by Rafizi Ramli
Venue: Bilik Warta, TAR Hall
Time: 2 am
Date: One cold January night, 1993
Details: Warta KPKM (Underground Edition)
Direction: Distribute to juniors in stages to avoid the edition from being banned, the message must reach the students at all cost
Cost: RM 100 from crew's own pockets, eternal condemnation from the 'Red Blazers'
I can still feel the 'kick', the thrill and excitement of that night and the days to come. What was initially intended to be a 'wake up call' for some quarters in the college establishment in the end turned up to be the most explosive edition ever published since Faiz Hussin branded the new Form Four intakes as 'menghabiskan bogheh je…' in 1990. Faiz's edition was banned of course, so was mine in 1993.
My crew and I started very young in Warta KPKM. To many people, Warta was a customary publication where standard reports and boring articles were published. It was a place for some set A top students, some artists and some debaters to brandish their writing talents - most of the time whatever was written was never paid any attention by the collegians. As I said - it was a customary thing, there was no ideal or driving force behind it - except perhaps the privileges to stay up late, walk around college ground when others have to sleep (or pretend to sleep), the occasional treats by the senior Warta Crew. To some insignificant few, Warta was a vehicle used by senior crew members to recruit jambus and get close to them - though looking at the kind of people who joined Warta before, during and after my time; I doubt that the claim was ever substantiated! Sumali? Ooo come on people, you could do better than that!
But there's more to Warta than an avenue for people to boost their ego - at least that was my feeling. Warta gave us opportunities to explore, to question and to criticise. Warta was my first rendezvous with journalism and criticism - and God I never stop criticising ever since. Warta nurtured this conviction that there should be a freedom of speech and press - a notion I still vigorously pursue up to this very moment. Without this press freedom, democracy and the evolvement of a mature society will be stunted. To me, this was Warta's biggest perk - the ability to demonstrate how powerful and useful an independent and free press can be in a maturing society.
Of course I didn't really see it that way when I first joined Warta 10 years ago. I had the basic principles, the rough idea - but it was never articulated in that way. Warta was more of an adventurous ride; and what made it more fun was that it allowed you to speak your mind (you have to face up the consequences of course!). That exactly what we did in 1993 - we just wanted to speak up our mind - in our views, the mind of the masses (as most journalists and writers would incline to assume).
The issue was very simple - the Union election was coming and there was a big split within the Form 5. The battle line was already drawn, with the two giants - Fifth Formers and Prefectorial Board - were set for their biggest war yet. The ground was about to be shaken and as always, the weaker and powerless juniors would be trapped in the middle. In this big clash - the eventual winners would undoubtedly be the Form Fives (prefects and non-prefect alike); the big losers were the juniors they dragged with them in their battle to stake a claim to this popularity contest.
This was my concern albeit a dubious one at the time - since unscrupulous rumours began circulating in the run up to the election that the Warta issue was self-motivated. I was concerned that the juniors - especially the defenseless Form One to Three - would have to pledge allegiance to one of the two factions or risk possible 'clamp down'. The Prefects have absolute control of the Form Ones and Twos, no doubt the Seniors have a major influence over the Form Threes. The Form Fours of course were more independent - but having been there myself, I hate to imagine the kind of demeaning 'brainwashing' these juniors have to endure. They never succeeded in 'brainwashing' me of course; but I wish no one would have to be subjected to that kind of ordeal - not so much of the physical pain, but the fact that most of what they said were insults to our intelligence!
There is even a bigger consequence than this - it created a culture of fear among collegians for generations. It is for the same reasons that whatever your Prep School prefects preached were always deemed as sacred though you couldn't help but notice the kind of double standard morons some of them were. Thanks to this culture of fear - Form Threes were always trapped between following whatever dictated by the prefects and the 'standing rules' set by seniors. Most importantly, the loss of intellectual independence in most budak koleq by the time they reach Form Three could be attributed to this - they were not taught to think for themselves, they were programmed to follow what others think for them.
Of course one could argue that there is a very fine line between exercising intellectual independence and an outright 'kurang ajar', but it takes an independent and wise person to articulate his opinions yet still remains within that 'kurang ajar' boundary. More often than not, it is the less wise with weaker arguments who have to resort to 'kurang ajar' motive to rescue them - in the same way unity and Malay interest are often used as an unillustrative escape pod by some politicians nowadays when they are cornered. Even more pitiful, these motives were used to gear people against bogeys like annexation of Malaysia, Chinese and Islamic extremism et al. This kind of pathetic attempts at diverting attention from the real issues were also abundant in Malay College.
