Sunday, September 5, 2010

How Hindraf and the civil society movements can come together

There are those who say I am anti-Indian or anti-Hindraf. My outspokenness towards a single-race struggle has been condemned as that of an anti-Indian or anti-Hindraf stance. And many who propagate the Hindraf cause have taken me to task for this perceived ‘anti’ stance. Maybe it is time I made my stance clear, for whatever it is worth.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

I have had meetings with Hindraf’s London-based chairman, P. Waythamoorthy, quite a number of times over the last year or so to discuss how the ‘Indian struggle’ can be broadened to include Malaysians of non-Indian ethnicity. My contention is that Hindraf needs to appear less Indian and more Malaysian to attract Malays and Chinese to its cause.

My argument is that we are not downplaying the Indian problem as much as we are saying that the problem the Indians face are also faced by the Malays and Chinese as well as the natives of East Malaysia. Poverty, after all, does not discriminate. Poverty is colour-blind. It affects all races. So if Hindraf’s struggle is to alleviate the lot of the downtrodden then it should be for the downtrodden of all races, not just the Indians.

Moorthy and I both agreed that this would be a difficult thing to ‘sell’ to the Indians. The Chinese have their ‘strong economy’ to fall back on while the Malays have their ‘government protection’ under the new Economic Policy (NEP). What do the Indians have other than the MIC, which has failed to deliver what it is supposed to deliver?

Notwithstanding the uphill battle ahead of us, we agreed to try and give it a shot and see whether we can convince the Indians that it is to their interest that the Malays and Chinese rally to their cause. And I came out with a brief ‘concept paper’ to explain what we are seeking and what we can achieve if the other non-Indian-based civil society movements make an ‘alliance’ of sorts with Hindraf.

At worse we will be accused of being too idealistic -- but idealistic or otherwise we can never be accused of insincerity in attempting to solve the ‘Indian problem' by including the Malays and Chinese in the Hindraf cause.

As follows is the brief concept paper that I prepared and which I handed to Moorthy. In principle he is agreeable to the spirit of the paper although he feels some polishing up needs to be done to the paper to clarify certain areas and make it more specific. My contention is that this is merely a choice of words and rearrangement of sentence structure, which does not change what we want to say one bit.


The Hindraf cause should be a Malaysian cause

Though the New Economic Policy (NEP), which was introduced in 1970, was aimed at eventually eradicating poverty ‘irrespective of race’ and to undertake economic restructuring so as to eliminate the identification of ethnicity, its implementation within the framework of the race-based system of governance has led to a state of affairs where poverty and inequities persist.

The NEP and its successor policies have enriched a small community of elites at the expense of the overwhelming majority and the creation of a belief of racial supremacy on the part of some conclusively show that it is imperative that the Malaysian system of affirmative action be seriously reconsidered.

A significant percentage of the population are still living in poverty and face serious difficulties in fulfilling the most basic of needs and expectations. In the East Malaysian States of Sabah and Sarawak, some rural communities live in absolute poverty with no access to basic needs such as potable and clean water, electricity, and other essential amenities. In the West Malaysian states, the Indian community is the main victim although many Malays and Chinese are no less spared.

The rising incidence of urban poverty is leading to an alarming increase in the crime rate. The poverty cycle threatens to self-perpetuate due to a lack of opportunities for higher education for those from the lower economic segment of the population, in particular the Indians. There is a serious deficiency in the quality and capability of human capital with a rising number of local graduates finding it difficult to find employment.

A denial of access to opportunities has led to a growing disenfranchisement that can potentially become a serious threat to stability and the Malaysian way of life. The system of governance having emphasised the differences amongst the racial communities, it is not unlikely that in the event of any unrest, such unrest may manifest along racial and religious lines.

Poverty does not discriminate. Poverty does not recognise race. Poverty touches all segments of society whether they are the natives of East Malaysia or the Indians, Chinese, Malays and Orang Asli of West Malaysia. It is time, therefore, for Hindraf’s struggle to include all races and for all races to participate in Hindraf’s struggle.

Invariably, since the Indians are the more dispossessed group, the struggle to reduce poverty and for more equitability in all sectors, education included, would automatically improve the lot of the Indians. But in doing so the lot of the other communities would not be forsaken.

Hindraf aspires to see the end of a race-based system of governance in favour of a non-race-based, integrated system of governance. This should also be the aspiration of all Malaysians regardless of race. Hindraf also desires that the policy of affirmative action be reconsidered with a view to establishing a system that ensures that the objective of poverty eradication can be achieved efficiently, effectively and inclusively. And this too is what most Malaysians desire. Therefore, the aspirations and desires of Hindraf are compatible with that of all non-Indian Malaysians, which means there is nothing to prevent all Malaysians from supporting the Hindraf struggle for a better Malaysia for all.

We are committed to the need of the dismantling of any and all remaining practices of ‘divide and rule’ in public administration and to put in place an affirmative action programme at Federal and all State levels to eradicate poverty and marginalisation from amongst the weak and backward groups irrespective of race, social background and religion.

Special attention must also be given to the Orang Asli in the Peninsula and all the indigenous groups in Sabah and Sarawak. Various laws and regulations pertaining to this community must also be amended or formulated so that justice is served, including establishing a Commission to protect Native Customary Rights (NCR) land and to resolve disputes relating to such lands while respecting their traditions and customs.

National integration should also be strengthened through the restoration of the rights and privileges that were promised to the people of Sabah and Sarawak. An independent ‘Ethnic Relations Council’ should also be set up that will report directly to Parliament to help in building a united Bangsa Malaysia.

In fulfilling this concept of a Bangsa Malaysia, Hindraf needs to broaden its struggle to include the needs of all Malaysians, irrespective of race, and for all Malaysians, irrespective of race, to support the Hindraf struggle to improve the lot of all Malaysians without ignoring the reality that the Indians and Orang Asli of West Malaysia and the natives of East Malaysia are the more displaced community.