James Joseph Puthucheary



James Joseph Puthucheary (b. circa 1922, Kerala, India–d. 3 April 2000, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia) was an economist, trade unionist and lawyer.1 He supported the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the 1955 Legislative Assembly general election but later broke away from them to join the Barisan Sosialis in 1961.2 He was detained during the security crackdown against pro-communists known as Operation Coldstore in 1963 and was subsequently banned from entering Singapore until 1990.3

Early life
Puthucheary was born in Kerala, India, in 1922 to a well-respected Indian family.4 His family later moved to Malaya. He was the eldest of 10 children. His father was a court interpreter and later a police officer.5


He studied at the elite Johor English College in Malaysia and could speak Malayalam, Malay, Tamil and Hindi.6

Indian National Army
In 1943, Puthucheary enlisted in the Indian National Army in response to a call for volunteers to fight for Indian independence. He was posted to the Azad Guerrilla Regiment, fighting in the Burmese jungle and surviving the disastrous Battle of Imphal.7


Detained in 1951
In 1947, Puthucheary enrolled for tertiary education at the Raffles College (later known as University of Malaya) in Singapore.8 He formed the Malayan Students’ Party with other students. The party’s agenda focused on the development of a Malayan consciousness, a Malayan culture and a Malayan nation.9 The party argued that Malayans should abandon their narrow racial identities and embrace a larger Malayan identity for the sake of national unity.10


In January 1951, Puthucheary, along several others, were arrested by the Singapore Special Branch.11 They were the first large group of English-speaking intellectuals to be arrested under the Emergency Regulations.12 Puthucheary was detained without trial for one-and-a-half years.13

Puthucheary returned to the university after his release in 1952.14 On 23 February 1953, together with other students, he established the University of Malaya Socialist Club.15 He graduated in 1954 with an honours degree in economics.16

Imprisonment in Changi in 1956
In 1956, following a student riot, the Middle Road unionists were arrested for supporting the students, and Puthucheary was detained along with them under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance (precursor of present-day Internal Security Act).17 During his time in Changi Prison, he wrote a book analysing Malaya’s political economy entitled Ownership and Control in the Malayan Economy. In the foreword of the book, he credited his future wife, Mavis Scharenguivel, for motivating him and bringing him the books that he needed while imprisoned.18 He also acknowledged the assistance of the prison and the Special Branch in allowing him to work on the book during detention.19 In addition to writing, Puthucheary studied for his law degree, taking and passing the London University law exam while under detention.20


Prior to the Legislative Assembly general election of 1959, PAP chairman Toh Chin Chye held a press conference during which he reiterated the PAP’s position that the party would not take office “unless former members of the party who were intimately connected with the central committee” were released from detention.21 On 30 May 1959, the PAP won the election, taking 43 of the 51 seats in the Legislative Assembly.22 Among the eight detainees subsequently released were Puthucheary, Devan Nair and Lim Chin Siong.23

After his release, Puthucheary was appointed manager of the Industrial Promotion Board (replaced by the Economic Development Board in 1961) and chairman of the Central Provident Fund Board.24

Operation Coldstore
However, he found himself increasingly at odds with the PAP’s policies. When left-wing PAP members departed to form Barisan Sosialis in July 1961, Puthucheary joined them. No longer holding positions in the government bodies, he began working for the University of Malaya as an economics lecturer.25 As part of the “Big Six” trade unionists, Puthucheary campaigned for the abolition of the Internal Security Council. This group of unionists felt that the abolition was a more important issue than the pending merger with Malaya.26


On 2 February 1963, Puthucheary was again arrested by the Special Branch, this time in an anti-communist security raid known as Operation Coldstore.27 He was among more than 100 persons detained.28 He was released after six months of detention.29 Puthucheary was banned from entering Singapore, and settled down in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to practise law.30 He eventually became a partner of the law firm, Skrine & Company.31 His ban on entry into Singapore was lifted in November 1990.32

