Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rites of passage

Malaysiakini - Thank God for St John's

My matey Dean Johns wrote the above delightful piece, which brought back nostalgic memories for a couple of my uncles who served as officers in the military. Incidentally I come from a family where many of its male members served at one stage or another in the police and military (including the British army during colonial days) - in fact, one of my granduncles serving in the SB during Emergency was killed by the Malayan Communist Party.

The part Dean wrote which attracted them was what the University of Malaya called ‘orientation’ (obviously for freshies) (as related by family members who attended the institution). Dean’s version was more akin to the military form of ‘orientation’ which was unofficially called ‘ragging’, apparently a term used in most Commonwealth countries as it was one of those underground culture inherited from British public schools*.

* By the by, do not be misled by the British term ‘public school’ when they are really very exclusive schools like Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester, etc. They’re ‘public’ in the sense they’re open to any members of the public PROVIDED the applicant can PASS the entrance exams and PAY the dues. They were termed ‘public’ because they (theoretically) do not bar anyone like schools for local residents or schools associated with churches and thus meant for followers of the faith.

As usual, the Yanks just have to spoil it with a 'ragging' word of their own, namely, ‘hazing’.

Dean wrote on St John’s College which he attended in the 1960’s as follows [extracts]:

‘Institution' being an entirely appropriate description of the place, as it proved to be more like an open prison or low-security lunatic asylum than most would expect of Sydney University's residential college for male Catholic students.:

Rather than the civilised and cloistered centre of scholarship to which my parents fondly believed they were committing me, and which in my relative innocence I also expected, it proved to be a hotbed of alcoholic anarchy.

Drunk with potable intoxicants or power or both, seniors and sophomores subjected us newcomers to a system of so-called ‘fresher*-bashing', purportedly for the purpose of initial ‘initiation' into the institution, but in practice unrelentingly for the entire first year.

* presumably same meaning as Malaysian ‘freshie’

I have to admit that, despite the ominous word ‘bashing', the plethora of indignities and insults we freshers were subjected to stopped short of actual physical assault*.

* alas, not the case in other countries as deaths had resulted from ragging. For example, in Indonesia, more than 30 people had died from such ‘ragging’ in their public institutions over the last 15 years [obviously ‘ragging, as we would see, is not just a university program for newly admitted undergraduates]. Due to similar fatalities in Indian universities, the Indian High Court has pronounced ragging as a criminal activity.

But short of beatings and waterboardings, we experienced virtually every refinement of Abu Ghraib-style physical and psychological intimidation a sick mind could imagine.

The one I recall with particular fondness is being regularly woken in the middle of the night by drunken revellers and being ordered to clamber up the inside of my room's old stone chimney far enough to escape the worst of the heat from sheets of newspaper that my would-be tormentors set alight in the fireplace, and at the same time being required to sing the old Platters hit Smoke gets in your eyes. [...]

Among the initiation practices mentioned in the Herald article were many that have apparently been instituted since my time, including penis-measuring, underwear wrestling and naked leap-frog.

Not that I recall it as all doom and gloom. Shared suffering being a powerful bond, we freshers quickly became great mates in misery, and thus, five decades later, my room-mate at St John's, Phil Gibbs, remains one of my closest and most cherished friends. And, thanks to either the resilience of youth or a touch of masochism in my mental make-up, I found lots of the fresher-bashing activities not so much fearsome as loads of fun.

This seems to be a commonly expressed sentiments by those who had undergone ragging (for example, my uncles and cousins), that with the advantage of hindsight they believe it was enjoyable with some beneficial outcomes, though of course the lamentable occurrence of deaths would pose an embarrassing question on the rationality of their conclusions, and thus curtailed any open support of the ‘orientation’ programs.

In the armed forces, ragging at military academies/colleges is an unofficial but quietly condoned activity for new cadets, run by senior cadets (and never instructors), because military history-culture believes the following benefits could be achieved:

(a) to ‘break the ice’ for the new cadets, as well as project equal treatment of all newcomers regardless of their backgrounds, rich or poor, urban or rural, creed, colour, etc. Though the overt message of ragging seems to be “new cadets are all worthless shit!” wakakaka, the more important underlying text is that all (potential) officers, regardless of their backgrounds, will be treated equally - basically military shock treatment, especially for those from rich pampered backgrounds.

(b) to encourage team spirit and what the military loves, espirit de corp. If carefully and cleverly managed by senior cadets (and advised by instructors) the new cadets could be tasked to perform almost apparently impossible tasks but which with cooperation among themselves, can be achieved.

(c) to encourage ‘initiative’, the military’s fave phrase for new officers.

(d) most important of all, to ‘break up’ the original make-up of the cadet (rich, poor, arrogant, shy, etc) and ‘rebuild’ him/her into the person the military wants to see in its officer.

