Malaysian gangsters are going to ground. Many are even trying to flee to neighbouring countries to escape the long arm of the law. What drives people to gangsterism and what do they gain by it? The Star talks to some former gangsters to find out why gangsterism is so favoured, especially by the Indians.
PETALING JAYA: In the middle of a dense bush is a small shrine. Beside it, the taiko (chief) stands with his top lieutenants.
The 40-odd inductees, some 30m away, approach him, go down on their knees and bow before him in reverence.
One of the lieutenants comes forward, grabs their hands, pricks their fingers and catches the blood in a cup. Then, he mixes brandy in the cup that’s a quarter-full of blood. All the inductees then drink from the cup.
That was how Ramu (not his real name) became a Gang 18 member. He was 17.
He says he was driven by poverty and saw it as a means to strike it rich.
“It was led by a Chinese taiko. You never got to see him or his lieutenants until Satu Hati day,” he said.
“These days, they say Satu Hati is a gang. I don’t know. Back in my time, Satu Hati was the initiation event. After drinking from that cup, we became brothers.
“I used to run drugs. A man would bring a slab of heroin from Penang. It was like a brick. On the train, he would leave the slab away from where he sat. I would then pick it up and take it to Johor — by car, by bus, even by motorcyle — through all the small towns.
“On the bus, I would leave the bag with the drugs in the luggage compartment while my clothes would be in a carry-on bag. That way, if the cops find the drug, I would deny all knowledge and say I only had my carry-on bag. Luckily, I was never caught.
“That was more than 10 years ago. I was paid RM15,000 for every trip.
“We also had to handle table talks. We would talk to other gang leaders if anyone langgar kawasan (trespass a territory). If we could not settle it, we would let the two people involved slug it out. The gang members from both sides had to stay out.
“That was ‘gentleman gangsterism’. These days, the kids come from behind and shoot you, or they go in groups and chop up the other fellow.”
Ramu said he stopped after two incidents. First, his father died and he became head of the family.
“I had to take care of the family, so I could not risk being caught. But I was still involved in gang fights. One day, we had a fight but I could not go because of some family matters.
“My friends who went for the fight were all caught and imprisoned under the EO (Emergency Ordinance). I vowed to quit then and there itself.
“The taiko of the gang still remembers me. He sometimes visits me and we go for a drink or two. He has never asked me to come back and I will never do so.”
Ramu may be wrong about one thing. There is a gang called Satu Hati. Vasu belonged to it. He told of how, as a young lad, he was poor in his studies.
“I used to skip school and hang out with friends. We used to get involved in petty fights and then got involved in petty thefts and then robbery. Then I got thrown out of school.
“With nothing to do, I came to KL. No jobs were available, so I got involved in the wrong crowd again, Then, someone came and asked me to join Gang Satu Hati.
“Initiation was by way of angkat sumpah (oath-taking). We were taken to an isolated temple and asked to swear that we would not betray the gang. And, we also had to prick our fingers and have our blood on the holy ash.
“The seniors told me they used to make a cut in their hands and put the hands together to become ‘blood brothers’.
“But I guess even gangsters have to be afraid of HIV and AIDS,” he laughed.
The gangsters have to pay subscriptions to the gang. In Vasu’s case, it was RM101 a month. But he could earn much more than that. And the RM101 was used like a slush fund, to pay for bail and weapons and to help family members if any gang member were to be killed.
“We were in the protection racket. There were many places that we used to pau (extort). We collected a lot of money. So RM101 wasn’t much. But whatever we earned, we would spend on drinking and having fun. It was a wasted life.”
The gang would also ask one of the members to seek employment in factories to learn about how goods and money were moved.
“When they knew enough, the gang would move in,” Vasu said.
He added that there were three or four main leaders in the gang. These leaders would in turn rent out the services of their ‘members’ to VIPs.
“We used to work for Datuks and Tan Sris, protecting their work sites and things like that. We were their orang upah (hired help),” Vasu said.
“If we got caught, the gang leaders or the VIPs would bribe the police to have us freed or bail us out. Each time, we were freed, we came out feeling bolder, as we knew we could get away with anything.”
Vasu grew to become a trusted lieutenant of one of the top leaders and rubbed shoulders with taikos. That’s when reality hit home.
His leader was abducted, shot dead and buried in an estate. “Now, his wife and children are suffering. That’s sad.
“That’s why I quit and left. I have never looked back since,” said the man who now runs his own business.