By P Ramasamy
RECENTLY, the Malaysian Indian Voice (MIV) has claimed that the Japanese Government had provided a compensation worth RM207 bil to the families of 30,000 Malaysians who died in Thailand, during the Japanese Occupation.
In brief, tens of thousands of Indians, Chinese and Malays were forcibly recruited to work on the Siam-Burma border, with only about half the number returning home, albeit sick and heavily injured.
Others perished during the construction of the infamous Death Railway due to hunger, thirst, malaria, snake bites and as a result of the harsh and cruel treatment by then Japanese soldiers.
It was virtually “hell on earth”.
No writing or account of their suffering could ever capture what was undergone not just by Malaysians, but others including prisoners of war.
While I was doing research for my doctoral dissertation in the 1980s in places like Selangor, Pahang, Negeri Sembilan and other places, I had interviewed a number of families who lost their loved ones in Thailand as result of the forcible conscription by the Japanese army.
In fact, very often than not, the Japanese secret police was used to recruit and transport them to Thailand.
It was during this time of war and instability did the local recruiting agents working for the Japanese exploited local grievances and jealousies to recruit people.
If estate staff or kangani was interested in the wife of newly married couple, he would use his influence with the Japanese to recruit the husband so that he could have access to his wife.
Petty jealousies and fights were fully exploited to send workers to work in the Death Railway.
There are numerous tales of the obnoxious and cruel nature of recruitment and how persons who were not supposed to be recruited in the first place were recruited, never to come back.
The Japanese forced recruitment process affected all, the Indian labourers in the estates, the Chinese and Malays as well.
It was, on the whole, a non-erasable tragedy suffered by the families.
I understand that in the post-war period, there was serious attempt by Japan to compensate the families of the victims.
Following bilateral discussions with the Malaysian Government, it was agreed that RM207 bil would be paid to 30,000 families; those that lost their loved ones in Thailand.
This amounted to each family receiving between RM2 mil to RM3 mil.
“Talkative” Dr M silent on the issue
The money was supposed to have been granted to the Malaysian Government in the 1990s, when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the prime minister of the country.
It is believed that Mahathir, given his amicable relationship with the Japanese, might have been instrumental in getting the hefty compensation.
There is another argument that says that the Japanese did not give a financial grant but payment in kind for the purchase of ships.
PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who was ousted from the Government by Mahathir then, had remarked once that the Government must explain the whereabout of the money given.
Although the Japanese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur might not be very forthcoming on this matter but on more than one occasion, an official of the embassy admitted that the grant was given but could not say with certainty whether it was in cash or kind.
The man who should be explaining the whereabout of the compensation is none other than the two-term prime minister, Mahathir.
Mahathir has kept mum on this subject matter, although I am not sure why he is tight lipped. It is really unlike Mahathir because he is quite generous with his comments.
However, his attention seeking initiative has not meant the full disclosure of the compensation received.
When was the compensation given, was it during his term in office, what happened to the money, were there attempts made to distribute the money to the affected families and others?
Well, if the compensation was in kind than what was the money used for? Was it meant to buy the badly needed ships or was the money transferred used for some other purposes?
It would be significant that Mahathir or any other leaders, including the other former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, can come forward to clear the matter once and for all.
RM207 bil is not small sum. While it is impossible to restore the magnitude of the loss suffered by the families, the compensation might be small measure to recognise those individuals who were forcibly recruited and sent to Thailand, and never to come back.
The Japanese Government too must not dilly dally the matter. Much time has expired since the time of the disbursement of the compensation.
Surely, as Japan as the donor country responsible for the grave atrocities committed on the innocent members of the working class has moral duty to do the right thing.
The Japanese Government has the responsibility to tell the Malaysian public whether the compensation was indeed given, when was this done, who was the prime minister at that time and whether the money was in cash or kind.
The matter of Japan’s compensation for the victims of the Death Railway had been too long in abeyance.
Whether the compensation will ever reach the target families is difficult to answer. Whatever the case, there is need to bring the matter to a final closure.
If the Japanese Government has not paid any compensation yet, maybe now is the time for them to think seriously about compensating the victims. – July 17, 2021.
(Photo credit: The Sun Daily)
Prof P Ramasamy is the Deputy Chief Minister of Penang and Perai state assemblyman.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.