Last Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of attending the private screening of Orang Itu, a new film produced by Low Ngai Yuen, the founder of Kakiseni and Women:Girls. The audience also consisted of members of civil society including some of the lead actors of the film such as Sofea Jane, Carmen Soo and KK Wong.

Without revealing much details, Orang Itu is a story about Mawar (acted by Sofea Jane), a homeless lady who tries her best to make a living in KL. The film takes you through her journey being a homeless person and the social stigma imposed on her including several characters that Mawar comes across with as she strives to preserve her dignity.

What’s more interesting after the film was the discussion. Syed Azmi, a famous activist was among the audience spoke about his experience visiting homeless people living under the bridge. He shared about how homeless people continued to offer their hospitality by offering him water although the quality may be questionable.

At the outset, I must say that I don’t do much activism work on the homeless people. Therefore, when I offered to contribute, all I could do was to offer some findings  of my research carried out during my legal aid many years ago on the topic of homelessness.

In my short speech, I spoke about Destitute Persons Act, a law which had existed since colonial period. The law aims to maintain ‘social order’ by outlawing begging and homelessness. Under the law, the  welfare officers is empowered to apprehend and detain a homeless person in a rehabilitation centre for up to three years. 

I also raised the need for civil society to consider the role of government. We should have a discussion on whether the existing regulatory framework is adequate to address homelessness. I also said that we should sit down and discuss the merits and demerits of the existing law.

To respond to this, Syed Azmi said that the government has agreed to abolish the law two years ago. I think the fact that the law is to abolished is more of the reasons why we should be discussing it. Firstly, it’s crucial for us to know whether the law will be replaced with something else? Secondly, what existing safeguards will government have in addressing homelessness in Malaysia.

I do hope that Orang Itu will be available at all cinemas soon. I hope that there are generous donors out there that might be willing to sponsor the film as the film will indeed create an interesting discussion on homelessness in Malaysia.