SHAH ALAM, April 3 — For most among the 2,000 attending her funeral today, Irene Fernandez was as a fighter for the migrant community.
But for some who knew her better, Fernandez was also a wife and a mother and an independent spirit who made choice — such as her career as an activist — that set her apart.
“She taught us nursery rhymes complete with actions and she loves singing with us even though she was an awful singer, like most of us unfortunately, we didn’t inherit the good genes of singing.
“But where she lacked in keeping key, she made up by singing in full gusto, complete with hand gestures and fist pumping in the air,” eldest daughter Katrina said, drawing laughter and applause here at the Church of the Divine Mercy.
Fernandez’s daughter also recounted how her activism later crept in to their upbringing, when she taught them songs such as Bob Marley’s “Get up Stand up”.
Fernandez’s husband, Joseph Paul, today praised her battle for migrants’ rights and said she would want to see the fight carried on.
He also pointed out that Irene breathed her last breath on their 35th wedding anniversary.
“She held on to that day because she didn’t want me to forget the date, as husbands often do,” he joked during his eulogy.
On the sidelines of the funeral, Bodiu Zaman Shaheen told The Malay Mail Online that he, along with about 100 Bangladeshis, attended the service today because of Fernandez’s generosity in helping the community.
“Irene always helps the Bangladeshi people, there has been many, many times,” the 35-year-old who had first met Irene seven years ago, said.
Fernandez is a long-time campaigner for migrants’ rights and was jailed a year in 2003 for allegedly publishing false news in a report in 1995 about the physical and sexual abuse of migrant workers in Malaysian detention camps. She was acquitted in 2008.
Fernandez, a seasoned migrant rights activist, died on Monday after she was hospitalised for heart failure.
The human rights activist had been hospitalised in Serdang Hospital on March 25 after suffering breathing difficulties on her way to the Bersih People’s Tribunal on the 13th general election.
Her sister Josie had said that she had told her family that she wants to be cremated and her ashes be buried with their parents in Sungai Petani, Kedah.
Beside’s Katirna, Fernandez also leaves daughter Tania and son Camverra.