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Hindraf: We still have a role to play

 | July 30, 2012

'Look at the copy organisations that have sprouted around the Hindraf name. Does that not talk about the appeal in the Hindraf Makkal Sakthi name or significance?'

INTERVIEW

PETALING JAYA: It is going to be almost five years since Hindraf drew thousands of Indians to the streets of Kuala Lumpur to highlight their marginalised state in the country.

Since the rally on Nov 25, 2007, so many changes, especially political in nature, had taken place in Malaysia. The most important one had been, without a doubt, the political awareness of the Indian community, and their new-found willingness to fight for their rights.

According to Hindraf’s national adviser N Ganesan, the movement played David’s role in the David and Goliath parable by battling Umno head-on on Nov 25, 2007.

“This has contributed in major ways to reducing the fear among the polity, and shown the paper in the tiger of Umno. Hindraf has contributed to major shifts in public opinion vis-à-vis Umno since then. Fear has been a significant instrument of control by the Umno-led government. This has been blunted,” he told FMT in a recent interview.

He added that today Hindraf was no more a loosely banded group but instead has become a tight-knit group of activists made up of committed individuals across the country who have come forth after the rally of 2007.

“Why isn’t the government able to just kill Hindraf off? Hindraf is banned after all, is it not?” he asked.

He said the government was unable to finish off Hindraf because “Hindraf has tremendous appeal with the Indians and anything like that will be cutting off their nose to spite their face”.

He stressed that Hindraf remained more relevant than ever for the Indian community and lashed out at both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat for not being genuine and serious in handling the issues affecting the Indian community.

“Hindraf has tried through various initiatives to engage Pakatan. But it is very clear Pakatan does not want to engage with Hindraf. Their point is very clear: the ‘mandorist’ approach created by Umno seems to be a better approach than to take Hindraf on as equal partners.

“They [Pakatan] want the cake and they want to eat it too, just like Umno. They would rather create copies of us like Indraf and use that to create perceptions of dealing with the Indian issues, while getting the Indian votes on the cheap – not giving what it takes to truly resolve the Indian marginalisation issue,” he said.

He added that Hindraf found that there was no real difference in the positions of the two coalitions, and that “they just have no appetite to eliminate institutionalised racism and to create a nation based on dignity and equality”.

Ganesan said Hindraf was continuing to expose the deceptions of politicians from both BN and Pakatan.

This, he said, had resulted in the Indian voters being more aware of what politicians from BN or Pakatan represent, especially on Indian community matters.

“The Indian voters have been sensitised to their rights and interests. So both Barisan and Pakatan have to try much harder now to garner the Indian vote,” he said.

Below is the excerpt of FMT’s interview with Ganesan:

Since the November 2007 Hindraf rally, what has been the impact of Hindraf?

The impact of Hindraf has been very significant to recent Malaysian political development beginning with the November rally. By battling Umno head-on on Nov 25, 2007, Hindraf played David’s role in the David and Goliath parable and this has contributed in major ways to reducing the fear among the polity, and shown the paper in the tiger of Umno. Hindraf has contributed to major shifts in public opinion vis-à-vis Umno since then. Fear has been a significant instrument of control by the Umno led government. This has been blunted.

Hindraf has contributed and continues to contribute to the political awakening of Indians. Hindraf has made the Indians in Malaysia aware of the fact of how, through many stealth strategies, this Umno-led government has denied them their fundamental rights. In fact, the word on the ground is that Hindraf has opened the eyes of the Indians about what has really happened.

Look at the number of issues being raised spontaneously on the ground today by the Indians on the various issues of land, of religious freedom, of police brutality, of abusive civil servants, of denial of opportunities in education, in government employment and on the citizenship issue. None of this would be happening today but for the clarity Hindraf has wrought on the treachery in these areas. This is undeniable.

Because Hindraf has been focused on the human rights issues of the Indians, very focused, they have taken a non-partisan view of the way policies are framed and resources allocated by both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat.

The deceptions of politicians on both sides of the spectrum are constantly being exposed by Hindraf. The result has been a reduction in the confidence in facing change or party change stratagem as far as the ordinary Indian voter is concerned. They have been sensitised to their rights and interests. So both Barisan and Pakatan have to try much harder now to garner the Indian vote.

Is the movement still relevant today?

The movement’s significance is in the issues raised and the manner in which they are raised. This really defines relevance for Hindraf.

Institutionalised racism, we all know, is one of the biggest malaises in Malaysia and Hindraf hits at the centre of this racist platform – Umno, and its continuing and increasingly sophisticated contributions. All the other political parties stay clear of this fundamental malaise.

The source of this institutionalised racism is the two-tier citizenship entrenched in the Federal Constitution in Article 153. The Indian poor have been the most impacted by this racist regime. Institutionalised racism is a conspiracy of the elite serving to entrench their interests. This is Hindraf’s core message and Hindraf is entirely focused on this most relevant agenda.

The Special Indian Task Force’s MyDaftar programmes, and the subsequent championing of this same statelessness issue by Pakatan, is nothing but an indication of how relevant the issues Hindraf raised, are.

Their involvement in preventing or stopping temple demolishment, their increasing wayang kulit acts on Tamil schools, the kid-glove approach to the many Indian settlement issues, the handouts to the lower income peoples and the increasing concerns with issues Indian, speak volumes of the relevance of the issues Hindraf raises.

