The many roads to our freedom

(Updated )

A new exhibition seeks to offer more than the usual narratives and experiences often associated with Merdeka.

For one, "Jalan Merdeka: Traversing the Routes towards Independence", pays significant attention to leftist Malay movements in the 1940s and 1950s.

Newspaper articles from the era show how socialist Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM) mobilised thousands of rural Malays in its campaign for the unification of Malaya with the Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia), Singapore and Borneo.

PKMM’s women’s wing, Angkatan Wanita Sedar (Awas), worked to liberate Malay women from their traditional roles and held demonstrations across the peninsula.

Protests and boycotts also broke out against the Federation of Malaya Agreement, the basis for the present Federal Constitution, as it included institutionalised handicaps against non-Malays and was drafted by the British with the Malay Rulers and Umno, excluding the voices of other Malayans.

Organised by Umno splinter party Pusat Tenaga Rakyat (Putera) and the All-Malaya Council of Joint Action (AMCJA), they later put forward the alternatives – the People’s Constitution and the People’s Flag (below, right) – in response.

Woven into the familiar Merdeka story was the role played by trade unions in educating the populace about their rights at work, especially those working in rubber plantations and in tin mines during the British rule...

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