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Silence isn’t golden when a student dies

What has happened to transparency, accountability and integrity?

When tragedy strikes a Malaysian educational facility, has anyone else noticed how the authorities are reluctant to open up?

The parents of naval cadet Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnain, who died five years ago after being bullied and tortured by his peers, did not get immediate answers from the management of the National Defence University.

Nor did the parents of tahfiz student Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi.

These are not a few isolated cases. The whole spectrum of student bodies – from hostels to religious institutions to boarding schools – is affected.

It appears that when such tragedies occur, most parents hit a brick wall when they ask questions when all they want are truthful answers about what happened. They welcome any form of help, to enable them to cope with the grief of the sudden passing of their loved ones.

But when parents expect answers, they are faced with stony-faced officials. Very often, they may be diverted, sidetracked, or even threatened.

When answers are not forthcoming, speculation becomes rife, trust is lost, and cover-ups are suspected.

S Vinosiny was a fourth year accounting student at Universiti Utara Malaysia in Sintok, Kedah. Like many of her peers, she returned to her campus on May 14 after an extended period of online study because of the Covid-19 restrictions.

One week after settling back into campus life, the 20-year-old was dead, allegedly from being electrocuted in her dormitory room.

The university authorities were initially evasive about the suspected cause of death. At first, there was talk that she had sustained a fall. Then there were reports that she had suffered a seizure.

The conflicting stories provided little comfort for her grieving parents. UUM imposed a gag order on its students, which it later lifted, although they were advised to always be “prudent” in their actions – whether speaking publicly, organising or attending events about Vinosiny’s death – as the case is still under investigation.

Could Vinosiny’s death have been prevented? Was the university negligent, as has been alleged? Will there be a proper and transparent investigation into the circumstances leading to her death, and will the findings be shared publicly?

If negligence had been a factor in her death, then other students will be wondering if their hostel, laboratory, classroom or any room with an electrical device is safe to use?

They and their parents will be anxious about the circumstances that led to Vinosiny’s death. They, too, want an explanation.

Malaysia is not famous for its maintenance culture. We spend a small fortune buying the latest gadgets, and instead of regular maintenance to prolong their life and keep them in good working order, we allow them to fall into disrepair and become unsafe to use.

Was Vinosiny a victim of UUM’s negligence? If UUM has nothing to hide, it should have nothing to fear.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.