Thursday, November 29, 2007

Malaysian Indian Minority Is Experiencing Oppression

Malaysian Indian Minority Is Experiencing Oppression

Why do I think so? Here's why:

Formal political channel is closed -this is evident as experienced by Member of Parliament (MP) Sothinathan who was suspended for speaking up for the Indian community in Malaysian parliament and the pain MP Devamany is undergoing now, having been told off by Minister Nazri for speaking up on behalf of the minority Indian community and the fact that he is awaiting to be called by the Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to explain his "misbehaviour" in parliament. The Malaysian Indian minority is facing a situation of not having a political channel despite having 28 elected representative in the Federal Parliament and State Assemblies and a further 6 Senators in the Senate. I hypothesise that the fear of not being allowed to stand in another election is used effectively against these individuals, transforming them into mere quislings and not bona fide representatives of the Indian minorities.

Economic opportunities are limited - overt racism built deep in the psyche of many non-Indians and institutionalised racism perpetuated by government policies have left the minority Indians in Malaysia with little high quality employment opportunities. While it is often repeated that there are too many Indian lawyers and doctors (as if it is a crime to be an educated and productive member of the citizenry), the fact remains that a vast majority of the minority Indians live in abject poverty. Unnatural hindrances have also been put up to "choke" the upward mobility of aspiring Indians. Without going into details, the fact that numerous local examinations that supersede international professional qualifications have sprung up in the last 20 years as an effective method to limit the number of minority Indians from breaking the glass (or should I say concrete) ceiling. For example, a graduate of University of London law course has an 80%-90% chance of failing in the local Certificate of Legal Practice (CLP), thus preventing him/her from becoming a lawyer. The Malaysian society accepts this without questioning the logic of London-trained lawyers regularly failing to succeed at CLP while fully knowing that Malaysia has no educational institution of international or regional stature.

Legal options are not credible – While there are pockets of independent–minded members of the judiciary, anyone in the know must be able to recognise the issues around the lack of support from the Muslim judiciary on matters related to non-Muslim and minority rights. A spate of recent judgements as reported in local and international press support this view.

Cultural institutions are being destroyed – religious freedom in Malaysia is becoming narrower. New churches and temples are not granted permission to operate. Existing temples are being systematically destroyed on the basis that these are illegal structures. These temples were built prior to the setting up of local councils and as such had no reason to submit building plans. Further, a simplistic argument that “Indians like to set up temples everywhere” is being used to mislead the public sentiment. It is a natural behaviour among Asians across Asia to set up minor “prayer” areas and the prompt removal of these by the local authorities is not the same thing as destroying a temple built 60 years ago.

Racism is rampant – Indians are generally seen as dirty, smelly, and drunk troublemakers. Any small incident is often taken as to represent the entire society. Very few minority Indians are able to climb up the career ladder and with the professional options limited, carry on unfulfilled lives. This happens in a country that needs more professionals. Such racism is apparent from the remarks made by ministers (e.g. Nazri and Johari) who term Indian protesters as “trouble makers”, “crazies”, “crooks” et cetera.

Housing opportunities are limited – as a result of poverty and low economic potential, the minority Indians have limited opportunities for good housing. Despite their poverty, they are always expected to pay the full price of any house they purchase while a Malay billionaire can always look forward to getting a 10% discount for any house that he chooses to buy. Such is the fairness of Malaysian race-based affirmative action.

Higher education is shut out for Indians – Cheap and high quality education at local universities is largely denied to poor Indian children who excel in their studies but Malay children from rich families are given the opportunity to study in overseas Ivy League universities notwithstanding their mediocre exam results. Indians have no choice but to enrol in costly local private colleges which effectively shuts out the poorer minority Indians. The government manipulates statistics and even has a two-stream pre-university examination, one for majority Malays (which is easier to excel) and another for the minorities (which is purposely made more challenging –thus hardly any Malay ever take this exam). Then the students are selected on “merit” – pulling massive wool over the public’s eyes.

Health system availability is not uniform – due to overt racism, illiteracy among the minority Indians and downright poverty, the Indian patients at government and some Malay-owned private medical establishments are regularly mistreated, ignored and seen as a lesser human. The extent of racism spewed out by the Malay doctors and especially Malay nurses at the local hospitals can only be experienced, not described.

It would be hard for any person concerned with human rights not to be concerned. However, race and religion play a major part in forming opinion in Malaysia and as it stands now, it is quite acceptable for the other communities in Malaysia to ignore the cries for salvation that is emerging from the minority Indians.

This is now more apparent from the feedback (or backlash?) the minority Indian society is receiving against their decision to have a public rally on 24 Nov 2007 in Kuala Lumpur.

It is quite clear that the Indians have to implement a “bootstrapping” strategy to lift themselves out of their predicament.