Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hindraf's Uthayakumar: No more street protests

Published: Tuesday May 12, 2009 MYT 3:32:00 PM
Updated: Tuesday May 12, 2009 MYT 3:42:41 PM

KUALA LUMPUR: Hindraf leader P. Uthayakumar, who spent 17 months in ISA detention for leading a massive anti-government protest, promised Tuesday his group won't go back to the streets to fight for Indian minority rights in Malaysia.

"Armed struggle is out of the question," Uthayakumar told The Associated Press in his first interview after being freed from jail on Saturday.

But he vowed to carry on his struggle through a "landmark plan" he had crafted in prison, which he said would force the government to address the grievances of Indians, including lack of jobs, poor living conditions, decrepit schools and greater religious freedom.

He refused to elaborate on the plan, except to say it was a strategic 50-page proposal that involved "social" solutions. He said he would reveal it in four to six weeks.

It would make "not only the government (but) also the opposition" work for the Indian community, he said.

"With this plan we will become a force to be reckoned with. It does not involve street demonstrations, definitely not."

"It is a legal, constitutional, democratic and peaceful plan," he said. He also refused to say if he plans to start a political party, but rejected joining any party.

Uthayakumar and four other activists of the Hindu Rights Action Force, or Hindraf, were arrested in December 2007 after they led an unprecedented protest by tens of thousands of ethnic Indians in downtown Kuala Lumpur on Nov 25 to demand equality.

"Nov 25 was a shocker to me. The balloon burst, the banks burst, the seams burst. They (the Indians) said enough is enough," Uthayakumar said.

The five Hindraf leaders were detained under the Internal Security Act.

Prime Minister Najib Razak freed two of the Hindraf activists the day he took office on April 3. The other three key leaders, including Uthayakumar, were freed Saturday.

Sporting a ragged beard and unkempt, tangled hair, Uthayakumar, 48, said he had no regrets about spending time in prison, which he said had provided him the opportunity to reflect, read and write.

A lawyer by training and profession, Uthayakumar said that before going to prison he could not have imagined a life without cable TV, air conditioning, hot water showers, cell-phones and holidays.

But prison made him realise that "you don't need the luxuries. You can live without it," he said, adding his possessions were a one-inch foam mattress, a pillow, a blanket and a toothbrush.

He shared a dormitory at the Kamunting detention centre with two other Hindraf detainees.