Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Tamils - a Nation without a State> Malaysia > Malaysian Tamils Back the Cause of Eelam > Ethnic Tensions In Malaysia : A wake-up call for the Malaysian Indian Congress - C.S.Kuppuswamy

Tamils - a Nation without a State

Malaysia - மலேசியா
- an estimated 1,060,000 Tamils live in Malaysia -

Ethnic Tensions In Malaysia :
A wake-up call for the Malaysian Indian Congress

South Asia Analysis Group, 20 March 2001

"Ignored by government Policy, hidden from mainstream Malaysian society, the Indian labour force indeed becomes Malaysia�s forgotten people" --- N.J. Colletta

The ethnic clashes between Indians and Malays in the first week of March 2000 in a village in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, resulted in the death of 5 Indians and an Indonesian worker and over 30 wounded. The clashes are believed to have originated from a Malay family celebrating a wedding having some differences with an Indian family involved in a funeral. This minor fracas escalated into a series of other incidents.

In a swift action by the police about 200 persons were arrested of whom 75 have been charged with various offences linked to these clashes. As usual, Malaysia�s ruling party has accused the opposition of making political capital out of the worst ethnic clash for decades. Some of the opposition politicians are of the view that the clashes resulted more because of the poor living conditions in these villages than the racial differences. The last serious conflict between Indians and the Malay Muslims was in 1998 over the relocation of a Hindu shrine in Penang.

Though the incidents were isolated ones involving a small area, these reflect the underlying social tensions that continue between the majority community, the Malays and the Indians. The political leaders of the Malaysian Indian community are themselves to blame as they left the poor uneducated Indians untouched by progress, only to be exploited by them for political ends. The current ethnic clash has again brought into focus the plight of the Indian community in Malaysia.

The third largest ethnic group in Malaysia after the Chinese and the Malays are the Malaysian Indians. The Indians as referred to by the Malaysian Government are those that belong to the Indian sub-continent i.e. the Indians , Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and the Sri Lankans. Despite the fact that the Indians constitute about 8% of the country�s total population of 22 million they own only 1.0% of its national wealth. The bulk of the Indian population which formed the backbone of the country�s labour force is also gradually losing out in this field with the influx of Indonesian workers.

The Indians themselves are to some extent, responsible for their present unenviable and ignominious status, though the policies of the Malaysian Government since independence had not been helpful . Ignorance born out of poverty in the plantations resulted in many of them not getting citizenship which was offered in 1957 when Malaysia became independent. This prevented them from getting jobs.

More than 50% of Indians work in plantations or as labourers and menial workers in the cities . Indians rank lowest in national elementary school examinations and the maximum drop-outs are from the Indian community Since the bulk of the Indians are poor, gangsterism and drug trafficking are also common with this community. According to the statistics published in Asiaweek (Jan 26,2001), "the Indians account for 63% of those arrested under the Emergency ordinance for violent crimes, 41% of beggars and 20% of child abusers in the country are Indians."

Unlike the Chinese, who lay great stress on education, it is not considered as an investment by the Indian working class. The Tamil schools in the estates are often mere apologies and provide no opportunity for progress in higher education. The undue insistence on Tamil education by the Tamil politicians weakens the Indian community further in competing with the indigenous Malays and the Chinese. The better-off urban Indians are trying to improve their lot by sending their children for university education abroad. One of the major reasons for the low percentage of Indian origin students in the tertiary institutions in the country is the lack of merit and as a result, even the quotas set for Indians remains unutilised. The politically articulate Indians blame the Indian community�s plight on the failure of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), the leading political party of the Indians.

The MIC is portraying itself as the only party representing the community�s interests. The party, a constituent of the coalition government at the centre since independence does not have much political clout and has not been able to do anything substantial to improve the lot of the Indians. There is constant infighting among the party leaders. Another major irritant is the animosity between the Tamils and the non-Tamils. The Tamils constitute about 80% of the total Indian community in Malaysia. The MIC is steadily losing its credibility in Malaysian politics which is polarised on racial lines despite claims to the contrary.

The Malaysian Government policies since independence have also been consistently to the detriment of the non-Malays in general though the Indian community seems to be most hard hit. The first major step was the introduction of work permits for the non-citizens when a majority of Indian workers had not obtained Malaysian citizenship. Subsequently in 1971 with its New Economic Policy, the Government championed the cause of the Malays by the policy of "Bhumiputras"(sons of the soil). The Bhumiputras were to have a major share in the public sector while the private sector remained secure with the Chinese.

The introduction of quotas for the different races in the educational institutions has also adversely affected the Indian community. The New Development Plan for the period 1991-2000 is also designed to achieve the socio-economic upliftment of the Bhumiputras and the MIC�s efforts to place the Indians in a separate ethnic grouping seems to have made no headway with the Malaysian Government. Being a minority, they do not have the numerical strength to exert any political influence nor do they make any significant contribution to the national economy. Hence the ruling government�s apathy to the Indians is understandable.

Until recently when India embarked on the "Look-East policy" - the Indian Government on its part had not paid much attention over the years to the Indians in the South East Asian region. The Indian Government can help by providing more educational facility for Malaysian Indians to pursue their education in India. The Indian Government should also closely monitor the labour force going to Malaysia to ensure implementation of their service conditions. India should further strengthen the cultural and economic ties and improve the tourism facilities for which there is a big scope in Malaysia.

The prospects for the Indian community are not bright and the future would ultimately depend on the goodwill, cooperation and extent of integration taking place in the respective societies. A redeeming feature is the resilience displayed by the Indian community. As of now the Indians face problems and do not get adequate support of the Malaysian Government nor do they have the economic clout to compete with the Chinese. The Indian Government has done little. Thus one wonders whether the Indians belong to the third major race or to a third class race in the country.


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