Saturday, December 1, 2007

OVERSEAS AND UNHAPPY - India needs to pay attention to the ethnic crisis in Malaysia

December 01
OVERSEAS AND UNHAPPY - India needs to pay attention to the ethnic crisis in Malaysia

Sunanda K. Datta-Ray , The Telegraph ( Culcutta)

Malaysia’s simmering ethnic crisis is something for the ministry of overseas Indian affairs to ponder on. Presumably, the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman was bestowed on S. Samy Vellu, president since 1979 of the Malaysian Indian Congress and public works minister in the ruling coalition, because India approves of his work as representative of more than two million ethnic Indians. Since the man and his constituency are inseparable, convulsions in the latter that question his leadership oblige India to reassess its attitude towards the diaspora.

Initially, screaming headlines about Hindus on the march suggested hordes of ash-smeared trident-brandishing sadhus with matted locks rampaging to overwhelm Muslim Malaysia. In reality, thousands of impoverished Tamils carrying crudely drawn pictures of Gandhi sought only to hand over a petition to the British high commission in Kuala Lumpur about their plight since their ancestors were imported as indentured labour 150 years ago. It so happened that the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), a new umbrella group of 30 organizations, mobilized Sunday’s protest when Tamils battled the riot police for six hours.

The confrontation was even farther removed in space than in time from Lee Kuan Yew’s claim in 1959, when Singapore was waiting to join Malaya, that India was to Malayan culture “what Greece and Rome are to Western culture”. Peninsular Malay was part first of the Srivijaya empire and then of Rajendra Chola’s overseas dominions. Even modern Islamic Malaysia borrows heavily from India. Terms like Bangsa Melayu (for the Malay nation) and bumiputera (Malay Muslims), the cherished determinant of political and economic privilege, expose Malaysia’s own unacknowledged linguistic bankruptcy.

Describing the Thirties excavations in Kedah, which confirmed that Bujang was a Srivijaya empire port — dating back to the 4th century — within easy sailing distance of India, Time magazine reported in 2000, “But an Indian Malaysian visiting the Bujang Valley might come away feeling demeaned rather than proud — and that would be no accident.” Anthony Spaeth, the writer, went on to say that “the official literature does its best to downplay, even denigrate, the Indian impact on the region”.

Ironically, the Indian minority’s further marginalization coincided with the long tenure (1981-2003) of the former prime minister, the ethnic Indian medical doctor, Mahathir Mohamad. He also took Malaysia further along the road to Islamization. A kind of competitive Islam was at play under him with the fundamentalist Parti Islam SeMalaysia demanding Sharia law and Mahathir’s subsequently disgraced lieutenant, Anwar Ibrahim, peddling what he called Islamic values without “Arabisation”.

Lee says Chinese Malaysians (25 per cent) who have maintained an uneasy peace since the vicious Malay-Chinese riots of 1969, are being marginalized. But they at least have someone to speak up for them. They are also able to salt away their savings in Singapore where they often send their children for education and employment. Lacking any of these fall-back advantages, the much poorer Indians suffered in silence until Sunday’s upsurge. They did not protest even when six Indians were murdered and 42 others injured in March 2001 without the authorities bothering to investigate the attacks.

Nearly 85 per cent of Indian Malaysians are Tamil, and about 60 per cent of them are descended from plantation workers. Official statistics say Indians own 1.2 per cent of traded equity (40 per cent is held by the Chinese) though they constitute eight per cent of the population. About 5 per cent of civil servants are said to be Indian while 77 per cent are Malay.

An Indian who wants to start a business must not only engage a bumiputera partner but also fork out the latter’s 30 per cent share of equity. The licence-permit raj has run amok with government sanction needed even to collect garbage. Lowest in the education and income rankings, Indians lead the list of suicides, drug offenders and jailed criminals. All the telltale signs of an underclass. While the state gives preferential treatment to bumiputeras, the MIC has done little to help Indians rise above their initially low socio-economic base.

