UNKNOWN to many, 48 years ago, victims of the May 13 riots were buried at a cemetery in Sungai Buloh.
It is nestled behind the Sungai Buloh Hospital mosque and is a stone’s throw away from Universiti Teknologi Mara’s Sungai Buloh campus.
The victims’ final resting place in the Leprosy Settlement back then was in a plot measuring approximately 30m x 12m – about the size of two badminton courts.
Today, the cemetery has about 110 headstones, arranged tightly into four rows. Most of them are engraved with only a name and the date of death.
All have the line “By the courtesy of the Malaysian government” inscribed on them.
A number of the headstones simply state “Unidentified Chinese” on the back.
Earlier this month, the residents found out that a forest near the cemetery had been cleared.
This raised concerns among non-governmental organisations that the cemetery might be affected by development.
Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall chief executive officer Tang Ah Chai, who confirmed that the riot victims were buried at the cemetery, urged the Government to preserve it.
“The cemetery marks a heartbreaking tragedy in the country’s history. It must not be erased because we all learn important lessons from history.
“This serves as a reminder that the racial harmony Malaysians enjoy today should not be taken for granted,” he added.
Tang made an appeal to beautify the cemetery and for a plaque to be put in place to commemorate the victims.
Currently, the cemetery is rundown with the peripheral fence torn down and headstones covered by undergrowth.
Tang said the cemetery could be a mass grave because the headstones were placed so near to each other, unlike what was customary in Chinese tradition.
From the dates engraved, he concluded that the victims likely were buried within a week of the tragedy.
A few headstones were upgraded and had a photo and birth details of the deceased.
“These are cases where the family found out that the victim was buried here. Most of the affected families did not know because the situation was very chaotic then,” he said.
Tang, who is active in researching local culture and history, hypothesised that the bodies were transported to the Leprosy Settlement because the area was remote and secluded.
The victims were sent there from the General Hospital in Kuala Lumpur.
Resident Lee Chor Seng, 79, still recalls the tense atmosphere that gripped the secluded Leprosy Settlement in Sungai Buloh in 1969 when truckloads of bodies were sent there for burial following the May 13 riots.
“We saw several lorries entering the settlement in the few days after the tragedy, but we were ordered to look away,” he said.
He remembers seeing many sombre government officers at the tranquil “Valley of Hope” monitoring the grim task. Everything was cloaked in secrecy.
Initially, the residents of the settlement did not know what was going on. But after two patients were roped in to help with the excavation, word started to spread that those were the bodies of riot victims.
“When the last few lorries made their way there, we could smell the putrid odour even from far away,” he said.
Lee, who is a member of the Sungai Buloh Local Committee, called on the authorities to upkeep the cemetery as a show of respect to the victims.
“The victims suffered an untimely death. We hope we can do something to allow them to rest in peace. But we are poor people who cannot do much,” he said.
He hoped an organisation could take up the cause so that the residents would know where to channel their donations to.
He said the residents saw families of the deceased visiting the graves in the first decade after the incident, but the visits then became far and few between.
Selayang Municipal Council (MPS) corporate deputy director Ahmad Fauzi Ishak said the council was aware of the land clearing taking place there as well as the area’s sensitivity.
He added that the council had arranged to meet the residents today.