“My elder sister drowned because of forced labour. She was picking stones from the river. Every house has a quota of stones to pick, to be used to build roads”.
MM went on to describe big boxes by the side of the river. Each house had their own box to fill – their quota of river stones.
“That day, she was picking stones in the middle of the river when the tide came in. Water was up to her chest. She was making her way back to the bank but the river bottom was uneven so she went under. The current was very strong. She can swim but she is not a very good swimmer. She drowned”.
“The next morning the soldiers came to look for her. I think they knew she died but acted as if they didn’t know”.
In a rage, MM picked up a stick and went for the soldiers. That was the last thing he remembered. He lost consciousness as the soldiers beat him and can’t recall what actually happened, only that he woke up with blood all over his head.
After that, he fled to Rangoon, where he heard that his father had been arrested because of him – his father spent two years in prison.
Ever since he came to Malaysia in 1999, he has been arrested and deported to the Malaysia-Thai border twice. The first time, he didn’t have any money so he was detained with about 100 others at a broker’s shed on the Thai side of the border near Golok. They threatened to sell him as slave labour to Indonesian fishing boats. After 15 days in captivity, he managed to flee with 3 other Arakans at 4 o’clock one morning.
The next time he was deported, he called his friend who promised to pay the RM1600 going rate, so they brought him over to a house in KL and waited for his friend to come over with the money.
Listening to him, I knew why MM wanted to tell his story. He had to go to work early the next morning but insisted on being interviewed. We spoke well into the night. I knew that his subsequent stories of arrest and detention and deportation were besides the point. What MM really wanted to tell was how his sister died because of forced labour. It has been more than 10 years, but to him, the memory was still as fresh as if it happened yesterday.