Two former ISA detainees — Tay Tian Yan
APRIL 13 — Post-ISA Malaysia? Some look at it from the more positive perspectives while others reject it downright.
I am not here to argue whether the new law is good or bad. Just leave it to the government to do the explanation and put it into implementation.
Among the many activists detained under the ISA, I remember two truly respectable figures.
Chong was not a notable public figure himself. He was just one of the many detained under the hideous law back in the 1960s.
He was unlucky enough to have been picked by the authorities. He was only a teenage boy back then, and he hadn’t even finished his high school yet. However, his thinking was sort of “radical,” going around with the rest of people hailing communism and putting up propaganda posters.
He was not a communist, not even aggressively leftist, but he came under the watchful eyes of the political bureau, and found himself in a prison cell before long.
To most people, the detention camp could be a hellhole devoid of hope, but to the young Chong, it was more of a summer camp than anything else, enjoying the free food and boarding and schooling opportunity provided.
He said he had a lot of fun inside the detention camp, where he could study, discuss, play and jog, and he simply did not have enough time to do all the things he had wanted to do in there.
Raised in an impoverished family, Chong said the food served inside the jail was of better quality than what was available at home.
An incurable optimist, he was.
While many of his fellow inmates collapsed due to sickness, Chong grew stronger and smarter inside the jail. He used to know nothing about Malay and English but was now an expert in all three major languages in this country.
And his expertise in politics, in particular leftism, could easily put a university undergraduate specialising in political studies to shame.
Of course, he was still very young back in those days, without any family burden nor dependants. Nothing for him to worry about at all.
In the eyes of the government, he was just a small fry that did not warrant extended detention. However, during the annual reviews, the obstinate young man maintained that he was not wrong and therefore did not need to feel remorseful for what he had done.
As a result, he continued to spend his years inside the detention camp.
When he was finally released eight years later, he exclaimed, “Why this soon?!”
I came to know about him after he was released. He posted many articles on newspapers, his arguments solid and imbued with many political and sociological ideals.
I used to think he was a scholar by training.
He later started his own publishing house and organised several talks, which I was invited to attend.
He loved to mix around with young people, and inspired many ambitious young men joining him in politics and social reforms.
Each time I see him, he always puts on a smiling face, a cigarette between his lips, that sort of life-enjoying look.
Did I say he was unlucky earlier on? Correction: He was the most blessed ISA detainee this country has ever seen.
Another former ISA detainee I’m going to mention here is Tan Kai Hee.
On several occasions, he talked of the days inside the detention camp, but unlike Chong, he was always in the forefront of student and labour movements, and had seen the glorious days of leftist struggle.
Sure enough, he was also among the first to be thrown into the detention camp. He was elected the secretary-general of the Labour Party inside the cell, and continued to lead the struggle against the government.
He went on hunger strikes, and was on several occasions put under solitary confinement but that did nothing to erode his fighting spirit.
He was released eight years later, and later involved himself in business and excelled at it.
He bore witness to the turbulent times in the nation’s history as well as the dusky days inside the detention camp, and could best typify the ISA detainees in this country. — mysinchew.com
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.