History of the Rangers: Murder and mayhem in Kampung Baru - my May 13 story Aidila Razak and Tham Seen Hau

 
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Which must always come to pass

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"Step forward you Soldier,

How shall I deal with you?


Have you always turned the other cheek?


To My Church have you been true?"


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Can't always be a saint."

I've had to work on Sundays

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Because the world is awfully rough.

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Though I worked a lot of overtime

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And I never passed a cry for help

Though at times I shook with fear,

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I've wept unmanly tears.

I know I don't deserve a place

Among the people here.

They never wanted me around


Except to calm their fears.


If you've a place for me here,


Lord, It needn't be so grand,


I never expected or had too much,


But if you don't, I'll understand."

There was silence all around the throne

Where the saints had often trod

As the Soldier waited quietly,

For the judgment of his God.

"Step forward now, you Soldier,

You've borne your burden well.

Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets,

You've done your time in Hell."

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Murder and mayhem in Kampung Baru - my May 13 story Aidila Razak and Tham Seen Hau
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Kuala Lumpur racial riots
Malaysiakini : Editor's note: The following article includes troubling details of the deadly riots on May 13, 1969. This dark episode of history is so painful that it is shrouded in secrecy and taboo.
Fifty years to the day, we are sharing several stories for generations of Malaysians born after the riots. May it serve as a lesson for today and our collective future. The following article contains graphic description of the violence that took place. Not everything can be independently verified. However, portions which can be corroborated are marked in blue hyperlinks. This is the story of an eyewitness to the riots of May 13, 1969.
A first-year student at Universiti Malaya at the time, he was caught in Kampung Baru, one of the hotspots of the riot. He remained there until May 16. Now 70, the eyewitness spoke to Malaysiakini on condition of anonymity, and confessed to prolonged and ongoing trauma from what he experienced 50 years ago. “Even now when I go to the mosque area, I get flashbacks of what I saw,” said the witness, who is Malay. With tears in his eyes, he recalled an incident where a young Chinese family was set upon by a Malay mob.
“I don’t know what got to me, but I became hysterical. I remember shouting: ‘Let them go! Let them go! Kill me! Kill me!’ I remember using those words. I tore off my shirt and went absolutely berserk. “I don’t know why I did that, but I just couldn’t accept it. When I saw two young children – a girl and a boy – crying and their parents shaking in the car, I couldn’t accept it. What was their sin? Because they were Chinese? Why must they be the victims?” This is his story, as told to Aidila Razak and Tham Seen Hau.
Universiti Malaya campus registration started one week before May 13. I was born in 1949, so when I went to campus in 1969, I was only 20. I wasn’t old enough to vote and it wasn’t my concern. I was more concerned about how to get to campus without a motorbike. Universiti Malaya was far from where I lived – two bus rides away. So, I had to figure out transportation, how to borrow a bike, or find money to buy one. There were also friends from out of town enrolling who didn’t have rooms, so I spent a lot of that time – the election period – helping them look for a place to rent.
And I didn’t have money. I didn’t have a scholarship, so I was looking for money to pay for the first-term registration fees, and also trying to help other friends who were in the same boat. That was our concern at the time. We were not into politics at all. We didn't know what was happening. We just wanted to start our life as a student, that's all. That was how we were before May 13. Then, May 13 happened.
A gathering at Harun’s house
On the day of the riot, I was on campus when a senior asked me to get a few guys and head to Dato’ Harun’s house. I asked, ‘Why? Will there be money? Or food?’ He said there was a “perjumpaan” (gathering). In those days, it was normal for students to be called to attend events to make up the crowd. You might get some food – maybe nasi bungkus – or RM5, and it was enough to make us happy.
But this one was a bit odd because there was no announcement. My senior just whispered it to me. I didn’t ask further because he was my senior and I respected him. We didn’t have transport, so the senior arranged for some guys with motorbikes and we went – on five motorbikes. It was between 5pm and 6pm. Office workers had already left. Some of my friends who followed were from out of town and they thought it was an opportunity to see the city. That’s how naive we were. When we arrived, I noticed it didn’t look like the usual ‘perjumpaan’.
There was no reception table, no pathway to go in, no banner. There were just people milling about. "It’s okay lah, maybe there’s food inside," I remember thinking, while we walked towards the compound. But inside it was even stranger. Most of the people looked like they were not from Kuala Lumpur, and they spoke to each other in Javanese. They also had this hardened look – different from the government clerks who would usually be at a ‘perjumpaan’. The senior who invited us had disappeared into the crowd, so we tried talking to some of the people there.
