Irony behind attack on the two nuns in Seremban

The attack on two nuns of the Infant Jesus religious order outside the Church of the Visitation shocked many.

May 23, 2014

Anil Netto

ByAnil Netto
The attack on two nuns of the Infant Jesus religious order outside the Church of the Visitation shocked many.

Not only were the women senior citizens but they were savagely beaten outside a place of worship just as they were going to pray. Many feared the worst — that it could be a hate crime — but it appears to be “just another robbery”, except that the merciless violence was still shocking. Sr Julianna Lim is in a coma while Sr Mary-Rose Teng has reportedly been discharged.

This incident has once again propelled the high crime rate in the country to the spotlight. Almost all of us have come across incidents of robbery and burglary, snatch-theft and assorted violence affecting family members, relatives, friends and colleagues. It has reached the stage where people no longer bat an eyelid when hearing another case — appalled though we may be.

A generation ago, many Malaysians used to smugly consider ourselves fortunate that our cities and towns seemed a lot safer than the typical European city. Many would be forgiven for wondering what has happened since then.

Much energy and time is spent talking about issues of ethnicity and religion in the face of stepped up rhetoric from right wing groups that are bent on imposing their religious views on the rest of the population. But precious little time is spent examining why we are faced with serious crime and violence.

The other day, I came across a recent news report saying that Sweden was closing down four prisons and a remand centre as they did not have enough prisoners! The country’s prison numbers have been dropping by a surprising six per cent every year in recent times.

Now, there could be several reasons for this, including more effective post-prison rehabilitation programmes, but my first thought was to compare the Gini coefficient, a key measure of income inequality, between the two countries.

Malaysia’s Gini coefficient was 0.46 (UNDP, 2009), which is rather high, compared to Sweden’s, which is low at 0.25 (UNDP, 2000).

That in itself may explain a lot. Related to this is the fact that the Swedes, especially the upper rungs, generally pay a higher income tax rate. But many don’t seem to mind this as they feel they are getting their money’s worth (though neoliberal policies are also creeping in over there) from the taxes they pay. In fact, 83 per cent of Swedes say they have confidence in the government tax agency, according to the Swedish Institute.

The sense is that many Swedes don’t mind higher taxes — they may even welcome it — “to pay for a largely fair and well-functioning society, with decent public services and a universal safety net.”

In the case of the Seremban Hospital, it was left to Parit Buntar MP Mujahid Yusof Rawa, who together with Abdul Rahman Kasim visited Sr Julianna, to highlight the fact that such a major hospital does not have a neurologist (Malaysiakini). Indeed, Malaysia spends only 2 per cent of GDP on public health care when it should be more like 5-6 per cent.

Researchers have stated that the more unequal a society is or the greater the income inequality, the more social problems we are likely to see in that country. A few years ago, epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett co-authored a book, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better.

The writers pointed out that that the priority we place on economic growth (which depletes natural resources) above equality, especially in richer nations, results in a host of social problems, including unwanted pregnancies, violence and imprisonment.

The authors note that inequality results in consumerism, anxiety, and alienation, leading to all kinds of mental illnesses and stress.

The Guardian, in reviewing the book, noted, “For some, mainly young men with no economic or educational route to achieving the high status and earnings required for full citizenship, the experience of daily life at the bottom of a steep social hierarchy is enraging.”

The irony is that Sr Julianna Lim and Sr Mary-Rose Teng through the IJ Learning Centre in Seremban and their noble work with disadvantaged children had been reaching out to many young people from families who had fallen through gaps in the social security net and had given them fresh hope.

Through their ministry, the two IJ nuns, like their religious colleagues and lay volunteers, have provided tremendous service to society. Away from the limelight, they diligently and faithfully worked to improve the lives of the last, the least and the lost.

Let us all pray for these two Sisters, that the good Lord will grant them a speedy recovery.

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