Recognise perished Malayans of Siam-Burma Death Railway

 |Sep 10, 2016
Over 270,000 Asians, pre-dominantly Tamils, were forcibly recruited to build the Siam-Burma Death Railway.
Over 270,000 Asians, pre-dominantly Tamils, were forcibly recruited to build the Siam-Burma Death Railway.

Hindraf has urged Putrajaya to seek co-operation with the Thailand and Burmese governments to erect a monument in recognition to the Tamil Malayans, who died building the ‘Siam-Burma Death Railway‘ during the Japanese Occupation.

Hindraf is of the view the contributions of these workers need to be recognised and a monument must be built to recognise their contributions, sacrifices, agony and torture at the hands of the Japanese Army as well create space for descendants of these victims to conduct prayers and remember for tens of thousands of souls who died without graves along the 415 km railway track.

Hindraf supremo P. Waytha Moorthy said the federal government should also direct the National Archive and the relevant historical departments to undertake serious research and document the tragic historical event in the annals of the Malaysia history.

Pointing out that the contributions of these former estate workers have been conveniently forgotten by history, he said the monument would officially recognise the death of over 100,000 Tamil estate labourers, who were forcibly recruited by the Japanese military to build the infamous railway.

There are war cemeteries at Chungkai and Kanchanaburi in Thailand and Thanbyuzayat in Myanmar to recognise the death of western POWs during the construction of Siam-Burma Death Railway during Japanese Occupation.
There are war cemeteries at Chungkai and Kanchanaburi in Thailand and Thanbyuzayat in Myanmar to recognise the death of western POWs during the construction of Siam-Burma Death Railway during Japanese Occupation.

“The Malaysia government owed the descendants of the Malaysian public to make a serious attempt to work with the Burmese and Thailand government to embark on a task to build a monument and/ or cemeteries to recognise the contribution of the Malayan Tamil forced labourers,” said Waytha Moorthy.

Historical accounts reported that over 270,000 Asian labourers , who were predominately of Indian origin, along with those from Burma and Javanese were subjected and forced to hard labour in constructing railways, roads and airfields during the Japanese occupancy.

They reportedly worked in deplorable conditions surviving on meagre rations, sleeping on lice-infested bamboo mats, and working with ribs clearly visible beneath their browned skin and furrowed brows.

Recent research by independent scholar Dr. David Bogget has found more than 100,000 Malayan Tamils died unaccounted and the number could be higher.

On Nov 18, 1990, the Bangkok Post had reported over 400 Asian labourers bones were discovered in Kanchanaburi but nothing happened and all the bones were destroyed.

Some 100,000 Malayan Tamils died building the Siam-Burma Death Railway.
Some 100,000 Malayan Tamils died building the Siam-Burma Death Railway.

Over 13,000 western prisoners of war (POWs) soldiers, who had died in the forced labour has been duly recognised by their respective governments and appropriately compensated.

After the war the dead, POWs were collectively reburied in the war cemeteries at Chungkai and Kanchanaburi in Thailand and Thanbyuzayat in Myanmar, which Waytha said “will remain forever witness to a brutal and tragic ordeal.”

The travails of the POWs have been recorded in at least a two dozen memoirs, documented in the official histories of the governments involved and romanticised in the fictionalised “Bridge on the River Kwai,” the 1957 Hollywood classic.

In stark contrast, Waytha said “there is nothing to recognise or even a tribute or monument for neither the graves of the Asian labourers nor even proper documentation of such a historical fact that can be considered as an Asian Holocaust.”

“It’s time for National Archive and the relevant historical departments to research and document the tragic event as part of Malaya / Malaysia history.”

Malaysia government should build a memorial for Asian labourers, mostly Tamil Malayans, who perished while building the Siam-Burma Death Railway.
Malaysia government should build a memorial for Asian labourers, mostly Tamil Malayans, who perished while building the Siam-Burma Death Railway.
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Athi Shankar has been a journalist for past 30 years. He believes that democratic rights come with responsibility.