Monday, August 16, 2010

NRD studies Hindraf memo on 'British subjects'

(Malaysiakini) The National Registration Department (NRD) in Putrajaya is reportedly studying Hindraf Makkal Sakthi's memorandum presented last Friday, on the problem of several thousand people in peninsular Malaysia whom the group says have been denied Malaysian citizenship since independence in 1957.

Hence, they allegedly retain their British subject status from the colonial era. Previously called, in a misnomer, 'stateless', Hindraf has since dropped the term as it implies 'a person without a country' which is not the case.

Hindraf drafted the memorandum on July 26 but held it back until after the 1st National Hindraf Convention in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 8.

N Ganesan, HRP advisor June 4“We had a very formal but cordial two-hour meeting with Mohd Azmin Hassan, the director of births, deaths and adoptions,” said Penang-based Hindraf advisor and industrialist N Ganesan (left) in a telephone call to Malaysiakini yesterday. “Initially, the director-general and his deputy agreed to be present.”

He was giving an update on the dilemma of British subjects in Malaysia following a statement released yesterday by London-based Hindraf chair P Waythamoorthy. The ad hoc human rights movement has conducted research on the subject at the National Archives of the United Kingdom.

The purpose of the hastily-set-up meeting with the NRD, continued Ganesan, was basically to get it to listen to Hindraf's elaboration on the memorandum rather than for them to give a briefing on known procedural requirements.

NRD: Only 80 without documents

For starters, the 12-man NRD team queried Hindraf's conservative estimate of 150,000 'stateless people' (henceforth 'British subjects') among 'ethnic Indians' in peninsular Malaysia who have been denied Malaysian citizenship and nationality.

indian rubber plantation worker 030905The NRD disclosed that they in fact conducted 84 campaigns throughout the peninsula alone in recent months, apparently seeking out those without Malaysian personal documents “and only 80 people turned up”.

“We explained that it doesn't work this way,” said Ganesan. “These people are not very educated and live in fear in a twilight zone. They would not dare to approach the authorities with their problems.”

The Hindraf advisor explained the basis on which they arrived at 150,000 which the NRD has accepted as a guideline, without dispute, for further study. The NRD conceded, when challenged to give their own estimate, that they “really did not know who is out there and how many of them (there are), especially when they don't turn up and see us”.

The fear among the British subjects, Ganesan stressed, is that they would be “detained at a centre for illegal immigrants for deportation” to India or other ancestral origins. The result is that they avoid having anything to do with the authorities and the system but, it appears, sometimes not very successfully.

“Most of the petty crimes in urban areas in peninsular Malaysia can be attributed to the British subjects,” said Ganesan. “They eke out a precarious living as cheap daily labour in the underground economy and live in abject poverty from generation to generation.”
These conditions make it an ideal breeding ground for those who are attracted to various criminal activities to supplement their meager incomes as cheap labour, the NRD was told.

'State should not dictate religion'

An additional shocker for the NRD was Hindraf's conservative estimate that at least 20 percent of the British subjects are non-Muslims married to Muslims, usually under Hindu rites, and went on to have children. Such marriages are not registered under the law and bring with it a host of attendant documentation problems of their own.

Hindraf's suggestion, spelled out in greater detail with graphic case studies in the memorandum, is that the parents involved in interreligious marriages should be allowed to decide on the religion of their children. The state should stay out, said the movement. “They should also not involve the judiciary or the Syariah Court.”

Briefly, the Hindraf take is that religion is a matter of individual faith and hence the individual should state his faith, if needed as a matter of public record, and not allow the state to dictate the religion.

corpse snatching family pc 011206 nrd documentGanesan and the other four members in his delegation explained the importance of the NRD shedding its old mindset and adopting a paradigm shift above race, religion and other considerations like the “numbers game”, among others.

The old mindset, alleged Ganesan, was politically driven by a “hidden agenda” to deny procedurally what is guaranteed by the federal constitution.

“We are confident that the NRD is the only department, no matter how flawed at the moment, that can help address the problem systematically and eliminate it,” said Ganesan. “They have the resources and can even employ field staff familiar with an area to seek out the British subjects and help them go through the process.”

'NRD must be people-friendly'

In short, Hindraf wants the NRD to adopt a people-friendly approach and go out to the British subjects instead of having them come to it. The onus, under this approach, is on the NRD and not on the affected people.

mykad counter 051105Ganesan thinks that the existing approach of hurling a stack of documents at would-be applicants and expecting them to decipher them and solve the problem on their own would not work.

Anyone would be put off especially if they feel that they are seen as a nuisance, added Ganesan. “The result is they don't come back.”

Hindraf has an early Dec 31, 2011 deadline in mind for the resolution of the problem. However, the memorandum itself acknowledges that it might take at least up to three years to bring closure to this unfortunate legacy from the colonial past.