A video recently surfaced showing a group of teenage girls bullying another in a People’s Housing Project. The victim was kicked and beaten; she had her hair pulled and was seen as on the verge of a breakdown, yet the perpetrators showed no remorse for their act.
The video blew up. “Rempit”, many people exclaimed in response. All over the internet, from Twitter to Facebook to the Malaysian subreddit, everyone seemed to agree that the behaviour showcased a “rempit” mindset.
“Rempit” – a seemingly fitting response from internet users to a show of barbaric and uneducated behaviour that does not sit well with our cultural value of adab. Emphasis on “uneducated”.
But what is rempit? How did it become a derogatory word so easily uttered at the sight of individuals whose behaviour we do not condone? Why does the word carry such a derogatory weight, and has it become a way for us to dismiss the struggle of underprivileged individuals as a show of an outlier behaviour with which we should not sympathise?
Rempit used to be a word applied to participants of illegal street racing. Most of the people with whom I spoke gave me more or less the same literal answer. A simple search online yielded bountiful results but did not offer a comprehensive explanation fitting the contemporary climate of the internet. Even in the Dewan Bahasa, the definition was only a verb meaning to whip with a cane.
But I’m not here to talk about this phenomenon which in any case has died down. Rather, I’m here to talk about the word itself and the stigma behind it.
Observing the way the word is used, I have come to the conclusion that it is an attack, a derogatory remark to demonise the misbehaviour of the underprivileged. I say underprivileged because most of the cases which elicit the rempit remark have to do with the underprivileged community – teenagers in school uniforms doing wheelies on kampung roads, girls in shawls fighting each other in thick rural accents, adolescents showing obscene gestures to the camera, and the accompanying messages of puppy love.
These are the images we have in our minds these days, which are framed alongside a class of community that is neither privileged nor what we would call educated.
The word no longer defines an illegal street subculture but is rather a way for us to perceive, antagonise and smear the character of another.
We need to be more aware of how we use words. To know such people as more than just misbehaving teenagers is to not judge them on a surface level but to be with them. By being with them, you would know the cause for a rebel that they are living.
You would know of an overcompensation for a life that is lacking, for studies that go nowhere, of a small unit shared with a family of too many, of needing an escape from a tomorrow that will be the same as yesterday, of seeing death as an emancipation and the rush that comes with it as a way to ease the pain of existence
The cheap kapcai motorcycles they ride at night is their only way out from the bleakness of the day. All of this is the life of the underprivileged adolescent, and the life of a word that we are now robbing of its neutrality.
It has become too easy for us to utter the word, and too hard for them to swallow the fact that they are the ones who have to live with the label.
We need to cleanse ourselves from the need to mistrust this group of people and see them as part of us that has been abandoned because it is easy to do so.
These underprivileged individuals are without proper education because we failed to give it to them. They rebel because we have cornered them into an existence that is not worth living submissively. They fight because they have been grasping for a sense of self and once it is taken away from them, they are made to push back and stomp upon others to regain it. We need to see the reason behind these individuals we have been calling rempit.
They deserve our respect. For a group of misbehaving adolescents, they have passion, drive, a calling and an understanding of their own need, no matter how misdirected it is. The fights, wheelies and puppy love are all proof of an underlying adult that creeps from within and from the forces of the environment. All of this is a glimpse into their adulthood. And for us to know that, wouldn’t it be our own calling to be with them instead of only being someone who points and judges?
This is a reminder to know, understand, and to be kind to this group of underprivileged adolescents that will soon become our future.