Intolerant Malaysia, tolerant faith?
Times of India
28 Nov 2007, 1136 hrs IST,
When Hindus gathered courage and protested in an unprecedented solidarity on November 26 in Kuala Lumpur, they were crushed brutally by the Malay police using chemicals in the water cannons. None of those who had put up a united front against a cartoon created in Denmark felt anything bad or condemnable in the injustices meted out to the Hindus in an Islamic country. When it's a question of Hindus getting unfair treatment in a Muslim majority region, the 'civil, sophisticated and articulate' Muslim intellectuals take refuge in the statement that it's a matter concerning a foreign country. But when it's a question regarding a cartoon or a fatwa for beheading a writer, they say -we are a global Ummah, anything happening anywhere to Muslims is our common concern! All big lies and a bigger hypocrisy traded in the name of a religion.
This year Diwali was not celebrated openly by Malaysian Hindus in protest against the demolition of one of their most revered shrines, the hundred-year-old Maha Mariamman temple in Padang Jawa. In the last fifteen years, hundreds of Hindu temples have been demolished and the number of forcible conversions and unfair treatment on religious grounds has been constantly increasing. The tragic case of Revathi was just a recent one. Moorthy Maniam was a Malaysian Hindu hero. After he died, a group of Muslims claimed he'd made a deathbed conversion. Despite his widow's protests, the Sharia courts declared that he should be buried as a Muslim. “They used Moorthy to show that in this country, Islam is supreme", complained his lawyer.
In the 1980s, Malaysia's Sharia courts were given equal power to the civil courts, creating two parallel legal systems. But while the Sharia courts are constantly trying to extend their authority, secular courts are reluctant to challenge them. Malaysia which tries to woo Indian tourists with an aggressive media campaign claiming-it's a 'truly Asian' destination, has become a hotbed of Islamic intolerance and barbarities on non-Muslims. It has sixty per cent Muslim population with Chinese, mostly Buddhists, comprising twenty-five per cent. Malaysiana of Indian origin constitute about eight per cent and Tamil Hindus are ninety per cent amongst the Indian origin population.
There is a fair number of Indian Muslims too. Indian Malaysians were taken there by the British as plantation workers in the late nineteenth century and have now become an inseparable part of Malaysian life. In fact, from the second century to the 14th century, Malay Peninsula has seen Hindu kingdoms and a way of life beautifully expressed in arts, culture, language and Shaivite values. Sanskrit's influence over their language is visible all over, yet the Malay Muslims choose to express their affinity with the Arabs and deny their ancestral heritage. Politically, Indian-origin Malays follow the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), established in 1946 as an instrument of independence from the British rule.
Malaysia, freed in 1957, remained a practising pluralistic society till Islamic fundamentalism grew in the last two decades bringing Arab money and intolerance with it. Now it has parallel Islamic courts, functioning along with the civil ones, which are obviously more influential. Malaysian Hindus have their leader in Datuk Seri Samy Vellu, president of the MIC and a minister in the14-party coalition government who mustered courage to protest against temple demolitions by declaring a 'private' Diwali this year. However, instead of being supported by the country’s Muslim intelligentsia, he was booed, and in a rally addressed by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, people demanded his ouster from the cabinet as a 'trouble maker'.
Hindus seems to be losing hope on all fronts and are making last-ditch efforts to attract attention by any which way to their sorry state of affairs. An umbrella organisation of thirty Hindu NGOs has been formed under the banner of Hindu Rights Action Force or HINDRAF that had called for the successful demonstration on November 26. Earlier a court had banned the rally – but HINDRAF workers – gathered in an unprecedented number – twenty thousand by a modest count –defied the ban and had their voice heard throughout the world.
A nation, which has seen centuries of Hindu influence nurturing its socio-cultural milieu, suddenly turned against her own people when Arab-Islamic influence grew, resulting in the dispossession of minority rights. It has tried now to completely eradicate its Hindu history being taught in the schools, including the descriptions regarding ancient Ganga Negara (2nd to 11th century), Langka Asuka(2nd to 14th century) and Sri Vijaya empire(3rd to 14th century) in different parts of the earlier greater Malay Peninsula.
