Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Speakers’ Corner is back!

On Nov 01, 2009, it was reported that the Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin was in favour of reviving the Speakers’ Corner in the various universities.

“It would train the students to think and be creative. They can say anything on any topic but they must be responsible for them when they speak,” he said.

On Jan 15, 2010, Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled did one better. He kept to his word and even found the time to graciously officiate at the launch of the first Speakers’ Corner this time around, at the UKM. It is located behind the Tun Sri Lanang Library at the main Bangi campus.

This is certainly a progressive gesture from the govt. Earlier on, the Speakers’ Corner at the University of Malaya (MU) was a casualty prompted by restrictive provisions imposed under the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA)1971.

I can recollect the launch of that first ever Speakers’ Corner at the MU in the mid-sixties. I was there to witness it. I don’t quite remember when. It was sometime during the 66/67 session I think! ( I stand corrected)

It was a fine day. It was at the patch of greenery just across the road from the Arts Concourse next to the Library. There were a few long benches and students would take a breather or a quick puff at that place before continuing the dreary ‘pastime’ of sitting in the library again.

Suddenly Thili and Ravi appeared. I was n’t sure how they came. It was something not expected. They could have alighted from a car which I didn’t really notice. Thili was covered from head to toe (obviously to create a mysterious entry) and slowly led by Ravi. No fanfare, no trappings of a formal launch,no dignitary invited,no ribbon-cutting,nothing! Nothing to indicate a historic event in the making.

The only thing different was the way Thili was dressed. He was loosely wrapped around in white akin to a Roman toga (made up of dhoti and bedsheets it seemed) Ravi led Thili to one of the benches after which Thili quickly pulled off the cloak covering him and proceeded to speak.

He came as ‘Prometheus? a character in Greek mythology who was bound with an iron chain to a mountain in Scythia named Caucasus for thirty thousand years’ who was now unchained and free to speak' (see Wikipedia)

That was how the Speakers’ Corner was launched through the initiatives of Thili and Ravi (theirs were the faces seen) but there could have been others .

It was a tame affair when it happened which caught many by surprise. Some even thought it was a joke initially. It picked up momentum through the years and became an institution until it was caught under the stringent measures of the UUCA that finally signalled its demise.

Dato Dr R.Thillainathan (aka Thili) is a friendly guy always with a smile reserved for you. He went on to become an acclaimed Economist (First Class Hons. in MU and a Ph.D from LSE )and later carved out a brilliant career in banking and in Genting Berhad where he is currently on the Genting Berhad board as a Non- Independent Non-Executive Director.

Ravi read History, and according to unsubstantiated reports went to the US where he met up again with Prof Silverstine (who was an American Visiting Professor in History in 65/66) Ravi was a karate exponent who coached students at the campus. One day he came with his forearm in cast, and a little finger broken, (kicked by accident during karate practice - such dedication! ) Apparently his karate prowess proved good enough for him to be made an instructor in the US Army (with the help of Prof Silverstine) If these reports were true he should have easily been given a Green Card and should be a US citizen by now.

So much for the digression. Let’s look at the Speakers’ Corner again.

‘A Speakers' Corner is an area where public speaking is allowed. The original and most noted is in the north-east corner of Hyde Park in London, England. Contrary to popular belief, there is no immunity from the law, nor are any subjects proscribed, but in practice the police tend to be tolerant…’(see Wikipedia)

The ‘resurrection’ of the Speakers’ Corner in campus here is like a breathe of fresh air, but it has to happen. It was timely that it did. More so things are different now with the advent of the internet and cyber-space. In fact it is better! I would expect speeches at the Speakers’ Corner to be more responsible and more matured than what we get in blogosphere.

Blogosphere has its inherent drawbacks. In our pursuit of transparency, freedom to speak and non-interference we had unnecessarily opened a Pandora’s box of base writings and comments. Articles and comments have such leeway that they are often abused most dastardly. It is the law of the jungle again so to speak. It is a free for all, no holds barred, anything goes.

The comments especially are often blasphemous, crude, encroaching on lese-majeste, with elements of slander and libel freely thrown around, rumours stated as facts, with a distinct anti-establishment approach, finger pointing and profanity. Talking of profanity, I just don't see how the inclusion of the F-word for instance,in an article or comment, can make them any better to read.

It is more indicative of not just anger but maybe a deprived childhood and injustice experienced for those who are smart. And for those few who are just unfortunate not to have a good command of English, they try hard to participate with crude language and swear words to cover up their weakness. All these negative traits and experiences they unwittingly reveal to the whole world to see and make judgement of their person from their writings - which is not that smart a thing to do!

How is it possible. Why this is so? Anonymity that’s why. It gives a false sense of courage to those who are otherwise timid.Being anonymous in blogosphere apparently is like being given a licence to make irresponsible comments, racial slurs and to tell blatant lies.It gives a sense of power not available before.

The abuse of the the privilege of free speech is just unbearable. Many seem to forget their ISP particulars can easily be traced. Maybe if a few can be made as an example of ( as in the case of the 3 school boys and Mr Brown in S’pore years ago who were brought to book within 3 days), I’m sure these irresponsible elements will turn around and can exercise self-regulation and self-restraint on their own after that without any form of punishment nor any monitoring necessary from the authorities.

That is why I have high hopes and expectations in the Speakers’ Corner. The speakers are bodily seen standing right in front of you. He couldn’t hide under anonymity to cover his cowardice like what we get in blogosphere.


Fahmi Reza said...

Hi, i stumbled upon your blog when i was googling the words "Ravi" and "speakers' corner".

Your story about the launch of the Speakers' Corner is the most detailed account that i've heard so far.

I actually have a photo from that day! Thili in his Roman attire together with Ravee. Do you recognise the person standing between them?

I'm currently doing research on the history of the student movement in UM during the 60's. It would be great if i could ask you a few question about that period through email.

Please email me at

-- Fahmi Reza

kaykuala said...

Dear Fahmi,
Have taken a peek at the photo and hv given my comments thru' email as suggested. Check it out.

kaykuala aka Hank