Two days ago, two men died from a train accident. In the same afternoon, the editor of The Real Singapore, Ai Takagi, was sentenced to 10 months in jail.
She is 2 months pregnant. And is likely to give birth in jail.
She was jailed for a “crime” which the state-controlled media has committed as well. But they were not charged. Only she was.
She told the Brisbane Times: “There’s a bit of a double standard.”
She told them that her arrest is “a bit political”.
It is more than “a bit”. It is blatant.
This came after the death of Benjamin Lim. He confessed to a “crime”.
Benjamin’s mother asked if he did commit the “crime”. He said he did not.
“Why then did you confess?”, she asked.
“You say I am guilty, I’m guilty then,” he told her. He was referring to the police.
Benjamin was 14 years old. Benjamin was arrested from his school. Five policemen were sent to pick him up. “He was not accompanied by anyone from the school,” The Online Citizen reported. “No one at the school could tell (his mother) what was going on” and the police did not let her see her son while he was being investigated.
And there was Dominique Sarron Lee. He died from an allergic reaction to fumes from smoke grenades in a training exercise in 2012. According to training regulations, not more than two smoke grenades should be used. But the Platoon Commander had thrown six grenades.
His family sued the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). But the judge threw out their lawsuit. Because there is a provision in the law that says that if a soldier dies during training, the SAF and its members are not held liable.
But the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) can decide to sue an ordinary Singaporean and an online news site for harassment.
What justice is this?
Eight people died at the Singapore General Hospital due to a hepatitis C outbreak. Apparently, 25 patients were infected over six months but the outbreak was only made public in October last year.
Only after the election.
16 staff were said to be “sternly warned and fined”. The Ministry of Health (MOH) said it would not reveal who they are because it was “adhering to staff confidentiality”.
Some people have pointed out that I was fired from the Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) after I was sued. The reason given was that I had “misuse(d) company time and resources to … pursue (my) personal interests”.
TTSH also said that “staff … cannot defame someone else without basis, which essentially means knowingly stating a falsehood to the public”.
MOH also sent out a press release saying “it supports TTSH’s decision to terminate Mr Ngerng’s contract”, as my “actions show a lack of integrity”.
There was no “staff confidentiality” for me. My crime was worse than killing someone.
The Families are Grieving
Benjamin’s father said: “as parents we cannot forget and we cannot forgive the way my son was treated, from the school to the time he was in police custody. I have this to say to the school authorities. We as parents we entrusted our children to you. You have a duty to ensure that our children are appropriately taken care of, reasonably protected and have their interest in your priority.”
He also wrote to his son and said: “People wrote to us, saying very nasty things about you… saying that you are a molester because the Minister mentioned in Parliament that you probably will receive nothing more than a warning. People jumped into conclusion that you are guilty… that you are now guilty of a crime that you may not even have committed!”
Dominique’s mother said: “Dom, in these past 3+ years, I have been worn-down, beaten and defeated by the very government I taught you to trust; worn-down, beaten and defeated by the very system I counseled you to have faith in; worn-down, beaten and defeated by the very people I advised you to respect and honor.
“Dom, forgive me. I taught you wrong,” she said.
A relative of one of the two men killed by the train accident said: “You (SMRT) say you are sorry. And that you share our sadness.
“But you will return to your families and sleep easy tonight, while we mourn a tragic loss. Tomorrow morning, you will not have to make the dreadful trip to the mortuary to identify the lifeless and mangled body of a loved one. How can you say that you share our sadness? You do not understand our grief,” the relative said.
Parents Refuted the Government’s Statements
When Acting Education Minister Ng Chee Meng spoke in parliament about Benjamin Lim, he said that “the school counsellor called Benjamin’s mother on the afternoon of 26 January to check on Benjamin’s well-being”.
However, Benjamin’s father said this is untrue.
“(In) the entire conversation … there were no questions asked about (Benjamin) at all … zero questions about (his) well-being,” he said.
Of Dominique’s case, SAF said: “Since the incident, welfare grants have been disbursed, and an offer of compensation has been made to the family, based on the full extent allowed by the compensation legislation.”
