Malaysians have indeed awakened. Indian Malaysians, for instance, voted in droves for the opposition in the last general election. It is time to tackle the root causes of their discontentment, says P Sivakumar.
Malaysia’s two million Indians, who make up less than 8 per cent of the population today have been largely sidelined by the NEP policy since 1971. Once traditionally very staunch supporters of the ruling Barisan National, the majority of them have switched camps following years of grassroots agitation concerning their neglect under the NEP, the demolition of historical temples and some sensitive religious issues.
We thank the Government for the immediate halt to temple demolition and the positive attention given to religious rights made possible after the outlawed Hindu Action Force (Hindraf) took to the streets with an unexpected turnout of some 30,000 Indian Malaysian supporters in November 2007.
Nearly 85 per cent of Indian Malaysians are ethnic Tamils, about 70 per cent of them are descendants of plantation workers. Of the 8 per cent of Malaysians who are Indians, 80 per cent of them are Hindus, 15 per cent Muslims among whom are Tamils and Malayalees who have wangled their way into the bumiputra preserve. The rest are Christians, Sikhs, Gujaratees and others.
Today after 51 years of Independence, the Indian definition has become a metaphor for backwardness. Even though the median family income of Indian Malaysians, according to official statistics, is higher than that of Malays, certain segments of the Indian Malaysians live in abject poverty and form part of the lowest strata in terms of economic ownership. The official statistics indicate Indians account for only 1.2 per cent of traded equity since 1971.
According to Hindraf, 15 per cent of Malaysian juvenile delinquents, 50 per cent of all convicts in prison since 2004 and 41 per cent of the beggars in 2003 were Indians. The percentage of Indians in the civil service fell from 40 per cent in 1957 to less than 2 per cent in 2005. According to official records, 30-35 Indians per 100,000 committed or attempted to commit suicide annually as compared to 10-12 Malaysians per 100,000 in 2006. In education they make up less than 5 per cent of the university intake of over 45,000 annually.
The current agitation in Malaysia by Indians is directed against discrimination and violation of human rights, which is evident in the piling up of complaints with Suhakam. Apart from the economic hardships, they have specific grievances. Their immediate concern is to be treated equally and offered business opportunities and government jobs. This is where their expectations are understandably high in the Pakatan controlled states because they had thrown in their lot with the Pakatan Rakyat and provided their crucial support to vent their frustrations and demonstrated their anger for the detention of the Hindraf leaders without trial under the infamous ISA.
A political awakening
The now outlawed Hindraf as you can see had provided serious data and hard facts that had baffled MIC, the 60-year-old Indian political Party. These data and facts were used to awaken the Indian ethnic minority in Malaysia regarding the root of their discontentment.
Many feel that if not for the actions of Hindraf, the Indian minority issues would not have received such an extensive national and international attention unheard of over the last 60 years of the MIC leadership which by and large depends on the charity of BN leadership for handouts.
Indian Malaysians are seeking equality after 51years of Independence. The people of the world are more affluent now. What Malaysia needs now is a sacrifice of the rich and super-rich of all races to refrain from grabbing everthing under the NEP and allow the poor of all races to benefit a little in order to move up and progress.
Pakatan supremo Anwar Ibrahim to his credit has pledged to cater for the needs of the Indians and all other neglected segments of our society and that is why he has won their support perhaps permanently. The BN may argue that the Indians are not a force when it comes to voting in any constituency. However the Indians would be the deciding factor in at least 40 to 50 constituencies s in the next general elections based on assumptions from the last general elections.
Thus the Malaysian Indian Business Association (MIBA) does not see many Indians deserting the Pakatan unless the BN comes up with something more tangible and meaningful rather than the same handouts.
The Hindraf Five must be released unconditionally and they should be allowed to form a public policy think tank which will contribute to the building of a strong and progressive Indian Malaysian community. Such a think tank will adopt a balanced and inclusive approach when addressing the community’s grievances.
BN leaders cannot avoid the changing patterns in the globalised world of today especially so when a coloured person has become president of the United States – something that was deemed impossible. If, Americans can set aside their prejudices, cross party lines and elect Barak Obama purely based on merit, why are we stuck with our narrow mindedness, bigotry and unfair policies? Why can’t we move on?
It is only proper for Malaysia to seriously promote a Malaysian national identity in order to unite all the people of the land. Malaysia, being a founding member of the Association of South East Asian Nations signed the Asean charter on 21 November 2007. Under the Asean Charter and also as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Malaysia is duty-bound to promote and protect human rights irrespective of race, religion and gender.
In keeping with this moral obligation, the MIBA humbly requests the Prime Minister of Malaysia to release all those languishing under the ISA or failing which they should be tried in a court of law so that we will be seen as a nation that honours and respects the rule of law.
P Sivakumar is president of the Malaysian Indian Business Association
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