16 June 2017

Serve To Lead

I have been away from this blog for much longer than I had intended.
I return to it in no happy spirit.
The death of a gentle soul, T Nhaveen, beaten and sodomised, raises many questions on the complete collapse of our moral fibre as a people. We had earlier the matter of Officer Cadet Zulfarhan, beaten and burned till he succumbed to his injuries. This has brought to focus the bane of our society. Bullying.

It does not fall as a sign of the times, or a trait of millenials.

Gauging from the outcry against these incidents of abuse against our humanity, very few people are unacquainted with some form of bullying or its other manifestations.

The incidence certainly does not justify the practise.

My alma mater, the Royal Military College in Sungai Besi, in particular Cadet Wing, was a place that had its own practice of applying pressure and organised violence in shaping future military officers. It no longer exists as a college for Officer Cadets, having aspired to mature into an academy, which it did as Akademi Tentera Malaysia. In its place now stands the Malaysian National Defence University or UPNM.

The recent meaninglessly tragic death of Officer Cadet Zulfarhan had many of us from that alma mater questioning what on earth had metamorphosed from the usual ragging we were familiar with into unequivocal murder. And many an Old Putra of Boys Wing RMC voiced that "We Are Not UPNM" on social media.

Indeed, the two entities are separate. The disassociation is not unjustified. I am not an OP, but having spent two life-changing years in RMC, I understand how we all believe that this would not have happenned under our roof.

I identify and resonate with this belief.

Ragging, as we knew it in RMC, was part of a larger system applied to newbies, Putras in Boys Wing or Officer Cadets in Cadet Wing alike, intended to deconstruct with surgical brutality. But right in the wake of that, would ensue reconstruction. As we were all trained by the army in RMC, I will openly say that the army was professional in breaking you first, then rebuilding you into a better version of yourself in terms of being a military officer.
I am no apologist for the practise of ragging. I do not support it in the public or private institutions of higher learning. That's because none of those are institutions of training for the management of violence. Graduates thereof will not be counting on each other for your survival on the battlefield. They will leave with their scrolls in their hand to fill up various job appointments which will have little to do with each other. The military on the other hand, is a close-knit organisation purpose built for the management of violence. I do not believe that you can breed a soldier by wearing kid gloves. There you have it. It has been said. It has indeed, been done.
But the kind of ragging I faced with my batchmates, whom I fondly call "Squad", was not concealed from the eyes of our instructors. Nobody was isolated from the rest and personally victimised away from observation by superior officers. If one erred, everyone would suffer. Everyone would have their knuckles bleed on the gravel then bake in the heat of the tarmac which made the parade square. Or clean the corridors of our seniors' company line with abrasive detergent and the skin of our backs. Or whatever ingenuity they could conjure to produce discomfort. The "starlight", "hammerlight" or "tongkat-light" were samplings of these. This is not a passage to describe the proceedings, and the life in RMC is far too rich to be captured in a blog post. But what needs to be said is, everything was done with flair. If the picture isn't clear, allow this to elucidate you: that after a ragging session was over, we juniors would be seated in a line on the floor, while at one end of the corridor a senior officer cadet would be boiling us tea in a bucket, while at the other end, another senior and most times a rank holder of Senior Cadet Sargeant or Senior Cadet Corporal, would be passing along packets of cigarettes for us to smoke. The spin-offs from military ragging were cooperation, quick-thinking as a group, comradeship, conforming to rank, maintennance of morale and much much more.
Yes, there were seniors who did occassionally "take it too far". Those were caught, and paid for it. Even commissioned officers who were caught or reported for ragging would be discharged if found guilty. Because we were raised in it, we had an eye for what constituted "corrective training", and what was going beyond reason. I respect the military I served in for having such a clear demarcation through experience and its justice system.
The fact is, ill-treatment of a junior officer (junior officer being subject to further interpretations under the Armed Forces Act 1972) remains an offence under military law. We were told, "You can order a soldier to march forward to his death, but you may not lay a finger on him". Well, of course there were always deviations from this rule, but the rule still stood.
While many of us servicemen, of today and of the past can recollect such days with a touch of humour entwined with nostalgia, this trip down memory lane can never enlighten us on the justifications for what happenned to Officer Cadet Zulfarhan.
For just as ragging is intended to deconstruct and subsequently reconstruct, without control, it becomes a beast bent on the sole purpose of destruction.
A murder has been committed.
We are in serious need of introspection and reparation.
I cannot help but see parallels in the way political entities have outsourced the culture of bullying to NGOs which discriminate and torment segments of our society who do not conform to their understanding of gender, orientation or religious practise. Differences will exist, with or without our approval, but to be inhumane to those who are merely different from us but do not harm us cannot elevate us to higher moral standing.
Until we come to our senses and decide that bullying should never be a mechanism for carving the electorate, we will fail to set the right example for the various microcosms of our society, down to our schools, whose only pursuit should be the moulding of young minds to be future stewards of this country.

Let us remember that it is in giving that we receive. It is in restraint that we liberate the truth. It is by serving that we show our leadership.
If we don't get this corrected, I wonder what manner of stewards we shall mould, and more significantly, what manner of country it will be that they inherit.