Letter: Dear Hew Ling Poa, You Were Never Alone

Jaya Letchumi

When I read the story of Hew Ling Poa, 52, (The Star) who has been applying for Malaysian citizenship since the age of 17 and how she has been unsuccessful so far, I was moved to write this letter.

Hew, you were never alone in your quest to be acknowledged as a legitimate citizen in this country. Quite a number of people in this country have travelled this road, armed with the needed documents to seek their right to citizenship, but apparently their documents were never enough. It seemed like they never met one very important but unwritten and an elusive qualification, one that only the officers of the Home Ministry seem to be aware of.

That one qualification that enables “newcomers” into the country permanent resident status and even citizenship within few years of staying in the country while others, living in the country their whole life, remain clueless about that intangible Qualification and lose out on tangible voting rights, government assistance.

Meanwhile, many more people in this country are still travelling this painful road, filled with fumbling, clumsy, and indifferent government officials who “decide” who can move up in the stacked files of applications for approvals or for consideration with years of waiting, or plain rejection.

Here is the story of two people, who needlessly died stateless in Malaysia – the country where they were born, went to school, spoke excellent Bahasa Malaysia but remained permanent residents at their time of death, Saraswathy Raju Pillay at age 85 and Jaya Letchumi, 72.

The case of Saraswathy A/P Raju Pillay. Born in Kuala Pilah, Aug 19, 1933.

The late Saraswathy Raju Pillay born in Negeri Sembilan and lived all her life in Malaysia remained a permanent resident till her death in 2018.

Saraswathy was married to P.Ayadurai who was born in Sentul and had a blue IC and who had served Keretapi Tanah Melayu for more than 30 years. She travelled with Ayadurai to all the areas where the Malaysian railways operated.

They had seven children, born in the various parts of Malaysia and with the exception of their oldest, all hold blue ICs. In 1952, at the age of 27, Ayadurai was posted to Singapore. Saraswathy, 19, received a Singapore identification there but with another posting back in Malaysia, her husband applied for her to replace the Singapore identification to a Malaysian one in 1978. How were they supposed to know that Malaysia and Singapore would split up?

The children never knew that the blue coloured identification card Saraswathy carried implied her as a permanent resident until she landed in the KL General Hospital for a surgery in 2011. Attempts were then made to get her her citizenship. The Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara or National Registration Dept (NRD) in 2011 said there were no records of her in Putrajaya. They could not trace her records. Finally her records were traced in 2016, not by NRD staff but an outside unit that was helping Indians with citizenship application. Her application made in 1975-79 was found. How NRD missed that, nobody knows. That was not the end, as more filling up of forms, digging up information of her brother who had served the Royal Malaysian Police were all collected to help her with her application.

Then in 2017 the NRD officers came to the house, and interviewed her and spoke to her in Bahasa Malaysia and recorded her in video and took photographs of her, and left with the indication that she would be successful with her IC application.

Several calls were made to the JPN officer, looking into her case, who then became very busy during the pre-election period of 2018 General Election. He was busy in Sarawak with NRD work but said she will be getting her IC soon. Except in March 2018, Saraswathy, who was wheel-chair bound up to her death in February 2018, received a brand new Red IC and not Blue IC at age 85, which was to be collected at the PJ NRD office. An officer there said she would still have to apply for her citizenship. It was a case of “too late” and obviously could not have made a difference to her except that a posthumous blue IC for Saraswathy would have facilitated the citizenship application of Jaya Letchumi, her oldest daughter.

The case of Jaya Letchumi. Born in Sg Besi, Kuala Lumpur, Dec 10, 1948.

A studio photo of Jaya Letchumi taken in 1970 in Ipoh, Perak. Her full application for citizenship has been sitting in the Home Ministry/National Registration Department since 2020 while the initiative itself began in 2011,all her documents were fully traced in mid 2018. Although she died of Covid-19 in June 2021, there were no replies from the NRD on queries made on the status of her application. It was a painful process for Jaya. Despite being 70, and physically challenged, she was called to the Shah Alam registration office to first send in her document in person. Then she was called for an interview, by an insensitive officer who insisted on her talking when she could barely open her mouth. The officer also refused help from my sister and caregiver, with whom Jaya was most comfortable, to coax her to talk. The application did go through several months later but despite all the efforts, she failed to be recognised a Malaysian and the fate of her application remains unknown to her family.

The story of Jaya Letchumi, the eldest daughter of P. Ayadurai (ex KTM man) and Saraswathy, and her sisters’ struggle to get her citizenship was published in Free Malaysia Today under its Letter to the Editor column on June 21, 2021:

A tale of being born in Malaysia but dying stateless

Meet my sister, Jaya Letchumi – posthumously. Yes, she died aged 72, stateless on Tuesday, June 15. She was a permanent resident of this country for 60 years. No, she was not bitter about being stateless, in fact, she died not knowing, not understanding or even caring about the fact that she was stateless.

