Remembering Malaysia’s ‘barefoot’ cooperator

Paul Sinnappan, a former YCS, YCW and Cardijn Community leader and mentor, who played a huge role in developing credit unions and social enterprises, particularly among plantation workers of Indian descent, died aged 71 on 24 May 2021.

“With great sadness, we announce the loss of our beloved father, Paul Sinnappan. He was a well-known social activist, defender of human rights, community builder and pioneer of ‘the’ micro-credit system for the poor,” said his son Arul Prakkash, announcing his father’s passing on social media.

“His work spread across the globe. He’s my inspiration to continuing the struggle for the poor, marginalised and to fight oppression everywhere. I believe he touched and inspired many others, too.”

Another significant detail about Sinnappan comes from Lawrence John, former director of Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese Catholic Social Communications Centre and present Signis International vice-president. 

“Sinnappan earned his moniker Barefoot Cooperator for discarding his footwear whenever he walked to the kampung, plantations and Orang Asli settlements on his missions. It was a symbolic gesture of his, to be in solidarity with the poor, who accompanied him without sandals on their feet,” says John. 

Paul’s influence was felt across many communities as well as within the Malaysian Catholic Church.

On many occasions, he shared his yet-to-be realised dream of a training centre that would continue the formation work that he had pioneered.

CCI convenor, MJ Ruben recalled Paul Sinnappan’s contribution to the Cardijn Community.

“You were part of CCI initiative right from 2006 when we met you to ask for your cooperation to build CCI. Your simplicity, analytical skills, expertise in cooperatives and micro credit and deep attachment to your roots in India are some of your outstanding characteristics.

“You were part of CCI international events in 2009 Malaysia, 2011 Bangkok, 2012 Manila; 2014 Malaysia; 2016 India and many other times we met as a team in Malaysia. You also attended the CC India meet at Nagercoil in 2010 and encouraged the leaders. We still cherish your stay in my place alone and with Rebecca Sinnappan and
Nithy Sinnappan.

“Your contribution to the Cardijn movements will never be forgotten Paul. You were an inspiration to me and more than anything a personal friend.

“You have done your part Paul as a great leader from the grass roots.

In December 2020 in what was probably his last published article, Paul told the story of his origins in a Dalit plantation family and his lifelong commitment to the cause of people of low castes or even none, many of whom were Christians. He passed away on 24 May, Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians.

Condolences to Rebecca, his wife, who shared his journey and commitment, and to their children and families.


Paul Sinnappan, In search of social justice, human rights of Dalits (Dalit Christian News)

Paul Sinnappan: Community organiser, reservoir of knowledge (Aliran)

Multi-ethnic communities saddened by ‘Barefoot Cooperator’ Paul Sinnappan’s passing (The Vibes)

Community Service Leader, Paul Sinnappan Passes Away At 71 (Varnam Malaysia)

Bringing God’s Perspective into the Domain of Businesses: HISTEAM Kingdom Economy for Social Change Workshop (Christianity Malaysia)