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The untold story of a forgotten people

 | April 29, 2011

This group is commonly dubbed the ‘underclass’. Their story does not sell newspapers. They have no public appeal. They are not newsworthy.

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No one in Malaysia wants to know about this particular minority group. Not BN. Not Pakatan. Not even the editors of a few papers who refused to tell their story. Shame on them!

Theirs is a story of a forgotten group, whose lives mean nothing to others. This neglected lot isn’t detected under anybody’s radar. They have been abandoned, even by their own kind.

This group is commonly dubbed the ‘underclass’. Their story does not sell newspapers. They have no public appeal. They are not newsworthy.

Who are they? ‘They’ are Malaysian Indians.

On April 26, MIC deputy president, Dr S Subramaniam, claimed that Indians were ashamed of their community and were looked down by the other races. According to him, 45% of the country’s crimes involved Indians.

This is a serious charge:  The Indian population of 2 million (out of 29 million people), is responsible for almost half of Malaysia’s crime.

When Subramaniam suggested immediate remedial action to combat the increasing criminal involvement of the Indian youth, he claimed that MIC had worked tirelessly with various government agencies.

The MIC was formed in 1946 and its original aim was for Indians to fight for the independence of the motherland, India. Of lesser importance, the MIC was to check social problems, promote racial harmony and co-operation as well as obtain a fair share of the economic pie for the Indian community.

It has been 54 years since independence, and many Indians will claim that BN/MIC leaders have done more than enough to help themselves only.

The leadership of S Samy Vellu, the MIC’s longest serving leader since Oct 12, 1979 was not without controversy as his tenure was marked by allegations of corruption and a decline in Malaysian Indian welfare.

It is not just the high crime rate involving Indians that must be resolved. Many Indians have no birth certificates or identity cards. They are stateless.

‘Hey, who cares?’

Many Tamil schools are in a deplorable state, lack funding and are situated on illegal land. Several Hindu temples lack proper land titles or are built on illegal land. Many centuries old Hindu temples, with significant historical attachment and cultural identity have been demolished.

Nearly 90 percent of Malaysian Indians are of South Indian origin, principally Tamilians, Malayalis and Telugus.

If Chinese or Malay communities were treated as badly, there would have been a severe backlash. “But hey, who cares? They are only Indians,” is the common reply.

The Indians record the highest percentage of deaths whilst under police custody, so why is the bar council relatively silent?

Today, the Indian community has progressed from mainly plantation workers to one consisting of entrepreneurs, intellectuals and professionals.

Despite this, the general perception toward Indians has remained intact. Malaysia’s survey of race relations still paints an unflattering, stereotypical image of Indians in Malaysia, in much the same way people generalise with comments like “Malays are lazy, or Chinese are greedy”.

Malaysia’s Indian professionals are highly successful and form the bulk of the country’s top lawyers and doctors. Conversely, the other end of the social spectrum, comprises Indians who lack confidence and are failures.

The poorest labourers in Malaysia are Indians who survive on a ‘hand to mouth’ existence.

In 2000, TimeAsia reported that Indians had the lowest share of the nation’s corporate wealth: 1.5%, compared to 19.4% for the Malays and 38.5% for the Chinese.

The Indians record the highest rate of suicide of any Malaysian community. Gangsterism and violent crime was largely associated with Indians. In 1994, 128 of the 377 murders committed in Malaysia were by Indians. Some 15% of the Indians in the capital are squatters.

The Economist reported that in 2003, Malaysian Indians comprised “14 percent of juvenile delinquents, 20 percent of wife and child and 14 percent of its beggars. Less than 5 percent of successful university applicants were Indian.”

Many people assume that the marginalisation of the Indians happened during former Prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s era. It did not. It happened much earlier, possibly around the time of Independence.

The Indians were a source of cheap labour in plantations and construction sites at the expense of their political and social mobility. Malays benefited from state patronage and the Chinese, stronger in numbers than Indians, exploited their business and social networks.

The Indian middle class excelled but the Indian “problem” is exacerbated because of the lack of interaction between the well-to-do Indian middle class and the Indian working underclass.

It is a Malaysian problem

The low self-esteem amongst the Indians, their lack of interaction and the marginalisation of working-class Indians is reflected in their poor performance in business, equity ownership and employment in professional sectors and the civil service.

A Malaysian Indian entrepreneur who runs an IT firm in Cyberjaya, said: “There are two main reasons behind the backwardness of Indians. One is that we are a minority here, and two, the politicians who represent us do not promote our cause.”

Bumiputra politics place Indians at a disadvantage both in education and work opportunities.

Local university seats and scholarships are all awarded under a racial quota system. Even after getting a degree, many say that discrimination is commonplace. Indian doctors are reportedly excluded from lists of approved doctors for civil servants or company employees.

When rubber plantations were converted into housing estates and golf courses, many displaced estate workers drifted to urban areas to form Indian ghettos which are a hot-bed of crime.

Indian Malaysians are in a bind. Most have resigned themselves to their plight while discontent simmers within the community. Malaysia cannot afford to alienate its Indians.

For 54 years, the MIC acknowledges yearly, that the Indian community needs help.

But Malaysians must realise that issues affecting the Indian community are not just an Indian problem. It is a Malaysian problem. What happens to our fellow Indians, affect both the Malays and Chinese.

Tamil Nesan quoted Subramaniam as saying that 45% of the country’s crimes involved Indians. But he forgot to highlight two things; The first is the race responsible for much of the white-collar crime. Second is the race which robs the rakyat blind by raiding the treasury.

Mariam Mokhtar is a political observer and an FMT columnist


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