People on the margins: The hidden voices in society

By now, we are familiar with the exhortation of the Gospels for a more inclusive understanding of the kingdom of God, where the poor and the meek and the downtrodden seem to be especially blessed.

Nov 27, 2014

Anil Netto

ByAnil Netto
By now, we are familiar with the exhortation of the Gospels for a more inclusive understanding of the kingdom of God, where the poor and the meek and the downtrodden seem to be especially blessed (ref: Beatitudes).

The Bishop of Rome has repeatedly echoed the vision of Jesus and reminded us that the Second Vatican Council defined the Church as “the People of God.”

“It means that God does not belong to any one people but to all, without distinction, because God’s mercy wants the salvation of all people.”

Jesus didn’t want us to form an exclusive, elitist group but asked us to go out and seek the forgotten on the margins of society and to gather them into His kingdom.

And what kind of order will govern the People of God? “It is the law of love, love for God and love for neighbour ... which isn’t a sterile sentimentalism or something vague, but the recognition of God as the one Lord of life and, at the same time, welcoming others as true brothers and sisters ... the two go hand in hand.”

Unfortunately, right up to this day, many continue to be excluded or marginalised in so many different ways.

Worse, we don’t even know about, or think of, these people. Partly, this is a reflection of the media’s bias, which in turn reflects our own world-view, both mutually reinforcing each other.

Because the corporate media rely heavily on advertising revenue, the voices and views they publish also tend to reflect those of the people with purchasing power i.e. the very people whom advertisers are targeting.

And because reporters, many of whom have received higher education, tend to come from urban centres, the views they report tend to reflect the concerns of the urban populace and the middle class, working people.

Indeed, many groups, and their concerns, are largely excluded from the coverage of the media, if we think about it more deeply: the rural population (except when there is a major flood on the East Coast, for instance), the farmers, the estate workers, the indigenous people like the Penan many of whom are displaced from their native land by dam building and plantation projects.

Think of the fisher folk whose catch is dwindling because of pollution in seas and rivers and siltation caused by land reclamation for high-end property development. We don't hear about them.

What happens after indigenous people are resettled after displacement due to (unnecessary?) dam building projects? How do they cope in their new surroundings? Few people are aware.

In September, Human Resources Minister Richard Riot Jaem revealed that there are 5.8 million migrant workers in the country (of whom, half are undocumentated).

If we have 5.8 million migrant workers, a figure that could be understated, then we are talking about a demographic that is approaching the size of the Chinese Malaysian community in the country. (If the Malaysian population is now 30 million and about 23 per cent are Chinese Malaysians, there must be close to 7 million Chinese Malaysians in the country.)

But if we take a look at our media, where are the voices of the migrant workers? Where are the articles about their hopes and aspirations? Where are the positive articles extolling their contributions to the country? And how do they cope with substantially higher medical charges in government hospitals?

Could it be that the media are not interested in them because of their low purchasing power? If at all migrants are reported in the media, they are invariably cast in a negative light – unsubstantiated allegations about their role in the high crime rate, the illegal farming in the Cameron Highlands, immigration raids.

Conversely, we can compare the few news features about migrant workers with the disproportionately higher number of articles about the expatriate community in the country.

If migrant workers are given little coverage, then the almost complete exclusion of refugees and stateless people (like the Rohingya) from our thoughts and minds is glaring. Some of these could be victims of trafficking and exploitation, and they may fear going out in the open. Where do they go for medical treatment? What happens if they need surgery, or long-term medical treatment? Can they afford it?

We also do not read much about conditions in immigration detention camps. Speaking of which, when was the last time we read a report in the mainstream media about conditions in prisons, juvenile homes and drug rehabilitation centres? Could it be because these places are less accessible to the media?

Other groups that we don't often hear about are people with disabilities. They are often confined to their homes because of the poor design of our buildings and pavements and public transport facilities which discourages them from venturing out on to the streets.

Still others who are shunned by the media are people with HIV/Aids, transgenders, people who are released from prisons, people who have been subject to cruel and inhumane treatment. .

Each of them has a story to tell. Each of them is special in the eyes of God.

And yet, because they are largely hidden from our view, abetted by the media which gives us an urban-centred middle-class world-view, we rarely hear or, much less, think about them.

This is where we are called to realise the vision of the kingdom of God as the people of God, including those who are marginalised and sidelined by society. After all, society tends to celebrate power, fame and wealth – without questioning if some of these trappings were achieved at the expense of others or through the exploitation of workers and the environment

But, we are called to be more inclusive in the kingdom of God, where the last shall be the first and where the excluded, those who feel the pain of society’s lack of concern, those on the streets, are also invited to the great heavely banquet

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