Death
A stroke left Puthucheary speechless for the last five years of his life.33 In 2000, he suffered another stroke and passed away in his home in Petaling Jaya in Kuala Lumpur.34 A memorial was held for him.35


Ownership and Control in the Malayan Economy
Puthucheary had long been interested in the link between the economy and the various races in Malaya and how this link constrained political cohesion in the country. He believed that labour organised under colonial rule inhibited racial cooperation and argued against the notion that the Chinese controlled much of Malaya’s wealth. He also warned that creating a group of capitalists would not automatically alleviate the poverty of most of the population. Examining why the majority of ordinary Malaysians remained poor despite living in a country that is rich in resources, his book, Ownership and Control in the Malayan Economy, was published in 1960.36



Author

Lee Hwee Hoon




References
1.
Chok, S. L. (2000, April 4). James Puthucheary dies at 77, fondly remembered for an eventful life. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Zubaidah Nazeer. (2006, July 11). She earns her PhD at 69… and it’s all thanks to him. The New Paper, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lim, H. S. (Interviewer). (1985, June 15). Oral history interview with James Joseph Puthucheary [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 000570/10/1, pp. I, 3]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
2. Marshall, Lee unite to back Alliance. (1955, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 2; Ex-detainee quites Govt. for varsity. (1961, August 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3.
Abisheganaden, F. (1963, February 3). 107 held in Singapore dawn drive. The Straits Times, p. 1; Govt lifts entry ban on nine Malaysians. (1990, December 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4.
Chok, S. L. (2000, April 4). James Puthucheary dies at 77, foundly remembered for an eventful life. New Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Bloodworth, D. (1986, May 11). Key players in the party in its early days. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Puthucheary, D. (2010). James Puthucheary, his friends and his times. In D. Puthucheary & K. S. Jomo (Eds.), No cowardly past: James Puthucheary: Writings, poems, commentaries (pp. 3–38). Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, p. 22. (Call no.: RSEA 959.504 NO)
5.
Zubaidah Nazeer. (2006, July 11). She earns her PhD at 69. The New Paper, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6.
Fernandez, M. (2000, April 29). Puthucheary – a brilliant man who was also a radical. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
7. Puthucheary, D. (2010). James Puthucheary, his friends and his times. In D. Puthucheary & K. S. Jomo (Eds.), No cowardly past: James Puthucheary: Writings, poems, commentaries (pp. 3–38). Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, pp. 23–25. (Call no.: RSEA 959.504 NO)
8.
Puthucheary, D. (2010). James Puthucheary, his friends and his times. In D. Puthucheary & K. S. Jomo (Eds.), No cowardly past: James Puthucheary: Writings, poems, commentaries (pp. 3–38). Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, p. 6. (Call no.: RSEA 959.504 NO); Lim, H. S. (Interviewer). (1985, June 15). Oral history interview with James Joseph Puthucheary [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 000570/10/1, p. 3]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
9. Students party to be formed. (1950, January 20). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10.
Puthucheary, D. (2010). James Puthucheary, his friends and his times. In D. Puthucheary & K. S. Jomo (Eds.), No cowardly past: James Puthucheary: Writings, poems, commentaries (pp. 3–38). Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, p. 7. (Call no.: RSEA 959.504 NO)
11.
Lawyer, 4 teachers detained. (1951, January 9). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12.
Yeo, K. W. (1992, September). Student politics in University of Malaya, 1949–51. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 23(2), 346–380, pp. 364–365. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Hooker, V. M. (2003). A short history of Malaysia: Linking east and west. New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, p. 201. (Call no.: RSEA 959.5 HOO)
13.
3 student detainees released. (1952. June 25). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14.
3 student detainees released. (1952, June 25). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15.
