out during Thaipusam at Batu Caves. The DLS prepared food for 20,000 people and the lower than expected turn out meant some of the food was wasted. And the DLS had only prepared 1,800kg of vegetable from its usual allocation of 4,500kg (NST).

Poobalan has posted a personal account of his Thaipusam trip to Batu Caves here. He noted a signicantly lesser crowd. Of particular mention is his account of Semi Value’s Thaipusam speech. He was largely ignored and ended up addressing a crowd of less than a 100 people!

Multimid’s site here has more photos of Batu Caves Thaipusam.

Thaipusam Celebrations at Other Temples 

With Thaipusam in Batu Caves being boycotted by less than half the usual crowd (I believe the number going around is 30% to 50%), devotees have turned to other temples.

My friends in Penang tell me that the Thaipusam crowd was twice the usual size. 

The Star reports that the Sri Balasubramaniar Swamy Temple received 100,000 devotees. Here’s a YouTube video link to the Thaipusam celebration at Port Klang:

The Star also reported that the smaller Murugan temples in Selangor had received higher devotees.

I expect that the crowds at other locations in Ipoh, Malacca and Johor Bahru would be higher as well but I have not been able to come across crowd numbers on the internet.

Makkal Sakthi (People Power)

There was no political or social organisation or even any known individuals behind the call for this boycott. This is the people’s call to arms) Hindraf itself said that it will not lend any support to a call to boycott Batu Caves at Thaipusam.

This call came from every day people – most who have never been involved in politics – all forwarding the text messages of the boycott to their friends and family. Imagine how frightening that must be for the MIC! This is the PEOPLE expressing themselves without any mover organising this protest. This is the PEOPLE – the Makkal Sakthi – who have felt the injustice of decades of marginalisation perpetrated by the BN Gomen. Indians have endured for many years without complaint and the majority have always solidly back the BN Gomen. But the recent spat of temple demolitions was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. And then Hindraf, riding on that wave – on the 25th of November – showed Indians what power they as a people had in their hands. The Gomen knee-jerk reaction in brutally cracking down on the rally and subsequently locking up the 5 Hindraf leaders under ISA was felt by the entire Indian community. It was the final insult. Years of resentment at the BN Gomen and the MIC finally came to the fore.

And on Thaipusam Day, the full brunt of the People’s anger was expressed in the boycott of Batu Caves.

Yes, it was not a full boycott. But please remember that Thaipusam is a religious festival – God before politics! But a 30% to 50% dent in the crowd in Batu Caves is very significant.

There are more expressions of Makkal Sakthi. Malaysiakini reports that a 108 people are on a week long hunger stike at the Port Klang Sri Balasubramaniar Swamy Temple and there were joined by a further 21 people at the temple in Ipoh. The purpose of the strike is to call for the release of ISA detainees the the abolishment of the ISA Act.

Anil Netto further writes of more expressions of Makkal Sakthi at Thaipusam at Penang. He describes Makkal Sakthi T-shirts and CDs being sold at a panthal and hundreds of people clad with the Makkal Sakthi yellow orange attire.

I think the Indians have already casted their vote this Election.  The Indians are abandoning their support for BN and they have by this silent protest rendered MIC irrelevant. Semi Value’s political future appears very shaky – the writing is on the wall. He’s in denial of course – he’s quoted in The Star as saying the crowd was the same in previous years and The Star has tried to shore up support for him by notoriously marking up the numbers at more than a million/

Lim Kit Siang has termed the Indians as “king-makers” this General Election (see here). Indians constitute more that 15% of the electorate in 28 parliamentary and 78 state assembly seats. And since Indians have traditional voted for the BN, any large swing in Indian votes will see more seats falling to the Opposition.  

Indians have no political race based Opposition party of any significance to champion their rights. Abandoning the MIC to vote for the Opposition is a brave decision for Indians – they will be entrusting their future with the multi-ethnic parties, the PKR and the DAP. But then, it’s not like there is any future in MIC, is there? It’s come to the point where “there’s nothing left to lose”.

But I see any Indian support for the Opposition as the breaking of an important racial barier in politics – and the PKR and DAP when they earn these votes, must prove themselves worthy by demonstrating that they can champion the rights of ALL Malaysian.  

If this country is to have any future, we must start uniting as MALAYSIANS, that will look out for one another. There must come an end to race based politics. Only if we stand together as Malaysians, can we break the BN Gomen’s divide and rule politics of fear and hate.

The General Election this year is not about race – it is about toppling a CORRUPT Goverment that is MIS-MANAGING OUR country and DENYING us OUR RIGHTS as Malaysian CITIZENS.


I hope readers will share their Thaipusam experience at Batu Caves and other temples – especially an estimate of the crowd numbers. Any directions to independent photos and videos will also be greatly appreciated.


Thursday, 24 January, 2008 Posted by | Hindraf, Newspaper Lies, People Power | , , , | 5 Comments