You see, she was in a nursing home, in a world of her own and completely helpless and dependent on her care providers for everything. So helpless that she could not protect herself even from Covid-19 when the powerful virus found its way into the nursing home. Of course, that’s another story.

Let’s get on with her statelessness instead. Her application for citizenship made when she was 12 in 1960, was never approved until her passing.

Why was she stateless? Our father was a Malaysian, who served Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) for more than 30 years. Should she not have qualified automatically as a citizen?

If we are to understand correctly the latest statement from the home minister, that children of a Malaysian father automatically become Malaysian, should she not have become one on that basis alone?

Perhaps the home ministry can explain? In fact, the ministry should, because her citizenship application has been with the ministry for more than a year – being processed.

Or at least, that was what was communicated by a ministry officer to my other sister who had been pursuing the matter for several years now. She has given up.

Allow me to elaborate.

Jaya Letchumi alias Lichimy Ayatora as is stated in her red identity card (IC ) had other reasons to qualify her as a citizen. Her application would have clearly stated that she was born in Kuala Lumpur, had her birth certificate registered in Sungai Besi police station on Dec 10 1948. She was born, bred and lived her entire life in this country.

Jaya Letchumi being interviewed for her citizenship application by a NRD officer despite her special condition. There are clear cut rules on what documents are required for citizenship but there is no clarity on why there are delays for some people and faster approvals for some. Photo courtesy of Weekly Echo reader, Cikgu Rukku.

Her application was complete with proof of her birth certificate, her registration for IC done in Kelantan.

She went to a Tamil primary school in Seremban, where our father was posted as a railway man.

As our father was posted to various towns including Singapore in the 50s, where he served in the then Malayan railways, the family followed him.

Our mother, Saraswathy was born in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan in 1933 and spoke excellent Malay and had to contend with a red IC for decades as well. She married my father in February 1948. Jaya Letchumi was their eldest child.

Saraswathy too died a permanent resident at the age of 85, even though all her remaining six children including me, who were all born in different parts of the country are citizens.

Following my sister’s attempts to get documentation for my mother and sister, a team from NRD came to my sister’s house in November/December 2017. They interviewed her and promised help.

However, no help came and instead, they gave her a brand new red IC. They asked my mother, a wheelchair-bound old woman who lived her entire life in Malaysia, to apply for a blue IC. She died in February 2018. She was 85.

Back to Jaya Letchumi. Maybe there were no real reasons why she did not apply for a blue IC at the age of 12. They were living in Tumpat, Kelantan. Back then, nobody really paid much attention to ICs and stuff like that or so I was told.

She also stopped her schooling in Tumpat after primary level, because she had to travel across the Kelantan river to Kota Bharu for secondary school. There was no bridge connecting Kota Bharu and Tumpat back then.

Jaya Letchumi also became sick in 1976 and was in and out of hospital for a good part of her life after that, and that perhaps may also explain why an IC did not figure as important as it should have. They were living in Teluk Intan by then. She was getting by with a red IC.

All her hospital records show her old red IC number. After my father died in 2005, she came under the care of my younger sister who made great efforts to get both my mother and sister their documentation.

In 2011, she started working towards citizenship for both my mother and sister after failing to get an OKU (disabled) card for my mother. She approached the national registration department in Putrajaya and was told that both of them had no documents. She gave up and tried again in 2016, after she managed to get some documents.

This process stopped for a while although progress was made. Some documents were found indicating that my mother had given up her Singapore documentation to get Malaysian citizenship in 1975. These records were traced through her brother who had served as a policeman.

Apparently, when my mother was 16, my father had been with KTM in Singapore, and got her a Singapore card then. Maybe they did not think that Singapore would part from Malaysia.

In any case, a formal and fully completed application for citizenship for Jaya Letchumi was done in 2020, although the whole exercise can be backdated to May 2018 after the Pakatan government came into force. The records are there.

The last reply from the ministry regarding the application for my sister was that it was under process. This was many months ago. Perhaps the ministry can explain the procedures involved in the process?

It may no longer serve any purpose for Jaya Letchumi, who is resting in peace right now. But it may just help many other “legitimate citizens” like her or our mother, who missed out on so many things including something as simple as an OKU card that would have made life a little more convenient.

With the death of my sister, my younger sister has also given up and has no plans to pursue this matter. However, I feel it is my time to raise this matter.

I know I cannot expect the ministry to say sorry. But it can at least acknowledge my sister’s application as genuine and give her the justice she deserves.

She was categorised as a foreigner under the Covid-19 death numbers.

From Cikgu Rukku

The family of Jaya Letchumi feels that an apology from the Home Ministry is due to them. Why? Because genuine cases of people born and bred in the country and are in essence citizens should not have to go through a great deal of ordeal to get their rights or die stateless. It is not a privilege to be given to them by the Home Ministry. Instead, the Home Ministry must make every effort to prove that those who had applied including Hew Ling Poa are NOT Malaysians in reality. When it has the proof, then it can easily reject or approve an application and save its time and people’s time. It may even take court action if the information on the applications are false.

Cikgu Rukku