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TAMIL-T  December 2007

TAMIL-T December 2007

Subject:

Malaysian Indians: a disadvantaged community

From:

"Harold F. Schiffman" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Tamil language teachers' list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 10 Dec 2007 13:11:27 -0500

Content-Type:

TEXT/PLAIN

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

TEXT/PLAIN (168 lines)

Source: The Hindu
(http://www.hinduonnet.com/2007/12/07/stories/2007120753831000.htm)
Opinion
-
Malaysian Indians: a disadvantaged community

V. Suryanarayan

Kuala Lumpur's objections to political India's expression of concern over
the condition and treatment of Malaysian Indians contrast sharply with the
Malaysian government's habit, as a leading OIC member, of criticising
other governments for pursuing policies that adversely affect Muslim
communities.

The unprecedented November 2007 demonstration by Malaysian Indians before
the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, under the sponsorship of the
Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), has brought into sharp focus the
pathetic situation in which the Indian community finds itself today.
Hindraf, a coalition of 30 non-governmental organisations, is committed to
the preservation and promotion of Hindu identity in Malaysia. The
coalition had been agitating against what it calls the unofficial policy
of temple demolition and the steady introduction of Sharia-based law.
The memorandum submitted to the British High Commission demanded that the
United Kingdom should move a resolution in the United Nations condemning
the ethnic cleansing taking place in Malaysia. It also wanted the issue to
be taken to the World Court and the International Criminal Court of
Justice. In August 2007, Malaysian Indians moved to approach the British
courts demanding a compensation of $4 trillion  which works out to $1
million per Malaysian Indian  for bringing their forefathers as indentured
labourers and failing to protect their rights and interests on the eve of
Malayan independence.
The Malaysian government, true to its authoritarian traditions, refused
permission for holding the rally, arrested the leaders, and used tear gas
and water cannon to disperse the demonstrators. The leaders of Hindraf
should know that historical wrongs perpetrated during the colonial era
like the indenture system cannot be undone. Presumably, their objective is
to highlight the increasing marginalisation of the Indian community in the
social, economic, political, and cultural life of Malaysia.
At the end of the Second World War, the Indians (the term today includes
Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nepalese, and Sri Lankans) constituted
about 14 per cent of Malayas population. A number of them returned to
India during the communist insurgency and the time of troubles that
followed the communal riots of May 1969. By 2000, Indians numbered 1.8
million, representing 7.7 per cent of the Malaysian population of 21.89
million. Approximately 80 per cent of them were Tamils. North Indians
(mainly Sikhs) constituted 7.7 per cent; Malayalis 4.7 per cent; Telugus
3.4 per cent; Sri Lankan Tamils 2.7 per cent, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis
1.1 per cent; and others 0.4 per cent. Religion-wise, Hindus comprised
81.2 per cent of the Malaysian Indian population; Christians 8.4 per cent;
Muslims 6.7 per cent; Sikhs 3.1 per cent; Buddhists 0.5 per cent; and
others 0.1 per cent.
We should make a distinction between the Indian middle class (mainly
non-Tamils and Sri Lankan Tamils) whose standard of living is fairly high
and the working class (mainly Tamil), which is poor and getting
marginalised. The working class is drawn from Dalit and other
non-privileged sections of society. They continue to be weighed down by
low social esteem, a condition made worse by a lack of interaction between
the well off and the less well off.
A notable feature of the Indian community is its changing socio-economic
profile. In 1970, 47 per cent of the Indians were engaged in agriculture,
74 per cent of them in the plantations. With rapid economic expansion and
diversification, plantations have been converted for other purposes,
including the construction of luxury homes. The uprooted Indians were only
paid a pittance as compensation. They naturally migrated to urban areas
and joined the squatter population. A few years ago, Samy Velu, president
of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), deplored the plight of thousands
of estate workers living in squalor in slums in dozens of long-houses and
squatter settlements all over Selangor.
A few years ago, Aliran, the journal of the Malaysian reform movement,
provided statistical details that made disturbing reading: 40 per cent of
serious crimes in Malaysia were committed by Indians; there were 38
Indian-based gangs with 1,500 active members; Indians contributed the
highest number of those detained under the Emergency Regulations and
banished to Simpang Rengamm prison. In Kuala Lumpur, 14 per cent of the
squatters were Indians; they had the highest suicide rates; 41 per cent of
vagrants and beggars were Indians; and 20 per cent of child abusers and 14
per cent of juvenile delinquents were Indians.
The Indian-Malay communal clashes that took pace in March 2001, the worst
since May 1969, sent shock waves through Malaysia. Ethnic tensions in
Malaysia are generated mainly by Sino-Malay rivalry but the heavy Indian
involvement in 2001 (five of the six killed were Indians and the other was
an Indonesian) was a sad reminder that in Malaysias progress towards
prosperity Indians were being left behind.
The disadvantaged status is clearly visible in the economic sphere. The
Chinese are firmly entrenched in trade, business, and industry. They are
apparently reconciled to a subordinate status in political life; at the
same time, they have sharpened their entrepreneurial skills and become
indispensable. The status of Malays has improved steadily as a result of
the energetic drive of the Malaysian government since the days of the New
Economic Policy.
The deplorable status of Indian Tamils is directly related to poor
educational attainments. Although the Malaysian government has expanded
educational facilities in a big way since independence, the fruits of
education have not percolated to the most disadvantaged sections of the
Indian population. Tamil medium primary schools are in a sorry state. A
single teacher handling multiple classes, ill-equipped schools with
teachers lacking commitment, and high dropout rates are some of the
serious drawbacks. Family life is characterised by alcoholism, violence
against women, and addiction to Tamil TV channels. Obviously, all this
does not provide a congenial atmosphere for study. As a result, only
limited numbers of Tamil children are able to go to university.
Compounding the complex situation is a general perception that the
government is not serious about preventing the destruction of Hindu
temples. In the midst of fast-changing lifestyles in Malaysia, temples and
religious festivals are the only visible attachment to traditions and the
Indians cling to them tenaciously.
There is a close nexus between religion and Malay politics and the
policies of the Malaysian government have proved to be double-edged. On
the one hand, the leaders of the United Malays National Organisation
(UMNO) are committed to the promotion of Islam in all possible ways. Such
a policy is judged to be necessary to mobilise Malays under the UMNO
banner. Else the Malays might flock to the Partai Islam (PAS) for
leadership and inspiration. At the same time, the realities of Malaysia
and the needs of modernisation dictate that the government must encourage
a less exclusivist approach towards Islam. When the desecration of Hindu
temples began in 1978, the most notable incident being the destruction of
the Murugan temple in Kerling, Prime Minister Hussein Onn came down
heavily on Islamic extremists. But the situation has been allowed to drift
during recent years. According to Hindraf, a Hindu temple is demolished in
Malaysia every three weeks, the latest outrage being the demo!
lition of the Mariamman temple in Shah Alam.

