Wednesday, December 19, 2007

[C&P Galore] Why is Malaysia Simmering?

Malaysian Indian Congress, the ethnic-based party that represents the Indian minority in the ruling coalition, with a membership of 650,000 out of 850,000 eligible voters and having 4,000 branches are today widely looked upon as ineffective if not corrupt. Due to their colonial legacy, Indians are generally seen as providers of cheap labour in plantations and construction sites; their political and social mobility has been thwarted. The conversion of rubber plantations to housing estates and golf courses also has displaced plantation workers who have drifted to urban centres. As a result, urban Indian ghettos have emerged and crime has escalated.

Besides, Bumiputhra politics disadvantage Indians in education and work opportunities. Local university seats and scholarships are awarded under a racial quota system, and even after getting a degree, many say that discrimination is commonplace. Indian doctors, for instance, complain that they are often excluded from lists of approved doctors whom civil servants or company employees can patronize. Demolition of roadside temples and enforcing strict Islamic code on Hindus like where a Hindu dead body was buried under Muslim rights saying the person had secretly embraced Islam saddened them.

“Our community is backward, our schools are dilapidated. We are the last in the line for jobs, scholarships, health benefits,” says opposition lawmaker Kulasegaran Murugesan. “For over a decade we have been appealing to the government for help to alleviate our poverty but all our appeals had fallen on deaf ears,” says Uthayakumar Ponnusamy, Hindraf’s legal adviser. “The British brought us here, exploited us for 150 years and left us to the mercy of a Malay Muslim government. They should compensate us now.” Yes, the British brought tea pluckers to Ceylon, rubber tappers to Malaya and paddy farmers to Burma, almost from the same caste and same district. Interestingly, a steamer that was transporting these labourers from Calcutta to Rangoon and Penang was named Nuwara Eliya.

Though their living is identical, their lifestyle is different according to political situation in those respective countries. The smiling ones are from Burma though they still live a primitive life of the 19th century, chewing betel and travelling in bullock carts in the rural under a military dictatorial rule, sans starvation being farmers. The mother tongue is lost and even in religious festivals announcements are made in Burmese but devotional songs played are in Tamil. No much racism experienced living with natives while their Sri Lankan brethren are timid and feel unwanted by the natives, and in Malaysia they feel like poor relatives in a wedding.

That was why former youth leader, present president of MIC, and Works Minister Yang Berhormat Menteri Datuk Seri Samy Velu said “Don’t tell us - look at Ceylon, look at Burma”. Samy Velu born to rubber tappers Sangalimuthu and Anggamah in an estate in Johor, had an extremely tough life from his childhood to boyhood, described in his own words "Those were years when I ate only one meal a day. I felt things could not get any worse." His fluency in Tamil gave him a job as a newscaster at Radio Television Malaysia from 1963 to 1974; as a result he became a household name and gained popularity to become a member of parliament in 1974.

In quick succession, he grabbed the presidency of MIC in 1979 at the age of 43 and he is the longest president of MIC and the second longest cabinet minister. Unfortunately his tenure has been lacklustre compared to Sampanthan and Manickawasagam’s who were wealthy and highly educated. Further Sami Velu is accused of amassing ill-gotten wealth and his critics call him “Semi Value” and “Mr.Tollgate” [like Mr.10%] because many projects handled by his ministries were found to be faulty and he was alleged to have a cut on tollgates introduced on highways. His second wife Indrani bought over the oldest newspaper ‘Thamilnesan’. Even mighty Dr. Mahathir in an interview last May stated that he could not remove tainted leaders like Samy Velu as he was powerless. The Barisan National [National Alliance] would have suffered a serious internal backlash if he had sacked Samy Velu, he said. “You ask MIC what they would do if I removed Samy Velu.”

Is there is no racial discrimination in Malaysia? I was waiting at my turn to get a taxi in the portico of Penninsula Hotel of KL. But Malay and Chinese drivers preferred to pick customers of their own colour or white men expecting big tips. Then came an Indian his name was the masculine of Chandrika whom I contracted till I departed and my conversation with him made him to think I was familiar with Malaysia. “Did Mr. Sami Velu come to see you, Sir?” “No”. “Did you call him, Sir?” “No”. “Good”. And he poured out his woes.

Sarala Sukumaran, 40, a Malaysian Indian entrepreneur who runs an IT firm, says”I know many Indian families who want to get out of Malaysia. 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.” Sukumaran is a third generation Malaysian Indian. Her grandparents came to Malaysia in the 1930s to work in the plantations in Penang. “I feel that we are not aggressive enough as a community in terms of unleashing our entrepreneurial potential. That’s why our evolution has been very slow. Comparatively, look at the Tamils from Sri Lanka,” she said. “They have a more close-knit community feeling, they help uplift each other and they are certainly doing much better than the Indians.” But for people like Ramakrishnan, who worried that rising food and fuel prices are eating into his meagre income, the choice will be easy. “We will vote for the Opposition this time to send a clear message to the Malay government to treat us with respect, to share with us,” he said. “We fight for the future of our children; we don’t want them to suffer like us.” This is the sentiment in SL too simmering of any community can’t be contained unless attended to, and this is an era to boot corrupt politicians and arrogant regimes out.

Read the full article by M.S.Shah Jahan here.

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