They gave us the impression that we were supposed to already know what was going on. They said, ‘Eh, takkan kau tak tau?’ (Don’t you know?) The first sign that something was a bit sinister was when I noticed they were distributing headbands, red cloth with Arabic script on them which translated to ‘There is no God but Allah’. It was like the silat people. So, a couple of my friends decided to go back. They told me they didn’t like the look of things, so I said, ‘Okay, you go back first’, leaving just three of us. I took the headband – everybody took it.
Then we were asked to put it on. I said, ‘Look, I don't want to put on a red headband as if I am going to war.’ They replied: ‘You're supposed to know. This is what you're supposed to do’. A young boy delivering coffee I got a bit fed up, then I saw someone I knew. I asked him and he said, ‘Kita nak berarak’ (We want to march). This was the first time I was told what was going to happen. It seems there was to be a counter-demonstration against the victory marches by Gerakan and DAP the day before. I asked him what the plan was, and he told me we were all to meet at the big clock near Masjid Jamek and we were to demonstrate all over.
I asked him how many people are involved, and he said, ‘Many, we’re already 500 here.’ It seems people were coming in from Klang, Negri Sembilan, Pudu and Setapak for this. I asked him if I should stay or go. He said: ‘Kau balik, aku tetak’ (‘If you leave, I will slash you’). This was when I realised he had a parang on him. Then I noticed there were weapons hidden in the fencing hedge of Harun’s compound. And people were getting restless. I heard chanting and prayers coming from inside the house. I was really, really scared and wanted to go home, but I couldn’t because they locked the gate.
No one could go in and no one could go out. That was when the most terrible of things happened. It seems someone had ordered coffee from the nearby coffee shop at Jalan Gurney. This boy came, delivering coffee on a tray, and they killed him. I didn’t see the killing, but I saw that he was dead. I didn’t know about this, but it seems that at the time people were whispering among themselves that Malays were being killed by the Chinese in Setapak. After that, the mob stopped a van and killed the people inside.
I started moving towards the back, but I saw even the perimeter hedge at the back was guarded. I guess you can say a group of people walking together are marching, but when they opened the gate, the crowd wasn’t marching; they were charging out. They were rampaging. Apparently, they heard stories of Malays being killed so they were rushing to defend them. All hell broke loose. ‘Protect these areas’ I didn’t know what to do. My friends managed to get their Vespa and we decided to go to the mosque. There were people there who seemed to be leaders and the first thing they asked was if I had my headband. It was in my pocket. They told me to put it on.
Then they made me drink some water that someone had apparently prayed over. It was supposed to make you brave. After May 13, there would be lots of talk about powerful flying silat warriors and their magic keris or parang, but I never saw any of that. I only know that the water was from the pool in the mosque, where people performed their ablutions. Many people end up having diarrhoea that night. The men giving instructions in the mosque were the gangsters of Kampung Baru. I didn’t see them in Harun’s compound before, but now they were organising us into self-defence groups. They divided Kampung Baru into areas and said, ‘You protect this area.’ They didn’t say, ‘Kill Chinese people’. No. They told us to protect the area, don’t let anyone in.
People are allowed to leave, but then if you leave, you die. They were afraid because the Chinese were moving in from Jalan Kamunting. Kampung Baru neighboured some Chinese villages so those living closer to the Chinese areas moved to the mosque for protection. Sultan Sulaiman Club was locked up because it neighboured Kampung Limau, a Chinese area. There was a nice house on the corner of Campbell Road (now Jalan Dang Wangi) and Jalan Ampang, and it was set alight by a Chinese mob. The Chinese were on one side and Malays on the other. Shiny sword-like parangs and guns
That night, after Isyak prayers, I was assigned to stand guard with 20 others at Jalan Raja Alang – the road leading to the mosque. It was then that we saw a group of Chinese on motorbikes riding towards us. The lights were still on, so we saw they were armed. They had pistols, and double-barrelled shotguns – at the time, many Chinese people had hunting guns. Some had shiny sword-like parang. The fear was so real. Nobody could have stopped them. We were the first line of defence and what did we have?
Besides a two-by-four plank – nothing. I didn’t have a parang and I had to stand my ground. Some of us had sharpened bamboo poles. But that was it. They were coming from Chow Kit Road, going towards the mosque. If they passed through us, they would overrun the mosque. We were peeing our pants, to be honest. We were young boys; these were seasoned gangsters. We were shivering. Then they turned off onto a road that led to a Chinese temple. I don’t know if it was because they saw us or because they had planned to go to the temple all along.
I was so scared, the only thing I didn’t do was cry. The first night was quite haphazard – I would just follow other people so I ended up on guard at the area near the river, on the opposite of what was Lai Meng School. Lai Meng was on Jalan Ampang – a Chinese area – and we were on the other side of the river, in Kampung Baru. This is when I realised there were snipers. Those days, snipers were not something people were aware of, unlike now where you see them in the movies.
We just saw people getting shot. They just shot them. We were in a state of shock. Then one guy, I think maybe he had been in the army, said: “Eh, ada penembak” (Eh, there is a shooter). He told us all not to stay in the open. It seems some people tried to cross the river to check where the shooter was, but they couldn’t. They were shot at too. We suspect the shooters were in Lai Meng. The Chinese were coming in from Setapak, Campbell Road, Batu Road (now Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman) – was there a plan for them to overrun Kampung Baru?

