The launch of Escape from the Lion’s Paw edited by Teo Soh Lung and Low Yit Leng and Smokescreens & Mirrors by Tan Wah Piow finally took place on 6 October 2012 at the Conclave, 40 Tras Street, a bistro which the owners announced, will be the place for good food, wine, music and stimulating discussions. Conclave will open for business in November.
We were pleasantly surprised at the crowd that turned up despite the fiasco the month before. There was free discussions of the 1970s, a decade which few knew or want to talk. What kind of a person is Tan Wah Piow? Was he a leader so feared by the PAP, who even after more than a decade in exile must still be hunted down and be stripped of his Singapore citizenship? Who were the university students who paid so heavily for their involvement in fighting for the rights of retrenched workers? They were expelled from the university without the right to be heard. And why were the workers being helped by the students instead of their union, the Pioneer Industries Employees’ Union (PIEU) headed by disgraced PAP MP Phey Yew Kok and the NTUC.
The discussion on student activism and the role of trade unionists led to a question being asked about Jamit Singh who was the paid secretary of the Singapore Harbour Board Staff Association (SHBSA) and the voice of the harbour board workers in the 50s/60s. Dr G Raman gave an insight of the man. Members of the audience who knew the Jamit, spoke fondly of him, remembering him as a great Shakespearean actor who wholeheartedly campaigned for Lee Kuan Yew in the 1959 general election and who jubilantly carried and paraded Lee when he won Tanjong Pagar.
Jamit Singh was swiftly charged for misappropriation of union funds when he turned away from the PAP. Even though the executive council of the SHBSA rectified the “money misappropriated” as loans to members and even though Jamit was owed salary for 7 months, he was nonetheless convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment. Upon appeal, Jamit succeeded in setting aside the prison sentence when the judge ruled that there was no personal gain and took into consideration the fact that he had not collected 7 months’ salary . Like so many prominent and able leaders of the left, Jamit was arrested in Operation Cold Store and banished to Ipoh. He was just 33 years old.
Saturday’s book launch was more than a book launch.