P.Uthayakumar’s presentation at Bloggers Universe Malaysia, BUM 2010 on 22/5/2010 at 6.00pm to 7.30p.m
Venue : Lake View Club, Subang
Organiser : bum4msia.wordpress.co
Blogger’s roles to bridge religious divide.
Good evening to all of you present here this evening.
I often drive up and down the north south highway, as I am sure many of you do. As we drive down that highway, we see trees, oil palm trees, rubber trees, that line the sides of the highway and our thoughts ,very likely wonder at the order and beauty in all of that,….. and we go on. But, we do not think of what goes on behind the neat lines of these trees, let alone deep inside those lines – the history, the socio-political processes, the struggles, in short, about the lives of people that cause these trees.
I stand here today to present, to represent the views from deep inside behind those trees. And often times these views are not pretty. I present them with candor and I present them with some anger.
Now let me share some of those thoughts with you.
Let me take you a hundred years back. These tree that line the highway today were first planted then as trees of commercial profit. The imperative of the profit flow from these trees needed a large stable workforce.
History has it that the poorest from South India were targeted and millions plucked out and brought here and supplanted deep behind those trees. To make this workforce stable and sustainable, deriving from the profit flow imperative, their villages in India were mimicked and rural Indian communities were built up here deep inside the Malaysian forests. And so it has gone on throughout Malaya, a social phenomenon driven by the imperatives of profit –rural Indian communities came to be a significant part of the social landscape of our country.
And then all of a sudden with the change of ownership of the plantations in the last 50 odd years, these communities had to go, to give way for what we all call development. These people just had to go.
Given the logic and the laws of those in power, these people had no rights to the lands whatsoever on which they had lived for generations, creating profit flow for the elites of our country . By the law, they cannot make any claims to ownership of land that had formed their villages, they had no rights to any of the infrastructure in and around the village – their places of worship do not belong to them , their burial grounds do not belong to them, the schools do not belong to them, none of the community facilities belong to them. There is nothing left for them. The law now dictates that all of that is sitting illegally on someonelse’s land.
By these brazen laws, which completely lack morality ,the entire fabric of the social life of the Indian poor has been smashed. They are atomized into a new wilderness of the urban spaces. In the cities, they try to recoup in the shanties, in the squatter colonies and in the low cost settlements and try to rebuild their communities. They own nothing here, either. The long arm of the logic and the law extends here too
So net, net…..
1 ) places of worship continue to be demolished – till today. This is a well documented phenomenon. I do not need to go into the specifics but to say that several hundred temples have been demolished in the last few years.
2) burial grounds continue to be destroyed with impunity all over the country.
When all of this happens to a marginalized community, it just does not seem to matter to the rest of Malaysia. They are superfluous anyway. They are a society outside of society. They don’t exist, the phenomenon never happened. Each vertical community has its own way of discounting all of this. I do not want to get into that here.
Again I remind you, I am speaking of the views from deep inside behind those neat lines of trees that line the highway. Not of the neat highways nor of the trees that line the highways.
I n an era of plenty and prosperity for many in the country, it is time that this issue be addressed squarely and with candour. We need to get this into the mainstream of discussion, so these dispossessed and abandoned poor will be able to get back on to the national agenda. The thought that this has gone on for so long, with utter and sometimes purposeful neglect and with impunity gives me my anger.
Now, on the question of religious divide let me add these perpectives
The forces that are demolishing the Hindu poor way of life are doing so without any care or responsibility to understand or appreciate the rights and needs of this impoverished community. And this then creates the divide because those that choose to demolish are not Hindus. And the intensity and impunity with which this demolition has happened causes the the divide to grow. Then neglect not only by the political elite – Malay, Chinese Indian without distinction, but also by all of civil society, NGOs, Rights organizations and the Media adds to the growing divide.
The econ0omic imperative over the years has also set in motion two other critical tendencies exacerbating the situation. They are the ethnocentrism or to put it more bluntly – racism, that is steadily growing and religious intolerance of the Islamists in ruling elite against the religious rights of the minorities.
These two tendencies converge in the national policies and are most evident at the periphery where most of the Indian poor live. The Indian poor are powerless against the onslaught from the ruling elite encompassing the poltical elite, big business of all shades, the a dministration, the judiciary and the police.
1) The NEP is an expression of this onslaught. Opportunities are blocked for those that do not count in the political reckoning of the elite. With opportunities blocked this way and because of the many exigencies of life, many from among the Indians convert to Islam. Opportunities open up for such converts, though it may not be the same as for the Muslims by birth, but new opportunities do open up.