I don’t know. But the gangsters organised people to guard those areas. There were multi-cultural gangs in KL then, so maybe they warned one another. A jeep full of rifles I was in Kampung Baru for three days – 13th, 14th and 15th. Lots of things happened in those three days. On the 13th, an army officer pulled up in Kampung Baru with a jeep full of rifles. I remember they were self-loading rifles because I got one and it was heavy. But most of us didn’t know how to use firearms, and many got excited and shot aimlessly that we quickly ran out of bullets.
The officer didn’t give us bullets, only whatever that was already in the rifles. This probably showed he was a rogue officer who did this on his own accord. I don't think it was planned. I also saw security personnel loading up their trucks and evacuating the wealthy people around Kampung Baru. It seems they were taken to the Police Depot or Defence Ministry area near Jalan Gurney. Many years later, I was told by those whose families had connections that they had been taken there and were taken care of. Houses and shops were being broken into as early as the 13th. 
My sister-in-law’s family lived in Kampung Baru and I saw them at the mosque. Their home was neighbouring a Chinese area and they left. Their home was broken into, but I suspect by Malays – they weren’t all angels. In fact, some of the homes that were broken into were so deep in Kampung Baru that it would be impossible for the Chinese to have done it. This was also why the defence teams were formed. Read more: May 13, never again The several Malay kampung were surrounded by Chinese provision shops, and when the riot broke out, some people broke into the Chinese shops to try to destroy the ‘buku hutang’ (debt ledger).
But little did they know the Chinese tauke took that with them when they fled. I broke into some shops, too. There was no food for the many families in the mosque, so we went looking in the middle of the night. I tried to look for cigarettes to steal, but there were none. It seemed that someone else had broken into the shop before us. But my friend found a sack of rice. He carried it to the mosque. When we opened the sack, we found it was salt, not rice.
Funny things like that happened, even in the middle of the carnage. Another friend – a little person, four feet tall, no inches – tried to steal some live geese from nearby Chinese homes. The Chinese reared fowl and geese. The geese were as tall as he was, and he was lifting them by the neck and running. ‘Kill me! Kill me!’ By the second day, bodies were floating in the Klang River – Malay, Chinese, Indian bodies. The mosque elders gathered a group to remove Malay bodies, to give them a proper burial.
In the end, the police took them all to the morgue. I witnessed them fishing out the bodies near Kampung Cendana. I saw them carry out six to eight bodies. They went by facial features; the male bodies were checked if they were circumcised. The ones who did not look Malay were left in the river. On May 15, another man and I were instructed to take out two bodies from a dumpster. They were two Malay women; cabaret dancers working at the Great Eastern Cabaret at Campbell Road.
We handed over the bodies to the police. Something happened to me that day, and I have never told anyone this before - not even my children. That day, I was almost killed. There was this family – a Chinese family – who, for whatever reason, was driving close to the intersection of Campbell Road and Jalan Ampang. They had to pass through a Malay mob. I can still see them – a father, a mother and two young children; a girl and a boy. They were in a small car, a Fiat 600 with a Perak plate.
The mob surrounded them and tried to overturn the car. I don’t know what got to me, but I became hysterical. I remember shouting: ‘Let them go! Let them go! Kill me! Kill me!’ I remember using those words. I tore off my shirt and went absolutely berserk. I don’t know why I did that, but I just couldn’t accept it. When I saw two young children – a girl and a boy – crying and their parents shaking in the car, I couldn’t accept it. What was their sin? Because they were Chinese? Why must they be the victims?
