Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Through these columns I intend to present a picture of the marginalization of the Indian poor in Malaysia and also try and put forth a coherent explanation of how it happened. I am going to do this in several parts. I am doing this to break the myth that what has happened to the Indian poor in the country is inevitable. That it all happened because they lack values, they lack religion, they watch too much Astro, they are basicaly violent and such other myths as our current day theoreticians both within the community as outside the community will have us believe.

Here is the first part.

First some basic information that will help us understand the story that will be presented a little better.

Basic data of Malaysia

Population by ethnic group Malaysia, 2010



Other Bumiputera
















As can be seen from this data Indians form 7.4% of the total population of Malaysia in a census projection from the Department of Statistics, Government of Malaysia. The Indians are a minority group, a distinct minority group.

During the period since the Independence the per capita Gross Domestic Product ( GDP), an indicator of the economic progress and status of a country – just like your salary, rose from about RM 2500 per year in 1960 to RM15,000 in 2008. Quite a performance. The economy changed from being primarily a commodity producing & agricultural economy (like production of rubber and palm oil) to a manufacturing orientated economy. See table below:

% of GDP









The Indians were largely involved in the rubber plantations as tappers in a relatively modern form of agricultural production at the inception of the nation. Though it is not food, that was produced, it was a cash crop and it was grown – so we call it agriculture. Since then there has been a tremendous shift in the structure of the economy. The plantation economy slowly gave way to an industrial economy. Factories started to replace the rubber estates as the main feature of the economy.

While this was happening Malaysian politics also went through significant change. The 4 key phases in the development of the politics are the period 1957 – 1969, 1969 – 1981. 1981 -2004, 2004 - 2008. Each of these phases is characterized by key historical phenomena that both chronicles what has happened in Malysian politics as well as explain how it all happened.

While these were occurring, the Indian population, a minority to start with, coupled with the fact that they were in the lowest rung of Malaysian society experienced significant outward push from the mainstream of all these developments –economic, political and social.

The Indians have not benefited in equal measures as the other communities in spite of the rapid economic development that the country experienced in this period. In these columns I will try to set out the various forms of the push out or marginalization that the Indian poor faced in these various phases and why this has happened. Essentailly we all know what has happened - but we know them as sporadic and separate events. What I will attempt to do is to connect all these events, join the dots so to speak, and draw a big picture for you all to see - hopefully making the truth clearer.

But first let me start with what marginalization means:

In sociology, marginalisation is the social process of becoming or being made marginal - to be sent to the fringes, out of the mainstream; or to confine to a lower social standing. make seem unimportant “the marginalization of the underclass” is a clear example. In its most extreme form, marginalization can exterminate groups.

Many communities experience marginalization. As a result of marginalization, communities have lost their land, were forced into destitute areas, lost their traditional sources of income, and were excluded from the labour market. Additionally, communities have lost their culture and values and lost their rights in society .

Today the Malaysian Indian community is marginalized from Malaysian society as a result of the development of practices, policies and programs that only meet the needs of the power elite but not the needs of the marginalized Indian poor. This marginalization is also significantly connected to the power elite maintaining and enforcing ways by which we think and talk about things. The way we have been conditioned by the information trickling to us, or by way people talk around us, we may even have difficulty acknowledging that marginalization has occurred to the Indian community in Malaysia.

This is my task, to make it very clear, what has happened and why it has happened.

The marginalization experienced by the Indians in Malaysia is multifaceted. Specifically they can be categorized into:

1) Economic marginalization

To be denied opportunities for participating productively in the economic development of the

nation. To have been pushed out of the mainstream of economic development.

2) Political marginalization

To be denied equal opportunity to participate in the decision making processes relating to

allocation of the national resource or the social and economic development of the

community. Political clout taken away by virtue of the political processes of the country. In

the process losing political rights as a citizen and as a minority community.

3) Social marginalization

To be cast aside socially as the dreg with the social stereotypes as labourers, drunks,

untrustworthy individuals, black and smelly fellows, dependent and always complaining to

name a few of the stereotypes usually associated with being Indian poor in Malaysia. The

result of all this is the blocking of the Indian poor from developing pride as worthy individuals,

and as a community of poor being denied the opportunities for practicing and developing the

salient culture of the Indians.

I will discuss each of these aspects of marginalization in the subsequent parts. I will also

discuss the sociological basis of all of this. I will try to break the stereotyped explanations

offered for the state of the Indian community and show how through the progress of the

development of Malaysian society, this outcome has occcurred. It has nothing to do with the

Indianness in all of us – as current discourse will have us believe. It has only to do with the

political economy of the country.

Keep reading.