The Union voting system made matters worse; because votes were cast by show of hands - clearly giving away the most important feature of a credible election i.e. confidentiality. It was very easy to monitor who votes for whom given the number of Form Fives was far in excess of Form Three. In the end, it presented the juniors with a grim option - choose against your conscience or risk being taunted for weeks to come. It might sound petty for us who have gone through life this far, but for a 15-year old chap who still wet his bed - that's a big deal!
I was also not satisfied with the kind of unequal coverage both factions were given. While the Prefects have absolute access to the Form Ones and Forms Twos (in fact they can almost dictate the personality of each candidate), the Form Fives were completely banned from having any contact whatsoever with these two batches.
Such was the situation that had prompted us to publish the 'Underground' Warta - for the first and maybe the last time. We were aware the consequences we were facing - and since technically the Chief Editor was a profound supporter of the Prefects faction, we knew he would never approve the edition. I say 'technically' because my batch had been handling the publication of Warta KPKM since the middle of 1992 - the Form 5 crew at that time were too bothered with SPM to think about Warta, and Form 4 crew; made up of only two people - were definitely outnumbered by us (7 people). So though he was still the Chief Editor - we called the shots and with the remaining Form 5 editor on our side; it was the case of one against the rest!
We had a perfect cover - the junior editors were dispatched to cover the mundane stuff i.e. report on SRP achievement, coming back to college articles; while we concentrated on the controversial issues. Kechoque who had just been appointed as a prefect openly assisted us by becoming our middle man to negotiate with a printing company outside to print the edition. If we were to go through the usual procedure of using college facility to print, we risked uncovering the 'plot' before we could deliver the Warta to readers. In the end, Kechoque and I had to fork out our own money to pay for the printing cost - all in the name of conviction and doing 'the right thing'!
The edition was successfully distributed to collegians before it was banned by the Prep School and New Hostel prefects. Fit and I had set out to distribute the edition during the juniors snack break (which was one and a half hours earlier than the senior break) with the hope that they (the juniors) would have the chance to read the articles before Warta was confiscated and banned.
I never knew whether they did read the articles - but the edition received mixed reactions from collegians. The Form Fours were of course oblivious to the issue since they were not affected. We became instant stars with the Form Fives for taking such a risk. I was of course singled out as the plotter and it marked the beginning of my 'love-hate' (mostly hate!) relationship with Malay College Prefectorial Board and those under their commands. Even during my last days in MCKK, I still feel the juniors had religiously believed whatever their prefects had told them as a result of that Warta episode. In their eyes, I must be one of the most evil souls ever roamed Malay College; camouflaged as a defender of the right to free press and to criticise.
The Union voting system was completely overhauled - the Administration found themselves burdened with an impending clash between the Prefects and the Form Fives. The show of hands method was scrapped and replaced by ballots. The Prefectorial Board candidates lost all seats contested. Warta KPKM was banned for a while, I was not allowed to write until 1994 when the issue was completely forgotten by everyone - sometimes it is appealing to agree that our memories only last for 100 days as assumed by some 'conspirators' recently!
Almost eight years on, I cannot help but relate all these events with the current struggle in our beloved country. Culture of fear, oppression, limited coverage, underground movement - all resonate back to the time when we were in college. Strictly using chemist' talk - life and politics in college are really 'isometric' of the overall picture of Malaysian ways of doing things. That is why I always feel students should be nurtured from Prep School to appreciate the essence of a free, mature and just society i.e. justice, rights and obligations, freedom of speech and press, racial tolerance, economic synergies, positive values etc. I do wonder whether Prep School and New Hostel prefects still echo the sentiments of some orthodox Malay politicians on Malay dominance and Chinese agrression when the pupils should be cultivated to understand this new millenium whose main theme centers on racial integration, economic openness and competetion, knowledge and technology. Time changes and appropriate adaptation is required consistently lest Malay College will fall behind the way the once dominant political force borne out of this palace had.
Whatever the struggle was in college and whatever it is now - it is a common and eternal struggle for justice and righteousness. Man will always fight for justice - anywhere, anyhow, whatever the consequences maybe!
A tribute to a fabulous Warta crew, Chief Editor 1994
Underground Edition January 1993:
8993 - Azrul Hasri (Yoe), Hafiz Othman (Kechoque)
9094 - Hazly Abdullah (Chamat), Fazurin Jamaluddin (Fazurin), K. Fitri A. Kadir (Fit), Akram Othman (Picca), Razalli Bahari (Jalee), Sumali Basuri (Sumali)