Patricia Deborah Cheng will be studying Anthropology and Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2023, and will graduate in 2026. This personal statement was part of her successful application to King’s College London for Politics, Philosophy and Law, LSE and SOAS University of London for BA Anthropology and Law, University of Manchester for Law, and Queen Mary University of London for Politics and Law.
My father once told me, “In the face of injustice if lawyers don’t speak up, who will?” That same father lived as an immigrant in Malaysia for seventeen years and it was only upon his death that I realised the effect of cultural hegemony, sanctioned by law, that led to him receiving inferior treatment.
Following his death, I began to consider the question of what constitutes belonging and to what extent we confer it to non-native legal citizens. His experience stands in marked contrast to Malaysia’s “Truly Asia” image, founded in inclusivity and egalitarianism. Nowhere is this juxtaposition more evident than in Art. 153 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution, where the Bumiputera policy grants the indigneous Malay majority greater rights that, elsewhere, would be afforded universally. Through Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony and my reading of Haque’s ‘The Role of the State in Managing Ethnic Tensions in Malaysia’, I recognised the manipulation of ‘citizenship’ and ‘culture’ through Art. 153 and policies such as the New Economic Policy, which led to the unequal administration of my father’s healthcare. While one may be granted legal citizenship on paper, other implicit, non-legalistic forms of racial and cultural citizenship are shaped by policy to establish the Malays as cultural hegemons. This subjects minorities like my father to second-class status, denying them belonging to the dominant culture of Malaysia.
Galvanised by this discovery, I explored how fundamental liberties are overtly violated to protect archaic religio-cultural norms through the Constitution. My internship with the Malaysian Parliament exposed me to how cultural norms, codified in the Constitution, violate the right to freedom of religion, enshrined in that same Constitution under Art. 11. I did further independent research and wrote an article titled ‘Apostates in Malaysia’ published by advocacy organisation SUARAM where I analysed the non-uniformity of these “liberties”. The criminalisation of apostasy, which recommends the death penalty for divergent religious beliefs, and Art. 11, which provides for the freedom to practise different faiths, creates a clear legal paradox. This stands in contrast to Dicey’s Law of the Constitution which states that uniformity is key to enhance the public perception of fairness and justice. The prioritisation of ‘plural monoculturalism’ over multiculturalism for certain privileged groups is intriguing to me as a juridical-anthropological phenomenon. I believe that studying anthropology will complement my understanding of the in situ practice of law and give me relevant knowledge to devise policy solutions in a complex cultural environment.
To consolidate my interest in law, I interned with MahWengKwai & Associates, a family law firm where I witnessed the ramifications a lack of jurisdiction had on non-citizens, such as limitations to basic healthcare and education. Emboldened by this experience, I established my school’s first law society, where I advocated for the need to re-evaluate legislation in light of human rights issues, alongside educating young people on the utility of intersectional perspectives. To hone my creativity and leadership skills, I also organised debates and events based on legal issues balancing and synthesising information from various academic areas.
My deep-seated belief in social justice motivated me to co-found MISI:SOLIDARITI, a regionally renowned research NGO that strives to defend fundamental freedoms by supporting victims of human rights violations in court, and bringing awareness of injustices to the national attention. More recently, MISI co-organised the internationally-covered Black Flag movement to protest the continued rolling back of citizens’ rights and democracy in Malaysia. In this vein, I seek to further develop my skills as an advocate to fight against the further abrogation of human rights and work towards a Malaysia where the experience of my father is the exception.
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