From the kampong to the Courts: M Ravi’s Kampong Boy

By Ng Yi Shu

M Ravi at the launch of his book


From the barely known unknowing drug mules to the politician to the aging author, M Ravi has defended them all.

The renowned human rights lawyer recently released a memoir, Kampong Boy, which revealed much about his life stories, from his youth in Kampong Jalan Kayu to the cases he fought in court, notably campaigns to save the lives of Yong Vui Kong, Vignes Mourti, Shanmugam Murugesu and Amara Tochi, the defamation case between Chee Soon Juan and Lee Kuan Yew, as well as Alan Shadrake, the elderly author charged with contempt of court.

The book reveals much about the human rights’ lawyer’s rise towards prominence in civil society today. His journey towards the Bar and into the judicial system of Singapore was fraught with difficulty – as he recounts in his book, M Ravi grew up in a state of extreme poverty, where his older siblings had to drop out of school in order to work. M Ravi also recounted domestic abuse from his alcoholic father, who often demanded Ravi’s school fees so he could buy a drink.

In a way, the book has been an inspiring look into the legal fights for justice. The activism M Ravi and his friends have led have given much hope in the homosexual community, death-row inmates and activists for freedom of speech, for several of his cases have led to landmark decisions and sea changes in the judicial arm of the government, such as the real risk test for defamation in Shadrake Alan v. Attorney-General and the landmark decision that there ‘was indisputably reason to question the constitutionality of 377A’ and that citizens need not have been charged with an unjust law before they can question its constitutionality.

The book has also been insightful in its description of how M Ravi has handled his bipolar disorder and the challenges in reaching a psychological balance. As he wrote: “My conclusions about the bipolar experience: It’s important that you don’t allow people to label you – don’t allow yourself to be trapped under the labels. That’s why I myself reject this terminology, this label that I am a ‘bipolar person’, with all the negative baggage attached to the label.”

If you’d like to know more about M Ravi or read about his life story, you can purchase his book at any Kinokuniya outlet in Singapore, or online at Ethos Books here.