OUR country celebrated Merdeka Day yesterday, while India celebrated her Independence Day on
Aug 15.

Recently, Indian newspaper India Today paid tribute to the men and women who helped shape post-colonial India in commemoration of its 75th anniversary of independence. Among the individuals were the late Mother Teresa of Kolkata (previously Calcutta) who was canonised as a Catholic saint in 2016 with her Feast Day on Sept 5.

She founded the order called the Missionaries of Charity, and besides the usual vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, her nuns profess a fourth vow to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor”.

In India, where certain politicians still divide the populace by religion and caste, Mother Teresa was regarded by the marginalised poor and destitute communities as a Living Saint, the equivalent of Keramat Hidup in
Malay culture.

Conversely, the late Sybil Kathigasu, also a Catholic remains relatively unknown to the Vatican despite being the only Malayan woman to have received a George Medal for providing medicines, medical treatment and information to the Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army, who were resistance fighters during World War II.

To the best of my understanding, the George Medal was second only to the George Cross, which is a gallantry award for civilians bearing arms against the enemy.

The history books I read in school recorded Sybil Kathigasu’s acts of bravery and compassion but any memory of her has been obliterated in my children’s textbooks, which I can only hope was due to oversight and not bigotry.

Recently, the Covid-19 pandemic resurrected the name of Dr Wu Lien-teh, one of Penang’s illustrious sons renowned for his work in public health, particularly during the Manchurian plague of 1910-1911.

Malaya’s first nominee for the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1935, Wu invented the mask, which is the forerunner of today’s N95 respirator used in the fight against Covid-19. There are numerous YouTube videos on Wu and here is the link to one: https://youtu.be/Pc5OsOdWLHE.

While the erstwhile George Town City Council honoured him by naming a small housing estate off Green Lane (now Jalan Masjid Negri), it appears that his contributions, which have long been recognised in China, are not even mentioned in the Penang Lawan Covid-19.

I suggested recently that Penang and other states decorate the frontliners fighting the pandemic, especially those who have perished in the line of duty.

In Malaysia, gallantry awards are usually for members of the Armed Forces who have performed acts of bravery while in the UK, there is distinction between the George Cross and the George Medal.

I suggest a Bintang Cemerlang Dr Wu Lien-teh and Bintang Cemerlang Sybil Kathigasu be initiated for male and female frontliners, respectively, who have perished in the line of duty, and also for those who returned after recovery from Covid-19 to fight again.

Chow Siew Cheong