Factional feud



The question should be legitimately asked  how effective is the Malaysian
Indian Congress, which represents the Indian community in the Malaysian
government, in living up to its primary ideal of safeguarding the
interests of the Indian community? An Indian observer of the Malaysian
scene cannot but come to a downbeat conclusion. Factional struggle and
disunity have been the lot of the Indian community for six decades now.
The fight for power, petty politicking, and mudslinging have been its
major attributes. It is an unrelieved tale of strong man rivalry and
factionalism within the MIC: Devaser vs Sambandan; Sambandan vs
Manickavasagam; Manickavasagam vs Samy Velu; Samy Velu vs Padmanabhan vs
Subramaniam vs Pandithar.
Self-help measures initiated by the MIC with much fanfare, have not led to
any worthwhile results. For example, the Maika Holdings Bhd, started in
1982 as an investment vehicle for Malaysian Indians, incurred heavy
losses, resulting in the wipe-out of the savings of a large number of
indigent Indians.
Recent events in Malaysia have naturally attracted the attention of Indian
leaders. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh, and Foreign Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee have all expressed
concern over the recent turn of events in Malaysia. They have made it
clear that the objective is not to interfere in the internal affairs of a
friendly country but only to influence the Malaysian government to
initiate immediate steps for the redress of long-pending grievances. The
Malaysian official response has been unfortunate. Representatives of the
Malaysian government, including the Prime Minister, have demanded that the
Government of India and the Government of Tamil Nadu keep off an internal
matter of Malaysia.
What is the record of the Malaysian government in this respect? As a
leading member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the
Malaysian government has sharply criticised many governments for pursuing
policies that have adversely affected the Muslim communities. UMNO and
PAS, the two leading Malay parties, have on several occasions since
independence criticised the policies of the Thai government, which has led
to the alienation of the Malay minority in southern Thailand. Malay
leaders have also criticised the government of Singapore for pursuing
allegedly discriminatory policies against the Malay minority in the
island. Malaysian official criticism of India, for intruding into its
internal affairs, certainly sounds strange.

(Dr. V. Suryanarayan is a retired Senior Professor and Director of the
Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras.)

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