Monday, November 17, 2008

Do not confront the poor Indians in a harsh manner

Mkini Letter- Dr Mana Nov 14, 08 4:27pm

The perception now is that the Indians in the country are being hounded, teased and condemned mercilessly. This was what was expressed to me by a few Britons I met in Bali the other day. Apparently, they had nothing positive to talk about Malaysia. This is just unfortunate.

Why must foreign perception towards Malaysia be at an all-time low now? There can be a few reasons to this. One obvious concern is the Hindraf issue. It seems like most foreigners I have met sympathise with the Indians in this country as there is a lot of publicity over this issue overseas. This kind of understanding does not augur well for a small country like Malaysia. To the foreigners, it seems like the country is not politically stable and there are citizens here who are victimised.

When their business community perceives the same, they would not hesitate to leave Malaysia for some other economic hub. It is thus predictable that many investors are now venturing more into other Southeast Asian countries despite all the rhetoric by politicians that Malaysia is a safe place to invest. Malaysia is losing in many ways just because of a simple issue involving a minority ethnic group has been hyped by the media to give a picture that this community is a threat to the nation. Implicating Hindraf as a dangerous group has given bad publicity to the country. There was a time when this group was said to be associated with a `terrorist group' outside the country even when there was no evidence to the accusation. This was another mere rhetoric for local political consumption and politicians realised little that it would warp the general perception of the country. This move, as envisaged, has alarmed many potential investors.Living in this country, one would be able to assess the whole scenario with much more rationality.

There are undeniably many poor and displaced Indians in the country. Many were displaced when the rubber estates they were living in were taken away for development. Among those living in some of these existing rural estates, many were still poor and are uneducated. Their general mindset, sadly, had not changed much compared with that of their predecessors living in estates since they were brought in as indented labour by the British about 100 years ago. When they were later forced to leave their long time `habitat' many - with nothing in their possession - left for the urban areas and now make up about 40 percent of the urban hardcore poor in major cities. Their Tamil education has not helped them much to seek employment. Unfortunately, MIC politicians still insist that these schools should be retained. Many are without important documents due to their parents' ignorance and illiteracy. Many are also involved in crime to earn a living. With poor self- esteem, many of these displaced chain of population is have been affected by alcoholism and drugs. Political parties representing the ethnic Indians in the country have strived hard to help the Indians have a share of the economic pie in the country but the majority of the poor Indians have not achieved much in this process. Indian leaders have apparently failed this group of hardcore poor and many others who looked up upon their leaders for help the way poor ethnic Malays are being helped by their leaders. The inherent differences among ethnic Indians based on class, language, religion and place of origin of their ancestors have further alienated the Tamils who compose the majority of the poor among this ethnic community. These are the Tamils who descended from a generation of indented estate labourers brought in by the British to toil this land for the sole purpose of enriching the latter. They were made to work hard in British-owned rubber plantations with low wages, socially confined to only their workplace, living in shabby conditions and made to forget their miseries with cheap liquor. It was to a certain level a life of slavery for these labourers. Thousands died due to illnesses. For the past 100 years they have been systematically alienated from the mainstream culture.

The Hindraf movement is the result of this predicament faced by the downtrodden Indians. Hindraf is seeking help and awareness to uplift the economic status of these poor and that's all what they demand. Alienating the disgruntled poor Indians (or for that matter any other ethnic race) is not going to bode well for the country. Being harsh on them is not going to solve the inherent problem faced by these poor. Neither threats nor bad publicity is going to resolve the social and economic problems faced by the poor Indians; at worst, this will only tarnish the image of the country.These poor Indians had all throughout the history of this nation been loyal to the country, MIC, the Alliance party of post-independence and later the Barisan Nasional was looked upon as their saviour even when they got nothing much in return. Such was for their patronage. Poor or rich, the Indians had always been loyal to the incumbent government until the recent general election. These are the Indians in the country – a very loyal breed of people indeed. Their loyalty to the Barisan Nasional was never questioned until the last general election.

Over 95 percent of the Indians would without fail vote for Barisan Nasional came election time. When the Malays and Chinese were split through their political affiliations to PAS, DAP and Gerakan, the Indians were there to give full support to the government. Umno politicians should not forget this. The Indians were akin to `dogs venerating their masters' (the Alliance Party and later Barisan Nasional and their leaders) even when most of the poor and not well-connected did not get much help in return. These were the Indians at one time. Things have changed now, though.

There is a palpable shift in their mindset.Thus, the government now should not confront the Indians in a rough and ready manner. Belittling their significance in the country and locking horns with this disgruntled group calling themselves as the Hindraf movement is not going to help build a good image for the country. What should best be done is to immediately stop politicising the whole issue by branding this group of people as a threat to Umno or the nation. Engage them to sort out their grievances. There are so many poor Indians - the displaced Indians from all quarters who need help. Seek amicable solutions on how to overcome this predicament.By approaching the disgruntled Indians in a confrontational manner, BN will lose more. Their hope to get support from ethnic Malays through this move may not work in their favour. Political sentiments are hard to define.

Despite the onslaught by the government-controll ed media against this movement, the poor Indians are now getting more sympathy of not only from most of the Indians but also from the Malays, Chinese and others. Some newspapers are not highlighting the plight of the Indians but are painting them as nuisance and a threat to the nation. Has any Indian carried arms against the government? No. These are peaceful gatherers who are seeking social and economic `indemnity' the non-violent way.

They may have gone overboard at times, especially when provoked, but this does not mean that the present leaders could not engage them in useful dialogues. They cannot be equated with Al Arqam as the Indians in this country are peace-loving people. The pictures of Ghandi carried by some during their street protests only signify non-violence, not disloyalty to this country. Ghandi's principle of non-violence belongs to the whole world as he was a spiritual leader who advocated peaceful means of attaining justice. Ghandi never in his life time promoted aggression. He would not even kill an ant that bit him, for that matter.The focus now has to be that the poor Indians genuinely need help. That's their humble request.
They are just humans like you and me living in this transient world. They are not here to grab power, but history has fated them to be born and bred in this country. Their humble needs are only to live a decent life and have a decent three meals a day, with proper shelter, education and employment. Indians in general have contributed immensely to the progress of this nation and nobody can deny this fact. Just stop portraying them negatively for some cheap political mileage as this will not help the country in the long run.Engage the Indians in fruitful dialogues and not confront them with negativism. The Indians in this country have their shares of success and failures, just like the other ethnic groups. Indians being the minority and a big number of them still living in poverty need help - not unkind treatment from some self-seeking politicians.

http://www.malaysia letters/93101