It's a reflection of India's secular government that the Malaysian Hindus of Indian origin chose to knock at the British doors, strangely petitioning the British government, Malaysia's former colonial ruler, to pay two million dollars each to every Indian-origin Malay as compensation for 'putting them in a situation of darkness and exploitation' which was a result of bringing their ancestors as indentured labourers a century before. They are discriminated on religious grounds and economic opportunities are not available to them. "Over the years Indians have been marginalised in this country and we now want the same rights as enjoyed by other communities,"
M. Kulasegaran, opposition lawmaker with the Democratic Action Party (DAP), told the media. "This gathering is unprecedented, this is a community that can no longer tolerate discrimination." said HINDRAF leader P. Uthayakumar. The demonstrators had gathered at Batu Caves Hindu temple and many of them carried posters of Mahatma Gandhi. But, sadly, there was no murmur amongst the Indian authorities in Delhi or in their High Commission in Kuala Lumpur about it.
Indian secularism prevents South Block to go vocal on injustices meted out to Indian-origin people if they happen to be Hindus. Only Muslim sensibilities are deemed fit to be entertained by Indian envoys abroad. This message further emboldens the jihadi intolerant rulers to take Hindus in their country for granted as a forlorn people for whom none would bother. Malaysian Chinese are given a voice by Singapore's influential leaders of Chinese origin like Lee Kuan Yew and Christians get full support from the US, UK and other European governments. Only Hindus, who have no other country on this earth but India to look upon for any moral support, are left abandoned.
Sometimes I feel amazed to see that how highly educated people who shine in politics and academics can be so ruthless towards their own fellow citizens as to deny them basic human rights. Like a place of worship and a choice to adhere to a faith of choice. Why have the societal ruptures been so visibly strong in countries where Islamists form majority? We have enough such examples from Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Malaysian incidents that have a common thread – wherever the Muslims are in majority the rights and freedom of the non-Muslims are severely curtailed.
Take for example Kashmir. It's the only state in India which is a Muslim majority and see what happened there. Hundreds of temples were razed, Hindus were forced to flee, their women were raped, children were killed and houses forcibly occupied. The Muslims in Kashmir have been enjoying a special status under Constitution's Article 370, hardly any central law is enforced there, the number of income-tax payers is among the lowest and unlike other poor states, J&K gets 90 per cent central financial assistance as grants and only 10 per cent as loans. Still there are complaints that a 'Hindu central government discriminates'.
The other minority, Buddhists mostly located in Ladakh , too, are harshly treated and discriminated against by the mainly Sunni Muslim governance in Srinagar. The Buddhist Association, Leh, has been submitting memorandums to the central government about how Buddhist youths are denied jobs and a fair chance to join the Kashmir Administrative service and professional colleges in spite of clearing the entrance exams. The number of Buddhist minorities is fast decreasing causing concern amongst their leaders. Even their dead are not allowed to be buried in Muslim-majority Kargil area and monasteries have been denied to be built. If that can happen in a Hindu majority India's Muslim majority state, one can imagine the position of Hindus in a Muslim majority country like Pakistan.
A report of the United Nations Committee on the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD Committee) says, 'The Constitution of Pakistan segregates its citizens on the basis of religion; and provides preferential treatment to the Muslims. While Article 2 of the Constitution declares Islam as "the State religion of Pakistan" and the Holy Quran and Sunnah to be "the supreme law and source of guidance for legislation to be administered through laws enacted by the Parliament and Provincial Assemblies, and for policy-making by the Government", under Article 41(2) only a Muslim can become President. Further, Article 260 of the Constitution differentiates "Muslim" and "Non-Muslim" thereby facilitating and encouraging discrimination on the basis of religion.
The Constitution is so glued to providing preferential treatment to the majority Muslims that even a Hindu judge has to take the oath of office in the name of "Allah". On 24 March 2007, Justice Rana Bhagwandas, a Hindu, while being sworn in as Acting Chief Justice of Pakistan, being the senior most judge after the suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, had to take oath with a Quranic prayer - "May Allah Almighty help and guide me, (A'meen)". The Hindus and Hinduism have been maligned and hatred against them is propagated in the text books approved by the National Curriculum Wing of the Federal Ministry of Education. Among others, Hindus have been stated as "enemy of Islam" in the textbooks of Class V.
I hate to look disillusioned and always try to see something positive and hopeful for my columns but to avoid the smoke around your neck is as calumnious as to see bad where everything is otherwise resplendent with nobility. Last week I met an important Malaysian foreign dignitary over lunch at Taj Chambers, when during the course of our discussion about Asians, I mentioned the plight of Malaysian Hindus. He simply rubbished all that had appeared in the international newspapers and channels saying 'small matters are presented hundred times larger than the real quantum of gravity'. 'We are a very tolerant society'. Really?