Religious devotion often being the last refuge of those with little else to call their own, Indians set great store by their temples, which are now the targets of government demolition squads. Many are technically illegal structures because the authorities will not clear registration applications. The last straw was the eve-of-Diwali destruction of a 36-year-old temple in Shah Alam town which is projected as an “Islamic City”. Insult was piled on injury when, having announced that he would not keep the customary post-Eid open house as a mute mark of protest, Vellu hastily backtracked as soon as the prime minister frowned at him.

Emotions have been simmering since 2005 when the mullahs seized the body of a 36-year-old Tamil Hindu soldier and mountaineer, M. Moorthy, and buried it over the protests of his Hindu wife, claiming Moorthy had converted to Islam. A Sharia court upheld the mullahs, and when the widow appealed, a civil judge ruled that Article 121(1A) of Malaysia’s constitution made the Sharia court’s verdict final. Civil courts had no jurisdiction. Such restrictions and, even more, the manner in which rules are implemented, make a mockery of the constitution’s Article 3(1) that “other religions may be practised in peace and harmony”.

Last Sunday’s petition was signed by 1,00,000 Indians. The fact that it was provoked by a supposed conversion and a temple destruction and was sponsored by Hindraf prompted P. Ramasamy, a local academic, to say, “The character of struggle has changed. It has taken on a Hindu form — Hinduism versus Islam.” But that is a simplification. The protesters who were beaten up, arrested and charged with sedition were Indians. They were labelled Hindu because Tamil or Malayali Muslims (like Mahathir) go to extraordinary lengths to deny their Indian ancestry and wangle their way into the petted and pampered bumiputera preserve. In Singapore, too, Indian Muslims who speak Tamil at home or sport Gujarati names drape the headscarf called tudung on their wives and insist they are Malay. Malaysia’s Sikhs also distance themselves from the Indian definition which has become a metaphor for backwardness.

Branding Sunday’s demonstration Hindu automatically singles out the minority as the adversary in a country whose leaders stress their Islamic identity. The implication of a religious motivation also distracts attention from the more serious economic discrimination that lies at the heart of minority discontent. Acknowledging that “unhappiness with their status in society was a real issue” for the protesters, even The New Straits Times, voice of the Malay establishment, commented editorially, “The marginalisation of the Indian community, the neglect of their concerns and the alienation of their youth must be urgently addressed.”

Some have suggested that the illusory prospect of fat damages from Hindraf’s $4 trillion lawsuit against the British government may have tempted demonstrators. But the lawyers who lead Hindraf must know that their plaint is only a symbolic gesture like my Australian aboriginal friend Paul Coe landing in England and taking possession of it as terra nullius (nobody’s land) because that is what the British did in Australia. The more serious message is, as The New Straits Times wrote, that secular grievances must be addressed. Though plantation workers have demonstrated earlier against employers, never before have they so powerfully proclaimed their dissatisfaction with the government. In doing so, under Hindraf colours, they have also signified a loss of confidence in Vellu and the MIC. The worm has turned. There is a danger now of the government hitting back hard.

All this concerns India, not because of M. Karunanidhi’s fulminations but because interest in overseas Indians must be even-handed. The diaspora does not begin and end with Silicon Valley millionaires. Nor should Vayalar Ravi’s only concern be V.S. Naipaul and Lakshmi Mittal whose pictures adorn his ministry’s website. Indians of another class are in much greater need of his attention.


Anonymous said...

Ironically, the Indian minority’s further marginalization coincided with the long tenure (1981-2003) of the former prime minister, the ethnic Indian medical doctor, Mahathir Mohamad

See....outside Peninsula Malaysia people don't understand the trick of changing ones' race to Malay when infact your dad is an Indian. So they call a spade, spade.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written!

Shanmuga said...

