Sunday, August 12, 2007

DATUK HERE, DATUK THERE

From Borneo Post today (very true and what is Datukship anyway?):

FIVE-YEAR-OLD Christopher’s grandfather was recently awarded the title “Datuk.” The youngster was confused. “What’s so special about it? Kong kong (grandfather) has been a “datuk” to all his grandchildren for a long time,” Christopher wondered aloud. Dato, Datu, Datuk or Datuk Seri to name a few, are all respectable titles. The very name touches the heart of many. It’s “grandfather” to grandchildren… and also the “husband” of “nenek”, the wise, gentle and gracious grandmother. If one lives long enough to be fondly called “datuk” by one’s grandchildren, then one should be a happy and contented man. It is the love and respect shown him by his family that warm the cockles of the datuk’s heart. He deserves to be called “Datuk” by his grandchildren. Two decades ago, when we started our career in journalism, there were not many “Datuks” around. The title was held in such high esteem then that the very presence of a “Datuk” at a function usually added greater grandeur and reverence to the celebration. Probably, during those days, a “Datuk” was equivalent to a knighthood or “sir.”

Today, there appears to be a big surplus of “Datuks.” People as young as 30 can also become a “Datuk.” It is small wonder jokes associated with this rather superfluous practice are heard now and then. If you throw a stone at a crowd, you would probably hit a Datuk. Jump from the Twin Towers, you would probably land on a Datuk. What is the significance behind the title “Datuk”? Why and how are people awarded a “Datukship”? None says it better than the late Tan Sri Khir Johari. When the affable former Federal Cabinet Minister passed away on November 10 last year, he was respectfully remembered for many for his candid sayings. “You must serve first and prove yourself. Only then can you accept titles and awards.” In a tribute to Tan Sri Khir, the then chief editor of Bernama, Datuk Azman Ujang related the story of the man and his “Tan Sriship” and “Datukship.”

Azman, now general manager of Bernama wrote: “On the eve of the formation of Malaysia, the Tunku called him and said: Khir, I think it’s high time you became a Datuk because it’s very odd you representing us without any title” … to which Khir replied: Tunku, I very seldom disagree with you but on this occasion, I must. Let me ask you a question — are you sending a Datuk or are you sending Khir Johari?

“The Tunku then called up Khir’s wife and told her over tea: Go and persuade your stubborn husband to get the Datukship. She replied: Have you done it? If you have and he won’t, don’t expect me to succeed. It’s impossible.

“The Tunku never brought up the subject again. There were later attempts to give Khir a title but after sometime, it was assumed he would turn it down anyway. “As Khir explained: My wife knew me far too well. There are certain things I hold dear. And I have this very important principle that while you are active politically, you shouldn’t accept any title. Your values, your achievements should be appreciated after your retirement, so that people can see what you’ve really done.

“Winston Churchill, for example, didn’t get his title until after his retirement. This is a principle which I don’t force on anybody but myself.” Through his 21-year career as Ministers of Education, Health, Agriculture and Cooperatives as well as Commerce and Industry, he remained plain Che Khir to friends and peers alike.

Truly, only after he quit active politics in 1986 that he agreed to accept titles and honours after turning down several offers of “Datukship” previously. Many in the media would remember a congratulatory note from the Tunku that read “Khir Johari has come of age” when the latter was bestowed the title “Tan Sri” by the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong on the occasion of His Majesty’s 54th birthday that year (1986).

Indeed, in the eyes of many, Khir more than deserved the title “Tan Sri” for his service to the nation. He was quoted as having said: “I want to contribute to national unity… national unity in the true sense of the word. Ask me to do any job which will contribute towards that and I will do it without any question. And once that has been achieved, I will die a happy man.”

Yet this man was very modest about it, even saying he never envisaged he would one day be conferred a title. The nation would not forget how we called the plain and straightforward Encik Ghafar Baha throughout his public life. Even when he was serving as Deputy Prime Minister from 1986-93, he was addressed as “Encik.” The “Encik” was only replaced with “Tun” when he retired and accepted the award from the King.

It is widely said you can “buy” a “Datukship” from some of the states in the country. This cannot be confirmed but I believe it was not without reason that Culture Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim at one time alleged some Datukship recipients paid for the title.

On this “flood of award recipients”, Rais urged Menteri Besar to advise their respective Sultans or Heads of State on the standards of recipients by closely scrutinising their merits, services and personalities. Rais even said: “This is corruption.”

Last year, the Sultan of Selangor, Sharafuddin Idris Shah said he had imposed stricter conditions on eligibility for Selangor State titles, particularly the Datukship. This is indeed a timely move to protect the image and dignity of the award. Has Datukship become cheap? Several people here concur the country and perhaps the city indeed have an excess of such title recipients.

A senior officer, who requested anonymity, felt too many people these days were attracted to honorific titles which, he said, was an unhealthy sign. “Not only Datukship — people also go for degrees, PhDs (doctorates) and other titles,” he said. The officer said genuine and deserving cases won’t do any harm but if people who were not deserving, got awarded, then the dignity and value of the title would be reduced.

“It’s quite shameful to think people are rushing to get the title (Datukship)… so much so that it has become a trend in society,” he said. Sarawak Democratic Action Party publicity chief David Wong said those who were conferred should command high respect from the community. The conferment entitled them to a wide range of benefits such as VIP treatment at the various government functions, he noted.

“They are also accorded special status, special rights and a host of other privileges. “Not surprisingly, this has given rise to a mad rush for Datukship as a way to boost social ratings, reputation and self-esteem,” he added.

But when too many people became attracted to such an award, Wong did not discount the possibility that it would lead to the misinterpretation of the very word “Datuk”. It’s equivalent to the popular saying that too many cooks, spoil the soup… and if there are too many Datuks, naturally, the title loses its gloss and value.

In the past, Datukship was conferred on those who toiled endlessly and tirelessly for the community. These were the people who really deserved the title, given as a way to appreciate and recognise their contributions to society. “Nowadays, it’s a completely different scenario. The conferment of Datukship has become too commercialised, so much so that it has lost its value,” Wong said.

He felt Datukship must only be given to those who really deserved it and their track records of providing community service and nation-building must all be taken into consideration. “I do not mean to say those conferred do not deserve it. If they think they deserve it, it’s fine but they should ask themselves whether they deserve it or not. Only they themselves know.” Wong said he did not harbour any grudge against the Datuks. “To me, they are fine people who have the means and the heart to help the people in time of need. They will help sponsor events and provide the necessary funds.

After all, as Datuks, they are there to help, both financially and socially. We need more Datuks like that.” However, Wong said if the Datuks misused their positions, then it would be something regrettable. A Datuk, who was conferred the title in the early 1970’s, declined to comment on the emergence of so many Datuks in recent years. His only advice to the recipients is to prove their worth.

3 comments:

Sibu said...

The world looks at titles. A title means one is better than the others. We know it is not true. But most think that it is true. The world wants titles to elevate people. Without a title, one cannot go any higher. Many of us prefer to live in comfortable lies.

Cyndee said...

Enjoyed reading your point of view on Datukship. True that! Always wondered what kind of privileges the bought Datukship gave that made so many flock for the title. I guess if one could afford to be a tat more luxurious than the rest, one would no doubt make full use of it.

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