For Karpal, the personal is political

29 Jan 10 : 8.00AM
By Deborah Loh; The Nut Graph

FIVE years ago, in the blink of an eye, life changed for the Lion of Jelutong. A car accident close to midnight on 28 Jan 2005 now keeps Karpal Singh confined to a wheelchair and under constant supervision and assistance in order to perform the simplest of tasks.

That incident has not dampened the Bukit Gelugor Member of Parliament’s drive to serve in law and politics. Even so, Karpal, 70, considers his disability worse than detention without trial under the Internal Security Act, which he experienced for two years from 1987 under Operasi Lalang.

At an age and under circumstances where many others would have retreated to live quietly, the DAP national chairperson is still fighting — as an opposition leader, a crusader for justice, and against physical pain, which he tries to ignore by working. The Nut Graph spoke to Karpal at his law firm in Kuala Lumpur on 20 Jan 2010 while he was preparing for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s second sodomy trial which starts on 2 Feb.

TNG: What keeps you going in politics?

Karpal Singh: Making sure that government is held accountable. Once in a while we get into trouble, but that’s the risk we take. For example, I’ve been charged with sedition for saying that the sultan of Perak can be sued. Of course he can be sued. And even if I were wrong, it’s just my opinion. Does that amount to a crime?

During Anwar’s first sodomy trial, I was charged for what I said while discharging my duties in court. It was when urine tests on Anwar found that he had an excessive amount of arsenic in his blood. I made a statement in court that he had been poisoned, and that people in high places were responsible.

(Then prime minister Tun) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) probably thought I was pointing my finger at him, and so I was charged. There was a lot of protest from other Commonwealth countries because you can’t charge a lawyer for what he says in court. That doesn’t mean the lawyer can get away with saying anything, but there are other measures, like bringing lawyers before the legal disciplinary board. As a result of pressure, the charge was withdrawn.

You are 70 this year. Do you see yourself retiring from active politics by a certain age?

I don’t know how many years left I have in me, but I wish to go on for as long as I can. It’s challenging, but I will continue for as long as my mind is active. Body-wise, I have this handicap, but it hasn’t deterred me in any way.

Have you fully come to terms with the accident that has left you paralysed?

It is not easy. It is a terrible thing. You are a prisoner within yourself, unlike being locked behind bars. At least you can walk around in the cell. Here I can’t. I’m stuck. And I have to be minded by someone 24 hours a day. I can’t be left alone, and it’s a terrible thing. Immobility is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. You’re grounded.

How do you deal with it?

I just tell myself that whether I like it or not, I have to take it. To get on with life. I work a lot to keep my mind away from this. But anyway, I’m going to be over 70, and if life is a like a 10-mile relay, I’ve done seven and just have another three more to go before I reach the end. The major part of it is done. It’s okay if I look at it that way. I’m lucky it didn’t happen to me when I was 16. God has been kind to me, that for a major part of my life, I was on my feet.

In an interview in 2006, you spoke about your determination to walk again with the help of physiotherapy. How is that going?

I’m trying my best, but it may not be that easy. If I can walk the last lap, that’d be nice. I do daily physiotherapy. And I’ve got this wheelchair at home with a button that lets me stand up when I press it. That’s very important for blood circulation after sitting the whole day. Every night for at least for two hours, I stand up as I used to and watch TV while standing.

Actor Christopher Reeve in 2003 (Public domain / Wiki commons) Without physiotherapy, you’re dead. Whenever I go to hospital for physiotherapy, I feel so sad seeing younger people in my condition or worse. If my injury had been higher up my spine, I would be like Superman (actor Christopher Reeve, who was paralysed from the neck down).

With spinal injuries, you are in pain all the time, and I avoid taking painkillers because I don’t want the side-effects. Secondly, I don’t want to become dependent on them. The pain is in my arms, legs and my back. It’s constant. The only way is to somehow get used to it, but it’s not easy. You can get used to other things but not this.

(Sighs) The 29th of January. Had I not been there, even by 30 seconds. On the other hand, had I been sitting in front, I could have been thrown into the windscreen and probably gone on to the road. I was sitting at the back in this old Japanese-made taxi. Some people said, if only you had been in your Mercedes. But I didn’t want to trouble my driver that night. I had been on the last flight that night and I thought if the poor fellow came to get me, he would only go home by 1am. So I thought, why not take a taxi?

What have you learnt from seeing things through a disabled person’s perspective?

It’s terrible, the way you get taunted in Parliament and even in the courts. But I am still lucky. I’m still active in the courts and Parliament. But there are so many others out there who feel hopeless. For them, it’s the end.

It’s different if you are born disabled. You were never able, and therefore you won’t know what it is like to be able. But to become disabled makes you realise, my God, how these people have suffered. You don’t realise what their suffering is until you get into their position.

