Even when wheelchair-bound, the late Karpal Singh stood up for society’s marginalised and oppressed
In April 2014, many mourned the loss of Karpal Singh, a veteran Malaysian opposition lawmaker and lawyer, ardent defender of human rights activists and opponent of the death penalty.
Killed in a motor accident on his way to a court case in Penang, Karpal had been working tirelessly to the last day of his life.
While his sudden passing came as a shock, Karpal’s attitude throughout his life was remarkably consistent.
If you slow down, you die. In this life, you have to fight,
Karpal said after retaining his Bukit Gelugor parliamentary seat with an increased majority in the 2013 general elections.
Dubbed “the Tiger of Jelutong” for his fierce rhetoric and fiery temperament in court and in parliament, Karpal cited Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy and David Saul Marshall as major influences on his beliefs. He was also a consistent champion of society’s underdogs.
Following the ethnic riots of May 13, 1969, Karpal was convinced that Malaysia needed to focus on a multiracial path of political progress for the greater good of the nation. He continued to fight for his beliefs even after this cost him a year of detention without trial in the late 1980s.
In 2005, Karpal’s life changed when he was involved in a motor vehicle accident that left him permanently wheelchair-bound and affected by neuro-motor difficulties in his right arm.
Karpal did not let his loss of movement paralyse his life. He continued to press on for his constituency and his clients despite his significantly reduced mobility. In fact, his disability made him acutely aware of and quick to speak up for others with similar challenges.
In a 2006 comment on the lack of disabled-friendly infrastructure and legislation in Malaysia, Karpal said, “Once you are in this situation, you realise how little the disabled have in this country.
Governments in many countries make lots of allowances to include them in society. We haven’t reached that stage. I will do what I can to make sure the disabled are given all opportunities in line with other countries.”