Saturday, May 15, 2010

Is Hindraf racist?

By DP Vijandran - Free Malaysia Today

COMMENT It is sad that Hindraf is now being castigated as racists by some quarters. It is easy to underestimate now the new thrust verve that was given to Malaysian Indians in this country by the Hindraf movement.
The two brothers P Uthaya Kumar and Waytha Moorthy and the other leaders of the movement courageously and steadfastly espoused the plight of Malaysian Indians. They made huge personal sacrifices and the Indian community gratefully accepted them.

Once hailed as heroes they are now being labeled as racists. It is a fascinating turn of events. Is this charge of being racist well-founded or is it just political labeling to discredit the movement ?

What is a racist? The dictionary definition is:
  1. a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
  2. racial prejudice or discrimination
Neither of these definitions can apply to Hindraf. They have never claimed that the Indians are a superior race. Further they are committed to removing racial prejudice and/or discrimination against the Indians. They have never said that any race should be discriminated against.

So why this label.

Is it because they steadfastly have concentrated on improving the lot of the Indians? That could be so if they argued that only the Indians in this country should be helped. That is far from the truth. Though they have argued the Indian case they have also said that all races which face poverty and deprivation should be helped. They are seeking a fair balance.

However they concentrate on the Indians for two reasons.

State of citizenship
Firstly they know the Indian problem well, being themselves Indians who have struggled to come up in life bereft of public help or aid. Secondly it is a fact acknowledged by all parties in the political spectrum that the Indians do need public help the most.

Hindraf has brought to the Indians a collective consciousness that they have not been given a fair deal.
But this is not racist. Is it racist for Muyiddin to say that he is Malay first and Malaysian second? Is this not the reality of our society. We are Malaysians in a macro sense.

But at the micro level we operate separately. We are separated into different educational streams. We pray and worship differently. We wear different clothes and eat different food. We speak our own mother tongue at home. The majority of us mingle within our own races.

The term Malaysian refers at present to a state of citizenship. In does not as yet signify a oneness. As we move forward whether towards “1Malaysia or “Malaysian Malaysia” , we will hopefully identify more and more common traits, needs, values and wants that will blend us into an unique whole. But until the advent of that Utopia we have to accept and live with the current reality of different races at different stages of development with differing severity of problems to be redressed.

This then is the reason  the Indians generally have embraced Hindraf so warmly. Non-Indians are not rushing to take up the Indian cause apart from some well-placed articles decrying the plight of the Indians. Hindraf rose to fill the niche.

Perhaps the word racist is used to criticize some averments in some documents that were published in the early days of Hindraf. The problem is that these documents used the English language. It must be accepted that in our country, words are used in English with varying degrees of understanding and intent. It is an affliction that affects many writers of English in this country.

Words and phrases are used and misused by the framers of public speeches and documents and understood or misunderstood by others.

But should we be seizing on an inappropriately used word or phrase in Hindraf statements or documents and harp on it or should we look at the broad spectrum of the ideas and essential thrust of these documents.

Analysed properly and allowing for the use of  grandiloquent or over-zealous words, the Hindraf documents by and large attempt to highlight the dire plight of the Indians.

Until a time comes when other races give due and fair priority to the problems of the Indians, Hindraf will be a much honoured and needed force amongst the Indians. Hindraf in turn, in order to meet the expectations it has raised has to concentrate on pressing for solutions to the problems of Malaysian Indians. This is the core area of their enterprise and so far they have done a sterling job.

A splintered movement

There is an attempt to now downplay the influence of Hindraf on the basis that it is now a splintered movement with divergent groups.

They point to a recent by-election where three factions which were formerly together in Hindraf took three different positions. One backed the Barisan Nasional and one backed Pakatan Rakyat. The third asked that the Indians boycott the elections. Sad indeed.

But let us not confuse the essential concept of Hindraf with its physical components.

The term “Hindraf” does not merely refer to a motley collection of organizations that now appear to be split. The larger and more important reference is to the spirit and concept that has now the brand name of “Hindraf”. It is an idea whose time has come. It will not go away because it is labeled “racist”.

It is difficult to keep several Indian organizations together. This has been the traditional bane of Malaysian Indians. Given the crop of leaders now in the field it may not be immediately possible to forge such unity. However this does not mean that the Indians are disunited pushovers. Hindraf has brought to the Indians a collective consciousness that they have not been given a fair deal. That consciousness is a silent force and a powerful one. That force is now being courted by all and sundry.

The future of the Indians will now rest on how well they marshal and focus that force in the advancement of their just rights as loyal citizens of this country. It would be a tragedy if in this attempt they are decried as racist by those who have an imperfect understanding of their cause and struggle.

DP Vijandran is a lawyer and a former MIC secretary-general.