Vela (or Velu) started playing a lot of football when he was 13 along with his brothers – when they were not helping at their video store. By twenty he had a small family of his own, and later he got his dream role – as a Rela volunteer. Boots, uniforms and the baton – the whole deal.
Being a member of the Ikatan Relawan Rakyat – Malaysia’s own paramilitary forces.
Zoom forward to Friday past and I am just trying to get home at 2.30am from another makan session in Kepong. And then a long stall. It’s a roadblock, more exactly it is a Rela roadblock. And I was expecting to see Vela at the heart of action – not in a good way. The man does not read – and is barely able to read – but in his hands and others like him lay great authority. And their powers are growing especially with the Ikatan Relawan Rakyat amendments in 2005, which pretty much makes them the scourge of all migrants – legal and not – and slowly the average Malaysian too.
This is not a class argument. Education is not the determinate of a person’s person, but surely before you give a person a uniform and power, you’d think about it a bit more – and ensure the person understands the burden of authority.
Rela are not too modest about their achievements – when it comes to hurting foreigners.
In 2006 they harassed 132,476 persons to procure 25,045 arrests, and in 2007 they upped it to 179, 133 persons and arrested 34,230. These are the official harassments, the unofficial and unrecorded episodes would burst through the stratosphere. Day to day the Rela blokes must be making life a living hell for foreigners.
These men and women can accost travellers, resident taxpayers and anyone they feel like under Rela authority, and if the accosted person does not produce the necessary documents there is a real chance you will see the inside of a police station.
Each district is requested to have at least four raids a month, and are credited when they increase the numbers of arrests. Placing an emphasis like that, is akin to giving them the license to just arrest people on general suspicion.
And Vela was never a person who liked to think through his actions, and I still have a bent nose from an altercation from our younger days.
So yes, I was not forward to seeing someone like him, someone who thinks authority is a right of those who wear uniforms and not have an understanding of extent and principle, and basic rights of people.
Welcome to Malaysia 2008 – where para-militarism is growing, thanks for an increasingly insecure government.
Joining the paramilitary
There are no real requirements to become a Rela personnel as they are the volunteer corp. However in the last decade their role has increased from mild assistants in events, to enforcers of the law – while most often ignorant of the law.
Is it not frightening, that a bunch of Rela guys if they can get a couple of police constables can mount roadblocks? The law requires for a police inspector to be on site, but most often they are not.
If we as citizens are subject to scrutiny and the accompanying delay, then surely those who scrutinise us should have reason and more importantly have the qualifications to do so? What are the qualifications of Rela personnel other than shiny boots?
These people can compromise our lives, but we are uncertain of their ability to read the situation, make appraisals, have the communication skills to collect information, process it and apply judgement. Our government has given power to complete strangers with no way to know if they are abusing their power.
Last year when I was stopped by Rela inside a residential zone, when they asked for my ID I asked for theirs. The guy insisted as Rela members they have full authority, and I asked for the police personnel onsite. He was starting to get agitated. The police constable came over and the thing passed, but it was startling that a non-police personnel was assuming strong authority over normal citizens and expressing disdain for those challenging his powers.
My friend in the passenger seat had a bit of a panic attack. She could not tell the difference between the police and Rela volunteers. She threw up after that by the roadside.
There are close to 530,000 Rela members as of July 31 2008. For a population of 26 million, that is slightly more than 1 Rela member for each Malaysian. With weapons training now the norm, the Malaysian government can now mobilise an armed force enough to repress any democratic uprising against it.
How about that for scary?
Was I being a little too liberal with the truth when I was talking about Vela? The requirement for a being a Rela member is being above 16, citizen of the Federation and healthy. I am highly sceptical that there is even a basic check on entrees and whether there are rejections. In the military and police, those susceptible to mental disorder or pose a threat are barred, here everyone is logged in, lock-stock-and barrel.
Rela is a walk-in position – far easier than even being allowed to flip burgers at your local Burger King, and we let them fire live rounds.
Part of their training is under Biro Tata Negara (BTN)- read the Propaganda Bureau. This worries me as much as the weapons training.
The BTN are Umno’s front line men in promoting the idea of fascism. They have been doing it for a long time. And when they spin lies to a group of blue-collared employees, you are starting to play with fire.
As the official chain of loyalty for Rela goes, country, national leaders and society. They serve their political masters before they serve the people of Malaysia.
Umno has set out an elaborate uniformed group with weapons training with clear instructions they are accountable to them – before to the people of Malaysia. They are asked openly to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the government. Spying on their neighbours.
Are we actually going to wait till they drag us out kicking and screaming to the firing squad, before we state our open and direct opposition? I will advise you to write to your MP.
Irrespective of whether you are a BN or Pakatan supporter – do you like the governing party have a weapons trained militia of half a million ready to carry their orders over the safety and interest of the Malaysian people?
I am sure Syed Hamid Albar would have a clever explanation (not) in his staccato English about why no one should worry that there are more than half a million persons with boots and uniform with loyalty to his party foremost are not a danger to those who are opposed to his party.
Every country with an armed militia operating with the police or not, have problems. Rights of citizens are reduced not increased by the presence of a force not accountable to clear legal rules, but only to the whims and fancies of their political masters.
The danger is clear and present. The Rela personnel is not paid well, therefore the authority becomes tantalising as a means to gain income. With hundreds of thousands of foreigners in any town in the Klang Valley, they can turn every encounter with a foreigner an opportunity to raise wang kopi.
Since there are so many of them, and they probably don’t meet each other daily, anyone can pretend to be a Rela member and get away with it. Club workers and ladies with less knowledge of the law can be coerced to almost anything – as docile Malaysians don’t want trouble with the law.
Foreigners and citizens alike are now at the mercy of Rela, as there is even provisions for them to break into homes they believe are housing illegals. Your homes.
The Rela scourge is real and its terror rising.