By Dharm Navaratnam
A bunch of kids met in primary school. They grew up together, played together, celebrated birthdays together. They studied together, had sleepovers in each other’s houses and ate together.
Their parents soon became friends too. The kids were treated as part of the family in each other’s houses.
These Malaysian girls were the best of friends.
Just last week they finished their UPSR exams and had a sleepover in one of their houses. Six girls, representing the major ethnic communities in our country. A rather pretty picture and worthy of a postcard or promotional poster.
But this is where the postcard is flawed. We have so many more ethnic communities than just three. For much of the 53 years that Malaysia has been in existence, many of us, especially those of us from the Peninsular, have forgotten about all the ethnic communities that exist in Sabah and Sarawak.
And let’s not forget those with Dutch, Portuguese, English and oh so many other ancestral linkages that form the rich tapestry of culture and heritage that we collectively call Malaysians.
Yet, the Government insists on making us fill out forms that require us to tick our ethnic background based on Malay, Chinese, Indian and Others. At the same time, we hear speeches espousing and extolling the virtues of 1Malaysia and how Malaysians need to come together as one to create a more prosperous nation.
How are we supposed to be 1Malaysia when the major political parties are built along racial lines and each one claims to defend the rights of each particular race but seems to forget the bigger picture of Malaysia? The much, much larger picture of serving Malaysians?
Using these six girls as an example, if these kids can see themselves as Malaysians and if they can accept each other’s differences and celebrate these differences, why does there seem to be so much racial discord in our country? This discord may not be so palpable in our day-to-day lives but it is certainly evident when you read the news and listen to what politicians are spitting out.
When does bigotry or racial and religious animosity start to set in? When does finger pointing and the need to supposedly defend one’s race start to creep in? Why is there a perceived need to defend one’s race or religion against another?
We can see through our kids that racism and distrust certainly does not start from a young age. And its not as if the children are ignorant and don’t realise their differences. Lets not fool ourselves.
The children know they are different. They just need to look into the mirror to see that the colour of their skin is different. The festivals they celebrate are different. The religions they practice are different. They are different.
The point is they choose not to see their differences but rather to celebrate them. They embrace their differences and they learn from their differences and in turn become better people in doing so.
Maybe these children are lucky as they come from urban centres and have access to information. Maybe it’s different for a child in the kampung or in a place where there is no Internet connection or access to TV.
Maybe it’s because these children have access to each other so they do not perceive people of other ethnic backgrounds or religious beliefs to be a threat to their own beliefs. Maybe it’s the way they were brought up.
I do not have the answers but I do know that this is the way Malaysia is supposed to be. All the different religions, ethnicities and colours standing together, united as one. Malaysians.
Next year these girls will probably move on to different secondary schools. One thing I am hopeful of is that the friendships that they have formed in primary school will continue on and that they will be good friends for a lifetime.
More important than that, I hope that they will realise how their friendship forms the foundation for what many of us dream of for the Malaysia of the future.
A Malaysia that is united and goes beyond race and religion. For after all, the future of our beloved nation lies in the hands of our children today.
If these six girls are anything to judge our future by, then I can say that there is a lot of hope for our country. Maybe it’s time that we, as adults, start learning from our children as well.
Happy Malaysia Day.
Dharm Navaratnam is an FMT reader.
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