A beautiful summary,succinct and honest. Malaysians of Tamil ethnic origin make 8% of the population but often make 80% of the news. Before Mahathir, a lot of this news was positive, heralding their many achievements in sports, medicine, law and research, but since Dr Mahathir, a racist at heart, came to power,the news is often negative highlighting crime, suicides and downplay of their successes.

Michael said...

Well researched and factually accurate. This is the kind of article that is glaringly absent from all Malaysian newspapers.

Anonymous said...


Low and Behold! said...

Thats truly calling a spade a spade...telling it as is. Wished there was more maturity, better guts and sincere respect of these type of thoughts here as well.The Kedah story, Melaka history and Mahathir's ansestory are all proof of the origins of indian greatness...lest we are told at school or at least acknowledged when the 1st Mt Eve climber is an indian. History ?

And, I am not Hindu, but proud of the indian achievement as an Indian. Not even a Muslim not given the Bumi do the math!

ahyong said...

can someone please translate this into tamil and distribute. this is the best article i have ever read in my lifetime. thank you.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. Indeed India must help. And so must the Brits. Indians were indentured to Malaysia and now hold the very short end of the stick. That independence was won with the help of this minority cannot be denied. Failure to adhere to this contract can have grave consequences. The Brits and Indians as well as the Aussies protected this country from various enemies with blood. But it has been hijacked by an Arabinised Muslim authority.

Does that mean its minorities must leave its soil? Whoever the leaders of Hindraf are, have opened the Pandora’s Box of historical responsibility. India and Britain must ensure that the contract made out 50 years ago is adhered to. Badawi and UMNO cannot now squirm away from the world's eye. And India must make certain this issue remains a thorn until equal rights and opportunities are ensured for its minorities. The impending FTA would be a good place to start.

Anonymous said...

Samy Velu had milked these poor Indians all this while and treated them like dirt, while he and his henchmen became filthy rich. Now the bird has come to roost. As change did not initiate from the top, it had to start from the bottom. I see troubled times ahead - not only for Malaysian Indians, but for Malaysia as a whole.Anything can happen now. I only pray that it does not end in another blood bath.

Anonymous said...

It took someone from India to write this.
Original article here

Anonymous said...

The case for the prosecution gathers momentum. From the moment the 1st tear gas was fired and the chemical laced water torture weapon were unleashed upon the unarmed civilians carrying Ghandi’s image – (a man venerated for abhorrence of violence and led India to Independence) UMNO was striped of pretence of it being a civilized democratic entity. It revealed itself for the corrupt, avaricious cabal of thugs. It has since gone on rampage threatening all forms of ugly retaliatory outcome for those who had dared to question it cruelty and brutality.
But hang on a moment! This is not 1969, It will no longer be a cry in wilderness if Indians are killed by mobs set off by UMNO. It will reverberate globally just as those pictures and videos of 25th November are spinning around the globe.
To join the list of despotic Nations like Zimbabwe, Myanmar and the like - I sure cannot be the goal of the UMNO elite – they like playing with the ‘big boys’ and show off their ‘democratic’ credentials. What will be come of it – if the ‘Happy Clappy’ multicultural photo opportunities are exposed for the sham it truly is!

Anonymous said...

They are marginalised and most of these people are hindus, if they do not called themselves hindu, then what should they called themselves? mamak religion, islam? whom they are not!

They represent themselves who they actually are and their lives have been down-trodden because of who has marginalised them? The gomen who are always talking(talking only) about fairness to all races, who speak how great they are being and wanting to be an islamic state, who sidelined them and any other non-malay, non-muslim people at every opportunity, making threats along racial lines and so forth. What do these people have as fellow Malaysian? I am not even an Indian let alone being a hindu.

For the malays who are not them, lend them your ears even you are not willing to wear their shoes, drape their torn shirts or live their lives, have a heart for a human by other race and religion.

Ask yourself what makes a religion of people, great? Ego and violence? Think again, it is the neighbour who is different from you that we love and look up to!

Anonymous said...

The Malay blocked the progress of the Indian communisty by forcing the would be Indian Businessman/Women hand over 30% of their business equity to Malay. That is a FACT!

