PERHAPS not known to many Malaysians, Datuk Sir E.E.C. Thuraisingham, better known as Datuk Clough Thuraisingham, was the first local Member for Education in the Communities Liaison Committee (1951–1955). It was formed to build the communal fraternity as a precursor to the establishment of self-government, under the then British-ruled Federation of Malaya.
In that committee, Datuk Onn Ja’afar, the founder of Umno, was the Member for Home Affairs.
Thuraisingham (pic) , born on Aug 28, 1898 in Taiping was an eminent lawyer, politician, philanthropist and patron of social welfare, sports and communal unity.
Above all, together with Onn, with whom he struck a close and lasting camaraderie, they shared a vision of the best for a Malaya that stood for unity and equality among all.
As the first Member (minister) for education, Thuraisingham established a comprehensive system of education, beginning in 1951 to provide free education for all children between the ages of six and 12; thus implementing the recommendations of the Barnes and Fenn Reports he presented to the Federal Legislative Council that same year.
The focus, Thuraisingham stressed, was on the urgency with which our education system was to be modelled to create singleness in our plural society and to build on it a powerful Malayan nation.
He pointed out that the comradeship among children of all races from a multiracial school, which ripened into friendship in adult years, was of inestimable value for knitting together the different races.
Implementing the Barnes and Fenn Reports meant that more teachers were needed and so Thuraisingham established a teachers’ training college in Kota Baru and also leased teachers’ training facilities at Kirkby and Brinsford Lodge in England.
He also had more schools built, especially in rural areas.
At a time of celebrating 50 years of Malaysia, in the recently launched National Education Blueprint we see the focus, among others, to “develop values-driven Malaysians – plans of expanding the Student Integration Plan for Unity (RIMUP) programme for students”.
Thus we see a remarkable parallel in the foresight of Thuraisingham, more than six decades earlier, and the Education Blueprint’s emphasis that our education system should focus on building a strong and united nation of Malaysians capable of meeting the 21st-century challenges.
In our nation’s early political development, it was Onn, Thuraisingham and several others, including H.S. Lee (later Sir Henry) and V.M.N. Menon, who became the vanguard of the multiracial Malayan independence movement.
And, it was Thuraisingham who brought together, at his home in Treacher Road (now Jalan Sultan Ismail), Onn and Tunku Abdul Rahman, a number of times in 1951, to discuss their different approaches to a multiracial political strategy to devolve power from the British for self-rule and independence.
In addition to his highly successful legal profession – where he was reputed to provide free legal service to the poor - and his political career, Thuraisingham was one of the prime movers of the Social Welfare Lotteries System, which financed welfare services to the poor of all races in Malaya.
Among his many other leadership roles, Thuraisingham served for several years as chairman of the Malaysian Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis (MAPTB), chairman of the Selangor Turf Club and was the first leader of the Ceylon Federation of Malaya, representing the Tamil community from Sri Lanka.
He was appointed a senator in 1957 until his retirement from active politics in 1974.
Among those who attended Thuraisingham’s funeral in 1979 was the late Tun Hussein Onn, the then Prime Minister of Malaysia and son of his dear friend Datuk Onn.
It is indeed worthwhile for all Malaysians to be aware of many of our true leaders, like Thuraisingham, of whom much is not said or even recalled but who contributed much to our nation’s birth and progress.
Ruben Dudley Petaling Jaya The STAR Online Home Opinion Letters 12/09/2013