Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Heart-felt story shared by daughter of political detainee

Heart-felt account of the daughter of a political detainee under ISA. This is an excellent piece of sharing and kudos to her father Ong Bock Chuan for forgiving. There is so much healing in forgiveness.

My words to her:
It's not easy for all of you and I'm glad you spoke up. I have always been intrigued by the aftermath and impact of the immediate families of these 'wrongful' political detainees. There is a 'dark' side of LKY that needs to be shared and looked at objectively.

LKY did what he thought best for Singapore at that time and at the expense of detaining his rivals. Whether it was wrong or right no longer mattered. What matters is how we learn and avoid the same mistake thereby suppressing voices and categorising them as dissent just because we disagree.

Just as LKY has led and prospered Singapore, we must know he is afterall still a human being - fallible and not a 'saint' as so many just wants to acknowledge him by. By this I mean perspective - so please don't flame me or start lambasting me for stating objectively. 

Thank you so much, Joanna, for your courage and insights. I will put a link here to my blog and also reproduce your article entirely in this post.

Wish you and your family well.
The Harder Truth
The Quiet Aftermath
This morning, as I made my way to work,  there was an air of stillness about me.  Everyone I met, at the bus-stop, in the bus, along the streets were quite quiet and simply trying to go about their usual day, but without uttering a word.  A nation grieved yesterday at the final farewell of its founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew.  So much tears were shed as the cortege journeyed through the streets of Singapore, lined with thousands of people.  Today, I feel an air of emptimess and lingering sadness.  The nation moves on, never forgetting a legacy left behind by an extraordinary leader.

Everyone had been discussing his passing throughout the week of national mourning.  I have got friends and colleagues who queued for hours in the sun, just to bid their final farewell in person where the body was lying in state at the Parliament house. My entire Facebook timeline was plastered with newsfeeds about the man and the legacy he had  left behind.  However, all this while, I kept quite silent because I approached the entire issue with ambivalence.  I needed time to step back and recalibrate my thoughts about the man, having lived through an era when my own family was impacted by  some of his more autocratic policies.

My Father’s Past
I thought it was time to come clean and write this blog post about how I truly felt, without disrespect to my own father.

In 1978, I saw Dad handcuffed and led into our home by a team of officers from the Internal Security Department.  I was 8 years old.  And the entire episode unfolded before me like an extremely bad B-grade movie that did not seem to have a proper beginning or an ending.  The sketchy storyline went like this for an 8 year old.  Dad was involved in “political discussions” with a group of lawyers who took a pro-Communist stand.  He had to be punished for having an opinion that was not aligned to our government’s stand.  He then spent months incarcerated behind that famous big blue gate at Thomson road which was where my Dad and his bunch of friends were detained under the Internal Security Act.

I remembered the months that ensued were a flurry of activities, where my Mum was trying to hysterically make sense of what had happened.  I was the fire-cracker in the family and I went through a phase of childhood rebellion attempting to re-enact Guy Fawke’s Day with my marbles at any government officials that I had come across during those months.  I was trying to “protect” Mom.   I remembered Mom attempting to keep the family together, so she marched up to Dad’s boss at that time, the late Mr Khoo Teck Puat and said, “Bock Chuan had worked for you with such selfless commitment and treated you like his other father.  The most compassionate thing you can do as his boss, is to keep that job for him, and wait for his release from political detention.  Meanwhile, please continue to transfer his salary into his bank account so that his family can get by.”  Mr Khoo did just that, and I would be eternally grateful to him for that.

Meanwhile, Mom and I struggled by without Dad.  Mom suffered from hallucinations and I was subjected to the cruel talk amongst schoolmates who pointed their fingers at me while whispering, “Her father is in jail you know? So terrible.”  The cruelest thing that had happened for me then was having thoughtless journalists camp out at our gates to take statements from Mum and I.

