Writings - Shan Ranjit
On Tamils in Malaysia
has been in the news of recently. The Tamils in
Malaysia especially those of Indian origin have begun
agitating for their civic rights. I had written an
article - attached below - in the mid nineties during a
visit to Malaysia. I was shocked at the way that non
Malays - especially those of Indian and Eelam
origin were treated. And I was saddened by
the way these Malaysians of Indian and Eelam
origin accepted the open discrimination of their
government. I had the opportunity of meeting very
highly educated and wealthy Malaysians of Eelam origin
during the visit. When I pointed to them about their
unconditional support for the racist policies of
the Malaysian government, they laughed at me and
told me that it was the Eelam Tamils who were real
fools. They pointed out that had the Eelam Tamils
followed their policies - accepting political
discrimination for economic concessions the Tamils of
Eelam would not be in their present sorry state. All of
them were unanimous in their opinion that the Malaysian
government would never allow another " 69 " ( a major
riot which broke out against the Chinese and the
Malaysian Tamils - a Dormant
Written in the mid 1990s
As Muniandy Murugesan - fondly called as Muruks - came out
of the imposing building in down town Kuala Lumpur , he was
not only frustrated , but also angry. He was just notified
that he was not going to be selected for the clerical post
that he had applied some time back. His only competitor at
the final interview had been a Bhumiputra (son of soil) - a
Muruks was saddened when he saw the Bhumiputra at the
interview hall, because he knew that his chances were almost
nil. He was more qualified and smarter than the Bhumputra,
yet they gave the job to the son of soil. After all, Muruks
was a third generation Malaysian, raised in Malaysia and
very proud to call himself a Malaysian. He would give up his
life for the country that he deeply loved.
He would recall his visit to his grandfather's native
village in Tamil Nadu a few years ago. He was horrified to
see the living conditions of his cousins and other
relatives. They were illiterate, lived in thatched houses,
hardly wore any clothes and eat only one meal a day. But
here in Malaysia, his parents owned a small house, ate well
and had everything that a family would hope to have. Yes,
the country had given his family a decent economic living
and he was not sure whether it was worth agitating against
such injustices .
With the booming Malaysian economy, he was certain that he
would find another job. As he walked away, there was a huge
bill board on the side of the road, hailing Malaysia
citizens for fostering national unity and integration.
To day, Malaysia's total population is about 18 million.
Malays make up roughly 48%, Chinese 34%, Indians 9% and
indigenous tribes 9%. The Malay people first migrated
to the Malaysian peninsula from Sumatra. They were a race
that originally evolved from blending of Mongoloid
race from Central Asia with an Island race living between
the Indian and the Pacific ocean.
With the arrival of successive waves of Malay immigrants,
the earliest settlers- the Orang Asli aboriginal - moved in
to the interior. Malays converted to Islam in the early 15th
century, the language was written in Sanskrit which evolved
into the Arabic looking Jawi.
Most of the Malaysian Chinese came in the early 1800 and
began to flood in to Singapore from China's southern
province. They left China because of poverty, over
population, religious persecution and lure of gold. These
Chinese had a penchant for good food, ability to smell
profits and make successful businesses together with a
general avoidance of politics in favor of money making
Indian traders first arrived on the shores of Malay
peninsula more than 2,000 years ago in search of
Suvarndvipa- the fabled land of gold. There was a well
established community of Indian traders in Melaka in the
13th century. But most of the Indians in modern Malaysia are
descendants of indentured Tamil laborers shipped to Malaysia
from South India in the
19th century. They were nicknamed ` Klings ' - a name which
today has a deeply derogatory connotation.
When the British introduced the Federal system in 1948 in
Malaysia, the non - Malays could become Malaysian citizens
only if they had been a resident in Malaysia for a minimum
of 15 out of the previous 25 years. The Chinese and the
Indians were not consulted on these Anglo- Malay
negotiations and ethnic and religious tensions among the
three communities were running high, unleashing the forces
of racialism that had been lying dormant for many years.
The Chinese began to identify with the more radical
Malaysian Communist party, which opted for an armed
rebellion against the British. In the elections in 1955 that
preceded Malaysian independence in 1957, the leader of the
United Malay National Organization (UMNO) -the only
nationalist party with any political credibility- wanted to
allow non Malayas to become members of the party. But he was
strongly opposed by the other Malay leaders , and ultimately
Tunku Abdul Rahaman - described as the father of the nation-
took over the party and made an electoral pact with the
Chinese and the Indians. The Chinese politicians in
Singapore made it very clear that they wanted to be a part
of the independent Malaysia, but the Malay leaders were
strongly opposed to the merger of Singapore with Malaysia -
because that would have resulted in the non Malays being the
majority in Malaysia - and Singapore and Malaysia
became separate in 1965.