Anonymous said...

Indians in Malaysia are also played out by their Muslim brothers who can systematically changed race from s/o to bin and vie for attention at rallies shouting and waving keris.

Anonymous said...

How much dignity did the Malay community has when they rob a poor Indian 30% of their wealth? The poor indian, has just started to upgrade their coming out from the estate and tries to be a businessmen...yet the authority said "To get this business permit u must hand over 30% of your company equity to bumputra. Or else we will not approve the permit."

Anonymous said...

People usually look up at Robin Hood as a good man, because he robbed the rich in order to help the poor. How do we look at a privilaged community that has a policy that robbed the poor indian in order to make them richer?

Anonymous said...

The Malay blocked the progress of the Indian communisty by forcing the would be Indian Businessman/Women hand over 30% of their business equity to Malay. That is a FACT!

>>Whoa!!! 30% is considered to be a big blockage!! Ha ha!!

How's you relatives doing in Maxis, Astro, Air Asia?

dassky2000 said...

Some of you write so much good about the Indians and at the same time label them as pharias. Do you know that pharias too were a part of this nations progress?

Preach what you teach.

Anonymous said...

At the end of the day we know where lies their loyalty. Time and again they have proven it. World watch out!

Anonymous said...

Mr.Sunanda K. Datta-Ray , since you are so concerned, please take back your people since they are all INDIANS anyway. We really dont mind. Make sure you give them all the opportunities and privileges and protect them from your wonderful Caste system. Do make sure that in doing so you are no forsaking the rights and privileges of the other native Indians.

Anonymous said...

The issue is of Malaysian Indian status is Malaysia. Sunanda, like hundreds of journalists all over the world have written about it.

In the Indian goes back to Indian, should most Malays originally from Indonesia, also leave this country?

DIASPORA said...

The Indians were in the place that we now call Peninsular Malaysia more than 2000 years ago and the imprint of India is found in all walks of life in the Malay community. More than the Malays - who immigrated from the Indonesiian archipelago - over a period of time with most not motre than 3 or 4 generations ago - the culprits who are the claimants to the throne of 'Bumiputras' are the UMNO putras who are in fact half castes. Being half castes they have no Flag or country to call their own. So they surreptitously worded the meaning of MALAY - to be one who professes the Muslim religion and follows the habits of the Malays. But, the Malays have more of Indian habits and some are trying to ARABISE themselves. In fact they should migrate to Arabia to feel more comfortable there.

The half castes should be grateful for the life they lead in Malaysia and by now should learn that the Indian imprint has been on the lands of Malaya, Borneo, the Archipelago, French Indi China, Chine and Thailand long before the fore fathers of the half castes immigrated to Malaya with the hope of finding a living.

Before telling the Indians and Chinese to go back to India or China, these half castes and their brotheren should attempt to make a trip back to the archipelago where they rightly belong.

DIASPORA said...

A rabid posture is now being taken to threaten a handful of mostly ignorant Malaysians of Indian origin for apparently having endeavoured with all their might to attempt to murder a Policeman despite the area having been cordoned off with huge water cannon carrying mobile vehicles, light strike forces fully armed and protected to beyond the teeth.

The Attorney General of country - a Patel - is leading the Prosecution when he had no time to attend to the 'blowing up' of a Mongolian lady said to have deep involvement in a huge corruption related to the purchase of submarines for Billions of Malaysian Ringgit with all top brass in the Armed Forces up to the top politicians reported allegedly to having been on the take of more than US$500,000.00 as commission. Other bits and pieces would have to be pieced up of course. The Mongolian's brutal murder case languishes in the Courts with wishy washy evidences to further confuse the Mongolian Government and the Malaysian public whilst a scape goat or goats are found to meet the ritual slaughter.

What wonderful times we live in. Malaysia is in fact gifted with so much excitement nowadays that everyone is more and more confused about everything that goes on.