But his family said: “To concerned members of the public, we would like to clarify that to date, we have not accepted nor received any compensation from MINDEF/SAF for Dominique’s untimely demise. The family has repeatedly rejected offers from MINDEF/SAF to discuss monetary compensation. We have only accepted a funeral grant to defray the cost of the funeral, on the same day Dominique was sent back home in a coffin. This grant, according to the SAF, is not part of the compensation.”
The relative of one of the two men who died in the train accident also said: “What we resent are your (SMRT’s) attempts to clear yourselves of any fault, insisting that you have observed all the standard operating procedures. If you did everything right, then your standard operating procedures must be flimsy.
“Your carefully maneuvered words make us wonder: are you attempting to shift the blame to the deceased? You know it is easy to blame someone who can no longer speak for himself.
“Instead of being so quick to protect your interests, seek the humanity deep within you to acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them to ensure that this tragedy does not happen to any one else’s son. Will you take responsibility? Or will your public relations team continue to craft words to protect you from blame?
Transport minister Khaw Boon Wan also drew flak for his statement on the two deaths, “for conflating the tragedy of the loss of two young SMRT staff who died in a track accident and a milestone for the Downtown Line (DTL),” Yahoo reported.
Yahoo reported Joee Goh as having said: “This post is highly inappropriate. Your priorities.. I can only say I am saddened by the fact that your milestones are way more important than our fellow singaporeans’ lives. Ask if any Singaporeans would regard your 100 days milestones more important than a life – be him or her a singaporean, a foreigner or even a tourist. You should remove this post Sir.”
Adam Ali also said: “He sure got his priorities mixed up… self congratulatory first then say about death of the staff … add self censorship too by deleting unfavourable comments.”
“At this point, the families are grieving at the loss of a beloved. But grief will soon turn into anger,” the relative of one of the two men who died said.
I am Angry.
And I am angry too.
Lives have been lost but how has the government responded?
Evasive. Non-committal. Hazy.
Does it get you angry? Does it?
I am deeply saddened that in times where lives have been lost, we do not seem to have shown enough outrage or an outpouring.
I do not believe in an excessive expression of anger. I believe we should react calmly to matters.
But at times, we need to feel angry and we need to be moved to do something.
A friend once told me that Singaporeans do not know how to feel angry. We do not feel angry enough to fight for ourselves. I have begun to understand what he means.
We have learnt to suppress our own emotions. We have learnt to stop ourselves from becoming too angry or too upset. We have learnt to stop ourselves from speaking up against wrongdoings.
Must we lose a loved one before our feelings of rage explode?
But I understand how it feels.
Over the last few months, I have been unable to look for a job. I decided to stay low.
I started feeling depressed at times. I tried to stop myself from thinking because I wanted to keep out of sociopolitical affairs in Singapore. I tried to stop myself from speaking up because I did not want to get involved.
But it does things to your head. Not just to what you decide not to think or say. But also for other things that you do.
I began to feel a numbness to things. I began to stop myself from feeling too much. If you feel too much, you will be compelled to say something, or do something. So you stop yourself.
But I began to realise how it was affecting me.
I did not dare to imagine. I stopped being creative. I started telling myself that I cannot do certain things, that I cannot do this, I cannot do that.
I started constraining myself, and controlling what I do. Fear started setting in.
We Suppress Ourselves and Stop Feeling
I finally understand what that means and why it has happened.
We learn not to feel and think because we are scared of what will happen if we do. So we suppress ourselves.
But then, we stop being creative because when we start controlling what we think, our capacity to imagine shrinks.
It scares me.
I was beginning to restrict myself. And if this continues, I would subconsciously lose my ability to innovate and be free.
I would be a willing victim to my oppressor.
I got scared. If I stopped thinking and speaking, I would lose myself.
But this is how many people in Singapore have learnt to do, many unknowingly.
Some Singaporeans tell me – who says I don’t dare to speak up?
So I asked them – then do you dare to speak up against the government?
