The pain that the Russians have inflicted on us and those who lost their lives should be a reminder that we should not do the same, not even to a single individual P. Balasubramaniam , because bala may revisit us.

Zaid Ibrahim

Tragedies are befalling us one after the other. In recent months the gravest ones have involved two Malaysia Airlines flights and the tragic loss of lives. No words can describe the pain and sorrow of those who have lost their loved ones, and our deepest condolences go to those affected by these tragedies.

My friend and part-time neighbour Datuk A. Kadir Jasin blogged recently about bala, meaning a punishment or trial that we must endure to pay for someone else’s misdeeds. Like many other Malays, he asked if our recent misfortune is a sign that we are living under a curse, and that indeed bala has befallen us. Malays are generally superstitious. For example, many believed that Langkawi was laid to waste for seven generations because of the curse of a princess Mahsuri who was wrongfully killed for adultery. Her curse was the bala that befell the people of Langkawi until Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad appeared seven generations later.

Kadir wanted us to take a moment to reflect if we too are facing bala (trial) and pembalasan (punishment), and if this may be caused by some dastardly wrong committed by some people in the country. In other words, retribution and punishment have befallen MAS and other innocent lives because of the sins of others. The ever-attentive fans of the Prime Minister have been quick to condemn Kadir for politicising a national tragedy, implying that he is blaming the PM for everything that has gone wrong in the country. To be fair to Kadir, he did not mention the PM or anyone else. I think he was merely reflecting the way many Malays think when confronted with repeated misfortune.

I remember one religious preacher in a taskirah (religious lecture) in Kota Bharu just last week telling the audience that when there is bala, God’s punishment is swift does not differentiate between the wrongdoer and the innocent. I am certain this lecturer was not thinking of the PM as the cause of the bala either.

I do not subscribe to this idea of bala. Even if there is one, punishment that disregards innocence seems harsh to me. After all, being all-powerful, God could easily manage the punishment better in ways that would not involve the blameless (such as Malaysian Airlines, its passengers and crew). I think punishment can only be just if it is meted to the wrongdoer, but then since God knows everything I could be wrong too. Still, we need not brush off this Malay superstition. Maybe God wishes to inflict pain on Malaysians for our collective failure to defend, uphold and fight for justice, or for failing to do right in matters God wants us to heed.

What could these matters be? Some would argue that we are now experiencing this terrible period because we tolerate the many corrupt practices in the country, or as some have suggested, because MAS serves wine and liquor on board their international flights. Others believe it’s because we are sending Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim to five years’ jail for what is clearly a personal matter, or because we put our funds in Cayman Island accounts.
However, I believe that if there really were a bala, it is more likely because of the way we mistreated the private investigator P. Balasubramaniam. Let me explain.

Bala was forced to leave the country with his family within 24 hours and he remained in exile for more than five years. His whole life was ruined beyond repair, with no friends and no financial support except for what businessman Deepak Jaikishan gave him. Bala’s wife and children suffered in ways I cannot explain here. He died upon his return without any chance to rebuild his life or take care of his family. Even if what he said in his affidavits were absolutely false, was the punishment proportionate to the crime? There must have been other ways to redress the wrongs committed by Bala, unless of course he was telling the truth.