The Chinese and the Indians were against the enforcement of
Malay as the medium of instruction in all schools and
the national language
and on the privileged educational and employment
opportunities offered to the Malays. The tension
finally exploded on the
13th May 1969,
in the wake of the general election. In the election, the
opposition parties (mainly from the Chinese) deprived the
UMNO led alliance of its two third majority that was
required to amend the constitution. The opposition party
celebrations provoked counter demonstrations from the Malays
and in the ensuing mayhem hundreds were killed in Kuala
The Government clamped down emergency and introduced
`RUKUNEGARA `, a written national ideology that demanded
respect for Islam, and banned all discussions about the
special status offered to the Malays.
To day, one
only has to go to Malaysia to see and comprehend the
economic miracle that has taken place there. In the early
seventies, Malaysians living in poverty- described as those
earning less than 300 Malaysian Ringets- was around 62%.
Twenty- five years later , this has been brought down to
12%. Malaysia , virtually boasts no unemployment at present.
The economy is growing yearly at an astounding rate of 8%.
The inflation has been hovering around 3-4 %, one of the
lowest in the developing countries. Down town Kuala Lumpur
boasts some of the best sky scrappers in the world. It is a
common sight in KL to see young Malaysians being chauffeured
around in their sleek Mercedes Benzes and BMWs. They even
manufacture their own car - Proton.
Kaula Lumpur has its own mono rail system. The Malaysians
dress and eat well. Some of the best cuisine, at
affordable prices in the world can be found in KL - a
mixture of Chinese, Malay and Indian. They are hoping to
achieve " developed nation" status in another twenty years
(it's neighbor, Singapore did attain that status some time
back). It is indeed a creditable performance for a country,
where the majority race is not well known for it's hard work
The Malaysian Economic miracle may be compared to that of a
wild fire. When the wild fire strikes , it does not
differentiate between productive and non productive trees.
It burns down everything in it's pathway. Like wise, when
the economic boom struck the South East region, Malaysia was
lucky, because it stood in it's path and caught the fire.
In Malaysia, the minorities have their religious freedom.
The country is dotted with many Hindu and Chinese temples.
But the religion of the majority -Islam- plays a bigger role
in the daily life of Malaysians. Their national color is
Green - the color of Islam. Their national flower is the
five petal hibiscus - to represent the five ideologies of
Islam. Their national flag does not include any symbols
representing other minorities. They even have a ministry
that helps those people who had converted voluntarily to
Malaysia imports immigrant workers , mainly from two Muslim
countries - Indonesia and Bangladesh. There are about a
million immigrant workers presently in Malaysia. Malaysia
has been very fortunate in the sense that it has two ethnic
minorities that are not too interested in demanding
their political rights.
The Chinese are more interested in securing their hold on
business activities. The Malaysians of Indian and Eelam
origins are more than happy with what they have. The Indians
often quote about the despicable conditions of their
brothers and sisters in Tamil Nadu, while the Malaysian
Tamils of Eelam origin lament about the plight of the
people in Eelam.
discrimantion continues. For example, if a Malaysian female
of Indian origin marries a boy from Tamil Nadu, her husband
cannot migrate to Malaysia. Admissions to Medical schools
and universities are based mainly on the race - Malays get
almost all the seats to the Medical and engineering schools.
I once had the opportunity of meeting a Malay who had been
sent by the Malaysian government on a scholarship to a
Malaysian university. I was simply shocked at his standard
of education. I was later told that he had been sent on this
scholarship to fill the quota for the Malays. This is what
drives hundreds of wealthy Malaysians of Indian and Eelam
origin to go to India, especially to the prestigious Manipal
Medical College and other universities.
The so called Malaysian unity is nothing but a mirage. The
Malaysians should ask themselves whether they are sincere
when they talk about unity in Malaysia. A real mother would
not discriminate between her children. Her love is equally
shared among all her children.
The minorities , especially the Malaysian of Indians and
Eelam origin, have been mortgaging their political
rights for a few economic goodies thrown at them, a decision
that will come to haunt their future generations. Present
Malaysia could be compared to that of a dormant volcano.
Right now, every thing looks quiet and calm. But the volcano
will erupt when the country goes through a bad economic
period or recession.