April 21, 2014 – 10:11 am

‘Karpal Singh!’ the people chanted as 100,000* turned out in Penang to give the Tiger of Jelutong a roaring send-off. By Anil Netto.

Malaysian opposition leader Karpal Singh was killed in a road accident around 1.10 am on April 17, 2014. He was 73 and was on the way from Kuala Lumpur to Penang for a court hearing. Karpal, who was seated in the front passenger seat, was killed on the spot together with his long-time assistant, Michael Cornelius.

James Ross, legal and policy director for Human Rights Watch, said: “Karpal Singh used his keen mind, legal training, and passion for justice to doggedly promote respect for human rights in Malaysia. For decades, he was an unyielding force for the rights of all.”

* The figure of 100,000 is a guesstimate of those who swarmed the family home over three days, turned up inside and outside the Dewan (Hall; over 50,000), lined the streets to accompany or watch the cortege along the way and thronged the crematorium.

Penang [April 20, 2014] has never seen anything quite like it. You would have to go far back in Malaysian history to witness this kind of outpouring of sorrow over the loss of a people’s champion. Perhaps as far back as the passing of DR Seenivasagam of Ipoh (1925-1969) or Sybil Karthigasu of Papan (1899-1948), the funeral processions of both drawing about a hundred thousand to the streets.

More than the number, it is the sense of loss that is overwhelming. Perhaps it is a once-in-a-generation phenomenon, the passing of a living legend, who in death would be larger than life.

Penangites and other Malaysians seemed to sense this as they turned out at various points in town to pay their respects. Over the last three days, they had made a beeline in their thousands to Karpal Singh’s family home in Western Road until the cortege left the house this Easter morning.

Click on the graphic for the videoclip.

Hundreds of bikers, their machines some purring, others growling, combining into a collective roar, escorted the Tiger to the Dewan Sri Pinang where he received a funeral with state honours.

Click on the graphic for the videoclip.

Quieter, greener cyclists from the Occupy Beach Street car-free Sunday pedalled in, providing a silent, almost admonitory, contrast. The road along Beach Street may have been blissfully free of traffic on Occupy Beach Street’s car-free Sunday, but over at the Dewan, the human traffic had ground to a standstill.

Ordinary folk milled around in resignation outside the Dewan; others literally pressed on, persistently wading their way through the sea of humanity as they tried to enter the building. I took two hours to find a way in. And my tweets couldn’t go through as mobile phone networks choked. Not that it mattered a whole lot.

Click on the graphic for the videoclip.

When I finally weaved my way in at 10.45 am, we were quickly herded around Karpal’s coffin, barely catching a last glimpse of the people’s champion, now freed of the huge national burdens with which he had been lumbered. No wonder he was said to have suffered a bad back condition.

Once outside in the baking sunshine, I clambered onto a little ledge near the entrance gate, hoping it would provide a vantage point to view the hearse as it left the Dewan. I looked behind to make sure I was not blocking anyone’s view. Behind me, a grizzled man from Bukit Gelugor, peering through the vertical rails of a metal fence, assured me it was fine.

When I enquired what brought him here, he proudly said he was from Karpal’s Bukit Gelugor constituency. For a living, he worked as a hawker selling kuih [cakes]. He said in awe that there were more people at the Dewan Sri than those who had voted for Karpal in Bukit Gelugor. “No other Penang leader before this has had this kind of rousing farewell from the people,” he said in Malay with quiet wonder.

I made some small talk about the blazing weather; by then the sun was beating down mercilessly on the gathered crowd.

He replied almost disdainfully, “This hot weather is nothing compared to what Karpal had endured.” And then he picked up a couple of bottles of water that were being distributed nearby and handed one to me through the railing as if to pacify me.

It was finally time for the hearse to leave the Dewan. The bikers in black on their big machines revved their engines as they readied themselves to lead the hearse. As the limousine slowly, almost reluctantly, pulled away, the chants from the people rose in the air: “Karpal Singh! Karpal Singh!”- not loudly but more like a painful yet defiant cry from the heart.

Click on the graphic for the videoclip.

Another legal champion of the underdog, James Logan (1819-1869), may have looked on from his almost forgotten memorial opposite the High Court, just outside the Dewan Sri Pinang, perhaps bemusedly recalling his own rousing send-off by the common folk almost a century and a half ago.

Thousands more lined the streets outside the High Court and the State Assembly buildings, repeating the same chant, as if vowing to ensure Karpal’s fighting spirit would live on in them.

Memories came flooding back as the haunting notes from the bagpipes of the corp of pipes and drums of St Xavier’s Institution, Karpal’s alma mater, floated in the air.

Over at the Batu Gantung crematorium, emotions overflowed as a large throng roared in triumphant anguish a final warrior’s farewell just before the legend of the Tiger of Jelutong was burnished in fire. The Spirit of the Tiger lives on in the people for whom he fought so valiantly.

Click on the graphic for the videoclip.

Click on the graphic for the videoclip.

Note: The above was posted at anilnetto.com.

+ + + + +

  1. One Response to “100,000 GIVE KARPAL SINGH ROUSING SEND-OFF”

  2. The Malaysian government is corrupt and incompetent. The destruction of the Malaysian Airlines 777 was due to the government illegally trying the voice of the people. The only way it could have won this case was to kill Singh before his trial. Charged with trumped up lies by the government, there is only one way to deal with this type of corruption. Like a snake, its head must be cut off by the people.

    By nobsartist on Apr 21, 2014

Post a Comment