Tuesday, October 7, 2008

TheStar -Use carrot, not stick


Many poor Tamils are supporting Hindraf because it has been voicing out their woes loud and clear. The idea to ban Hindraf will not resolve any grievances of the community, it will only add fuel to the organisation’s survival.
IT IS time to engage and not reject or condemn Hindraf, the organisation that has won the hearts of the poorest among the Tamil people.
Although it is unregistered, fractured, not properly organised and with a conflicting leadership structure, Hindraf is a name that is emotionally and psychologically uniting the Tamil underclass.
It takes knowledge and wisdom to understand why Hindraf is admired and not the MIC or IPF although at one time both political parties had large sections of the Tamil underclass as their members.
But today most poor Tamils identify themselves with Hindraf because it articulates their interest and burning desire for justice and economic advancement.
They need jobs, skills, financial help to economically advance up the ladder. They need the authorities to open up the opportunities for them and above all they want protection of their heritage - temples and Tamil schools which are the two pillars that identify a Tamil as a Tamil.
Above all supporters of Hindraf want to be treated with respect and enjoy equality and a fair share of the national wealth to advance economically like everybody else.
“We don’t want to be discriminated against, we don’t want to be forgotten and left out,” said R.S.Thanenthiran, a Hindraf leader who organised a large anti-ISA protest in Pudu last month.
“We are only asking for recognition, help and a fair share.”
But some Malay leaders and newspapers are unhappy with the manner about 100 Hindraf supporters “gate-crashed” the Hari Raya gathering attended by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi at the Putra World Trade Centre last Wednesday.
They are calling for stern police action against Hindraf including to ban it the same way as the Al-Arqam movement in 1994.
Banning Hindraf would be like banning an idea or emotional construct. It simply would not resolve the legitimate grievances of the Tamil for inclusion which is the fuel for Hindraf to survive.
On the other hand, if the authorities cannot fulfil such not so unreasonable demands, it would only alienate the Tamils and leave their economic woes unresolved. Their poverty, lack of opportunities and lack of skills would only worsen.
The core of the Tamil problem is displacement and its down side. In 1970, 80% of Tamils were rural and living and working in the estates but today 81% are living and working in the cities in deplorable conditions.
The change - from rural to urban - was unplanned, drastic and unorganised.
The down side today of that displacement is the poverty, crime and drug addiction afflicting the community.
There is an undercurrent of strong anger running through the Tamil underclass at their abject state.
The authorities are blamed for their abject state and Hindraf has tapped into that seam.
Without a political voice, however, the Tamil poor would be further alienated and cut off from the mainstream society and probably forced underground leaving decision makers blind.
Once the MIC and later the IPF played the role of articulators of their interest, but the standing of both the political parties have collapsed among the Tamil underclass.
With the loss of “grip” by the MIC, the opposition political parties took advantage and rode the Hindraf wave to victory in many constituencies in the west coast of peninsular Malaysia.
The poor have to be loud and boisterous to get a hearing unlike the well-heeled bloggers who also gate crashed the Raya do and are not lambasted as Hindraf is.
It is true Hindraf is noisy, vocal and persistent in demanding the release of the five Hindraf leaders held under the ISA in Kamunting.
It is unfortunate that some Malaysians see their persistence which is merely a serious commitment to a cause, as a challenge to their authority or questioning the Malaysian ethos.
It should not be the case because previously it was the same Tamil underclass who had turned up in their thousands to support the Barisan Nasional but are now siding with the opposition.
They also wore red before and attended Hari raya gatherings by the thousands and greeted by the Prime Minister. But at that time they were with the IPF and before that with the MIC now they are with the opposition.
It is all a question of perception.
The reality is there is an urgent need for both Hindraf and the authorities to step back and find common grounds and engage in a meaningful dialogue that would benefit both the Tamil poor and the Barisan which needs their support.
If the Barisan is serious about re-inventing itself and regaining lost ground it has to reach out and engage, not condemn or alienate.
The Barisan can transform itself and be a patron of the Tamil underclass and it only takes sympathy, wisdom and understanding to form a new partnership with the Tamil poor.
Threatening and showing the big stick are counter-productive and would only worsen the situation.
It is time to talk softly.