Unfortunately sometimes things went wrong because of an individual’s lack of judgement, alcoholic haze (maybe that’s how the Yanks came by that 'hazing' word instead of ‘ragging’) or the raggers losing the plot (the intended objectives of ragging/orientation), and consequently some new cadets were hurt or victimized.

In 2007, Muhammad Hazim Ahmad Azman, an air force cadet at the RMAF base in Alor Setar, was repeatedly abused, physically and mentality. This was considered bullying rather than ragging though the illegal authority and facility for the bullies to do so were under the mantle of ‘orientating’ junior cadets. They were charged and three years later fined by the courts.

But a far more serious case resulting in death occurred in 1982 at RMAF Kuching when Leftenant Muda (Udara) [2nd Lieutenant (Air)] Sugudev Dass died as a consequence of ragging. Apparently there was some ‘rough house’ involved during the ragging and he suffered from slow internal bleeding caused by a kick to his side. No one including the victim himself knew about the bleeding, and when the ragging was over he went back to his room to sleep but the bleeding continued and caused his death. Sadly, he didn't wake up again.

His father wrote a letter directly to HM the Agong appealing for justice. My uncles aren’t too sure what subsequently happened.

Now, you may wonder why ragging occurred after military college at an operational base like TUDM Kuching?

According to my uncles this was a carry-over from Konfrontasi days when RMAF officers (mostly from Peninsula) serving in the ‘frontier’ bases of Kuching and Labuan, ‘away from civilization’ so to speak, had their rough & tumble ways of inducting new comers (of ranks up to Major or, in those early days, Squadron Leaders) into their ‘wild & woolly’ company. Invariably, due to easy and cheap access to tax-free alcohol (and cigarettes) at military camps in Kuching and Labuan, the induction involved alcohol.

The grand finalé of the induction program was imbibing the notorious ‘Kuching Special’ (TUDM Labuan then didn’t have a ‘special’). The ‘Kuching Special’ was a deadly cocktail made up of 1 tot each of whiskey, brandy, vodka, gin, rum, port, and a dash of soya and tomato sauce, and topped up with beer, stout and orange cordial (no water added). My uncle told me some could drink the brew while most vomited before they finished it; a few fell unconscious after bravely gulping it. It's a miracle no one died from drinking the lot.

But then, after such a night of comradeship boozing ending with a ‘Special’, that was that.

As the years went by, the induction program transformed gradually into a more abusive version of ‘military academy-style’ ragging but with the ranks of the inductee being reduced down to only leftenant muda (2nd lieutenant) and leftenant (lieutenant).

My uncle drew my attention to a delightful memoir of a TUDM officer who faithfully recorded his ragging experience as a young leftenant muda (udara). Lt Muda (Udara) Toharudin Abd Rashid writes in both Bahasa and what he describes as his ‘kampung English’ but let me say, disregarding the finer issues of the English language, he writes extremely well, and is very clear about what he has to say. I sense in him a humble and humorous man who come across to me as a Malaysian typical of military officers of the armed forces’ earlier years, where they were Malaysians first and foremost.

Despite the sad event of Lt Muda (Udara) Sugudev Dass, Lt Muda (Udara) Toharudin Abd Rashid said of the ragging: The ragging was very tough. It made the brotherhood or relationship among the officers very closed and adhered.

The ‘espirit de corp’ I mentioned earlier, and a somewhat similar feeling to what Dean Johns had expressed as ‘Shared suffering being a powerful bond, we freshers quickly became great mates in misery’.

Before I provide the link to his post for you to read the relevant extract (under section heading ‘Ragging and Kuching Special’), I thought it would be best to explain a couple of items he wrote. When he mentioned ‘Bat C 10’ under the subsection ‘Night Compass Marching’ he was referring to the military identity card. BAT is abbreviation for Borang Angkatan Tentera, where every document and form used in the military has a BAT number.

And also, when he wrote: ‘The newly reporting officer will be addressed as 'BUGI', while he was phonetically correct, he actually meant ‘BOGEY’, where ‘bogey’ is an air force term meaning an unidentified aircraft or missile, especially one detected as a blip on a radar screen. The TUDM Kuching ragging insinuation was that a new Lt Muda (Udara) or Lt (Udara) was still an unidentified officer (or comrade), thus bogey, until he had undergone the rites of passage.

Now, what do we mean by ‘rites of passage’?

They are rites or ceremonies that mark important transitional periods in a person's life, such as becoming a full fledged member of a fraternity, like an air force or university group.

Thus rites of passage usually involve ritual activities (ragging) and teachings designed to strip individuals of their original roles and prepare them for new roles. I mentioned this process above as one of the desired/expected and most important objectives of ragging, namely, to ‘break up’ the original make-up of the cadet (rich, poor, arrogant, shy, etc) and ‘rebuild’ him/her into the person the military wants to see in its officer.

