GEORGE TOWN: As the nation celebrates its 61 years of independence at the end of this month, it is important for Malaysians to remember that solidarity among the people is important to maintain peace and harmony in the country.
Since achieving independence in 1957, integration of the multi-racial and multi-religious people in the country has grown stronger despite being tested during the May 13, 1969 racial riots.
According to Suleiman Tunku Abdul Rahman, son of the country's first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra A-Haj, it had been his late father's aspiration to see Malaysia remain strong and united and the people living in peace and harmony irrespective of their race and religion.
He said unity among Malaysians was crucial to maintain peace and promote economic growth.
“Unity is created when people from different ethnic and religious groups respect each other and are always careful and aware of religious and cultural sensitivities in maintaining racial harmony,” he told Bernama here.
The May 13 incident has taught Malaysians the importance of preserving solidarity among the people to keep the country intact and prevent disintegration.
However, Suleiman, 59, feels that currently, national unity is not as strong as it was in the 1960s when everyone in the country just wanted to be known as Malaysians.
“At that time the people such as the Malays, Chinese, Indians or Eurasians were not concerned about their ethnic or racial identities,” he said.
But today, he said several people and organisations were seeking media attention, demanding racial rights by playing up racial and religious issues for their own benefit.
“This will only attract problems. We should eliminate racial differences and instead focus more attention on bridging the cultural, religious and socio-economic gap by working towards unity to achieve peace, harmony, prosperity and a better life for all of us,” he said.
Tan Ai Kim, 95, who agreed with Suleiman that the people were not as united as before said, it was very sad to see people not greeting one another like the way they used to do.
Tan who lives in the village at Jalan Butterworth, Kepala Batas, said previously villagers could live in a harmonious atmosphere because they went out of their to help one another regardless of race and religion.
She said relationship between the Malays, Chinese and Indians was no longer the same as before since most residents now live in apartments and they rarely know their neighbours as they do not like to make friends.
“I was not born in Malaysia, but I have been here for over 60 years old and I have found that the people of this country are very friendly but in this technology era, people are less sociable,” said Tan who was born in Haikou, China and arrived in Malaysia in 1946.
Nevertheless, she said the unity built thus far has been sustained due to mutual trust and respect among the multi-racial community.
Meanwhile, former medical executive, K.Subramaniam, 63, said previously the spirit of unity among the people was so high that neighbours could share the food they cooked among themselves and they would accompany their friends even to their places of worship.
Subramaniam who is from Air Itam said life was so good and happy then because people were able to mingle easily and neighbours were always supportive of one another.
“I remember when I was in primary school, I would accompany my friend to church and my friend would follow me to the temple for prayers,” he said.
Subramaniam added that the best place to cultivate the spirit of unity is in kindergartens or schools at a young age when children are free of prejudices. — Bernama