Santiago: Indians no longer in estates but form part of urban poor

Santiago: Indians who had migrated from estates are now stuck with urban poverty.

PETALING JAYA: An opposition MP reminded the government that it is too late to help local Indians in transition to urban areas from estates, as the migration stopped about 15 years ago.

DAP’s Charles Santiago, who has done several studies on the community, said most of the plantations are now occupied by foreign workers such as Bangladeshis and Indonesians.

“The number of Indians in plantations is very small. The migration has been stagnant for the past 15 years.

“The majority of them are now in urban areas, living in poverty and part of gangs. About 30% of them drop out of school,” he told FMT.

Santiago, who majored in political economy, said a lot of them have no skills to survive and have been lagging behind other communities in Malaysia.

Santiago was asked to comment on Prime Minister Najib Razak’s speech on Sunday that he is placing priority on looking after Indians in Malaysia as they are undergoing a transition from being known as “estate people” to becoming a modern community.

Najib said the process needs special attention from the government to ensure the community’s economic structure is sound.

Najib said “the new generation needs specific assistance so that the transition from being an estate community to a modern community can become a reality”.

Santiago said prior to this, the BN government had no interest in helping the Indian community.

“The community is so far behind that it might take the government at least two generations to get the B40 group of low-income Indians to be on a par with others.”

B40 refers to the bottom 40% of households with monthly income of RM3,900 and below.

Santiago pointed out that the sudden interest in helping the local Indian community was due to the realisation that the community could be tilting more towards Pakatan Harapan after the 2008 and 2013 general elections.

The BN government is also under pressure as they see the Selangor and Penang state governments carrying out specific programmes for the B40 Indians, Santiago pointed out.

Prior to this, he said concerned groups, including him and other NGOs, had been asking the government to help the poor Indians in transition from estates.

“We have been asking this for 30 years. Nothing was done.

“We asked them to help estate workers in estates. Nothing was done because they said the estates were privately owned.

“But this was happening while the government was developing Felda, Felcra and others.”

He said the Indians who had migrated from estates are now “stuck with urban poverty and they need vocational training to push them out of poverty”.

Santiago, who is Klang MP, said the social and economic problems within the Indian community were phenomenal. He gave an example where fathers are involved in selling drugs.

“Once the father is caught, the wife takes over the criminal activity. When the mother is also caught, the poor children are left stranded,” he said.

Sivarasa questions Najib’s sincerity in helping poor Indians

If Najib had said this during the first or second year of his premiership, people would have believed him, says Sivarasa.

Subang MP R Sivarasa believes what Najib  said was just rhetoric.

“He has been the prime minister since 2009. If he had said this during the first or second year of his premiership, people would have believed him,” Sivarasa told FMT.

He said the government’s blueprint for the Indian community had 23 different indicators, including education, economic and others.

“Every indicator shows the Indians are at the bottom. It shows the complete failure of the government to tackle issues,” said the PKR member.

He said the attention given to Indian problems now just shows the government is desperate for votes as the 14th general election is looming.