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Not my burden of shame: Malaysia's apathy in tackling problem of sexual harassment

By Jeswan Kaur* 

"There was no such thing as child abuse. Parents owned their children. They could do whatever they wanted." -- actress Ellen Burstyn
Condemning, judging and humiliating - it this the very nature of people in general or is this what Malaysians are best known for?
When a 15-year-old actress recently made a damning revelation that she was molested as a child by her perverted father, support was far from coming.
Instead, many name shamed Puteri Nuraaina Balqis, calling her "stupid" and rebuking her for seeking cheap publicity by insulting her father. They "advised" her to pray more, "be thankful to her father for bringing her into this world and remember that she would be given something by Allah for insulting her father."
Would any of those who condemned Puteri Balqis "enjoy" being molested, raped or sexually harassed? Would they fancy calling their house a sanctuary when safety was no where in sight?
Do these insensitive individuals understand the fear and damage a child goes through each time she is sexually violated. Puteri Balqis is not alone. I too have endured the horror of living in a house where perversion reigned.
I was sexually harassed by the biological father from a very young age. Making his way into my room while i was still in bed, plastering the wall of his room with naked or scantily-dressed women, making obscene remarks about women be it at the local gurdwara (Sikh temple) or bragging that he could f*** his wife anytime he wanted, the man is a blot i have chosen to remove from my life.
Did my mother stand up for my dignity and chastise her husband and son? No. She instead chose to look away. My misery came to an end when i found myself a job in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur at the age of 21.
Was I relieved at getting out of my home state? No, because i had to leave my younger sister behind. Was she spared such violation? Not until she too managed to leave the 'porn studio' called house.
Puteri Balqis and i owe no one our peace of mind. Whilst i am unapologetic about it, I hope this youngster feels the same.
Our pain is not unfamiliar. While she at a very young age has the guts to go public with her nightmare which ruffled many a feathers including that of religious affairs minister Idris Ahmad, it took me years before i made my way to the police to seek redress.
Idris would have a field day had the girl kept her mouth shut and instead left it to the police and law to take its course.
I had turned to politicians like Maria Chin, a former women's rights activist and lawyer Kasthuri Patto and both were uninterested in offering support. The same could be said of a women's right organisation. A former editor said I should not go public with my case for it would only serve to victimise me.
Did any of these women endure years of insomnia and deep rooted grief as a result of repeated sexual harassment and violation faced as a child and teenager? I did and that was enough to push me to finally speak up about this troubling episode of my life.

Don't judge if you're ignorant

It is sad that Malaysians enjoy theatrics but lack guts. Their cowardice was apparent when 99 percent of the population rolled up their sleeves to be Covid-19 vaccinated citing one too many excuses as to why they 'had" to be jabbed with the killer vaccines.
It is this silent victim attitude that politicans hope will continue to flourish if the irresponsible remark of a Cabinet minister is anything to go by.
Malaysia's Communication and Multimedia Minister Annuar Musa saw no rhyme or reason for the issue of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry to be given unnecessary attention.
This was in November 2021 when Mingguan Malaysia quoted Annuar as saying industry players should prioritise positive things over isolated issues that allegedly occurred.
“I don’t think the issue needs to be magnified. Focus on the positives from isolated cases."
Annuar reportedly said this when asked to comment on damning revelations of some industry players that artists, celebrities and production crews faced the onslaught of sexual harassment.
No surprise than why Malaysia has never bothered legislating sexual harassment until only recently when a miserably created Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill was passed.
Malaysian actor Namron had voiced his concern that sexual harassment in the industry affects both women and men.
Fellow artiste Sharifah Amani pointed out the issue which had long been "festering" in the industry, also plagued the production crew.
Malaysian Artistes Association (Seniman) president Zed Zaidi was quoted as saying the party had not been made aware of the issue owing to the fear of a backlash coming the complainants way.
Zed's take on no complaints were made to Seniman is a no-brainer given that he himself is an actor of many years. Feigning ignorance for reasons best known to him does not augur well for both Seniman and his credibility.
In Malaysia's politicial sphere, Annuar is not the only politician with a brazen and uncouth understanding of sexual harassment. In April 2008, then federal minister Jamaluddin Jarjis sexually harassed a female worker of a restaurant at a five-star hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
The worker promptly lodged a police report against Jamaluddin only to retract the statutory declaration within hours.
As for Jamaluddin, he was despatched to America as Malaysia's ambassador. The minister died in a chopper crash in 2015 leaving behind properties worth RM2.1 billion and zero answers as to how he had amassed such wealth on a politician's wage.
In 2009 when Labour Department director-general Ismail Abdul Rahim commented that having a Sexual Harassment Act “could lead to a dull and rigid environment in the workplace” you are left wondering what was the civil servant up to?
Malaysia's Members of Parliament have repeatedly brought shame on the House and themselves through their pervasive remarks which went so far as to touch on the female menstrual cycle.

Malaysia's apathetic stance

Malaysia's apathy in tackling the problem of sexual harassment led to the death of track and field star athlete Rabia Abdul Salam who committed suicide at the age of 20 on February 25, 1994 claiming she had been sexually harassed by her coach, P. Ramanathan.
Does Malaysia ever think of Rabia and her angst at not knowing how to deal with her predicament? Had Rabia the courage to publicly speak about the sexual violation she faced, would she ostracised or condemned?
When former Israeli president Moshe Katsav who on Dec 30, 2010, was convicted of two accounts of rape, sexual harassment and indecent acts, then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu unequivocally said the conviction marked a “sad day for the state of Israel and its residents”.
Netanyahu said the judgement relayed two very clear messages, “that all are equal before the law and every woman has exclusive rights to her body”.
In Malaysia, an irony that Rabia's death has brought about no change of mindset among the people and politicians when women who have been sexually violated dare the State and system for justice.
Rabia remains yet another name in the list of those who suffered in silence because sexual harassment as a crime in Malaysia is not treated with the severity needed.
As with rape, women are held at ransom by the authorities should they defy all odds and voice out the trauma endured.
Puteri Balqis and I should know too well. While she severed ties with her paedophile father, I chose to put an end to any semblance to the biological family i was born into. Was there a price to pay? Yes, when my younger sister decided she wanted to have nothing to do with me for reasons best known to her.
I hope Puteri Balqis has no regrets. I certainly have none except that my name as per the birth documents, Jeswant Kaur a/p Hardeep Singh, is an excruciating reminder that parents are not always the safe haven you assume they are.
---
*Freelance journalist based in Malaysia

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