After interviewing some Indian Malaysian families in an estate, in a low-cost housing area and in a longhouse within the outskirts of the Federal Territory, David Anthony was surprised – but not shocked – to find that their socio-financial situation has worsened over the years. Rights, he laments, remain written in the clouds never reaching the poor and helpless on the ground.
In his article “Living in Limbo-land” (AM Vol 26 No 3), Ramdas Tikamdas highlighted that 20,000 ethnic Indians have been denied their right to identity and citizenship. He quoted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 and also CEDAW and CRC which Malaysia ratified but only with reservations, to urge the State to provide assistance. I would like to take that to ground level with some case studies.
I had been engaged with Indian communities in the plantations and squatter areas over thirty years ago. I had the opportunity recently to interview some Indian families in an estate, in a low-cost housing area and in a longhouse within the outskirts of the Federal Territory. I was surprised but not shocked to find that their socio-financial situation has not only not improved but has got worse.
Indians in an estate that is not even a suburb of KL live in an environment that has hardly changed. The estate is closing down in three months and the workers have no jobs, no shelter and nowhere to go to. One woman, Nagama (not her real name) has 11 children; her husband is bed-ridden and they are illiterate. Five of her children have no citizenship or birth certificates. The children cannot be admitted to schools or find employment because they do not have identity cards. She approached MIC officials, who took whatever papers she had and she never heard from them again. There is no one to open any legal avenues for her to pursue. That family would probably be among the 20,000, mentioned by Ramdas, if they counted.
Help only for MIC members
In a low cost flat lives a woman whose husband has a chronic illness but works as an office boy. They have two daughters who are disabled. The place is not disabled friendly. They survive on a meagre diet of mainly plain rice with a colouring of curry. They receive no help from the government. They have received no help from the MIC. They have met with local party leaders and answered numerous questions but to no end. She is asked if she is a member of the party. No. They say they can only help party members.
They approached the welfare department and the first thing they asked was if they subscribed to Astro. Yes. The Astro subscription was made by her sister for the sake of the disabled daughters, a gift. Therefore they were not entitled to welfare aid. They are at a dead end. The daughters are 18 and 20 but stunted. She says she prays to God everyday that He would take them while she is still alive so that she may give them a decent burial because nobody will ever marry them.
Another family lives in a longhouse, below the skyline of the Twin Towers. They have been moved from one longhouse to another with the promise of a permanent house for 15 years. All they can hope for now is something for their grandchildren. They have been turned down by the MIC again for not being a member. She has no idea how to become a member. When she was told that she has to pay a membership fee, she said she would rather not be a member.
The MIC members did come once on the pretext of collecting donations for the poor. Being poor themselves, they nevertheless collected some money and gave it to them. Later, they said they found out that the MIC had used their money to buy sarees and distribute them in another area as coming from their own benevolence with no mention of the contribution.
They have no knowledge of government policies or human rights or any rights to which they are entitled. They are caught in a vicious cycle of poverty, illiteracy and ignorance. Their livelihood is being snatched away from them by the immigrant labour force.
The whole scheme of low cost housing and longhouses is a clever strategy of the government to erase the ugly scenes of squatter settlements and to relocate the poor behind facades, thereby making poverty invisible. If Malaysia is serious about achieving developed status, the living conditions found here will not meet the required standards of approval. Twenty- twenty will have come and gone. Poor Indian Malaysians!
Rights remain written in the clouds never reaching ground level.