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.


'Welfare home conversion': Lawyer wants proof - Malaysiakini

The lawyer of S Banggarma, who is caught in a conversion crisis, has sent a legal letter to the Welfare Department demanding that it furnish proof to substantiate its claim that the housewife was converted on Nov 30, 1983 in Rompin, Pahang.

NONEIn the letter dated Nov 25, counsel Gooi Hsiao Leung urged department director-general Meme Zainal Rashid to submit to his client the alleged letter of consent given by Banggarma's parents for the alleged conversion when she was a year old.

He also demanded that his client be furnished with the court order obtained under the 1947 Juveline Courts Act to place Banggarma in Rumah Kanak Kanak Taman Bakti in Kepala Batas.

"We have also demanded all other relevant documents to substantiate the director-general's claim that Banggarma was converted by her parents, and not by the welfare home," he told Malaysiakini today.

Banggarma has claimed that she was converted unwittingly on Dec 28, 1989 by the Penang Welfare Department when she was seven and living in the welfare home.

The mother of two, whose Muslim name is Siti Hasnah Vangarama Abdullah, refuted Meme's claim that she was converted in 1983 by her natural Hindu parents, plantation worker B Subramaniam and Latchumy Ramadu.

DG's claim contains discrepancies

Meanwhile, Gooi said Meme's claim had discrepancies and contradicted the contents of the conversion certificate issued to Banggarma.

He is now preparing to file the case at the Malaysian civil courts seeking a judgment to nullify Banggarma's conversion as illegal.

He said under Article 12.4 of the Federal Constitution, a minor could only be converted to another religion with consent of the person's parents or guardian.

"This is a civil court case because it involved unconstitutional and unlawful conversion of a minor.

"This is not the case of a voluntary Muslim convert seeking to renounce Islam," he added when asked if he had to seek justice at the Syariah Court instead.

NONEGooi, who is also PKR Kedah Youth deputy chief, said he has also penned a letter to the welfare home seeking a meeting to discuss and explore an amicable solution to the controversy.

However, he said the welfare home had been tightlipped over the issue.

"An officer from the home told me that the case was being handled by the KL welfare office."

Gooi said he hoped the Welfare Department would save everybody's time, money and energy by observing the constitutional law and allow his client to be a Hindu rightfully and legally.

"Otherwise we will have no choice but to challenge the conversion in court," he said.

Will Queen Elizabeth II of England pay for the 150-year suffering of Indian Malaysians?

Plea for Malaysian Indians
Azly Rahman

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labour - not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. - Albert Einstein in ‘Why Socialism?’ (1949)
What do I think of Western civilisation? I think it would be a very good idea. - Mohandas K Gandhi

Will Queen Elizabeth II of England pay for the 150-year suffering of Indian Malaysians? How would reparations be addressed in an age in which we are still mystified by newer forms of colonialism - the English Premier League, Malaysian Eton-clones, Oxbridge education, and British rock musicians such as the guitarist-astrophysicist Dr Brian May of the better-than-the-Beatles rock group Queen (and recently appointed chancellor of a Liverpool university)?

Who in British Malaya collaborated with the British East India company in facilitating the globalised system of indentured slavery? Will the current government now pay attention to the 50-year problems of Indian Malaysians?

We need to untangle this ideological mess and listen to the pulse of the nation. We are hyperventilating from the ills of a 50-year indentured self-designed pathological system of discriminatory servitude of the mind and body, fashioned after the style of colonialism.

We need a crash course in the history of reparation, slavery, and the declaration universal human rights. We need to understand the style of British colonialism as it collaborated with the local power elites of any colony it buried its tentacles in and sucked dry the blood, sweat and tears of the natives it dehumanised and sub-humanised.

We need to calculate how much the imperialists and the local chieftains gained from the trafficking of human labour - across time and space and throughout history.

In short, we need to educate ourselves on the anatomy, chemistry, anthropology and post-structurality of old and newer forms of imperialism. British imperialism has successfully structured a profitable system of the servitude of the body, mind and soul and has transferred this ideology onto the natives wishing to be “more British than their brown skins can handle”.

We need to encourage our children to read about the system of indentured slavery - of the kangchuand kangani and how the Malays were also relegated to becoming ‘reluctant’ producers of the colonial economy. The Malays’ reluctance led to the British designation “lazy native”.

We need to also learn from the Orang Asli and the natives of each state and how their philosophy of developmentalism is more advanced that the programmes prescribed under the successive five-year Malaysia Plans. A philosophy of development that respects and is symbiotic with Nature is certainly more appropriate for cultural dignity that the one to which we have been subjected; one that exploits human beings and destroys the environment under the guise of ‘progress’.

Caged construction

Our history lessons mask the larger issue of traditional, modern and corporate control of the means of production of Malaya. We see the issue of race being played up from time immemorial; issue of convenience and necessity to the sustenance of the status quo and the proliferation of modern local oligopoly and plutocracy.