  1. #1 by boh-liao on Sunday, 31 January 2010 - 2:25 pm

    Take good care, Lion of Jelutong
    May you hv a speedy recovery
    D nation is indebted to you 4 your leadership in politics, humanity, n law

  2. #2 by Dipoh Bous on Sunday, 31 January 2010 - 5:03 pm

    Keep up your good work.

    Now that the 13th GE is getting nearer, your guidance / influence is never more needed.

    Hope you get well soon.

  3. #3 by grace on Sunday, 31 January 2010 - 6:09 pm

    You are a gem to Malaysians. You stood for justice even though threatened in every corner.
    You are simply great.
    GOD will always be with you. HE will bless your whole family.
    Oh yes, your two children are equally dedicated to justice. We thank you from the bottom of our heart for the sacrifices for our sake.

  4. #4 by Billy on Sunday, 31 January 2010 - 6:47 pm

    Karpal, you are an inspiration to all Malaysians. After reading the interview, I wonder why we have to complain at the slightest inconvenience in life. You are really a tower of strength.

  5. #5 by jamalmalikslumdog on Sunday, 31 January 2010 - 7:13 pm

    Karpal, For your service and dedication to the nation, you will always be remembered for all you had done. For those who taunt you for your handicap, the Almighty is watching them. Know that they are shivering in their pants as they know that they have committed a grave sin.

    Hang in there and I hope that you will recover soon and live to a ripe all age, God willing.
    You can’t miss the changing of the guard – from UMNO to PKR !

  6. #6 by isahbiazhar on Sunday, 31 January 2010 - 7:15 pm

    You will go down in history as one who had fought injustice through law and politics.It is even rare that you are handicapped .Malaysia should have more people of your calibre who are not detered or cowed by the fear of incarceration.You have fought the battle well and we wish the best for the remaining years.

  7. #7 by monsterball on Sunday, 31 January 2010 - 8:09 pm

    Karpal Singh is a true Freedom Fighter….selflessly devoted his entire life to protect the helpless and the poor.
    As a lawyer…he will protect his client …true to the art and craft that one is not guilty….until proven in court…and he won so many cases against the police and government….setting clients free…with his said and craft.
    Applying mind over matters…not depending on pain killing pills..avoiding side effects…not many people can do that…unless you can withstand extreme pains. That should give him much better chance to avoid side effects…from taking medicine…and live healthier life.
    I wish him a long life….and may Malaysians be ever grateful and thankful for such guys like him and Lim Kit Siang.
    These two politicians are the Malaysia’s “Dynamic Duo”.
    Trace what we are now can never ignore DAP is loved…respected and trusted.. by vast majority Malaysians..even by some UMNO ministers secretly.
    I am sure thousands of Malaysians…including me…get our courage to speak up against UMNO from these two fearless brave politicians.
    They are not afraid to die for the country…inspite of having so much opportunities to live rich and much comfortable lives….why should we not follow their examples?

  8. #8 by moko on Sunday, 31 January 2010 - 8:25 pm

    Thanks you …. Lion

  9. #9 by wanderer on Sunday, 31 January 2010 - 9:37 pm

    YB Karpal, you have done well for the nation and to your fellow human beings…I salute you!!!

    May you continue to enjoy life and confront evils with your golden heart, God bless!

  10. #10 by wanderer on Sunday, 31 January 2010 - 9:39 pm

    chengho, eat your heart out!!!

  11. #11 by tanjong8 on Sunday, 31 January 2010 - 10:22 pm

    YB Karpal,

    You must soldier on. Your task is not yet accomplished.

    UtusanUmno is still very strong. You must live until they are defeated.

    You must carry on to assist LKS and LGE and DAP !!!

  12. #12 by ALtPJK on Sunday, 31 January 2010 - 11:15 pm

    In how many people can you find a much more solid and steadfast as a rock as Karpal Singh?

    From defending the down-trodden to defending the rights of Malaysians against the onslaught of BN/UMNO tyranny, nothing, be it suspension from Parliament or prosecuted for discharging a lawyer’s duty or ISA or even being confined to a wheelchair has stopped Karpal from his pursuit.

    Long may he live to continue his fight to bring not only the current injustice to an end but also their perpetrators to justice.

  13. #13 by frankyapp on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 12:27 am

    If all politicians have the kind of fighting spirit like Karpal Singh and Lim Kit Siang who also pretty sincerely committed to party and people,there won’t have been political frogs in the first place. I think these two are really extra-ordinary,delicated and high calibre true politicians. I wish them well.

  14. #14 by Jong on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 1:26 am

    Truly admireable Malaysian politicians – Karpal Singh and Lim Kit Siang!

    I cannot imagine where Malaysia will be without these two lawmakers in Parliament – kicking around, questioning and exposing corrupt practices of this BN govt in Parliament the past 52 years! Even their political foes would ‘tapek’ them in private!

    Not one politician from the other side of the political divide can dare lay claim to have had earned that much love, admiration and respect from ordinary Malaysians as Karpal Singh and Lim Kit Siang have. What have these two lawmakers not gone through in their uphill political struggles? – humiliation and arrests under ISA without trial, at the hands of this evil UMNO-led BN government!