Poh, S. K. (2010). Genesis of the University Socialist Club. In S. K. Poh, J. Q. Tan & K. Y. Koh (Eds.). The Fajar generation: The University Socialist Club and the politics of postwar Malaya and Singapore (pp. 11–20). Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, pp. 14–16. (Call no.: RSING 378.5957 FAJ)
16.
University arts results. (1954, July 7). Singapore Standard, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17.
Seven dead, 70 hurt. (1956, October 27). The Straits Times, p. 1; All-day curfew. (1956, October 28). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18.
Puthucheary, J. J. (1960). Ownership and control in the Malayan economy. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, pp. vii–viii. (Call no.: RCLOS 330.9595 PUT); Released detainee weds at Registry. (1959, June 10). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19.
Puthucheary, J. J. (1960). Ownership and control in the Malayan economy. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, pp. viii–ix. (Call no.: RCLOS 330.9595 PUT)
20.
Mahadeva, A. (1958, September 11). Man in jail passes law exam. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21.
Toh: Free detainees or we won’t take office. (1959, May 22). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22.
Ong, C. C. (1975, March). The 1959 Singapore general election. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, VI(1), 61–86, pp. 73, 80. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.005 JSA)
23.
Unlocking the gates. (1959, June 3). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24.
Puthucheary gets key job. (1959, June 17). The Straits Times, p. 1; Provident Fund job for Mr. P. (1959, July 18). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25.
Ex-detainee quits Govt. for varsity. (1961, August 1). The Straits Times, p. 1; New C.P.F. chief is named. (1961, October 1). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26.
Hussin Mutalib. (2004). Parties and politics: A study of opposition parties and the PAP in Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, pp. 75, 88. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 HUS); Barisan denies hostile claim. (1961, November 6). The Straits Times, p. 11; Merger issue: Dr. Toh hits out at six top unionists. (1961, July 10). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27.
Abisheganaden, F. (1963, February 3). 107 held in Singapore dawn drive. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28.
Ee, B. L., & Lim, B. T. (1963, February 6). Who’s who in the big round-up. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29.
Puthucheary, D. (2010). James Puthucheary, his friends and his times. In D. Puthucheary & K. S. Jomo (Eds.), No cowardly past: James Puthucheary: Writings, poems, commentaries (pp. 3–38). Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, p. 29. (Call no.: RSEA 959.504 NO)
30.
Chok, S. L. (2000, April 4). James Puthucheary dies at 77, fondly remembered for an eventful life. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Tan, T. S. (1963, November 30). Quiet life of law is former detainee’s ambition. The Straits Times, p. 7; S’pore bans entry of 19 people. (1966, October 22). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31.
Chok, S. L. (2000, April 4). James Puthucheary dies at 77, fondly remembered for an eventful life. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
32. Govt lifts entry ban on nine Malaysians. (1990, December 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33.
Shivadas, P. C. (2000, June 19). Puthucheary took the road less travelled. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
34. Chua, W. Y. (2000, April 4). PAP rival dies in M’sia. The New Paper, p. 2; Zubaidah Nazeer. (2006, July 11). She earns her PhD at 69… and it’s all thanks to him. The New Paper, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35.
Dr Mahathir attends memorial service in honour of Puthucheary. (2000, May 7). New Sunday Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
36. Jomo, K. S. (2010). James Puthucheary: A committed scholar. In D. Puthucheary & K. S. Jomo (Eds.), No cowardly past: James Puthucheary: Writings, poems, commentaries (pp. 91–112). Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, pp. 93–102. (Call no.: RSEA 959.504 NO); Puthucheary, J. J. (1960). Ownership and control in the Malayan economy. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press. (Call no.: RCLOS 330.9595 PUT)



The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Law and government>>Political ideologies>>Socialism
Politicians--Malaysia--Malaya--Biography
Economists--Malaysia--Malaya--Biography
Puthucheary, J. J., 1923-2000
Politicians--Singapore--Biography
Politicians
Personalities>>Biographies>>Political Leaders