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  • Writer's pictureEllamaran Murugiah

Gandhi Memorial Hall

Reviving Mahatma Gandhi's legacy in Malaysia. When PM Narendra Modi called it "a homage in silence, expressed in action," many young Malay Indians, listening raptly to PM's community reception speech in Kuala Lumpur in 2015, had no idea of Mahatma Gandhi's rich legacy lying somewhere obscure in their own country, Malaysia. PM was referring to a multi-purpose hall for Indians, with Gandhi at the center of its identity. Around 60 years later, now worn down, this place is in the process of getting a facelift, with a 7.3m x 2.4m 3D image of Mahatma Gandhi being embossed at the exterior. In the 1950s, the small, sleepy town of Sungai Petani in Kedah district of Malaysia, with its sizeable population of workers of Indian origin had come together to set up a memorial for Gandhi within few years of his death in 1948. Though Indian migrants' strong emotional linkages with the cause of India's Independence is recorded history, the mention of memorial by the Indian PM surprised many in the audience. The PM Modi himself echoed this feeling when he said, "you had not met him, Gandhiji did not manage to visit Malaysia, but he touched your hearts." Hearts he had touched, for, otherwise how can one explain the enthusiasm of thousands of rubber plantation workers coming forward to donate 3 days' wages to the Committee formed for setting up the memorial? Mr Balan Nair, the current chairman of the management committee of the Gandhi Memorial Hall, reminisces about the rubber tappers ready to forego their daily income of $1 (Malaysia used dollar then) for 3 days. "They were drawn to Gandhi's advocacy of 'unity, equality and brotherhood of man,' familiar as they were with economic hardships and social challenges in their own surrounding. They also idolized him for his indomitable spirit and patriotism for their home country India," he said. This appeal of Mahatma Gandhi and India's freedom movement had a pan Indian sub-continent character. For, even the Ceylonese plantation workers donated their wages to the Memorial Building Committee. In all, $60,000 were collected, including the wages from around 10,000 tappers, for buying a piece of land measuring 45,800 sq feet and building the community hall, which later went on to conduct free training workshops and tuitions for the youth, besides holding community-related events, and giving space to sports and recreation. Interestingly, a charity football match in aid of this memorial hall was also played in 1952 between the Indian tourist football team, 'Aryan Gymkhana' and the Kedah Indo-Malay team which netted $4,100. While the funds were few, the spirit of the Committee, spearheading the donation drive and that of the rubber estate workers was huge. It is with this vigor and zeal that the new Gandhi Memorial is being redesigned and built again. The government of India in cooperation with the Indian High Commission, Malaysia, is helping install a bust of Gandhiji, inside the Dewan Gandhi, the local name for the memorial hall. Mr Sham Ratnani, third generations Malaysian Indian, an alumnus of IIT Kanpur, and the Chairman of the Building Committee of Dewan Gandhi, said. "it was the feeling of a shared responsibility and loyalty to Gandhiji's lofty designs of a unified, strong India that in 1966, many organizations came forward to save the Dewan Gandhi from going under the hammer for non-payment of dues." The Malayali Samajam, Kedah State Writers Association and Muslim League, Sungai Petani were among those that offered help. The present challenge, however, is bigger, in view of the enhanced scope of the utility and purpose of the Gandhi memorial. Mr Sham's construction and design company, Syarikat Pembinaan is offering free consulting and helping reduce materials cost for this project. He said, "the Committee has collected a total of RM 3.8 million for the new building which will house an amphitheater, an auditorium, a multi-purpose hall seating 1400 people, along with a library devoted to Mahatma Gandhi's life and glimpses of his struggle." Funds totaling RM 2.7 million is further needed to complete the structure which will be formally inaugurated on 2nd October, next year and devoted to the memory of 'Beloved Bapuji' as the 1955 souvenir of the original memorial addressed him.

18 August 2018

18 August 2018

18 August 2018

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