Last week, Prime Minister Najib Razak told the President of the Malaysian Indian Muslim Association (Permim), Dhajudeen Shahul Hameed, that he would investigate ways to accord bumiputera status to the country’s Indian Muslim community.
Some people may wonder why the Indian Muslim would want to call himself a “bumiputera”. Is he not proud of his cultural and historical heritage? What difference does the label “bumiputera” make to a person? Is the “bumiputera” classification just another election gimmick?
According to one person, whom we shall call Daniel, being classified a “bumiputera” is not a guaranteed entrance to an exclusive club of privileges and perks. He speaks from experience as his family has its roots in the Eurasian community.
Daniel said that not all Eurasians can claim to be “bumi”. There are many types of Eurasians, such as those who were of Dutch or Spanish descent, or the Ceylonese burghers. He said that being Eurasian was not good enough. “As far as I am aware, only those of Portuguese descent can be considered ‘bumiputera’.”
One of the ways to apply for the “bumiputera” status, was for Daniel’s father to prove his Portuguese ancestry to the authorities. Daniel’s grandfather was born in Goa, which was at the time considered a Portuguese province and was part of the Portuguese overseas territory of Portuguese India, until its annexation by India in 1961. That meant presenting his grandfather’s birth certificate, which was in Portuguese.
The other method was to have his “bumi” status certified by the headman, or regedor, at the Portuguese settlement in Malacca.”
He said, “Although we are considered bumiputera, we are really third class bumis. Even our identity cards show our status as “lain-lain” (others).
“The only perk that I am aware of, is the ability to buy Amanah Saham. We cannot purchase houses and get a 5% discount. We are not entitled to a Mara education, nor are we automatically eligible for university places or a JPA scholarship. We cannot apply for government business grants and opportunities which are supposedly reserved for some bumis. We are certainly not entitled to share allocations when a company is listed on the stock exchange.”
He said that many people wrongly assumed that as a Eurasian, Daniel was entitled to all the privileges of a “bumi”. He said, “Our bumi status allows us to buy ASB. Nothing more. The government is only interested in our money.
“I have some Indian Muslim friends, and their children are considered Muslim. By the time the second generation is born, they consider themselves Malay Muslims, and full-fledged ‘bumis’. They do not see themselves as Indian Muslims any more.
“Even the indigenous folk of Sabah and Sarawak are termed ‘bumiputera’, but we are not. I was denied entry into the public university of my choice, despite getting good grades.
“As my choice was limited to a university in Sabah or Sarawak, I followed my cousin’s example and enrolled in a private university. That way I did not have to endure doing a course in a university, which was not of my choice, reading a course, which I had not selected.
“We are not wealthy and the only way my parents could afford to fund my education, was to take out a loan. Despite being a ‘bumi’, I was not entitled to the education which first class ‘bumis’ enjoy.
“Fortunately, my father was a former civil servant, and as a pensioner, he could obtain a loan from a government agency. One other thing to note, is that a Eurasian civil servant is something of a rarity these days.”
Daniel said, “Despite being labelled a ‘bumi’, we really are third class citizens.”
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.
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