  15. #15 by monsterball on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 2:23 am

    Wanderer…Chengho dare not say anything wrong about Karpal.
    Do that…he will get faarked up left …right and center.
    There is a limit to his nonsense.
    He knows when to stop carrying UMNO balls.

  16. #16 by monsterball on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 2:28 am

    I will again appeal to Anwar…to sack Zul….to have principles in life…and stop playing politics.
    One who cross the party line and defy him…should be sacked.
    Does he respect Zaid Ibrahim?

  17. #17 by monsterball on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 3:37 am

    What is this one month notice to Zul from keDAILan?
    Does a CEO give an employee…one month notice to defy him and insult his leadership?
    It will be 24 hours notice….out he show to the thousands of workers…what type of a CEO he is.
    Now all ca criticize Anwar or anyone….knowing one month notice is given.
    How nice to be a keDAILan member.
    I think Anwar is killing PR with his too smart …..too selfish..calculations.

  18. #18 by undertaker888 on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 7:55 am

    Both will go down in malaysian history as the rock of democracy. Of course it will not appear in the sejarah melayu ketuanan books, but in our hearts and minds.

    I hope you have trained up a successor to continue this fight. We will train our children to support your fight for freedom, justice and righteousness.

  19. #19 by chengho on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 8:12 am


    make sure Deo is the next secretary of Dap…can you do it , i dont think so ?

  20. #20 by limkamput on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 8:44 am

    chengho the eunuch, Not only Deo may be the next SG of DAP, Theresa Kok may be the first female, non Muslim PM of Malaysia, how about it? Is this not what Malaysian Malaysia, Malaysian First and 1Malaysia are all about?

    To Sdr Lim, I think DAP changed its slogan too often lah. What happened to Malaysian Malaysia and Malaysian First? I believe Malaysian First is earlier than 1Malaysia. Is there a copyright violation there? Next time patent it lah. Do you know who coined 1Malaysia or not?

  21. #21 by chengho on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 9:11 am


    i prefer Eli anytime….

  22. #22 by limkamput on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 9:16 am

    Why Eunuch, i know what you are thinking, you depraved old man.

  23. #23 by PSM on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 9:30 am

    Saying thanks to Karpal (& the rest of the Opposition Politicians who have been fighting injustices for years is not much). We can however rectify this by ensuring that we vote en masse for the Oppositin in the next GE & getting rid of this corrupted & racist Government.
    Then & only then can we properly thank Karpal & these brave men & women.
    People like Karpal & LKS have no titles, no recognition etc (just look at the BN, almost everyone of these crooks is at least a Datuk! And what have they done to deserve these titles? Yup, rape our country & its citizens!).

  24. #24 by boh-liao on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 9:30 am

    Wow, Ni­­bong Tebal MP Tan Tee Beng, Bayan Baru MP Zahrain Mohamed Hashim n Kulim-Bandar Baru MP Zulkifli Noordin r d latest greatest loves of our msm n Umno B/BN
    Y can’t they b just a little bit like d Lion of Jelutong in terms of party discipline
    Agree 2 disagree is d tenet of a democratic organisation
    But there must b proper channel within d organisation 2 deal with disagreements

  25. #25 by StPeter on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 9:45 am

    YB Karpal,

    You and YB Kit are truly and genuinely the father of independent Malaysia, no one else can be qualified than you both. My entire family and i would like to salute you.

  26. #26 by boh-liao on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 9:55 am

    Funny n ridiculous 2 C ppl who r sleepy, gila mengantuk, n brought disrepute 2 d nation all d time receiving titles/awards/medals, el cheapo
    Recently 3 despatch riders were charged as church arsons n 2 r brothers, RajaXX RajaX
    Wonder if ppl hv 2 address them as Yang Mulia during d trial
    Wonder too what’s d royal connection

  27. #27 by Comrade on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 12:45 pm

    He is a justice crusader from the start
    Winning a lot of the people’s heart
    His handicap does not set him apart
    He is determined to continue to do his part

  28. #28 by sova on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 1:10 pm

    YB Karpal,
    May you recover from the unfortunate accident. Its just fated to happen out of your humble self in not wanting to trouble your own employee. I am amazed at how how handle your challenging roles.
    May God bless you with a speedy recovery within these few months.
    I look forward to your tremendous help. malaysians.

  29. #29 by jus legitimum on Monday, 1 February 2010 - 7:54 pm

    YB Karpal Singh and YB LKS are the very real statesmen of Malaysia.The three bast..ds namely Zah,Zul and Tan from the other party of PR are traitors,opportunists and eunuchs.They are only fit to carry the shoes of the 2 DAP stalwarts only if the latter concede.A lot of Malaysians salute and respect the two of you for your many decades of contributions and sacrifices. The three selfish and balless idiots from PKR really stink and it is hoped that they would quickly diminish into oblivion

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