Government’s handout doesn’t mean freedom of religion

I can’t blame the head of the MIC in Sabah for heaping praises on the government for helping the Hindu temples in Kota Kinabalu with a gift of RM50,000. A thank you is only natural and expected for any gift but I feel he has gone overboard by saying it was a proof that there is freedom of religion in Malaysia!

First of all, the gift was not meant by the government to prove that it is guaranteeing freedom of religion. It was simply a gift as one of many to help all religious bodies in Sabah. And I think all can see very well that the gift came in too much of a coincidence with the imminent arrival of the next general elections – just like the few “one-off” handouts allocated for in the last national budget.
I can also understand that the MIC Sabah leader, being a leader of a BN component, needed to be politically correct by expressing political appreciation, but he must also understand that the money he is receiving is not money from the BN but money from the people! It was the people who voted the BN to become the steward for this money, i.e. to help them (the people), so the handing of the assistances to the religious bodies was in fact a matter of due process, something which should be given as a matter of course, which the BN had not fulfilled for so long. If the BN was more responsible, it would be handing out this assistance all the time on a regular basis! Why? Because the money belongs to the people of all religions in Malaysia and these people are paying their income taxes, and working day and night to produce the GDP to make their country a prosperous nation! It has been repeated time and time again that it is wrong for the BN to keep saying the people needs to be thankful to the BN government for doing this and that for the people, when in fact it is the government leaders who should be thankful to the people for giving them the opportunity to serve the people and enjoy all the salaries and perks, and get themselves rich in the process.
But to take on the issue of religious freedom in the country, there is a lot of room for argument if we were to remind everyone how the government has been suppressing religious freedom of the Christians. There is still the unresolved issue of prohibition on the use of certain words especially “Allah,” the intrusion into church functions, the burning of churches, the quarrel over dead bodies, the unpublicized bulldozing of Orang Asli churches, the control on the import and publication of Bibles, the marking and numbering of Bibles and so on and so on. In a truly religious society, no one is prohibited from practicing any religion or from switching from one religion to another. This freedom is not fully allowed in Malaysia where as there is no such problem in the world’s largest Islamic country, Indonesia. The Hindus by the way is not free from religious pressure if we were to remember the case of cow head kicking and throwing, as well as the disputes about locations, shifting and demolition of temples in the Peninsula. But on the whole the Hindus are admittedly having greater religious freedom because they can even conduct sermons and religious ceremonies on some Astro channels, privileges will most likely be denied to Malaysian Christians. I believe this injustice will change only when the BN is replaced by a new just and open government.
Political Activist and Advisor, UK-based Human Rights Foundation Malaysia