Harinder “Hari” Veriah and Martin Jacques. The names are sadly synonymous with the campaign for an anti-racism law.
Veriah died days following an epileptic fit as she was partying to usher in the new millennium. Before she died, the Malaysian-born solicitor told her husband she felt she was “at the bottom of the pile” at Ruttonjee Hospital because of her ethnicity.
An inquest recorded death by natural causes, but made no reference to the racism claim. The incident, however, spawned intense campaigns against racial discrimination and sparked urgent calls for a law to protect ethnic minorities.
Dozens of other South Asians and Southeast Asians came forward with their own stories and the fight for an anti-discrimination law began.
Speaking from his London home, Mr Jacques was heartened by the revelation in Monday’s South China Morning Post that the Home Affairs Bureau had finally decided to bring the law before the Executive Council.
“You never get over something like what happened to us – it does completely change you,” Mr Jacques said.
“But if from Hari’s death, some good comes for society, to make Hong Kong a better place, to make life better for people of darker skin, then that’s very important.
“In that sense, I will think of any legislation as being a memorial to Hari because I think Hari’s sacrifice is what changed the climate of opinion.”
Mr Jacques said people from all walks of life, including Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, had “naively” suggested to him that racism was not a problem in Chinese societies.
“Before the inquest, I talked to a lot of people about Hari’s experience of racism and the reaction tended to be uncomprehending – ignorance combined with denial,” he said.
“Hari’s case changed public opinion because it was such a tragic story and she was one of those highly skilled professionals Hong Kong needs – it told people there was a very serious problem here and something had to be done about it,” he said, adding that his being white probably helped.
“If I had been Indian or African or Filipino, it wouldn’t have commanded all the attention it did.”
The couple’s only son, Ravi, is now almost five years old and takes after his mother, Mr Jacques said.
“He looks so much like Hari and has Hari’s personality – very extroverted, effervescent, kind, witty,” he said.
“The devastation of what’s been, that Hari lost her life, my life was destroyed and Ravi deprived of his mother – there’s nothing legislation can do about that.”
– Ravina Shamdasani