I have tears in my eyes now, when I think about it. I didn’t know why I did it; I still don’t. There is just something inside you. I don’t understand it. The car managed to speed off, but then the mob started to turn on me. That’s when the gangsters of Kampung Baru saved me. They stopped the mob, and they said: ‘He has done something good. We should stop this.’ I think it was then I realised peace was being brokered. It seems that the Malay gangsters and Chinese gangsters were meeting and brokering a peace deal.
This part of May 13 was never documented. I have no reason to doubt this – the gangsters were so powerful they could have burned down KL if they wanted to. Do you have a May 13 story? Join the conversation - share your stories or read more from others who were there. There were many other stories of people helping one another. There was a Malay foreman at a workshop on Campbell Road. When the riot broke out, a Chinese family took him in and hid him in their ceiling. We helped take him out of that house days later. Our television repairman, a Chinese guy we knew well, said he was repairing the television for a Malay family in Kampung Datuk Keramat.
They refused to let him go home, dressed him as a Malay and kept him in the house until the situation was safer. ‘The Chinese are coming’ I managed to go home on May 16. My mother almost fainted when she saw me. I was among so many people who went missing those few days. She thought I was dead. In the next few days, the only thing she didn’t do to keep me indoors was to handcuff me. I had many sleepless nights after that. I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking
‘The Chinese are coming’. It would be a year before I would be able to go back to Kampung Baru. Even now, when I go to the mosque area, I get flashbacks of what I saw. The university was closed for one week because of the riots. By the time we went back, things were different. No one wanted to talk about what happened. In markets, even in Chow Kit, people would give way to each other.
“Minta maaf encik, tumpang lalu, tak apa, tak apa” (Excuse me sir, coming through. No worries, no worries) – you heard those things a lot. People were careful and polite. On campus, the Chinese Language Society would approach the Malay Language Society and the Muslim Students Association before hosting a lantern festival. They would ask the Malay societies even before they got permission from the university. Secretly, people were arming themselves. My mother bought so many parang, one each for her sons, and some people would hide the parang in their cars.
My friend, a Chinese, told me they now had a 10-feet-long spear in their home. Self-defence training, and selling protective charms and amulets became a new industry. The psyche had changed. KL had changed. I went to a missionary school and most of my classmates were Chinese. We had known each other since Form One. Many of them were also at the university, but after May 13, we started looking at each other funny. We would still talk, but the warmth was no longer there. One day, I reached out to some of them and we decided we needed to talk about it. So, we did and because we all tried to overcome it together, we are still good friends to this day.
Our story is one of Malaysians who grew up together and survived this ordeal together. Today, my blood boils when I hear young people threatening another May 13. I want to ask them: ‘Where were you on May 13, 1969? Still in your mother’s stomach or still wearing short pants?’ I want to tell them: ‘You have not faced a group of guys carrying shiny parangs coming at you when all you had was a piece of wood to defend yourself. You don’t know what it’s like.’ I was there and I can still smell the blood. I have tried to forget it for 50 years.
It is something so painful we just want to forget. It's so painful to know this young boy was killed because he innocently, not knowing what was going on, delivered coffee. When I think about it, I cannot accept that reality. People like us don't want to talk about it and we'd rather keep quiet and hope it will never happen again. The only reason I am talking about it now is that I think it’s time. Many of us who witnessed it have died. I want this story to be a lesson.
It is my fervent wish that it will never happen again.
posted by Major D Swami (Retired) @ 9:00 AM  
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