Beneath the strong, unapologetic exteriors of Siti Kassim is in fact a woman of substance, a litigation lawyer by trade and a co-deputy chair of the Malaysian Bar Council Committee on Orang Asli Rights. She has been defending the Orang Asli’s rights to their lands against unlawful logging and mining, and actively speaking against the growing influence of religious extremism in Malaysia. Not to mention, controversial videos
and images of her standing up to religious officers at a transgender dinner function and flashing the digitus medius at a Hudud forum that have gone viral overnight. Siti is to us a stellar force of social phenomena whose beauty comes from her ferocity in holding her own and speaking up for others, for what’s right, in educated fashion and with reason.
WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’VE DEVELOPED THAT VOICE, THAT COURAGE TO SPEAK UP?
My mum is a very strong person as well, a survivor; I believe I might have taken after her. To me, I cannot understand when someone says to me, “Oh, I wish I could speak up just like you.” You can. What makes you think you can’t? I believe it’s the fear, our number one enemy. Also, I think it is because of the limited knowledge that they might have on the law. For me, as a lawyer, I know what is libellous and scandalous, I don’t say things that will put me in a position where I’ll be mistaken for being seditious. People need to equip themselves with the knowledge of our rights as well as the rights of the police and various authorities. Ultimately, my philosophy is that if I don’t speak up for myself, who’ll speak up for me.
MANY HAVE KEPT SILENT IN MINDING THEIR OWN BUSINESS, WHILE YOU SPEAK UP FOR OTHERS. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT?
We cannot ignore what is going on around us. Whatever that is happening in our country will affect us eventually, regardless of race, religion, etc. What affects one race or community is bound to affect the rest. It’s time for us to stand up together, and let oppressors and people in power realise that they must take notice of us and cannot just be entertaining one part of society.
A MESSAGE FOR THE GUYS.
Stand up for issues you feel strongly about. Anyone can stand up for what’s right. Don’t be selfish or just stand aside with the excuse that you have your own private businesses and loved ones to protect. It is mostly men who are in positions of power, with the resources and influence to help, so speak up for what you feel is right.