Now, read and enjoy what Lt Muda (Udara) Toharudin Abd Rashid has to say about his experience as a ‘bogey’ in the air force style of ragging at


  1. Shouldn't this "cute" piece belong in Kongsamkok ?

    I thought "Konsiders" is meant for ripping into Anwar Abraham primarily, and very occasionally, Ameno...

  2. Very enjoyable piece, KT. Even in the 80s, could see some remnants of muhibah. Today, it is all Ketuanan shit.

    And Anon 2:56 PM....try to just enjoy this piece and zip up that snide remark. If you want 100% Anwar-butt-licking, there's a plethora out there now although some MMM are doing it right here too, like one monster and his sidekick baby.

  3. goodanee... time has come!!!!!!!!

    The newly reporting officer will be addressed as 'BUGI'

    itene ryeappre

  4. There is a much darker side to the ragging of military cadets. It is often carried out beyond the limits of human decency.

    The rare cases of death are just the tip of the iceberg of a system that has essentially no checks and balances.

    Mohd Hazim Ahmad Azam's case just happened to be one which became publicised because his family lodged an official complaint.

    In 2010, 16-year old RMC Cadet Mohammed Naim Mustaqim Mohammed Sobri died after a ragging incident which went too far.

    In both the US and UK military, female officer candidates who form a minority of candidates training for front-line combat services have been subjected to ragging amounting to sexual humiliation.
    One US Chief of Naval Operations (the Overall Commanding Officer of the US Navy) was forced to take early retirement for condoning such practices.

    Closer to home, a relative of mine, one of the few Non-Malays in his military officer training class, was subjected to ragging of a most Racist nature.

    I have no doubt some level of "Initiation" is necessary for organisations which demand a high level of group loyalty and cohesion under fire.
    It is high time, however, the brass establish clear and firm boundaries on what is considered unacceptable behaviour, instead of turning a blind eye.

  5. Monsterball,that last comment in the previous posting was meant for you.Do not forget to look it up,okay.Be careful not to hit the ceiling,when you read the comment and jump.

  6. Such a long posting says .......

  7. Such a long posting says Monsterb..l.

  8. know its totally out of context.

    what say you now about posting non-mandarin administrators to chinese schools. anwar is no longer the Education Minister, eh.

    now isnt this UMNO agenda all along? and the MCA mouse just behave like one.

  9. First of all,to put Monsterball in charge of the Education department.His vulgar profanities and cursing would chased all the racists away and leave our schools alone.Poorah.

  10. Until recently, or may be even up to now, any UMNO strongman appointed the Ed minister is THE man to watch....he's likely to go places, to become the PM of the country eventually.

    That is why most of these Ed ministers will try to put their own stamp in that ministry as soon as they occupied that seat.....and Anwar takes the cake - we get to hear that our bahasa will be one the international languages soon, we suddenly see news reporters and actresses and singers speaking and singing in bahasa baku, soon to be followed by all the citizens of the nation,all students (not just the muslim students), must start the first class with a muslim doa prayer, the vernacular schools to have non-vernacular speaking adminstrators.

    But the current moo moo Ed minister cum dpm also earns himself more than half the attempting to force down the Intelock down the throats of the students, making His-story a compulsory subject, the flip flop english/bahasa tussle.

    ( Sorry KT - quite out of topic but just sort of replying to one Anon above ).

  11. making His-story a compulsory subject was the work of Anwar, not moo-moo!

    Plus introducing Pendidikan Moral for non-Muslim students, so that they will find it difficult to obtain perfect scores in their SPM

  12. Anon 7:37 am
    Just to get the facts right.

    History was made a compulsory subject for all Secondary School students to take - swapped with Geography - back in the late 1980's, when Anwar Ibrahim was the Education Minister. But it was not a compulsory pass subject for another 2 decades.

    Muhyiddin Yassin is the Education Minister behind the latest move to make History a Compulsory Pass subject i.e. a student fails STPM if he fails History .

    I'm not an Anwar fan, but it doesn't help the critique of Anwar if erroneous facts are used.

  13. Correction to my post above- a student fails "SPM" not "STPM"

  14. Anon 10:39 PM,
    I'm not sure if KT minds this off topic subject - perhaps it may interest him to write a post on it.
    It IS a hot topic currently, as witnessed by the protest in Cheras on Sunday.

    I attended a PIBG meeting just a few weeks ago, and its a hot topic among parents and teachers.
    The current issue is not about administrators, but non-Mandarin qualified Teachers being sent to SRJK(C), and the wider problem of a serious lack of trained teachers in Chinese schools.
    The problem is most acute this year, because the MOE has let go many long-serving contract teachers in SRJK(C) due to "lack of funds".
    Yes, we can afford Billion-Dollar Submarines, but we can't afford to employ teachers.

