Harinder Veriah

Martin Jacques defied the odds to expose racial prejudice and medical negligence in a Hong Kong hospital. Here he tells of his feelings on learning that his 10-year struggle was over

The settlement approved by the Hong Kong high court last Wednesday in the legal action brought by me and my 11-year-old son, Ravi, against the Hospital Authority over the death of Harinder Veriah, my wife and Ravi’s mother, represents a major victory. It has taken 10 years and a huge commitment of emotion, time and resources. We have faced monumental obstacles. From the outset the Hospital Authority denied any responsibility and it has used its limitless funds to try to bludgeon us into submission.

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Medical Negligence Case Settled

The Hong Kong Hospital Authority has agreed to pay a substantial sum in final settlement of the action brought by Martin Jacques, the author of the international best-seller ‘When China Rules the World’, and his 11 year-old son Ravi over the death of his wife, Harinder Veriah, in the Ruttonjee Hospital on January 2nd 2000. The settlement was approved by the High Court this morning.

The inquest in November 2000, at which Jacques reported that his wife, an Indian-Malaysian, had complained to him about being “bottom of the pile” in the hospital, acted as the catalyst for a major public campaign in support of anti-racist legislation which eventually culminated in the introduction of the first-ever such law in Hong Kong in July 2008.

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As the only racial group that never suffers systemic racism, whites are in denial about its impact

I always found race difficult to understand. It was never intuitive. And the reason was simple. Like every other white person, I had never experienced it myself: the meaning of colour was something I had to learn. The turning point was falling in love with my wife, an Indian-Malaysian, and her coming to live in England. Then, over time, I came to see my own country in a completely different way, through her eyes, her background. Colour is something white people never have to think about because for them it is never a handicap, never a source of prejudice or discrimination, but rather the opposite, a source of privilege. However liberal and enlightened I tried to be, I still had a white outlook on the world. My wife was the beginning of my education.

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Five years ago Martin Jacques and his family moved to Hong Kong to start a new life which all too soon ended in tragedy. Finally, an anti-racist law that might have saved his wife’s life is to be introduced

Hong Kong has been shaken over the past few months by a series of crises: the Sars epidemic, continuing economic difficulties and huge opposition to new security legislation. No doubt Tony Blair, during his brief visit last week, will have discussed each of these, together with another, less-publicised affair: the long-running debate about the need for anti-racist legislation.

When my wife Hari and I arrived in Hong Kong on November 2, 1998, accompanied by our little boy Ravi, just nine weeks old, we were borne on a wave of optimism and expectation. We planned to spend three years in Hong Kong: Hari working for her international law firm, me to write a book and make a television series. It was familiar territory to us: our relationship had started there during a whirlwind week back in 1993.

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10/07/03 - South China Morning Post

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.

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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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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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