18/01/03 - South China Morning Post

The trial will scrutinise the Hospital Authority’s treatment of Indian Harinder Veriah

An author and journalist who accused Hong Kong medical staff of racism after his Indian wife died in the Ruttonjee Hospital has launched a High Court action to seek damages over her death. Martin Jacques has begun litigation against the Hospital Authority three years after his wife, solicitor Harinder Veriah, died following an epileptic fit she suffered while celebrating the new millennium.

The High Court action will not only focus on allegations that Veriah, a mother-of-one, died because of medical negligence, but also put on trial Hong Kong’s reputation for racial tolerance.

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Martin Jacques was comfortably settled, had a successful career as an editor and political writer, when his whole life was overturned. On holiday in Malaysia, he fell in love, magically, irreversibly, with Hari. Each risked all to be together. How could anything touch their happiness?

It was Saturday, August 21 1993. I was staying on Tioman, a small tropical island off the east coast of Malaysia. The time was 7.30am and I was just returning from a run when I noticed a young dark brown woman walking between the wooden chalets to my left. She smiled. I said hello. Nothing seemed more natural: everyone smiled and said hello on Tioman. But there was something about her that stuck in my mind: to this day, I can’t tell you exactly what it was. That morning, my partner and I had signed up for a jungle trek. People began to gather for the 9am departure, when suddenly I heard this voice: “Didn’t I see you earlier? Weren’t you running through the village?” With barely a pause, she added, “Only a white man would do something as stupid as that.” I was reeling. She was wearing a huge grin and her big brown eyes were full of impish humour. Before I had collected my thoughts, she fired another salvo.

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Not since the 1930s has the threat of racism and fascism been so great in the west

Since 1989 we have been living in a fool’s paradise. The triumphalism about the future that greeted the collapse of communism has proved to be profoundly misplaced. The reason why we should fear the rise of Le Pen is not simply that fascism and an ugly racism are alive, well and in the ascendant in one of the heartlands of Europe, but rather that the world that we now live in is in a corrosive state. Not since the 1930s has the threat of the irrational, of a turn towards barbarism, been so great in the west. It has become an arrogant truism of western life that the evils of the modern world – authoritarianism, ethnic conflict, illiberalism – are coterminous with the developing world. It was telling how some western leaders, including one of our own ministers, in the aftermath of September 11, spoke of the civilised world, and by implication of the uncivilised world, the dark-skinned savages of backward cultures. It is not clear how Le Pen or Berlusconi or Haider fit this world view.

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A coroner yesterday cast doubt on the standard of care given to a solicitor who died in a Hong Kong hospital after suffering an epileptic fit.

Recording an open verdict at St Pancras coroner’s court in central London at the inquest into the death of Harinder Veriah, 33, Stephen Chan said the evidence had questioned the level of care she received in the final 20 minutes before she died, as well as the management of her stay in hospital.

Ms Veriah, who was married to the former Marxism Today editor Martin Jacques, died on January 2 2000 after being admitted to hospital in the early hours of the previous day.

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05/03/01 - South China Morning Post

Racism must be outlawed if Hong Kong is to be a truly international city, activists said yesterday as they launched the “Hong Kong Against Racial Discrimination” campaign.

Anna Wu Hung-yuk, who chairs the Equal Oportunity Commission, said the number of complaints of racial discrimination last year – 66 – was twice the total of the three previous years. She said the commission was advocating new legislation, since at present it was only able to act on complaints about discrimination on grounds of disability or gender.

About 200 people met at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club to launch the campaign. Victims recounted instances that they said occurred almost daily, ranging from subtle forms of unfair treatment to outright racial abuse.

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When Harinder Veriah had an epileptic fit more than a year ago, no one realised it would trigger a chain of events that have helped expose Hong Kong’s great ‘dirty secret’.

On 2 January 2000 Veriah, known to her friends as Hari, died. Shortly before, she told her husband, the British journalist Martin Jacques, that she was at the ‘bottom of the pile’ at the hospital where she was being treated. She meant her skin colour and Indian race were responsible for a lack of attention.

Today an unusually large coalition of 12 organisations, including Indian, Filipino, Thai and Nepalese groups, is holding a memorial for Veriah and meeting to campaign for anti-racial discrimination legislation. Vandana Rajwani, a lawyer who is one of the meeting’s organisers, says they have been inundated with people wanting to participate.

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04/03/01 - A speech by Martin Jacques

Hari was born and brought up in Malaysia. She was an ethnic Indian, her family having emigrated from the Punjab almost a century earlier. As a young child she grew up in a Chinese area of Petaling Jaya, where she learnt Cantonese and came to understand and appreciate the Chinese Malaysians. She lost her mother when she was six and her father in her twenties. She grew up in poverty and adversity. Somehow, though, she was untouched by it. Rather than being bowed or scarred, she was ennobled by her background. She learnt how to stand on her own two feet and yet was possessed of an extraordinary compassion born of her experience of hardship.

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When Malaysia-born Harinder Veriah first arrived in Hong Kong to work with a leading British law firm she seemed to have all the qualifications to ensure years of success in this supposedly internationally minded and business-oriented city. Unlike most of the overseas professionals Hong Kong is keen to attract, she had the added advantage of speaking Cantonese, as well as flawless English, which remains the language of the law in Hong Kong.

But Ms. Veriah’s skin color was quite dark. And though both she and her husband, Martin Jacques, a well known British journalist and writer, had lived in London where racism is often close to the surface society, Ms. Veriah found in Hong Kong a new and more pernicious form of racial prejudice — one Mr. Jacques believes finally cost her her life a little more than a year ago.

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29/12/00 - South China Morning Post

The death of a young mother has reaffirmed an anti-racism group’s determination to continue with its work

THIS WAS SUPPOSED to be an article about the decline of a recently formed organisation which wanted racial discrimination outlawed in Hong Kong.

The group, Hong Kong Against Racial Discrimination (Hard), was on the verge of collapse just last month, its members having failed to hold a monthly meeting since February.

This story was going to convey the founders’ frustration and feeling of helplessness at the Government’s intransigence on the issue, refusing to make discrimination on the grounds of race illegal. It was going to trace the death of Hard.

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