Remembering Karpal – the people’s lawyer

18 April 2016

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18 April 2016 – Malaysiakini (Harinder Singh Randhawa)

Two years heretofore, on this fateful day, this nation lost a man. A man who was just as ordinary but chose, to be an uncommon man – for he felt that this was his right. He was a lawyer and a statesman. More than that however, he cherished a place that was vastly more sacred and noble in form: in the hearts of commoners.

He was their hero. He was a selfless defender and guardian of the law and righteousness, a friend to the marginalised and oppressed. A towering beacon of hope he was, for those whom the roots of injustice had imperiled. He was Karpal Singh – the people’s lawyer.

Karpal was an indefatigable and gallant defender of the Rule of Law and the Malaysian constitution. He fought both – in the causes he believed in and the causes of the people at large, fierily without any fear or favour. And the price for this – came hefty in form of detrimental consequences to Karpal and his family.

In 1987, he was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) during Ops Lalang, without trial, for two years. His family, unsure each long day that passed if there was to be food on the table the next, as Karpal was the sole breadwinner of the family. They lived, dashed with uncertainty, about the fate that was to be.

Upon his release from detention in 1989, many had expected a dispirited and crestfallen Karpal to trudge through the overshadowing gates of the Kamunting Detention Camp. Some had even gone to the extent of predicting that he would withdraw from the political arena completely. A detention without trial under the ISA was harsh and unforgiving. Detainees were subject to vile and iniquitous treatment. What more when his detention stretched over a period of two years.

However what came, was instead a man who marched valiantly through those very gates; enraged and even more determined, to set proper the course of justice that had been misdirected and trampled upon. This was what inspired people the most about Karpal. His warrior-spirit. Despite the impossible odds that may be, he was one to ever see pass them with ultimate optimism.

He was not a lawyer who won every case that he took on. He too, had his fair share of losses. What was admirable about Karpal was the fact that every case he fought, he fought with diligence and courage. He gave every legal challenge he mounted an equal and unqualified share of his utmost best. No case was paid less attention to or given less priority. If he lost a case, it would be with dignity. His clients, too, knew this well.

Lionhearted, Karpal was. A man so true to what he believed in, that no possible form of affliction, persecution or injustice, could ever cause him to be untrue to what he held on to and triumphed so dearly. In his words: “They can lock me up, they can do whatever they want to me. But I know that I’ll be in there with my integrity intact.” He represented a fearless source of unfettering inspiration to all.

Independence and forthrightness

What led Karpal to command the respect of the legal fraternity and his political opponents was his independence and forthrightness in giving legal interpretations truthfully, as they stand. This was the case several different times even when it failed to favour Karpal or his political standing. He remained steadfast to his principles in upholding the Rule of Law.

Many of Karpal’s cases were also taken on a pro bono basis. He refused to accept payment or legal fees. This was especially such when a client had been a victim of manifest injustice. As he said to Anwar Ibrahim when the family attempted to pay him for his legal services rendered: “How could I accept payment from you, Anwar!? You’ve been a victim of injustice. You fought them and they’re persecuting you! Don’t talk to me about money again. I’m a man with dignity.”

The news of his passing in the wee hours of April 17, 2014 shook the nation.

The people lost their hero. Their defender, their guardian, their inspiration, gone forever. Many were unaccepting at first, suspicious of a hoax as similar messages and news had also circulated several times before. But as the hours went by, it was confirmed. The Tiger of Jelutong had passed on.

A three-day wake was held at Karpal’s home in Penang. People, citizens from all walks of life, in the hundreds of thousands, thronged to pay their last respects to their hero, on his final journey. Men and women, of all races, ages, creeds and colours, stood by his coffin, teary-eyed and some even crying uncontrollably, as they bid the people’s lawyer, farewell. This just stood to show lucidly the place he enjoyed and held in the hearts of the ordinary men and women of this nation.

It is said that there will never again be another like Karpal Singh – at least for a long time to come. However, I beg to differ. We are all Karpal. We should all aspire in his aspirations for justice, integrity and freedom and bring effect to these notions. We are change.

Live his dream and walk in his shadow. He taught us exactly on how not to fear the government and for that is what we must do. Let us not disappoint in what Karpal devoted his life to. Even in his passing, he remains a beacon of hope and a tower of inspiration shadowing over us. Reminding us, that even an ordinary man can make extraordinary changes, if he wishes to.

Thank you Mr Karpal, for all that you had dedicated unwaveringly to this nation, its people and its defining fundamentals.

You were a true Malaysian.

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