Some people complain and about the government but ask them who they would vote for, they say they would vote for the same government.
We choose to live with the very thing we are angry with.
We fear, we suppress our anger, our thoughts and accept things for what they are.
I Decided to Be Honest with Myself
When I was young, I had low self-esteem.
I couldn’t hold on to a relationship, I was being hurt and hurt others in return. I did not know how to love others, for I did not know how to love myself.
But at some point, I decided that I had to stop all this self-pity. I had to start loving myself and to find strength within myself.
I knew that I needed to pick myself but for a long time, I did not believe I could. Finally, I decided, enough is enough.
I decided to face up to myself, to confront myself and to be honest to myself.
And I started to believe in myself, and to learn to be true to myself. And my thoughts.
I took a long time to get to where I am. I do not want to lose everything, all because I go back to suppressing my thoughts and feelings.
From what I have learnt, I realise that we need to be honest with ourselves.
If we do not take a good look at ourselves, we would not be able to stare down the things around us, to face them up and to deal with them.
Then, we will run away from things that matter, from wrongdoings by the government.
Then we will learn to suppress, because we get used to it.
Over these past few days and weeks, as I read of the deaths and of the jail sentence of Ai Takagi, I got angry.
And started to get really angry. Initially, I tried to suppress my feelings. But it got stronger. And I let it out.
Can we keep silent when lives are being lost?
Have we forgotten how to be angry?
Where is Our Indignation?
But we suppress our feelings. We learn to be scared. We learn to not fight.
We wait for someone else to fight.
One person gets up, he gets beaten down. Another gets up 10 years later, he gets beaten down. He gets up again 10 years later and he gets beaten down. One more gets up 10 years later, he too gets beaten down.
But all this while, the rest stays hidden, scared.
And when the beaten goes down, the rest become deflated. Life goes on. Things will never change. Hope dies.
Why do we suppress our thoughts and feelings. Do we really believe what the government tells us? Have we thought to look for our statistics and research, to learn for ourselves?
Or have we learn to suppress our inquisitiveness?
Have we learnt to chide those who think differently, to laugh at them and mock them, simply because the government tells us they are crazy?
Because we have learnt to suppress our own questioning?
I am angry.
People have died. But where are the apologies?
Where is the compassion, the empathy and the humility?
Where is the moral obligation that the government has to its citizens?
Where is our indignation to the lives of our fellow human beings lost?
Can we be Honest with Ourselves?
Honestly, I do not know why I keep writing.
I have a heavy penalty to face. I will have to deal with it for the next 17 years of my life, until I am in my 50s.
Because I decided to speak up.
Sometimes, I ask myself – where is there a government in the developed world which would make its own citizen lose everything and try to push him out of his own country?
I was speaking to a man yesterday. He told me that he is a PAP supporter but wanted to chat with me.
I told him – I don’t understand how people can support a party that can cut off the livelihood of a person, and that of hundreds of people who have been imprisoned (under the Internal Security Act).
I asked him – can people honestly look at what the PAP says about equality, when the PAP at the same time persecutes people it does not like?
Can people look at the PAP and agree with the PAP when so many people have been forced into poverty – an estimated 30% today – and cannot pay for their healthcare, and yet believe that the PAP is trying to make Singapore a better place?
But who am I to ask these questions?
I was the one who tried to challenge the very power and control the PAP wants to maintain. I was the one who was stupid enough to do that.
Why aren’t people angry?
Why do we keep suppressing ourselves?
Will you be willing to look honestly at yourself.
It took me many years to do that. I had to force myself to face up to myself and to learn to deal with insecurities. I had to learn not to run away.
When I finally managed to reach a level of honesty that I felt was true, that was when I felt a sense of happiness that I have never felt before. I felt light, at ease, peaceful.
And I started writing.
Two days ago, some people celebrated the first anniversary of Lee Kuan Yew’s death, of Singapore’s first prime minister.
Two days ago, two sons were killed on the train tracks and a pregnant woman was sentenced to 10 months in jail for her writings.
Some things haven’t changed.
Maybe you will?