Swaathi Balajawahar is currently a first year undergraduate reading Law LLB at King’s College London. This personal statement was part of her successful application to King’s College London and University of Manchester for Law.
The law is not an entity that is meant to be ossified, but is rather the substratum of how a society functions, constantly evolving to meet humanity’s ever-changing demands. The fluidity of law fascinates me as I see lawyers as agents of change, often contributing to the emergence and growth of a civil society. In Malaysia, however, partisan laws have induced a climate of fear. The Sedition Act 1948, a colonial era law that restricts free speech acts as a dragnet for dissenters. The heavily criticised Internal Security Act 1960, although recently repealed and replaced by the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, continues to quell political dissidence. With the unjustified prosecution of activists and opposition in my country, I realise that lawyers as well as the people have been silenced by the active criminalisation of discourse.
Reflecting upon history helps me grasp the origins of such draconian laws. The sanguinary events of the May 1969 racial riots led to the government introducing the Constitution (Amendment) Act of 1971 that warrants the Parliament to pass legislation which would limit dissent, especially with regards to the Social Contract. As the people began to fear a recurrence of the past, they found solace in these unjust laws, sacrificing free speech for the idea of safety and an illusion of interracial unity.
Throughout school, I was warned against promoting dialogue. Now as a national scholar, I am contractually forbidden to partake in any political discussion; free speech was the price I paid for my education. Debating was my escape as it led me to question the dogma I had been inculcated with. I learnt to form my own opinions based on informed arguments, substantiated with reasoning and evidence. I embraced diverse perspectives, realising that discourse was not to be despised, but appreciated – an understanding crucial in the study of law.
My past experiences have equipped me with the vital skills required to pursue this field. Growing up in a conservative Indian family, I was forced to assume traditional gender roles. However, joining the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, I organised speeches and campaigns that empowered myself and others to seek gender equality. During my term as the President of the Interact Club, I realised the importance of rules in maintaining the integrity of an association. I obeyed strict protocols in carrying out community projects to preserve the reputation of the club, while portraying high levels of ethics. As a prefect, however, I challenged the need for superficial rules by promoting dialogue between the stakeholders of such regulation. The skills that I have learned shaped my conviction to not only advocate for change, but also question the efficacy of conventional rules, while complying to ethical principles. Eventually, my zeal for interpreting how the law operates drove me to initiate a Law Society in my college.
My curiosity to explore various legal avenues led me to a job attachment with CIMB Bank. Assigned under Group Compliance, I analysed irregularities in transaction patterns based on the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Funding laws. Here I understood the need for stringent rules to maintain integrity, even for major profit-seeking universal banks. However, ruminating on the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad scandal that tainted my country as a kleptocracy, I realised strict regulations alone cannot stop perpetrators if the regulators are silenced by the very constitution they are called to uphold.
Too often, the rule of law is constitutionally manipulated into being a tool for personal gain, restricting freedom of expression to retain political authority. As I recognise a sense of oppression in my country, I realise the anachronistic nature of our laws. At university, I aim to understand what makes or breaks the rule of law, acquiring necessary knowledge and intellectual dexterity to empower and reform Malaysia’s constitution.
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