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I watched the video (above) of Wan Muhammad Azri Wan Deris, otherwise known as Papagomo, assaulting a Pakistani migrant worker. It was deeply disturbing and troubling to see a hapless and frightened migrant worker being slapped, kicked, and punched as he stood shocked and confused, pleading for mercy.

Barbaric and unacceptable

Though Papagomo insists that the migrant worker sexually harassed a family member, he has absolutely no right to take the law into his own hands and assault a person that way. It is vigilantism, barbaric and unacceptable in any civilized nation. The proper thing to do would have been to call in the police and allow them to determine if a crime had been committed.

Papagomo, who was sacked from the Royal Malaysian Police after having been convicted of a criminal offense, is of course, no stranger to controversy. He made a name for himself stirring up racial discord during the Low Yat Plaza incident and was arrested for spreading unverified information. In a separate case, he was ordered by the Court of Appeal to pay Anwar Ibrahim RM800,000 over a rude and defamatory blog post.

Papagomo justified his outrageous behaviour this time around by invoking honour and duty, and making out that he’s on some kind of campaign to protect women from sexual harassment. Is it honourable to take justice into one’s own hands and beat up another human being? Is duty to family licence to harass, intimidate and bully others?

Is this what honour and duty now means in our nation?

The silence of Putrajaya

Equally disconcerting was the silence from Putrajaya. Not a single government minister has, as of now, condemned Papagomo’s outrageous behaviour. I would have thought the Prime Minister, or at least the Home Minister, would have immediately expressed outrage and vowed to apply the full weight of the law against Papagomo, but, no – silence on these matters is golden these days, especially when it involves a pro-UMNO man.

Thankfully, the Deputy Inspector-General of Police weighed in to say that whether or not a report is lodged over the incident, the police would take action. I certainly hope so. Whatever happens, this case must not end up like so many other cases that go nowhere because of a reluctance to prosecute the well-connected and politically-favoured. I hope we don’t hear excuses like the victim didn’t want to press charges or that the matter has been settled amicably.

An offense has been committed and justice must be done.

There’s an old story from the English courts of justice about a man who was charged in court for brutally assaulting his wife. During the trial, the wife had a change of heart and told the judge that she could find no fault in her husband. The judge looked at her somberly and said, “Madam, you may find no fault in this man but England does,” and proceeded to pass sentence.

It would be heartwarming if something like that happens here, that a clear and unequivocal message is sent to all and sundry that Malaysia does not condone this kind of behaviour.

Where are you, Mr. High Commissioner? 

And talking about silence, why haven’t we heard anything as yet from the High Commissioner for Pakistan? I hope he is irate enough about the way one of his nationals (if indeed the victim was a Pakistani) has been treated to do something about it. Diplomats have a particular responsibility to protect the rights of their countrymen abroad; so, Mr. High Commissioner, let’s hear it from you as well.

What does it say about our nation?

Viewed from a broader perspective, I wonder what incidents like these, and how we respond to them, also say about us, about the kind of nation we are becoming.

It is shocking that Papagomo himself appears to be revelling in his new-found status as a vigilante, a hero no less for beating up a frightened and defenceless migrant worker. He seems confident that his actions will be vindicated or at least he will come out of it more popular than before. After all, more than 50,000 people “liked” his Facebook posting about the assault and many praised him for his actions!

Have we become so blasé, so morally compromised that we now cheer men like these, that we admire them instead of being repulsed by their actions?

Needed but despised

And have we become so callous and uncaring about the hapless migrants in our midst that we no longer see them as human beings, that we think it’s okay for people like Papagomo to beat them up if they step out of line, look at us the wrong way, or are not subservient enough?

They do all the dirty, backbreaking work that has propelled our nation forward economically. They build our gleaming towers, they fill our cars with gas, they sweep our streets, dispose our garbage, maintain our golf courses; they feed our children, tap our rubber and harvest our palm oil, and do a million other things, for a pittance. We have come to depend on them to such a degree that we cannot survive without them now.

And yet, we despise them for filling our streets, for moving into our neighbourhoods, for daring to think that they deserve to be treated as human beings. We do the most inhumane things to them with sickening regularity, abusing them on a daily basis as Tenaganita has noted, and profit from their misery at almost every turn.

How many incidents of ill-treatment and abuse must migrant workers suffer before we rise in righteous indignation and say enough is enough?

Yes, we need a more sensible and sustainable migrant worker policy, one that is not driven by corporate greed and political cronyism but that is our responsibility to fix, not theirs. Yes, they must respect our laws but they also deserve the protection of our laws.

How sad that they answered the demand for labour, they came in search of hope, only to discover the dark side of our nation.