Mahathir’s ‘Indian problem’

All the ethnic groups have played a crucial role in building the nation over the years

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Amid the country’s law enforcement agencies hunting people in high places for corruption, a sense of belonging among many in Malaysian – particularly ethnic Indians – was suddenly shaken and put into question.

This came about when former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in an interview recently by Indian satellite TV channel Thanthi TV, claimed that Indians in Malaysia were not “completely loyal” to the country. Consequently, their perceived diluted sense of Malaysian identity has come under scrutiny.

To the horror of many concerned people, particularly the ethnic minorities, the nonagenarian declared that “immigrants” could not call Malaysia their home for as long as they practised their customs and cultures.

Mind you, this divisive narrative still emerges after six decades of the country’s independence and formation when most of the immigrants’ descendants born in this country have regarded Malaysia as their only homeland. It is downright insulting.

This is apart from the fact that the former Langkawi MP, who was beaten in the last general election, presided over this multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural country for 22 years as its prime minister. In other words, he is not a village idiot.

Mahathir, who professed to be “100% Malay”, insisted that the ethnic minorities would have to “totally assimilate” to “become Malay” if they wanted to claim Malaysia as their home.

This raises a question: while some degree of acculturation might have occurred over the years, why would the minorities abandon their ethnic identities and cultural heritage only to become Malay, instead of Malaysian?

Furthermore, there is no reason for them to feel embarrassed or insecure about embracing and preserving their respective identities, whether it is ethnic Indian, Chinese, Orang Asli, Eurasian, Thai, Dayak, Kadazan-Dusun and so on.

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For the uninitiated, Malaysia was born from the womb of diverse ethnicities and cultures, so there was at one time an official endeavour to forge “Bangsa Malaysia” to represent this diversity.

One can be a proud Indian, Malay, Chinese or Iban but foremost a committed Malaysian. To discriminate against the minorities on this basis is simply bigotry.

Besides, you cannot simply erase your ethnicity and cultural heritage – even if you want to – like you would delete a typo on your mobile phone. Or, can you really?

To be sure, all the ethnic groups have played a crucial role in building the nation over the years. To question any of them on this count borders on being dangerously mischievous.

Loyalty to the country, which is indeed important, is more than just about language and culture – although we do recognise the importance of the national language as a medium for inter-ethnic communication and understanding.

Patriotism can take various forms: there are soldiers, irrespective of their ethnic background, who have put their lives on the line to defend the country from external threats; there are people who fly the Jalur Gemilang (the national flag) at home on independence day; conscientious folk strive to foster harmonious ethnic relations; and concerned people oppose certain leaders who put their vested interests before national interests.

Conversely, people, irrespective of their ethnic origin, who steal the public purse that is meant for national development are disloyal to the country. This is because the stolen money would have been used to help uplift the living standards of the people, especially the poor and the needy.

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Acknowledgment and celebration of our diversity notwithstanding, let us for one moment wonder what would happen if we were to follow Mahathir’s argument to its logical conclusion.

Would he and his ilk approve of the idea that those among the minorities who have fully committed themselves to being “Malay” would be accorded special treatment for university placements, scholarships and employment in the public sector?

Not to forget, can some of the newly declared Malays be regarded as prospective prime ministerial material?

We should be thankful that our unity and cultural exchanges over time have been blessed by our diversity.

If we may borrow certain words of Sanskrit origin, we are all “bangsa” (race/nation) Malaysia, proud of our “merdeka” (independent) country. – The Malaysian Insight

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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Walter Gomez
Walter Gomez
21 Jan 2024 3.09pm

So we have been ruled by a bigot for 22 years!! No wonder-lah the country is in such a mess!!!

subashchandra P Muniandy
subashchandra P Muniandy
21 Jan 2024 12.12pm

It is my considered opinion, this old man Mahathir is senile and his mental faculties are not good as they should be. To give a weird interpretation of loyalty to the nation by giving a [his definition] a distorted version of loyalty is not acceptable. Why is he forcing religion, customs and cultures in his interpretation. Assimilation if it is an individual choice is acceptable , otherwise Integration is the way of life for our beloved nation.

20 Jan 2024 7.08pm

Mahathir’s grandfather came from Kerala, India. He is not 100% malay.