Equal treatment for all

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By Sin Chew Daily

During a Hari Raya dinner with the Federation of Malaysian Indian Muslims, Prime Minister Najib Razak said he recognised Indian Muslims in the country as “Bumiputeras”, in response to a request by the federation’s president Dhajudeen Shahul Hameed.

Dhajudeen had requested that the government officially recognise the Bumiputera status of Indian Muslims in Malaysia and allocate land for the construction of an Indian Muslim activity centre as well as appoint a special official in charge of Indian Muslim affairs at the prime minister’s office.

As for how to implement the bumi status for Indian Muslims, the prime minister said further discussions were required before it was officially gazetted.

This shows that the government indeed still needs to further study this matter, whether it will require an amendment to existing laws or if it is just an administrative procedure.

The Federal Constitution states clearly that Bumiputeras are entitled to special privileges and protection.

Currently the term “Bumiputera’ encompasses the Malays, West Malaysian orang asli and the indigenous people of East Malaysia, although the term is generally perceived as being synonymous with the Malays, as the constitution has not clearly defined the term even if Article 160 (2) specifies that a “Malay” must satisfy the following criteria – that he or she “professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to the Malay customs and was born before Merdeka Day in the Federation or born of parents one of whom was born in the Federation.”

Many Indian Muslims consider themselves as having fulfilled these criteria and should therefore be accorded the bumi status.

In other words, anyone fulfilling the above criteria can be a “Malay”, and is therefore entitled to the bumi status.

But this is not the case in reality. While non-Malay Muslims profess the religion of Islam, they nevertheless do not “conform to the Malay customs”.

Some ethnic communities in the country such as the Portuguese in Melaka and the Siamese in northern Malaysia, have also been granted bumi status, allowing them to gain access to some of the privileges accorded to Bumiputeras, including the purchase of Amanah Saham Bumiputra and admission to Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM).

That said, the Constitution has also stated clearly in Article 8 that all Malaysians must be treated equal and no one shall be discriminated because of his or her religion, race or place of birth.

With democratic and human rights awareness on the rise, all ethnic groups in this country must enjoy equal status and dignity, and this must be accomplished through equality, integrity and mutual respect, not through the removal of the rights, status and dignity of other communities.

We Malaysians are constantly pursuing a more comprehensive democratic system and policies that uplift equality. Tolerance, transparency and equality are elements that form the bedrock of the country’s continued progress, not oppression, extremism and prejudice.

Malaysians have generally displayed such noble sentiments in many aspects. Eventually we will all give up the differentiation along racial and religious lines to build up this nation together in unity.

Sin Chew Daily is a local vernacular publication.

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