Malaysian Potpourri: Kuala Lumpur and Tan sri Devaki Krishnan Grande dame of Malaysian Indian politics
|Tan Sri Devaki Krishnan came into elected office at a time when women did not mix freely with men as ‘women were not emancipated then’|
TAN SRI DEVAKI KRISHNAN is a living encyclopaedia on Kuala Lumpur.
If anyone should know about significant happenings in the city’s modern history, it would be the evergreen former politician who grew up with the place.
A former Kuala Lumpur municipal councillor and Wanita MIC deputy president, she remembers the ravages of the World War Two on her adopted home and how the city grew out of the rubble into what it is today.
The eldest of six children of a former acting controller of Post and Telecoms Malaya, she remembers the time when Kuala Lumpur was the relatively quiet capital of the federation of Malaya.
"Fifty years ago, driving was easy as traffic jams that now plague the city were non-existent. I was one of the first women to learn to drive, getting my licence in 1952," said 84-year-old Devaki who was born in Port Dickson.
"Petaling Jaya was not there then. It was just a rubber estate. There were no highways and Jalan Syed Putra had not been built. It took seven minutes to drive from Brickfields to Batu Caves," reminisced the first Indian woman to get a Tan Sri title.
At that time, all government quarters for staff at the Public Works Department, Central Electricity Board and Telecoms were in Bangsar and Brickfields, said Devaki who has been a Brickfields denizen for more than 50 years.
Devaki, who studied at the St Mary’s Girls School, Kuala Lumpur, also has fond memories of the Selangor Indian Association building which used to stand at the site of the Istana Negara.
"I used to play badminton and learn Hindi there.. All the top Indian professionals used to meet there every month. The palace was a bungalow owned by a Chinese businessman which was later bought and converted into the King’s residence," she said.
The grande dame of Malaysian Indian politics is fascinated by Kuala Lumpur’s phenomenal growth.
"It has grown tremendously as far as physical development is concerned but not where social development is concerned.."
She is particularly concerned about the lack of unity among the races which she feels is telling in how people of various races tended to group together
"After 50 years, we still lack unity," she said, adding that this was a glaring fact that needed to be addressed.
"In the old days, there was no difference between races. Now there are religious and racial differences.
"We are not moving backward, but we are not moving forward enough in terms of developing as a society," she said.
She lamented that indifference among the people transcended race with some not even knowing their neighbours.
Devaki is an example of how race was not a factor in the 1950s when one was measured by one’s ability and not racial background.
She became involved in politics after being approached by the late Datuk Onn Jaafar to become a member of the Independent of Malaya Party (IMP).
Her rise in politics was not surprising really as her mother had set the tone for her by being a college-trained Tamil school teacher at a time when few women went to work.
Devaki has the distinction of being the first woman to contest in the country’s first election — the Kuala Lumpur Municipal elections. She won and was elected to the Municipal Council, thus becoming the first Indian woman nationwide to be elected into such an office.
In 1955, she stood for a second term for the municipal ward of Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, and won. After her victory, she was paraded in an open-top car, accompanied by over 50 cars along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.
Devaki remembers that she came into elected office at a time when women did not mix freely with men as "women were not emancipated then".
She then joined the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) and contested for the Sentul constituency in the 1959 state election under the Alliance ticket but lost.
In 1975, Devaki was appointed Wanita MIC secretary and Wanita deputy president in 1984 (a position she held for 10 years). She also served as vice-president of the Selangor MIC and chairman of the Selangor Wanita MIC.