2) They then run into the second of the emerging trends of religious intolerance, that of the Islamist extremists among the ruling elite. Even as opportunities open up for the converts, it opens up a Pandora box of problems in the lives of the people they leave behind. The entire ruling elite then gets together to force the issue. Recent incidents of body snatching are testament to this tendency. Example ;
M. Moorthy, the Malaysian hero who climbed Mount Everest, died in December 2005.
The Islamic religious authorities obtained a Syariah Court order, in his widow S. Kaliammal’s absence, declaring him a Muslim when he died.
Kaliammal tried to have her deceased husband declared a Hindu at the time of his death by the High Court
Cases of conversion of children by one parent against the wishes of the second and the subsequent endorsement by the civil courts or the abdication of the responsibilities by the Higher civil courts to the inferior Sharia courts are nothing but further testament to this significant trend. Examples
Shamala is a Hindu Mother whose husband converted to Islam after 4 years of marriage.They had two children from the marriage.
Husband converted them to Islam without the knowledge
The Civil High Court did not recognise Shamala’s
rights as Mother of the children
3) The Administration has a bias to force conversions to Islam or to be partial to issues relating to conversions to Islam. There are many reported cases of forced conversions in government run or sponsored welfare homes. Example four year old Darshini whose name was changed to Darshini binti Selvarajoo.
There are cases where a non- Muslim married to a Muslim cannot have a legal wedding without conversion. If such marriages are not registered their children lose their statehoods if they are all not Muslims. Example
Menachi 61 years old from Butterworht lived her life with Jamal till Jamal died. They lived as a Hindu and as a Muslim. Their marriage was not registered in the civil registry because of the interfaith marriage.Menachi has no IC because she ran away from home when she was 12 or 13.
They had 5 chiildren. 3 boys and two girls. The boys were brought up as Muslims and they have all their Identity documents intact. The Mother wanted to bring up the daughters as Hndus and till today they do not BCs and ICs.
The NRD officers keep telling her all her problems would be solved if she just converted.
The religious divide continues to grow because of these and other related issues. Are we to just accept all of this, those of us that are in the know, and then let the affected live a life of shameful indignity?
This is the question I pose to you all. Are we, the bloggers, the so called people in the know, to just accept all of this, and let the affected live a life of shameful indignity. Are we?
We the bloggers are supposed to be concerned citizens. We are the intellectuals of this society. There is much that is not understood by people at large, because it just fits the purpose of the greedy elite to maintain that ignorance and mistaken and harmful beliefs among the people. Now, with technology so readily available, the intellectual becomes the blogger. The intellectuals must lay the picture out clearly and objectively to the people so they can see the truth, that has been obscured to them by the elite of the country. We have to undo what the mainstream media has done. We have to help people understand the situation objectively, so we can contribute to closing the divide, not only the religious divide, but also the ethnic divide.
But first the problem of the religious divide has to be understood by us,for what it really is. The bloggers have a role to understand the socio-political mechanisms that contribute to this divide. Bloggers must play an active role in the discourses that go to understand the objective basis of these phenomena. We must not become victims of narrow belief systems ourselves.
For instance, in this presentation of mine, I do not how many of you are receiving what I am saying objectively and not being judgemental or dismissing what I am saying because of some previous notions, based on a belief system that rather tends to reinforce status quo.. If we all had the answers from where we stand, we will not need this kind of discourses. The bloggers have to be educated before they can educate.
Many accuse me of being sectarian, of only raising Indian and Hindu religious issues. If the blogging community, or the so called opposition parties really do their jobs of raising issues based on the gravity of the situation rather than on its ethnicity, then I would not at all have to take the position that I take, I would be unemployed. But the fact is this – the political opposition parties and the civil society members of whom the bloggers are an integral part do not rise to this occasion. The bloggers all have become victims of the sectarianism and the ethnocentrism that runs so deep within our system – again let me reiterate, this is the view from deep inside and behind those neat lines of trees.
The history of our country has not been written in an objective manner that there is a general agreement on what has happened. That gives for many and different interpretations and a very poor starting point for the building of a great nation. The current entrenched greedy elite further aggravate matters by feeding ethnocentric and religious extremist tendencies within our society and live off the polarization that occurs. Polarization feeds the elite. Clearly this is all not the stuff by which a great country will be built.
The bloggers therefore have a role to play to bring about unity of understanding within our society to start with or to put it in the words of this seminar, the bloggers must play an objective and learned role to narrow the ethno-religious divide that besieges our society.
This is my summary on the role that bloggers need to play in bridging the religious divide.
With that I would like to thank BUM for having given me an opportunity to address all of you here today, maybe to begin an era of better understanding.