One day, there was a live telecast of Mr Lee Kuan Yew on TV getting a public confession from the political detainees including Dad. A journalist visited Mum and I and made us sit next to the TV.  I could not remember much of that apart from waking up the next day with a picture of myself in my pyjamas, and a quote from an 8 year old me saying, “Daddy was very naughty.”  Looking back, that was probably the beginning of my training as a Communications and PR professional.  I never trusted the media ever since, and I hated the establishment even more for turning my family’s life into a circus.  I grew up bearing that anger in my heart.

Growing Up

However, living through the last 4 decades where I saw how Singapore had evolved to what it has become today, where there are roofs over our heads, we feel safe when we walk the streets and  our children have a  good head-start in life with sound education, and the medical bills of our ageing population is heavily subsidized,  I realized that Mr Lee had to do what he had to do at that time for the good of our nation.  Sure, some of his policies were unpopular and my family was a victim of it, but as a child of Singapore having lived through the economic growth  and political stability of the 70s through to today when I see my parents enjoying the benefits of the Pioneer Generation package, I cannot help but have to admit that the man had truly done a great job.

Doing What He Had To Do

Even he admitted, “I stand by my record. I did some sharp things to get things right – too harsh – but a lot was at stake. But at the end of the day, what have I got? Just a successful Singapore.”  For a nation that went from survival instincts to protecting its economic and political security, this man would do anything for it.  As he had declared, ‘Because my posture, my response has been such that nobody doubts that if you take me on, I will put on knuckle-dusters and catch you in a cul de sac...Anybody who decides to take me on needs to put on knuckle dusters. If you think you can hurt me more than I can hurt you, try.”   Sure,  some of his decisions were tough, but my Dad would have made the same decisions if he was in the shoes of Mr Lee.  Ultimately, when he gave his entire life for nation building, he was in it for the nation and its people, not himself.  He said, “"I have never been over-concerned or obsessed with opinion polls or popularity polls. I think a leader who is, is a weak leader. If you are concerned with whether your rating will go up or down, then you are not a leader. You are just catching the wind ... you will go where the wind is blowing. And that's not what I am in this for."

All Forgiven

I asked Mom if Dad had tuned to the TV channels to watch the crowd lining up to pay their last respects as the body was lying in state at Parliament House. To my surprise, she answered, “ Yes he did, and he even cried. I think after all these years, all is forgiven and forgotten and Dad has seen the good that the man had done for Singapore.”

That was all I needed to hear, so that it gave me that go-ahead to write this blogpost.

When I saw Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong giving his eulogy to the “Papa” that he loved so dearly, I was reminded that our late founding Prime Minister, was someone else’s father too. So yes, I spent much of my younger years hating the man, but as I grew up, my emotions grew up with me.  I am still my father's daughter and I love and respect him for having boldly taken a stand no matter the risks involved, standing by what he had believed in then.  However, I am also my nation's daughter and I respect Mr Lee for also having boldly taken a stand, no matter how many had felt about him then. He too, stood by what he had believed in.

Without any disrespect to my father, and with every respect to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew,  I am eternally grateful for his efforts in turning this country into a safe haven for my family and I.
(Also can be found here from her blog "The Crazy Angmo and His Angry Wife")


Anonymous said...

What the press did was unforgivable - making a young girl condemn her father on TV. It was absolutely disgusting. Even prisoners of war are not allowed under the Geneva Convention to be paraded in front of the press and interviewed. Another dark side of the man vicious when opposed.

Chan Joon Yee said...

You are so magnanimous.

Kaffein said...

Welcome Joon Yee. Added your site to my links.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. I am deeply concerned with those who suffered just because they have different convictions.

Now that all of them have been silenced. Our society has become sort of souless...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the amazing grace extended.
A heartwarming sharing and may you and your dad, mum and family be blessed.

thecrazyangmoandhisangrywife said...

Thank you for sharing my story. It had helped my family and I heal and close that chapter of our lives.