    For BM and English, the Ministry sent many teachers who are not Mandarin qualified. Its a long standing arrangement that BM and English teachers in SRJK(C) have to be bilingual in Mandarin as well, because many of the pupils have a weak foundation in these two languages, especially the below-10 year olds.

    What's the right answer ? I don't know. The parents at the PIBG in my kid's school are split on the issue. Some take the same opinion as DJZ, that the MOE is trying to alter the character of Chinese Schools.
    Other parents think nothing wrong with BM and English being taught by teachers who are trained in those two subjects, even if they are not Mandarin trained.

    Personally, I think BM classes should be conducted fully in BM and English classes conducted fully in English.
    But the issue of lack of teachers in SRJK(C) is still perpetually there.

  15. Where the F is Monsterball ?
    Has he finally F'ed off ?

  16. hahahahahahahahaha..It is a fucked up blog without me fucking it up.
    Dull dull dull grandfather story.

  17. No...its a good blog, sometimes misguided, but open to debate.
    Its being messed up by one Raving Idiot , and some of those who react in a similar fashion to that idiot.

  18. F'ing monsterball got nothing better to do than f'ing this blog.
    Why don't you mast'bate with yourself ?

  19. Every blog is a good blog....depending on whose ball you wish to carry.

  20. Materbations are meant for budak kerchil and lonely ones.
    But good monks..imans...priests who maybe singles...apply mind masterbation needed.
    I am well taken cared for..lucky fella am I.

  21. Monsterball is the on-line version of a Terrorist.
    My sympathies to Ktemoc for his misfortune in attracting this leech to his blog.

    There are a few things you can do.
    Ask him to leave,
    If he refuses to leave, declare him as Banned.
    Turn on comments moderation.
    Exclude his comments. Your blog gets few comments (other than monsterball) , so it should not be a big burden.
    After a few days, or weeeks, the Pest should be gone.
    Or he will be wasting his time writing posts which never see the light of day.

  22. As some people say, different strokes for different folks.

    Ragging/orientation may be good and effective to remold new recruits (whether in university or in the army) to better fit the institutions' cultures and to facilitate the development of strong bonds among the members.

    But it may not be necessary. And the greatest drawback is that it is open to horrendous abuse by sadistic, psychologically twisted seniors.

    There are fighting forces whose members are just as effective warriors and who enjoy strong bonds of comradeship too without having to go through this orientation process.

    What are the examples?

    Well, there are the Taliban, the fighting men of Fidel Castro, the communist army of Mao Tze Tung, the peasant revolutionary army of colonial North America against the English colonialists, and others.

    All the above named ragtag armies (if one can call them armies) are/were effective and, what is more important, they achieved what they set out to do, i.e., won their wars.

  23. Ktemoc obviously has never been ragged before, not the full-blown version.

    Otherwise he wouldn't be so sanguine about it.

  24. "Personally, I think BM classes should be conducted fully in BM and English classes conducted fully in English.
    But the issue of lack of teachers in SRJK(C) is still perpetually there." - by Rocketman

    I have to agree with Rocketman. Many children 'thrown into the water' so to speak, learning a foreign or unfamilar language from teachers who speak not a single word of the children's mother tongue seemed to do well and thrived.

    As for the perpetually shortage of teachers in SRJK (C), suspicions abound about persistent sabotage by Education Ministry officials to thwart the efforts of these vernaclar schools to quicky find remedy for this rather desparate situation which had gone on for far too long.

  25. He is banned ..ran 3000 miles away and want to ban me?...hahahahahahaha
    Anyway...he ban me...means he is like principles inn life.
    By the way...that is not Rockybru talking.
    My comments are always approved...although I don't comment there very offend now.
    Real Rocky is a gentleman....but sad....he can be bought easily.

  26. aiks, ktemoc practices censorship on his comments page ???? haha !! what a fake coward !!!

    and want to accuse DSAI of being a coward pulak !!!! heres my message below which chief idiot ktemoc censored !

    Here again we have the wonder idiot ktemoc

    ONLY DSAI as Education Minister is at fault. No other UMNO EDUCATION MINSTER prior to or after DSAI is at even the minutest fault.

    His narrow mindededness shines as a beacon for all to see.

    Wake up Mr Bigot and see who has TRULY messed this country up and its education system.

    Heres a hint , you fool ->> ITS NOT DSAI!!!!


  27. I thought after vigorous ragging happened to late Lt m udara Sugudev in Kuching, the gov. Should have advice the military regarding ragging. After all this was a sad episode and I am the investigating officer of this case. Tq