BEING FRANK: What if foreign workers abandon Malaysia?

As published in Malay Mail today.

Being Frank
By Frankie D'Cruz

THE eight-month torture of 23-year-old Indonesian house help, Meriance Kabu, who was starved, stomped on, had her teeth pulled out savagely and endured sharp objects struck in her private part by her lesbian employers continues to reveal attitudes of astounding ingratitude on our part.

Every Malaysian has to take responsibility for such barbarism. If Meriance’s case was black-hearted, isn’t it similar to many of us trampling on foreign workers daily?

The crime may not be the same, but isn’t it criminal of us to run over those who ease our domestic and service-oriented burdens?

Meriance’s abuse comes amid a stalemate between Malaysia and Indonesia involving domestic help, whom we should rightly call extended family members. Again we have not convinced our neighbour that the safety of their citizens working here can be assured.

Although Indonesia shares very much the same cultural multiplicity as ours, we are always seen as serial bullies or abusers of their nationals. They are not alone. The Philippines feels the same, as do India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar.

The brutality heaped on foreign workers is a worrying intensity of heartlessness that has continually seized the mindset of Malaysians towards them. It isn’t their fault that they were born in a less fortunate environment.
That, however, scars the Malaysian way of life. Think how other countries judge us about treating their own who earn a decent living here. Think how much we need them to take care of our homes and serve us in restaurants, and in the case of nightspots, young women to entertain us and make money for the owners.

Given a long litany of abuses to these foreigners, you can’t blame them for thinking we possess a lurid streak of sadism that leaves people open-mouthed in shock.

Look inward. Are we vultures who peck at the meat until they reach the driest of bones?

We welcome most foreigners with open arms into our country to help us progress in various sectors that locals are either reluctant or too lazy to participate in.

Granted, there are the dastardly lot who chop off the all-embracing arms of a warm, sympathetic Malaysia.
Still, any form of abuse is denigration of morality, respect and migrant care. It betrays a giving Malaysian society that is consumed voraciously by kindness.

The very word “maid” should be dropped as national policy and be replaced with “extended family members”. Maids are old colonial mentality. Maids, some people think, are to be exploited.

I can’t resist taking the issue of “torture” into our throbbing nightlife. As a nocturnal creature, I can vouch for the transgressions against the very people (women) who pulsate our club scene.

What if I told you foreign bargirls here have to pay their agents a penalty of RM75 for each kilo they gain in weight while working?

What if I told you the girls have to maintain the exact weight when they were brought in and don’t necessarily get the fine refunded if they shed the fat?

These agents want to maintain quality among their girls but at the same time force them to drink and eat, for their benefit and that of their clients (club owners).

Does it make sense that these girls drink beer, eat fatty foods all night long and are expected to keep their original lean shape?

Does it make sense that these girls are dragged into a police or immigration van and their agents or club owners aren’t locked up too?

Does it make sense that the girls are deported and the very people who brought them here on the pretext of office jobs and the people who hired them to work in nightspots are not charged with human trafficking?
That is pure slavery, pure exploitation of the flesh. But only one party, in this case, the girls, pay for it. Where are the human rights activists in such circumstances?

The repugnant torture of Meriance couldn’t have come at a time when the nation is facing an acute shortage of extended family members to cook, clean and look after children.

Is Malaysia serious about proper handling of migrant workers? Why are we routinely igniting flare-ups of anti-Malaysian sentiment?

All these cases expose the dirty underbelly of a modern urban society and a developing Malaysia that has lost its soul.

Such actions constitute wretched manipulation. Public opinion must rise against the authorities to force them to take stern and prompt steps to protect the foreign labour force.

The sadistic streak of the lesbians in Meriance’s case may make Malaysians snarl and swear today. Tomorrow, our society’s tendency to blame the migrant workforce for everything that is wrong with the Malaysian way of life will continue. That’s just us.

What if like Meriance, other foreign workers vow never to return to Malaysia?

Award-winning journalist Frankie D’Cruz is Editor Emeritus of Malay Mail. He can be reached at and at Twitter @frankieDcruz.


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