Many may have not known of a recent suicide of Malaysian artist Dev Rajah on the 23rd of April in his home in Setapak. He left a 5 minute long video on his Instagram account – his identity as a Malaysian who had made it nationally and internationally as a director, dancer, writer, actor, producer and traveller, and how the first and second movement control orders had thrusted him further into a financial quandary.
In his painful testimony of his journey to carve his name as a versatile Malaysian, having covered over 500 programmes including reality shows, sitcoms, telemovies and musical shows. A true Malaysian son, his shows have covered languages in Malay, Chinese, Tamil, Hindi, Punjabi, Malayalam and Telugu. He had been in this industry for 15 years and it all came to a sudden end.
Having worked with ASTRO, he spoke about his dreams of venturing on his own as many young artistes aspire to be but was met with failure, both emotionally and financially. He shares how demotivated he felt having received not much support. “The director is the captain of his ship, looking after technical creativity and all those things..” Dev Rajah said. Which means whatever happens, the entire burden falls on the shoulders of the director and with no support, it is a disaster in the making.
Malaysia has been on the warpath in the fight against COVID-19 from February 2020 to this minute. What have we learnt? What is the strategy of the Government to assist and to help sustain the arts industry? What is the long term plan? Is the Government listening to the men and women from the arts and entertainment industry who had filled our days when we were cooped up at home during lockdowns on mapping out a strategy to keep them afloat?
Mental health issues, particularly suicide, is today, ‘a plague within a plague’ affecting so many who are suffering in silence and Governments need to address it seriously and NOW.
While many from the theatres, dance academies, arts and performances and even art galleries slaved after MCO 1.0 to rebuild their lives and their industries, MCO 2.0 arrived and came in like a kick in the stomach that sent them reeling backwards.
Dev Rajah was a cry for help not just for him but for his fellow colleagues who are struggling to stay afloat doing what they know and what they do best.
He voiced out for the many out there whom we don’t hear often on social media or in person because they are not categorised as essential services and therefore were told to ‘take a back seat’ while the country picked itself up from battling COVID-19.
After one year, as a citizen, as a Malaysian, I expect the Government, all 70 Ministers and Deputy Ministers on our payroll, to be more prepared and to have a short and long term strategy in place not just for mainstream matters like health, education, women & children’s issues, safety, small and medium businesses, manufacturing and service based industries but also the arts.
Mental health issues and suicide is on the rise but the Prime Minister hasn’t said anything yet on the matter.
A Malaysian artiste, Dev Rajah took his life due to the circumstances of being not recognised and appreciated, and yet not a single Minister or Deputy Minister made a statement of his passing.
Listen to the people! In the words of Napoleon Bonaparte, “A leader is a dealer in hope”.
Don’t take away hope from the hearts of Malaysians, Mr Prime Minister.
Put mental health issues on the table in your next cabinet meeting. Ensure our men and women struggling in the arts industry have a place at the table too.