1940-1949 | Malaysia | Murdering labour activists

Colonial police in Malaya beat worker to death in ‘justifiable homicide’

Colonial police interviewing an elderly Malay man c. 1949 –
Public domain via the BBC and Wikimedia.

28 February 1947

On 28 February 1947, colonial police in the Malayan town of Bedong clubbed an Indian rubber plantation to worker to death. He had merely stepped forward from a crowd of protesters shouting ‘We are not anti-government – We are only against the drinking of toddy.’ A coroner ruled that it was ‘justifiable homicide.’1  Twelve labourers who had been arrested the same day were sentenced to three months hard labour each for the less forgivable crime of unlawful assembly.2

Strikes in anger at the ruling spread rapidly across rubber plantations in the area and an investigation by the Malayan Indian Congress exposed collusion between police officers and the owners of the plantations. It also condemned conditions on the plantations, citing poor wages, inadequate housing, summary dismissals and a callous indifference to the workers’ welfare, highlighting one plantation where labourers had to drink the water supplied for the cattle, while managers had their own water supplies transported in from the local town.3

FOOTNOTES

  1. Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper, Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain’s Asian Empire, Allen Lane, London 2007, p. 338.
  2. Ibid pp. 338-339.
  3. ‘Indian Labourers Clash with Police,’ The Scotsman, 3 March 1947, p. 5.

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