Paliani Samba Bilaidom, alias Lucy Lingam, was appointed the role of Kapitan in 2007, holding the post until the end of 2018. This year, she was promoted to the role of Penghulu India of Kuching, a remarkable feat in becoming the first Indian woman Penghulu in Sarawak, and she was thus honoured by the Sarawak Indian Women Association (SIWA) during a celebratory dinner on June 16. Lingam chuckled as she recalled the surprise expressed by her brother-in-law, who lives in West Malaysia, in relation to the dinner function. “He said Sarawak is really special: First, the minister came in a sari.

Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) Batu Lintang branch chairman Sih Hua Tong (fourth left) and Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah (fifth left) presenting a congratulatory bouquet to Lucy Lingam (sixth left) as other SUPP members at the celebratory dinner on June 16.
Fatimah (right) and Lingam at Siwa’s celebratory dinner.

Second, these young Chinese boys were all on stage congratulating her and hugging her!” she relayed his words. He was referring to Minister of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah and members of Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP) Batu Lintang who were there to honour her achievement that night. With this, Lingam strongly emphasised the importance of maintaining this unique cultural acceptance in Sarawak by interacting well, regardless of race and religion while learning about the culture of others. Lingam also spoke fondly of her childhood years, growing up closely with friends of Chinese and Malay descent.

She speaks fluent Hokkien, often being confused over the telephone for a Chinese woman. “It all comes down to respect. If you do not interact, how are you going to respect each other?” she posed the rhetorical question. Although she was nominated as Penghulu not too long ago, Lingam moves fast and she already has a plan. When speaking of her vision as the leader of the Indian community in Sarawak, a minority group of about 7,000 to 10,000 statewide, she aims to establish more posts for community leaders in this group. “In the Indian community, we have various dialects too — we have the Punjabi, the Sikh and others.

We may need about three more ketua masyarakat (community leaders),” she said, adding that these official representatives would act as a bridge between the government and the people to ensure that the Indian community will not be left out of developments and rulings. “I notice that as a Penghulu, I can reach out to the grassroots to share what the government has to offer,” she reflected, at the same time conveying her gratitude towards the government for appointing her, symbolic of their acknowledgement of the Indian society in Sarawak.

With regards to areas of concern within the Indian community, Lingam wants to address issues relating to welfare, housing, employment and education. She was proud of the strides that Sarawakian Indians have made in terms of education, as she felt that previously the rate of drop-outs was higher. “I dare say now that in every Indian household, there is a diploma or degree holder.” As the Indian community represents a rather small proportion of the Sarawakian populace, Lingam expressed her hope that their presence can be made more known. Aside from planning to request more positions for official leaders, she hopes that the government will grant the Indian community a public holiday for Deepavali.

Lingam participates actively in politics and social works via various associations and councils. She is the chairman of the Indian Affairs Bureau in Persatuan Ketua Kaum Cina Bahagian Kuching and the vice chairman of SUPP Batu Lintang. In addition to being the founder and president of both SIWA and Sarawak Silambam Association, she is also a member of the Sarawak Women and Family Council (MWKS). Lingam has admirably been able to manage all of these roles while still tending to her entrepreneurial spirit through the operation of LL Banana Leaf, an eatery she has kept running successfully for 27 years. Prior to being involved in politics, Lingam was involved in the hospitality business, having risen through the ranks from a waitress to an executive manager and then director of sales at hotels such as Aurora Hotel (now Merdeka Palace Hotel and Suites) and the former CountryView Hotel.

Her vast potential was noticed even in all those years ago, as she was handpicked by Datuk Lily Yong, the current SUPP Kuching branch chairwoman, who encouraged her to get involved in politics to contribute to the Indian community. “I was young then, I just joined for fun. I had no agenda,” Lingam said with a wave of her hand. However, she revealed that the drive kicked in soon enough, and the rest is history.

However, the journey to get to where she is now has not been all roses, with its setbacks and challenges. “I have faced a lot of negative people. Sometimes, you do not get full support from the people. Some people have a very selfish attitude; they do not want people to be successful,” Lingam said, revealing that she has had unpleasant experiences with efforts made by others to sabotage her. She has also faced scepticism from the community, be they Chinese or Indian, in relation to her work with SUPP which is predominantly Chinese. “They would ask me quite sarcastically what I would gain. People can have negative thoughts.

But you see, the Chinese acknowledged my service by giving me the Kapitan post. The government acknowledged me by giving me the Penghulu post,” she said, adding that to have some opposition is commonplace.

“I have come to this level, which means that all that has been overcome. You have to start somewhere,” she stated. Illustrating the ways in which she dealt with these challenges, Lingam’s advice was to rely on the support of family while also keeping one’s conscience clear. “If you are innocent, you have nothing to worry about,” she said wisely. She recalled that her late husband was one of the key persons who would offer a listening ear and words of encouragement during tough times. “Family is the pillar,” Lingam emphasised.