Our history classes have failed our generation that is in need of the bigger picture; ones that will allow us to see what is outside of our caged construction of historicising. Our historians, from the court propagandist Tun Sri Lanang to our modern historians written under the mental surveillance of the ruling parties, have not been true to the demand of the production of knowledge based on social and humanistic dimensions of factualising historical accounts.

We need to study the political-economy of the rubber and canning industry and the relationship between the British and the American empire as industrialisation began to take off.
The Indians in Malaysia have all the right to ask for reparation and even most importantly they have the rights as rightful citizens of Malaysia to demand for equality and equal opportunity as such accorded to the ‘bumiputera’. Every Malaysian must be given such rights.

Failure to do so we will all be guilty of practising neo-colonialism and we will one day be faced with similar issue of reparation; this time marginalised Malaysians against the independent government of Malaysia. How are we going to peacefully correct the imbalances if we do not learn from the history of international slavery, labour migration and human labour trafficking that, in the case of Hindraf, involved millions of Tamils from Tamil Nadu province?
I once wrote a piece calling for all of us to help the least privileged of our fellow Malaysians - the Indians. The piece called for the leaders to stop fighting and to help each other as well.

I wrote a passage on the need to help each other in the spirit of selflessness and collaboration: “It is time for the other races to engage in serious and sincere gotong-royong to help the poorest of the poor among the Indians. It is time that we become possessed with a new spirit of multi-cultural marhaenism. The great Indonesian leader Ahmed Soekarno popularised the concept of marhaenism as an antidote to the ideological battle against materialism, colonialism, dependency and imperialism. The thought that the top 10 percent of the richest Malaysians are earning more than 20 times compared to the 90 percent of the population is terrifying. What has become of this nation that promised a just distribution of wealth at the onset of Independence?”

Not a Hindu problem

Now we have a better scenario - we have the rights group that is beginning to pull together,-close ranks and demand for their basic human rights that have been denied. Not only their rights to be accorded places of worship and economic justice, but also the rights to look at history and ourselves and interrogate what actually happened and who actually was responsible for the misery, desolation and sustained abject poverty to which they have been subjected.

It is not a Hindu problem - it is universal problem that cuts across race and religion. If we believe in what religion has taught us about human dignity and the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity, we will all be speaking in one voice rallying for those who demand for their rights to live with dignity.

In Hindraf, I believe there are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Catholics, atheists, Buddhists, Sikhs, Bahais, Jains, etc rallying for the cause. In other words there are human beings speaking up for peace and social justice. It is the right of every Malaysian to lend support to their demands.

We have let the Indians in Malaysia suffer for too long. We ought to have a programme of affirmative action in place. We ought to have a sound programme for alleviation of poverty for the Indians and radically improve their conditions through political action, education and cultural preservation. We ought to extract the enabling aspects of culture though and perhaps reconstruct the our understanding of the relationship between culture and human progress.

But can the current political paradigm engineer a solution to the problems of the Malaysian Indians, as long as politics - after 50 years - is still British colonialist-imperialist-oppressive in nature? We have evolved into a sophisticated politically racist nation, hiding our discriminatory policies with the use of language that rationalises what the British imperialists brutally did in the open.

But our arguments cannot hold water any loner. Things are falling apart - deconstructed. The waves of demands, the frequency of rallies and the excavating of issues drawn from the archaeology of our fossilised arrogant knowledge - all these are symptoms of deconstructionism in our body politics. It is like the violent vomit of a rehabilitating cocaine addict undergoing treatment in a Buddhist monastery somewhere in northern Thailand.

We cannot continue to alienate each other through arguments on a ‘social contract’ that is alien from perhaps what Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote about some 300 years ago - a philosophy that inspired the founding of America, a nation of immigrants constantly struggling (albeit imperfectly) to meet the standards requirements of equality, equity and equal opportunity especially in education.

How do we come together, as Malaysians, as neo-bumiputeras free from false political-economic and ideological dichotomies of Malays versus non-Malays, bumi versus non-bumi and craft a better way of looking at our political, economic, social, cultural, psychological and spiritual destiny - so that we may continue to survive as a species for the next 50 years?

As a privileged Malaysian whose mother tongue is the Malay language and as one designated as a bumiputera, I want to see the false dichotomies destroyed and a new sense of social order emerging, based on a more just form of linguistic play designed as a new Merdeka game plan.

Think Malaysian - we do not have anything to lose except our mental chains. We have a lot to gain in seeing the oppressed be freed from the burden of history; one that is based on the march of materialism. We are essentially social beings, as Einstein would emphasise. Our economic design must address the socialism of existence.

Let us restructure of policies to help the Indian Malaysians - they are our lawful citizens speaking up for their fundamental rights. Let us help restructure the lives of the poor before they restructure the lives of the rich.