An overflow crowd of about 1,000 people turned up at the Gandhi Memorial Hall in Sitiawan, Perak, yesterday to oppose the sale of a 2-hectare piece of land for development in a commercial hub of the town.

The land which was purchased in the 1930s by a group of rubber tappers from 32 surrounding estates has been the subject of a tug-of-war between the legatees of its deceased owners, who want it preserved as a heritage site, and the Dindings Indian Association, the custodian of property which wants it developed for commercial ends.

NONEThe sense at yesterday's meeting, called by residents of Sitiawan interested to preserve the place for posterity, was that the sacrifices made by land's original purchasers would be dishonoured if the place is sold for commercial development.

"We will institute measures to preserve this land for its original purposes which were educational more than anything else," said M Kulasegaran, the DAP MP who is the party's national vice-chairperson.

Kulasegaran was one of the speakers at the gathering, together with Ngeh Koo Ham, the DAP Perak chief who is also state assemblyperson for Sitiawan.

Ngeh said that judging from the sentiments of the huge crowd that turned up for the meeting convened at Gandhi Memorial Hall which is located on the premises, the land should be preserved as a heritage site.

History of land recounted

In his speech to the gathering, Kulasegaran recounted the history of the land which he said was purchased over 80 years ago from the aggregate contributions of four weeks' wages over a year of rubber tappers from 32 estates in the vicinity.

The MP for Ipoh Barat said that over 10,000 Indians worked in these estates and that they had wanted their children to attend English lessons in the afternoon after having gone to Tamil school in the morning.

NONE"A school known as the Simpang Empat English School was built on the land purchased by these tappers, which was later renamed Gandhi School," said Kulasegaran.

"Later, the Gandhi Memorial Hall was built where ashes from his funeral pyre were interred," he added.

He said a society called Dindings Indian Association was formed and the land and its buildings were registered in its name.

"But DIA was just the custodian and not the property's beneficial owner," revealed Kulasegaran.

NONEHe said two attempts were made to take over the land, one through a joint venture between DIA and a property developer in 2000 and another through the Education Ministry which wanted to build a school on the site in 2010.

Kulasegaran (left) said both attempts were stonewalled by the legatees of the land's original owners from a desire to preserve the site for posterity.

He said that because sentiment continues to run against development and in favour of preservation of the site, he would work with the representatives of the land's original owners, including taking legal action, to accomplish the aim.