Think what all this will look like if Hindraf had not existed. Then look at the copy organisations that have sprouted around the Hindraf name – Indraf, Malaysian Makkal Sakthi Party. Does that not talk about the appeal in the Hindraf Makkal Sakthi name or significance?

If you try to measure relevance in terms of attendance to functions, then we must take our hats off to MIC as they have tens of thousands of Indians attending their functions – so they must be most relevant by that logic. Is that a justifiable conclusion?

Hindraf is a banned organisation. Which other operating organisation is? Why isn’t the government able to just kill Hindraf off? Hindraf is banned after all, is it not? They just cannot, as they know through their Special Branch assessment that Hindraf has tremendous appeal with the Indians and anything like that will be cutting off their nose to spite their face. So much for relevance.

What is Hindraf fighting for and how has it changed in shape or form since 2007?

What Hindraf is fighting for is twofold:

1) To bring the marginalised Indians into the mainstream of national development.

2) To eliminate all state-sponsored racist and religious supremacist policies of the government by dismantling the institutionalised racist regime.

The objectives have not changed – only they have become clearer. Hindraf is not a racist organisation as some would argue convolutedly for self-serving purpose – Hindraf is an organisation standing up for the victims of racism. This is what it started off as and this is what it stands for today.

In 2007, Hindraf was led by a group of loosely organised individuals who rallied the Indians in an open show of defiance against Umno in the watershed Hindraf rally. Today, Hindraf is no more that loosely banded group. Hindraf is now a tight-knit group of activists made up of committed individuals across the country who have come forth after the rally of 2007 and taken on the mantle boldly under the leadership of P Waythamoorthy.

Four activists and one Special Branch operative were arrested and detained under the ISA for their roles in the Nov 25, 2007 rally. Except for P Uthayakumar, all the rest have gone on to find their futures with PKR and DAP – a move Hindraf thinks reflects their personal political motives and ambitions.

That move is more an expression of their personal intentions rather than any loss of direction of Hindraf. For Umno’s part, one of Umno’s plans to kill Hindraf off was to buy out the leadership of Hindraf when the other key players were in detention or out of the country.

They succeeded in getting the renegade N Thanenthiran and created the BN-friendly Makkal Sakthi Party for him.

Waythamoorthy has remained completely bound to the original motive and plan of Hindraf while being in exile. So, effectively the chaff has been separated from the wheat – what we have now in Hindraf are activists who are truly bound to the original objectives of Hindraf.

What is Hindraf’s political leaning?

Hindraf’s short-term plans are to attain the18-point demands. Changing social values and creating fundamental politico-legal change is Hindraf’s long-term plan. And it is Hindraf’s considered opinion that there is not enough political will across the entire Malaysian political spectrum today to address this fundamental issue of institutionalised racism and denial of equality for all within the country.

Umno initiated the process and kept it going for 50-odd years, but Pakatan does not appear to have the will to touch any of these provisions in the Federal Constitution. Change cannot therefore be expected to happen from within any time soon.

As far as Hindraf’s short-term plans are concerned, Hindraf has tried through various initiatives to engage Pakatan. But it is very clear Pakatan does not want to engage with Hindraf. Their point is very clear: the Mandorist approach created by Umno seems to be a better approach than to take Hindraf on as equal partners.

They want the cake and they want to eat it too, just like Umno. They would rather create copies of us like Indraf and use that to create perceptions of dealing with the Indian issues, while getting the Indian votes on the cheap – not giving what it takes to truly resolve the Indian marginalisation issue.

Dong Zong has indicated they will be talking to both BN and Pakatan on their issue of vernacular education. That is also the path Hindraf is now forced to take on the 18-point demands – especially after the unwillingness of the Pakatan leadership to engage with Hindraf.

Hindraf’s short-term political leaning will be decided by who will have a better deal to offer on the 18-point demands. This will be openly and clearly presented to the Indian marginalised for them to decide.

Determination of Hindraf’s short-term position is going to be based now on pragmatism and not on some abstract dogma of change or on emotions as in the last general election. Whoever is willing to sign up to a binding agreement on specifics, not on general principles, on their offer to Hindraf’s 18-point demands will be presented to our constituency – the marginalised Indians – and this will essentially determine our position. The agreements will have to be made in a binding way, so that Hindraf in 2012 will not be outdone as was Suqui in 1999 by Umno.

Hindraf’s political leaning will therefore be decided on what benefits the Indian marginalised and the poor best.

As for the long-term change Hindraf seeks, it is again Hindraf’s considered opinion that it can only come from naming and shaming Malaysia as an operator of an institutional racist regime in the wider community of nations, to create the political will among the elite – the true masters of national policy – for change.

Therefore, Hindraf now believes there is no real difference in the positions of the two coalitions, and they just have no appetite to eliminate institutionalised racism and to create a nation based on dignity and equality. Change of that nature will not come from a change of political parties in Putrajaya.

It cannot come from within the country, so it makes very little difference between the two coalitions on that count to the marginalised Indians. Only positive and concrete efforts to redress the ills they face today as expressed in the 18-point demand of Hindraf will make a difference to them. That will determine the political leaning of Hindraf from here onwards.

Tomorrow: What can Waythamoorthy do by returning?

Also read:

Hindraf chairman Waytha gets his passport


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