Wednesday 29 January 2014

Sybil Kathigasu - a non-Malay Freedom Fighter. Gone but not forgotten!

steadyaku47 Note: This was forwarded to me by Gary Lim...many thanks Gary.

June 12, it will be exactly 63 years since Sybil Kathigasu, the freedom fighter, died. Most Malaysians know little of her. This is mainly because she, along with many other distinguished non-Malay freedom fighters, have been "buried" and forgotten by the ruling Umno government.
Why this is so is another hotly debated matter.

Recent reproaches by the people on the Umno government's take on Malaysian history, which has erased all acknowledgement of non-Malay freedom fighters, tell of a new awakening in our midst.
This brings the focus to Sybil.

Sybil is the only Malaysian woman to have ever received the distinguished George Medal (GM) for gallantry and bravery. Instituted by the late King George VI, the GM recognises both civilian gallantry in the face of enemy action and brave deeds.

She wrote a book "No Dram of Mercy", which gives an insightful account a woman of great courage who should be held as a beacon and role model to all Malaysians.

In the 1940s, Sybil sacrificed a great deal in the fight for freedom of Malaya .
Born on Sept 3, 1899 in Medan , Indonesia , Sybil Medan Daly was a trained nurse and midwife.

Turning point

In 1919 she married Dr Abdon Clement Kathigasu and they were blessed with two daugthers, Olga and Thavam. Later on, the couple adopted a son, William Pillay.

Sybil and Abdon operated a clinic in Brewster Road, now known as Jalan Sultan Idris Shah in Ipoh, Perak, for 14 years before the war descended on them.

Sybil's warmth, readiness to help and her fluency in Cantonese made her popular with the local Chinese community.

Then came the war and the invasion of Malaya by the Japanese army in 1941.
When the Japanese army occupied Ipoh , Sybil and her family moved away to Papan, a small town fringing Ipoh . Papan would soon prove to become a turning point in Sybil's life.

It was here that Sybil began "consolidating" her commitment to helping the local community who were members of the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) consisting mainly of Chinese.

Sybil secretly supplied medicines, medical services and information to the underground guerilla forces of the Fifth Independent Regiment of MPAJA freedom fighters who camped in nearby hills and jungles.

She also secretly kept shortwave radio sets and clandestinely listened to BBC broadcasts to keep in touch with the situation around the world, especially in Britain and Europe .

Those acts were, at the time, considered criminal and highly subversive by the military administration of Japan in Malaya .

No betrayal

It has been told and retold by many that Sybil and her husband had treated more than 6,000 guerilla fighters who fought relentlessly for the independence of Malaya .

Eventually Sybil and her husband were caught. The Japanese army arrested them in 1943.

They promised to release Sybil and her husband but on condition that she revealed the names of the MPAJA forces. But Sybil was adamant and refused to do so.

In fact, she is said to have told the Japanese government that she was "willing to die with my family, than to disclose the 30,000 MPAJA and family members who fought for independence of Malaya ".

Sybil was prepared to face the punishment by the Japanese army. They punished her husband, son and her daughter Thavam, who was then seven years old. But Sybil, who suffered the anguish of knowing her family's pain, did not relent. She refused to betray the MPAJA members and their families. Finally, Sybil was sent to Batu Gajah prison where she was further tortured.

Tortured and tormented

According to her memoir, the Japanese army sprayed soap water into her vagina and forced her to sit for hours on ice cubes and she was not allowed to sleep.

Sybil survived three years of torture and torment under the Japanese army and was only relased after Japan lost the war.

Following her release, Sybil was flown to Britain for medical treatment. It was there that she wrote her now famous memoir, "No Dram of Mercy".
She went on to write a second book "Face of Courage", which gave a revealing insight into her family. But the three years of incessant torture by the Japanese army took its toll on Sybil. Sybil died on June 12, 1948, in Britain , seven months after she was released from her Batu Gajah prison cell.

Her body was initially buried in Lanark , Scotland , but was later returned to Ipoh  and buried at the Roman Catholic cemetery beside St Michael's Church. The older generation who are familiar with the Sybil Kathigasu story recalled how her remains arrived in Penang from Scotland by ship and transported to her home in Ipoh 's Brewster Road .

It was one of the largest funeral processions ever seen in Malaysia .

Royal-style sendoff

Sybil, the Malayan heroine, was treated in royal style. Some 100,000 people from all over the country turned up to say goodbye.
Even people from as far as Thailand , Vietnam , Borneo and Indonesia came to pay their respects.

In Ipoh, a road is named after her to commemorate her bravery and Sybil's shophouse at 74, Main Road, Papan, is now being persevered by Law Siak Hong, the president of the Perak Heritage Society (Not by the State umno Govt).

In 2008, the Actor Studio's in Kuala Lumpur produced a play and trained her grand-niece Elaine Daly to play the title role of "Sybil". There's also a Singapore TV drama series titled "The Price of Peace" about her life. (But not shown in Malaysia ).

Sybil's life is perhaps the best example of unity - an Indian women who willingly sacrificed her life for MPAJA members who were mostly Chinese who fought for the independence of Malaya and Malays.

No comments:

Post a Comment