22 April 2017: Memoirs of a Malaysian Eco-Activist

Gurmit Singh needs little introduction to most Malaysians. His passion and concerns for the environment have won him several monikers, all well-deserved, but that of being an Eco-Activist fits him well. His unpretentious, yet colourful, story matches the nation’s peaceful struggle to be part of the emergent developing world and the march towards independence. – Mano Maniam, actor, director and writer

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Memoirs of a Malaysian Eco-Activist

How did environmental activism begin in Malaysia? Who were the key players back in the 1970s, when the international community was just starting to notice climate change? Does the name Gurmit Singh ring a bell among Malaysians today? If it does, well and good. If it doesn’t, the timely arrival of the autobiographical Memoirs of a Malaysian Eco-Activist will give due recognition to one particular man’s labour of love and his service to the environment and the community.

Until now, little is really known about Gurmit Singh himself; much of what we know is based on the reactions to his media image and his campaigns. Here at last is the story of the life of this renowned Malaysian environmentalist, whose brand of take-it-to-the-streets activism has inspired countless individuals across generations. From his childhood as a self-professed bookworm to a vociferous human rights and environmental advocate, this book faithfully records his beginnings, growth, achievements, fears, family life and his dreams.

Born in 1942 to Punjabi parents in Japanese-occupied Malaya, Gurmit went on to found two pioneering NGOs — Environmental Protection Society, Malaysia (EPSM) and Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, Malaysia (CETDEM). At various national and international fora, Gurmit not only put forward the Malaysian perspective, but also spoke up for the ‘third world’ and the global good.

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Gurmit Singh (left) and panel discussing his book before an audience at Silverfish Books, Kuala Lumpur

Gurmit’s achievements have been many, and recognition of his work has spread within the country as well as abroad. And these achievements, especially in controversial areas like environmental protection, have won him praise as well as resistance from the authorities over the decades of the nation’s formation and swift economic growth. It is for the readers and historians to appreciate and comment on his impact and contributions to this multicultural nation. Despite his tumultuous relationship with the authorities, he was conferred the Langkawi Environmental Award in 1993.

This book records how I found my raison d’être in the form of environmental activism and human rights movements. During my over four-decade stint as an ecological activist, I founded two environmental NGOs, pushed for numerous eco-friendly changes at national and international fora and came up with practical solutions to halt ecological degradation. There have been many ups and downs during this journey but the lessons I have learnt are invaluable. – Gurmit Singh