7 Facts Around the Hindu Seafield Temple Conflict

It's been difficult to tell fact from fiction, in this case.
Tuesday 4 December 2018
One of the six cars torched during the commotion. Photo: Afif Abd Halim/Facebook

Recently, you may have heard rumblings of a conflict over the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Subang. And though tensions around it only escalated in the last few weeks, the land has actually been in dispute for the last 32 years.

After all this time, what happened in the last few weeks that prompted the government to intervene? As with most news that gets circulated in Malaysia, the climate is rife with hearsay and speculation and it’s hard to know what is fact and what is fiction. We’ve tried to wade through the mess for you – here’s what we know so far.

In 2007, the land the temple is on was purchased by One City Development, which had plans to develop the land. After a legal tussle, the temple leadership agreed to relocate to a one-acre plot of land in USJ 23 in July 2014. One City Development gave the committee a donation of US$360,750 (RM1.5 million) to build the facilities for the new temple in USJ 23, about three kilometres from the original site.

Internal politics within the temple committee resulted in a separate faction fighting to stay on the existing land. As the conflict escalated, the refusal of the temple management to vacate the temple led to a scuffle which escalated into a riot.

Riot 4-ed - Seafield Temple
50 men allegedly paid by the developer’s lawyers barged into the temple in the early hours of 26 November. Photo: Afif Abd Halim/Facebook.

One of the most ridiculous claims came from someone who is not even Malaysian. A right-wing Hindu politician from India made public statements that the temple had apparently been “flattened” and that women and children were “brutally murdered” in the riot that happened at the temple in the early hours of 26 November 2018.

Hindu People Party’s Arjun Sampath further claimed that the “warmongers” who started the fracas had allegedly slit the throats of women and children, where their necks and napes were heavily mutilated and went ahead to use words like “Islamist fascists”, “bloodthirsty”, “savaged xenophobes”, “barbarities”, “illiberal Islamist chauvinists” and “villainous”, among others to describe those who started the conflict.

How he arrived at this interpretation of events is a mystery. However what is undeniable is that many Malaysians jumped on the bandwagon and shamelessly spread the unverified information on social media which fanned the flames that were steadily growing in size.

Rumours aside, what actually happened on that morning according to news reports is that a group of about 50 Malay men barged into the temple at around 2.30am. The rioting which took place over two days left six civilians, a policeman and a fireman injured and six cars torched. The fireman, 24-year-old Mohd Adib Mohd Kassim, was critically injured had to be admitted to the ICU.

Following the incident, hundreds of personnel from the police and the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) were stationed at the site to ensure order was maintained. The incident labelled by the general public as a ‘racial problem’ because of the conflict between the Malays and Hindus involved, drew the attention of the state and the federal government.

It was claimed by some political figures that the whole incident was executed by the ruling government. This was based on the fact that a Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) uniform was found in the cars of one protester.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was then forced to step in and immediately made a statement that the incident was criminal and not racial or political. The Selangor government tried to pacify the situation and said that they would like to find an amicable solution to the problem but added that they would not be acquiring the land as it would require a large amount of taxpayer money and would therefore set a bad precedence.

Philippines-based Ayala Corporation owns One City Development, who acquired the land. But because “the company did not understand local sensitivities”, a consensus was reached to stick to the agreement reached in 2014.

On 11 March 2014, in a consent judgement recorded in the Shah Alam High Court, it was agreed by all parties, including the temple committee, landowner One City, the Selangor state government and also the temple’s opposing committee led by M. Nagaraju, that the temple should be relocated to its new site in USJ 23, 2.7km away from the current temple.

Riot 2-ed - Seafield Temple
A protester is cornered by the police. Photo: Afif Abd Halim/Facebook

Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said two lawyers employed by the developers, One City, paid US$36,075 (RM150,000) to the thugs responsible for the commotion. The two lawyers were among the 21 arrested to aid investigations. Both the developers and the lawyers have denied any wrongdoing and investigations are currently ongoing.

Business tycoon Tan Sri Vincent Tan proposed for a public fund to be set up to obtain the land from the developers. Tan personally pledged US$120,250 (RM500,000) and was joined by Tan Sri Barry Goh as well as Tan Sri David Kong who both pledged the same amount respectively.

The land is valued at US$3.6 million (RM15.3 million) so despite their personal pledges totalling US$580,000 (RM2 million), there’s still a way to go before the goal is reached. But there can only be a sale if there is a willing seller – how will they know if the owners of the land are willing to sell? As Tan put it, “They are the top corporation in the Philippines and they are good and charitable people. I’m sure they will come to a good decision.

“They may donate the land altogether to the temple. Even if they can’t due to constraints of being a public-listed company, they may give a big discount for us to buy the land back.” So it may not cost 15 million ringgit after all. What would happen to the fund then? Even if nothing else is, one thing’s for sure – this saga is far from over.

Source: The Star, Free Malaysia Today, New Straits Times

Related: In Malaysia, You Can Still Be Charged for Spreading ‘Fake News’