Inner voice led veteran journalist to gruesome discovery

On September 12, 2015, the Bishop of Rome issued a special message at the Vatican highlighting the plight of migrants and refugees.

Feb 23, 2019

By Anil Netto
On September 12, 2015, the Bishop of Rome issued a special message at the Vatican highlighting the plight of migrants and refugees. “Increasingly, the victims of violence and poverty, leaving their homelands, are exploited by human traffickers during their journey towards the dream of a better future,” he said.

Months earlier, veteran journalist S Arulldas, a parishioner of the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Butterworth since childhood, was about to find out just how terrible that exploitation could be.

In 2014, about two dozen unidentified bodies started surfacing in mainland Penang, especially around the Bukit Mertajam area. Their bodies were dumped in rivers, oil palm plantations and in cemeteries. This piqued Arulldas’s journalistic curiosity, and his hands-on, boots-on-the-ground investigative journalism led him on an incredible journey.

Arulldas’ investigations revealed that the corpses, believed to be Rohingyas from Myanmar and Bangladesh, were linked to people smugglers who operated transit homes in mainland Penang. “The people smuggling syndicates used these homes to supply migrant workers to employers in the area, many of them migrants, mostly from Myanmar,” he told the HERALD. Call it journalistic instinct or divine guidance or both, Arulldas and his colleague were made aware of an unknown camp in northern Malaysia by a simple conversation he overheard in Jitra. There they heard locals talking about the possible existence of major trafficking camps in Wang Kelian, Perlis near the Malaysian-Thai border.

Along with his photographer Sayuti Zainudin, Arulldas set about locating the camps. But they gave up after walking a few hundred metres up the hills near Wang Kelian. “It was risky, dangerous, as we could have lost our way in the forest,” recalls Aruldass. “We were not hill trekkers and had no experience of hiking up the hill. Agents of the syndicates could have been there and wild animals in the forest could have attacked us as we were unarmed.”

But something kept driving Arulldas to return. “There was always an energy and inner voice in me urging me to do this task.”

After half a dozen failed attempts to reach the trafficking camp, Sayuti and Arulldas finally entered Thailand, and with the help of two men, stumbled onto the migrant prison camps and the gruesome mass graves sites. They were the first to break the news about the Wang Kelian death camp in a major global exclusive story for the Malay Mail. The expose led to 400 security personnel combing the area and exhuming 139 bodies.

Later that year, Arulldas and Sayuti won awards for best investigative report by the Malaysian Press Institute and for outstanding reporting by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia.


This was inspired journalism, nurtured by faith put into action. “I strongly believe the teaching of the catechism and the teaching of Jesus Christ to stand against injustice.”

Arulldas was born in 1955 in Selama, Perak to rubber tapper parents. After several months, the family moved to Prai Estate which was later transformed when Penang Bridge, Prai Industrial Estate and the Seberang Jaya townships were built in the area.

He started writing poems in Tamil and in 1980, Tamil Osai editors invited him to join as a reporter for the daily in Penang. He later worked for several major newspapers before joining the Malay Mail in 2012, where he covered mainly the courts and the crime beat.

Before that, he had highlighted the murder of a migrant worker from India, R Ganeshkumar, 26, whose employer in Alma, Bukit Mertajam, was alleged to have abused and scalded him with hot water and burned him with cigarette butts. Ganeshkumar was locked in a dark room for a month and then dumped in a jungle in Gurun, Kedah, about 60 kilometres from Bukit Mertajam. He died at the Sungai Petani Hospital several hours after Arulldas had met him.

The veteran journalist also reported on another case where the factory management had locked up 30 Pakistani women in a house and abused them. His news reports helped to rescue the women and send them back to Pakistan.

Arulldass holds close to his heart Jesus’ words in Matthew: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome, lacking clothes and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me. (Mt. 25: 35-36).

He is now working on a book telling the story of Wang Kelian before it is forgotten. His last chapter is a plea to Asean governments for the Rohingya to be recognised as citizens of Myanmar.

Arulldas is committed to his mission in life. “I want to be the voice of the voiceless souls who perished in their journey for greener pastures.”

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