Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Indians bear the brunt of neglect

By Stephanie Sta Maria - Free Malaysia Today

HULU SELANGOR WATCH Raman Nagiah is a relieved man. After numerous applications to get his red identity card (IC) replaced by a blue one, he has finally received a letter summoning him to the National Registration Department (NRD) in Shah Alam to sit for a Bahasa Malaysia written exam.

However, his relief is tinged with anxiety. This is the second time he will be taking the exam and the memory of his first experience is still fresh in his mind.

“I was so happy when I was called to Putrajaya to collect my IC,” Raman recalled. “When I got there, they gave me a red IC instead of a blue one. I told them that they had made a mistake but they told me I had to reapply if I wanted a blue one.”

So Raman did, and he was called in for an exam at the Jerantut branch in 2003. Once there, he was asked to sing the 'Negaraku'. The then 50-year-old faltered halfway and his application was subsequently rejected.

“I hope the exam will be easier this time,” he said earnestly. “I want to be a proper Malaysian citizen.”

According to Pertubuhan Sosial dan Kebajikan Masyarakat Daerah Hulu Selangor (Persekomas), Raman is among more than 100 Indians without a blue IC. Some don't even have a birth certificate.

“These are uneducated people whose own parents never thought of registering their birth,” said its chairman Krishnan Maruthan. “So they don't think of registering their children's births either.”

“It's only when the child reaches school age that the parents realise they don't have their own birth certificates. By this time the father has abandoned the family and without his presence, no birth certificate can be issued. Which also means that many Indian children can't receive an education.”

Krishnan explained that the red IC poses its own set of problems as children cannot be registered as Malaysian citizens if their father doesn't hold a blue IC. Neither can those with a red IC enjoy any government benefits.

Intimidated by officers

On March 15, Persekomas held a registration campaign in Kerling to help people apply for a blue IC. Representatives from the home ministry and the NRD were invited to see the problem for themselves.

About 150 people turned up but only 30 were able to be registered by the end of the day. Unfortunately, no . progress was made with the government officials.

“The NRD officer told us that all they could do is help register these people,” Krishnan said in frustration. “They instructed us to call (Home Minister) Hishammudin Hussein himself if we
wanted more done.”

Raman's 58-year-old brother, Subramaniam, meanwhile has a different story. When he applied for his blue IC, he was told that he would have no problems getting one if he only converted to Islam. Ever since then, he has been afraid to go back to the office.

Subbammah Papayah, 65, and Letchmy Bhalan, 56, are also unwilling to try their luck with the district NRD office. Being illiterate, they say they are intimidated by the officers who merely hand them forms and are impatient when they are unable to understand instructions or produce the necessary documents.

“At least the foreign Indian workers get benefits,” Krishnan said bitterly. “The Indian Malaysians who have toiled in Hulu Selangor factories and estates get nothing.”

But red ICs are only the tip of the iceberg. Persekomas claimed that the Indians in Hulu Selangor are also deprived of a community hall, employment opportunities and even cemetery space.

Krishnan explained that Indians share a cemetery with Christians in Ulu Yam Baru and with the Chinese in Kalumpang where they are given one of the 15 acres.

The Indian cemetery in Rasa is on non-gazetted land, Kerling shares its cemetery with those from Lembah Berinin and only six acres have been allocated for a cemetery in Kuala Kubu Baru. Only Serendah has a gazetted land for its cemetery.

No help from state reps

Hulu Bernam, meanwhile, has no cemetery at all and Indian residents there are forced to perform cremation ceremonies in open shacks, which has caused outrage among the other communities.

To further complicate matters, only Indians born in Hulu Selangor are permitted to be buried there. The rest are herded to the Hindu crematorium in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.

“It costs the poor RM500 for the cremation alone,” Krishnan said. “And they have to make an appointment first. There are countless plots of empty land around here but the district office has refused all our applications to use it.”

Krishnan also lamented the fact that 10 of 14 estates were taken over by the government for housing projects, many of which were later abandoned.

“Many people lost their job,” he said. “At least if the government had built factories there, they would still have a place to work. Abandoned housing projects are useless to the economy.”

When asked if the Indian community was in favour of any particular candidate, he openly said the community believed that only another Indian would understand their plight.

Krishnan explained that despite losing the seat, MIC's G Palanivel was more often seen on the ground than PKR's late Zainal Abidin Ahmad. In fact, since taking over the seat Zainal was almost never seen in public due to his illness.

Having said that, he also noted that none of the three state reps (all from BN) lifted a finger to assist the community of Hulu Selangor.

“Hulu Selangor as a whole hasn't made much progress in the last two years,” he said. “But it's the Indian and Orang Asli communities that have borne the brunt of it.”