The Month That Was

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

It never occurred to me that October would be a tumultuous month unlike other months of the year. There were simply too many happenings which attracted unnecessary publicity, all for the wrong reasons.

There is no necessity to enumerate them all but suffice to allude to three which made headlines not only in the country but worldwide. All these incidents had engendered us nothing but brickbats, making Malaysia the laughing stock of the world. Two of the three, incidentally, took place in Perak, of all places.

Foremost was the high number of pregnancies among students. According to official reports Perak recorded 615 cases of teen pregnancy last year. The figure represented 78 per cent of the 787 cases recorded nationwide by government clinics. What about those that went unreported? This could just be the tip of the iceberg as the overall figure could be staggering, to say the least. And all this happened for a simple reason – the reluctance of the authorities to allow sex education be part of the curriculum in schools.

There is this fixation, especially among the pious ones, that sex education would make students promiscuous and thus should be kept under wraps. It is like opening a Pandora’s Box, they claimed. Come on dummy, this is the 21st Century. My granddaughter knows more than I did when I was her age.

Children today can access anything from the internet and they have at their disposal the smartphone. How much can we restrict and control them? It is an exercise in futility. Parents with school-going kids know better. Those holier-than-thou and skullcap-wearing mullahs profess not to know. How naïve can they be?

Next was the snake-in-the-pit incident which took place at the Civil Defence Department compound in Kuala Kangsar on October 16. A group of primary school students were made to wade through a waterlogged ditch as part of a team-building exercise. The incident, however, was recorded by one of the instructors and was uploaded on social media. Within hours the recording went viral garnering enough viewing to warrant an investigation. The nation was shocked by the action of one overzealous instructor who threw a metre-long snake into the pit and another who sprayed water on the girls. The victims were petrified, some becoming hysterical.

I can imagine their fear as I had undergone such training at the military college in my heydays. But ours was a controlled environment and our instructors were trained professionals who never dared go overboard with their teaching methods.

Years later when I was in command of a territorial regiment based in Seremban, I oversaw the training of recruits from among students and grown-ups. I made it a point to be present during trainings, be it on the drill square, the rifle range or the obstacle course. My presence was enough to make the notorious ones toe the line.

What was obviously lacking during the Kuala Kangsar caper was supervision. There was no supervision from a responsible senior. Things can go wrong if you allow some sadistic blokes to have a freehand. And that was what happened at the Kuala Kangsar Civil Defence Department boot camp.

Last, but not necessarily the least, is the ongoing battle over the issue of name. Many have joined in the fray, including parties from both sides of the political divide, to pressure the Malaysian Islamic Development (Jakim) not to “dominate, impose and control others” following the widely-publicised “hot dog controversy”.

Malaysia made international headlines after Jakim asked pretzel food chain Auntie Annie’s to change the name of its “Pretzel Dog” to “Pretzel Sausage” in order to receive halal certification.

MCA Religious Harmony Bureau chairman Datuk Seri Ti Lian Ker raised the question about the country’s secularism stance. “The much avowed promise that Islamic laws will not affect non-Muslims in a multi-racial society is meaningless when many are still unable to uphold the true teachings of religion in a correct perspective,” he said in a statement.

To add humour to the whole episode Malaysians had come up with an array of names for consideration by Jakim. “Catfish” should be renamed as it may confuse Muslims into thinking that the fish is a cat. “Mata Kucing” to be banned because it may confuse Malaysians that the fruits contain cat’s eyes. “Barbie Dolls” should also be renamed as it may confuse Muslims into thinking that their children are playing with “Pig Dolls”.

With all these “problems” hanging over our heads I just wonder where Malaysians are heading. Notwithstanding these glitches, October is not a bad month after all. For those short on cash there is the BRIM (Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia) handouts to consider. The amount has been revised and announced during the October 21 budget speech by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

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