Indians across the world demonstrated outside the offices of Malaysian embassies and high commissions on Saturday to condemn the government and police, hours after tear gas and water cannons were fired in Kuala Lumpur at people bringing flowers to persuade Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi to release five Hindraf leaders from detention.
The demonstrations – which took place almost simultaneously in New York, Los Angeles, London, Belgium, Northern Island, Indonesia, New Zealand, New Delhi and Mumbai – were believed to be the first internationally-coordinated action in support of the Indian cause in Malaysia.
Although there were no more than a few dozen people protesting in each of the cities, their action underlined the growing disgust among Indians all over the world at Abdullah and his police force, said organisers who e-mailed Malaysiakini with details and pictures of the demonstrations. Videos were also posted on YouTube.
"Which sicko of a prime minister would allow his police to fire tear gas and chemical-laced water at people trying to bring him flowers?" asked Anantha Paskaran, one of those who led the demonstration outside the Malaysian Consulate General's office in New York.
"We talk about the Soviet Union, Chechnya and Burma when it comes to human rights violations," said Anantha. "What about this so-called moderate Muslim country Malaysia? It has a police force than can rival the Gestapo and KGB."
On Saturday, Malaysian police used teargas and water cannons to disperse about 300 Hindu Rights Action Force supporters who had gathered along Jalan Raja Laut to hand Abdullah hundreds of roses.
Calling it a "rose protest", Hindraf had said it wanted to give the flowers to the premier, asking him, among others, to release the five Hindraf leaders held under the Internal Security Act. The plan was initially to get a group of children to hand over the roses to Abdullah at Parliament. That, however, fell through when police blockaded roads leading to Parliament, forcing the supporters to group at Jalan Raja Laut instead.
The police eventually arrested about 200 people and released all but nine, whom they said defied repeated orders to disperse.
Abdullah, in an immediate reaction, labelled Hindraf as group of "extremists" out to disrupt general elections scheduled on March 8.
Anantha said it was "most laughable" for the premier to link the incident with the upcoming polls in Malaysia.
"In what way can the Indians in Malaysia disrupt the electoral process that's underway? They are minorities, marginalised in every sense of the word, and don't even have enough resource to fend for themselves, let alone disrupt a national election," he said.
The 51-year-old former Malaysian-turned-US citizen who runs a financial consultancy in Queens, New York, also appeared to pre-empt any possible remark by Abdullah that Indians outside of Malaysia had no business with what was happening in the country.
"For the prime minister's information, I still have family members in Malaysia and they are paying income taxes too, so I have every right to speak on their behalf," Anantha said.
He said the weather in New York was below 32 degrees Farenheit (0 degrees Celcius) on Saturday and those who turned up outside the Consulate General's office in Manhattan, including women and children, braved icy winds for nearly 2 hours.
"We were freezing on the outside but we were burning on the inside at what's happening to our fellow Indians in Malaysia," Anantha said
Pictures received by Malaysiakini showed demonstrators carrying placards such as "Malaysia, Provide Equal Opportunity and Equal Treatment for All" and "All Malaysians, Act Now or Lose Your Freedom, Your Rights and Your Identity Forever."
In New York, demonstrators even brought a mock coffin for MIC President S Samy Vellu, who has been fiercely criticised for failing the Indian community. A sign above the coffin read: "Samy Vellu – Traitor of Indian Malaysians, R.I.P. (Rest In Peace)."
In another interesting picture, five people also wore cut-out pictures of the faces of the five detained Hindraf leaders, holding up their wrists in a symbolic sign of incarceration.
A big sham
And not all those who participated in the foreign demonstrations were Indians of Malaysian origin.
Fiona Lee, an ethnic Chinese from Malaysia, said in comments to Malaysiakini that she decided to join the protest in New York "because these are issues affecting all Malaysians."
"To me, the marginalisation of the Indian community is very real," said the 25-year-old, who has lived in the United States for seven years now and is pursuing a doctorate in English at the City University of New York.
"I grew up in Cheras and I belonged to a church group that used to visit Indian slums where the children had little access to education, food and even clothing," Lee said. "To say they are being equally treated is the biggest sham."
There were no officials from the Malaysian Consulate General's office in New York to receive ay memorandums from the protesters. However several officials were seen snapping photographs of the protesting crowd.