A case in point is DBKL’s recent rules concerning the sale of alcohol. A slew of new restrictions is making life unnecessarily difficult for ethnic businesses as well as consumers. According to media reports, the sale of alcohol at grocery and convenience stores as well as Chinese medicine halls has been banned with effect from November 1st. In addition, business owners must now prepare a separate display space and sales area for beer which must be locked or barred after the allowed hours of sale. For Chinese medicine halls, the sale of mixed or pure alcohol for medicinal purposes will now require the approval of the Health Ministry as well.
Regulations to ensure the sale and consumption of alcohol in a responsible manner is one thing; religiously motivated curbs are quite another. Alcohol has been sold through these outlets for decades. The fact is there is no real problem here that needs such a drastic solution. Drug abuse, on the other hand, is a far more serious issue. Now that’s a real problem that is crying out for real solutions but it does not receive as much publicity as alcohol simply because politicians cannot make as much mileage from it.
It is not a coincidence that the campaign against alcohol is being ramped up at this time. PAS – which has just taken over JAKIM – is intent on curbing the sale of alcohol because it sees alcohol consumption as incongruous with its view of an Islamic state.
But Malaysia is not an Islamic state. Though Islam is the religion of the state, the Constitution is very clear that Malaysia is a secular democracy. PAS and others may not be happy with the sale of alcohol but they have no business imposing their religious preferences on the rest of Malaysian society.
The new rules that DBKL has imposed, rules which other municipalities are now set to follow, is a shameful abuse of power, an infringement of the rights of minorities. There is now increasing pressure on minorities to conform to state-imposed religious strictures – dress codes, signage and brand names, the sale of food, construction of houses of worship, etc. At the same time, minorities are facing discrimination in a host of other areas as well – budgetary allocations, recruitment into the civil service and other institutions, scholarships and university admissions.
Government leaders talk much about building the Malaysian Family and draw up all sorts of national unity blueprints but it just a big sham. They have no respect for minorities and they are unwilling to honour the nation’s diversity. Their actions make a mockery of all the constitutional injunctions against discrimination.
To be sure, all these issues can be sensitive but we would not even need to talk about them if the government was simply more respectful of minority rights. We all want to be respectful of the majority religion; it would help greatly if political and religious authorities were just as sensitive of the rights of minorities. But enough is enough. The government cannot keep on bullying minorities this way. We are all Malaysian citizens and we have rights under the Constitution. The government and its agencies have a responsibility, a duty even, to treat everyone justly and respectfully.
The Opposition too must rise to the defence of minority rights with greater passion and commitment. It is not enough to issue statements – as a number of Kuala Lumpur-based opposition MPs have done. They need to use all their political influence in parliament to stop the bullying, to demand that the government live up to its responsibilities under the Constitution. What good is an MOU with the government if all it does is bring official status to the leader of the opposition and more allocation for MPs for their constitutional work? While they focus on these comparatively minor issues, the whole framework of the country is being assaulted and minority rights are being chipped away. When will they decide that enough is enough and take a principled stand?
Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | Saturday, 13th November 2021
 City Hall’s liquor sale restrictions affecting business, say trade groups, The Malaysian Insight, 11 November 2021
 Fighting drugs on the home front, NST, 6 June 2019