Monday, April 6, 2015

Indian icons lend weight to 'Save Ashram' protest

7:00PM Apr 5, 2015 Malaysiakini

By Terence Netto

Indian icons lend weight to 'Save Ashram' protest

The presence of two renowned exponents of the Indian community’s welfare at the 'Save Vivikenanda' demonstration today gave the campaign "unexpected moral boost", a DAP lawmaker said.

The protest was held to express disappointment with the ashram board of trustees’ rejection of the offer by the Heritage Department to designate the premises as a heritage site under Section 27 (2) of the National Heritage Act.

Ipoh Barat MP M Kulasegaran said that Uma Sambanthan and Devaki Krishnan, both in wheelchairs, braved their disabilities to be at the protest in front of the Vivekananda Ashram in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur.

Uma is the widow of late MIC president VT Sambanthan and Devaki has long been a stalwart of the MIC, especially in community welfare schemes.

They both spoke at the protest to express support for the preservation of the ashram, which sits on a 0.4 hectare plot along Jalan Tun Sambanthan, as a heritage site.

Devaki traced the history of the ashram, emphasizing the educational and welfare thrusts of its activities over the 111-years of its existence.

This gave protesters a grasp of the ashram’s historical significance its contributions to the welfare of the Indian community long-domiciled in Brickfields, Kulasegaran said.

"Their presence gave us an unexpected moral boost," said Kulasegaran, a staunch champion of the ashram's preservation.

The ashram was built to mark the visit to Malaya of Swami Vivekananda, an symbol of interfaith dialogue, which the Hindu holy man espoused in visits to America, Europe and Asia in the late 19th century.

Spririt will be lost

The board of trustees of Vivekananda Ashram contends that a planned 23-storey apartment block with 264 units and an eight-storey car park would generate revenue that would fund cash-starved educational institutions and welfare projects run under the auspices of the ashram.

This prompted Raja Singham, the founder of Brickfields Asia College to last November pledge RM500,000 to preserve the ashram as a heritage site. BAC lies cheek by jowl with the ashram.

Raja Singham’s offer was a lifeline for the ashram, which would encourage ethnic Indian Malaysians to come forward to donate towards the preservation of a venerable institution, Kulasegaran said.

"The planned redevelopment would change the character and ambience of the area," he said.

He said although the planned redevelopment would see a cantilever built over the ashram to preserve it, the project cannot avoid altering the ashram’s current ambience.

"The ashram would be dwarfed and something of the spirit emanating from the site would be lost irrevocably," he said.

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