Moganasundari "Mogana" Mahalingam

 

Role: Lawyer at Messrs Azmi Fadzly Maha & Sim
Active in Country: Malaysia
DTP Program: 2017/18 Migrant Workers Program, Malaysia; 28th Annual Regional Human Rights & People’s Diplomacy Training Program October 2018, Timor-Leste

Moganasundari Mahalingam (Mogana) grew up in Malaysia in a small town called Seremban. Her mother inspired her commitment to social work and community engagement which lead her to read law under the University of London’s External Law Programmes.

The Indian community is one of the smaller communities in Malaysia comprising of a few ethnicities, the Tamilians being one of them. Tracing back to times of colonisation, vernacular schools have remained in Malaysia particularly for primary school education. Tamil schools are often substantially underfunded and Mogana’s mother together with some of her friends joined forces to create a local support group known as ‘Trinity Seva’. They worked to bring kids from different Tamil schools together, connecting and supporting them through social activities done across short terms boot camps.  

Having progressive parents and being aware of racial prejudice structures within the Malaysian society made Mogana appreciate her privileged position and made her extremely passionate about addressing unfair structures in society. 

After graduating, Mogana took a gap year and worked in Singapore. Shortly after her return to Malaysia she completed her local bar exams. It was during her time back that she crossed paths with DTP, when she was invited to join DTP’s special national capacity building program in Malaysia on migrant workers’ rights and advocacy. The program was held over 18 months with collaboration with Migrant Forum Asia and other local partners. Mogana was relatively new to the field when she came to the program, and yet to graduate from university, joining with older and more experienced advocates from different backgrounds all over Malaysia.

Later, she began to work with DTP’s partner, North South Institute, where she was tasked to understudy her mentors in working on Nepalese migrant workers’ cases in particular. 

Mogana started working with Our Journey under the mentorship of Sumitha Shaanthinni Kishna, who has had a long involvement in DTP’s capacity building work. In Our Journey, Mogana worked closely with migrant workers who were either attempting to return to their home country or of those with active complaints of labour violations. Another part of her work in Our Journey was to collect data and analyse them with her mentor. 

Through her involvement with North South Initiative and Our Journey, Mogana gained a better understanding of the system and the flaws that came with it. Whilst it is often reported that Malaysia is facing strong repercussion for hosting a large number of “undocumented” migrant workers, it is often forgotten that many of the migrant workers come in documented at the beginning and subsequently for various reasons become “undocumented”.

In 2018, Sumitha recommended Mogana for DTP’s 28th Annual Regional Human Rights and Peoples Diplomacy Training Program in Timor Leste.

The training was a unique experience for her and gave her the opportunity to make valuable connections and meet passionate people from around the world, who were working on similar issues. The training has also helped her become more engaged in lobbying and advocacy as a whole in addition to coming home with friends across the globe.

The international and national communities that have emerged through the trainings have developed into reliable supporting networks, that are still active. Mogana is part of DTP’s international and Malaysian WhatsApp groups, where the DTP participants (past and present) keep each other in the loop about what’s going on in their countries and post interesting articles, questions, or even job opportunities for others in their respective countries.

A majority of migrant workers that come to Malaysia are from Indonesia, Nepal and the Philippines. Indonesian and Filipino women are employed as domestic workers, whereas security jobs are reserved for people from Nepal. The current system does not address the many flaws it inherently carries. Mogana says that in order to address these issues and make progress, the state has to collaborate with NGOs that have been working and advocating for the rights of migrant workers.

All the government needs to do is sit down and listen. There are people who have worked in that field for years, no new research needs to be done but the political will for change needs to be there…”

This is a difficult issue Mogana says, considering that Malaysia is currently going through its political turmoil which now co-exists with the Covid-19 pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic has also had severe impacts on the situation of migrant workers in Malaysia where she explained, “In the beginning Malaysia handled the situation well however, as the pandemic had progressed the situation has become more controversial to say the least.” 

Mogana is currently a lawyer at Messrs Azmi Fadzly Maha & Sim in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She is aims to do a masters someday and do her part for the Malaysian Legal Aid Centre next year.

 

I had a super lovely interview with Mogana and I am impressed by her passion and engagement for social justice. Mogana is an inspiring and intelligent young woman, who doesn’t let the prejudices of society or the male dominated law scene in the Malaysian court’s scene stop her. She definitely is a role model for many young women in the country.  Laura Trub, DTP intern/volunteer (interview held in July 2020)