Di atas robohan Kota Melaka,
Kita dirikan jiwa merdeka.
Bersatu-padulah segenap baka,
Membela hak keadilan pusaka.
Those were the words of Dr Burhanuddin Helmi. The words reflect a great deal on what Merdeka should really be. But not many Malaysians today, especially the younger generation, know about Dr Burhanuddin.
Like many progressive nationalists of the middle of the last century, his name only gets minimal attention in our schools' history text-books, unlike the exploits of the Alliance leaders, which get prominent attention. As they say, it is the winners who write history.
Dr Burhanuddin talked about Jiwa Merdeka. True enough, while we are now an independent country, having being liberated from the tentacles of imperialism on Aug 31, 1957, we are not truly free. Our hearts and souls are not independent. Having exorcised the blue-eyed, fair-skinned and blonde-haired Britons, we continue to be colonised by our own leaders. Tyranny and oppression continue to reign in our country and this is a fact, whether we want to accept it or not.
Divide and rule
What is the meaning of Merdeka, independence or freedom if in our own country we do not enjoy it? We still have the Internal Security Act, a colonial legacy, used for the benefit of the political elite. Political opposition and intellectual opinion are stifled through numerous draconian legislation and laws.
Newspapers once known for their independence and courage - Utusan Melayu and The Star - are now owned by ruling political parties. Our universities, once the very hotbed of political and social activism, are now weak institutions gripped by the University and University Colleges Act.
While we pride ourselves for having magnificent mega-monuments and record-breaking edifices, a lot of our people continue to be neglected and do not enjoy the wealth of our country. Thus what is the use of achieving Merdeka if we do not manage our economy in the best interest of the masses? What is the use of playing bland patriotic songs over and over again on radio and television if our rural areas are still left behind in development?
Bersatu-padulah segenap baka. The complex cultural melting pot that we call Malaysia still suffers from colonial divide and rule practise. Once a policy used by the British to achieve their objective of controlling our economy and keeping our country backward, it is now used by certain parties to maintain their grip on power.
While the tragic incident of May 13, 1969 still lingers in memory of many; the resultant New Economic Policy has not fully and effectively solved the situation. The implementation of the policy, which focuses on affirmative action based on one's race, rather than on actual socio-economic needs, has created a society which is unable to stand up and face inevitable globalisation while at the same time dividing Malaysians into sections that harbour distrust and fear of each other.
At a time when the government is consumed by xenophobia and condemning those who care about justice and freedom, democracy and equality, the rule of law and the upholding of our constitutional principles, Dr Burhanuddin's Membela hak keadilan pusaka should remind it that justice is a universal quality, a value we inherited from our culture and not taken from the West.
Merdeka is more than just waving flags cheerfully on the last day of August. Independence not only means being politically independent from our old colonial masters, but also about the people enjoying complete freedom from tyranny and authoritarian regimes. It means that the masses should be able to enjoy the wealth of the country and be proud to belong to this country.
But for years, we have been misled by certain quarters into degrading the meaning of Merdeka into mere superficialities. The notion of Merdeka has been associated with flags, patriotic songs and parades.
Hopefully, as Malaysian youth gets more educated and exposed to the universal notions of independence, we will realise the true meaning of the word.