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Democracy For A Few

Democracy For A Few

April 10, 2012

Why Malaysian Indians wish they belonged somewhere else.



“Sadly, I see myself as an Indian.” This is what Naren, a Malaysian Indian, said when I asked him if he saw himself primarily as a Malaysian or an Indian.

Indians have been living in Malaysia since the 11th Century. The majority of Indians in Malaysia, though, migrated there during the British colonization of Malaya mostly as plantation workers, and also as traders, policemen and sepoys. Today they comprise about 8 percent of Malaysia’s population (Wikipedia makes everything nice and concise, doesn’t it?).

Naren’s reply is not unfounded. State-sponsored racial discrimination is rampant in Malaysia. Your race decides almost everything, including the opportunities you get for education and the careers you can choose. For example, educational loans provided by the government have to be returned with interest by Indian and Chinese students. Malay students have to return only 10 percent of the loan amount. Politics and government service are unthinkable careers for most Indians. Naren does not believe he will see an Indian Prime Minister in Malaysia in his lifetime. Tamil schools receive far less funds than they need. It is common knowledge that the press is controlled, making any awareness difficult.

“I wish I belonged somewhere else,” says Punnya, who makes valuable contributions to her country but still feels highly oppressed. Coming from India, a country that gives extra importance to minorities, it seems very natural to me that a community that has been residing in a country for several generations, that has made this country its home, that has added to its rich heritage and that continues to contribute to its growth, must receive equal treatment from the government and must, at the very least, have the freedom to voice grievances fearlessly.

The New Economic Policy or NEP is usually blamed for the sad state of affairs. It is based on the per capita income of the three dominant races. By this measure, the Chinese are the richest, followed by the Indians and then the Malays. However, such data, as this article shows, can be misleading. There is no telling what the intentions behind such policies might have been, but they have resulted in a large number of Indian and Chinese poor not receiving any benefits purely due to their race.

Most of the people I talked to would not, given a choice, shift to India. The most frequently cited objections were corruption and overpopulation (About this, Ashish, an expat who works at a restaurant, commented, “What do they know?” I find myself agreeing). These are people who would like to be called just Malaysian and who see Malaysia as their own country. But they have been relegated to the status of second-class citizens simply because they are not “bumiputras” or sons of the soil. Remarkably, they have few problems with the bumiputras (Malays) themselves. The communal harmony is as near to perfect as one can expect. Their main complaints are against the government. You know there is serious discontent when people start talking about discrimination even before you ask them about it. Some have pinned all their hopes on the next elections. There have also been protests, reportedly peaceful, that were efficiently crushed. Others believe it is best to sing along to survive. “There is nothing anyone can do about this country. It would be a waste of time. People have tried and failed,” Punnya says. I asked her if the situation was in any way comparable to apartheid. “You made me think,” she said. I never did get my answer, but I find it very disturbing that she did not say no.

No democracy is perfect. But a government that calls itself democratic before the world, in the face of such seething discontent, is expected to do more than just acknowledge that something needs to be done for the Indians.

(All names in this article have been changed on request. People cited faraway prisons and mysterious disappearances as reasons for this secrecy, all reportedly managed by the state.)

Photo credit: realbollywood.com 

11 Comments

  • Jaai
    By
    Jaai
    17.04.12 02:22 PM
    @Bhadra: A lot would depend on whether you are an expat or a Malaysian Indian. But even if you are either, tell me this: if a community cannot expect to receive equal treatment in its own country, where else can this community expect to receive it? Is economic progress sufficient reason for letting 8 percent of your population remain feeling oppressed?
    I am not in any way making light of the suffering faced by blacks and coloreds in South Africa--what I am trying to do is compare: that country's government was shunned; Malaysia continues to call itself a democracy and be treated as such.
  • Bhadra
    By
    Bhadra
    16.04.12 01:42 PM
    I live in Malaysia and I find this article invalid.
    I think that one reason that Malaysia is such a successful economy is because it has stopped these strikes which disrupt the entire country, as can be seen in Kerala. The most recent strike, in support of Bersih, met with wide disapproval from the general public.
    It is true that the Malays get extra help from the government, which is irritating.
    But please do not compare the situation in Malaysia to apartheid. It makes light of the suffering felt by the blacks and coloured people in South Africa.
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    14.04.12 10:17 PM
    @ JAAI

    Everytime I look at your gravatar photo and the smile you are giving in it looks scary. Don't take an offense, I will explain.

    Your photo looks as if you are stroking a cat ( Bond Baddy ) and you got MMTB's head in a vice and you are pulling clumps of hairs one at a time. Now don't get any Ideas, you are a nice girl. :) :) I bet you would love to do that wouldn't you? if given chance. :) :) I liked the other gravatar photo better ( geeky ). :)

    HARRY
  • Jaai
    By
    Jaai
    14.04.12 12:48 PM
    Seriously, dude, the appreciation is odd. Quit trying. :|
  • Mr. Money To Burn
    By
    Mr. Money To Burn
    14.04.12 06:38 AM
    Sometimes you make me think, Jaai. Sometimes...
    you make me think.
  • Jaai
    By
    Jaai
    12.04.12 02:02 PM
    If everyone thought like that, Harry, nothing would ever change. I understand that there is not much I can do, but if I do the little I can, I'm doing something right.
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    11.04.12 08:52 PM
    Dear JAAI

    Thankyou, for pointing us in direction of TYS's article, which talks about lack of balls in Indian men in general.

    I do wear pants in my house but sometimes I get told which ones by my Mrs. She is just like you, all balls. Does this make me gay? Hmmmm!

    What we are saying is that, certain things in world are beyond our control, as much as you want to help the individual's in the question(Indian living outside India), but in reality what you say and do makes no difference, so what's the point of shouting in the thin air, if it's not going to make any difference, that's the point I am trying to make.

    This does not mean we like it, but when times come we will tell them, that, this is not acceptable, but until then, all we can do is sympathise with their plight.

    HARRY

    PS. MMTB is only pulling your leg, lighen up JAAI. :)
  • Jaai
    By
    Jaai
    11.04.12 11:23 AM
    I suggest you all read this :http://www.the-nri.com/index.php/2012/03/i-want-to-stand-up/

    If some people in some country (bonus because they're of Indian descent) are facing highly troubling discrimination from the state (NOT the people; the state), I see nothing wrong in speaking out about it. It would be hypocrisy if I found out about it and didn't speak about it.
    Also, fewer rights for one community is too big a price to pay for communal harmony. And giving Indians their legitimate rights won't disturb the communal harmony in anyway. Ignoring chauvinism is supporting it.

    Mr. Money to Burn, why don't you write an article about quitting? :)
  • Mr. Money To Burn
    By
    Mr. Money To Burn
    10.04.12 10:23 PM
    Jaai, I agree with both of the above comments too. Writing this article was absolutely unnecessary.

    Please write something on love. I mean, unrequited love. :D
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    10.04.12 10:11 PM
    @ JAAI

    I agree with Shirish.

    We human have all the faults built inside us that we can't avoid, it is our nature to discriminate agains one and other, because it's human thing. This condition will still apply in future, when we will live on moon.

    Any system run by man will always have faults, and this will never be fixed.

    If we interfere with Malaysians, we will be labled as war mongers.

    HARRY
  • shirish patwa
    By
    shirish patwa
    10.04.12 06:39 PM
    While I sympathize with the Malaysians of Indian origin,I hardly see any role the outsiders can play.Fortunately ,there is communal harmony amongst the different races,It is but natural that all of them should take up the issue of discrimination.If the outsiders poke their noses,the harmonious relation will get vitiated.

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