Institutional Racism and Religious freedom in Malaysia – II
by Waytha Moorthy Ponnusamy on 11 Jan 2012 0 Comment

3. Treatment in and by the State Administration: More than 77% of the Government administration members are of Malay ethnicity. About 20% the Indian members and about 60% of the Chinese members of the Government administration are teachers in the Government schools. If they are excluded from the numbers employed by the Government administration, the picture that emerges is about an overall participation of 85% Malays in the administration. Also the proportion of Malays increases as we go higher in the ranks of the administration clearly indicating the control of the Government apparatus by the Malays.

[Source: Government of Malaysia, Dec 2005]

In the State of Johor alone with a total population of almost 3.17 million made up of 54 percent Malays, 33 percent Chinese and 6 percent Indians the ethnic composition of the Civil service is [13]: - Malays: 8,244 (98.47%); Chinese: 10 (0.12%); Indians: 116 (1.39%); Others: 2 (0.02%)

The large Malay representation of a bloated administration in addition creates a substantial basis for race based benefits to be given out to the Malays in the cover of the generous benefit and welfare and economic programs of the Government – Government Medical and Health programs single out administration employees for favored treatment, there are special treatment in various other areas as scholarships, admissions into higher educational programs, pension schemes, discounted travel fares for retired administration employees, discounted hotel charges in government run hotels and so on. This yet another subtle way by which the uniquely Malaysian racism operates.

The racist indoctrination program Biro Tata Negara BTN (National Civics Bureau)

The Malay employees of the administration go through special programs of training called Biro Tata Negara where they are all educated on how to keep “the wealth of the family within the family,” in short how to operationalise the racist policies of the Government. This is a much criticized activity, but the Government continues with impunity as it is a key approach in recreating that racist bureaucracy.

A central feature of the Malaysian system is also the categorization into the racial categories of Malays, Chinese, Indians and Others from birth to death. Everywhere one goes, one has to declare Bangsa (race), Ugama (religion) – at birth, at school registration, in the applications for ID cards, driver’s licence, bank accounts, passports, marriages, deaths and burials and in many more situations in dealing with the government agencies and Government linked agencies and businesses. This identification by race becomes the determining criteria in the award of any benefits from these institutions.

One interesting point to note about Government statistics is that even though ethnicity data is picked up in almost all the data collection, the reports from the Governments seldom provides the ethnic categorization of the data to the public, unless it is to justify some Government position. This will be immediately evident if one just visits the Malaysian government statistics department’s website

Access to Government aid programs, information of all kinds relating to the many development programs, information of government awards, contracts, special opportunities are all made easy for majority Malays, but kept well out of reach for the Non-Malay minorities by this ethnic identification and the wall of a monolithic Malay Administration. This is aggravated for the Indian minority by the fact that a sizeable portion of the Indian populace is semi-literate or illiterate, which makes them ignorant of their rights, the laws or the procedures.

There are an estimated 150,000 – 200,000 Indian children who are stateless due to the States’ reluctance to recognize them as Malaysians. This is operationalized by the racist state bureaucracy. As result they are not admitted in Schools, enjoy health care and other benefits a child enjoys.

4. Treatment by the Judicial System of the State

Alongside the racially lopsided developments on the economic front, the Islamists have been steadily gaining influence over the judicial system in the 1990s. (The Federal Constitution was amended in 1988 to give recognition to Sharia Laws). This is visible in the steady ascendancy of the Sharia Legal system over the Civil Legal System which is enshrined in the Malaysian Federal Constitution. The Syaria courts are clearly inferior to the Civil Courts in the Federal Constitution – but in practice the Judges in the Civil courts do not want to rule on matters involving non-Muslims who are entangled between the two systems.

It is estimated more than 90% of the judiciary is filled with Malay-Muslim Judges.

5. Treatment by the Media

The Mainstream media blocks out, demonizes and distorts information of any organization that speaks out against this racist system in a coordinated fashion. The Government uses the Printing Presses and Publications Act and limiting ownership to known allies to control the Media to do this.

The Malay pro-Government Media is given a free hand to speak for the racist policies of the government. The leading Malay language newspaper, Utusan Melayu, as described by the Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang, “provides a daily staple of falsehoods that stoke racial hatred”. The other leading media group – Prima Media, is firmly in the control of the Malay elite and whose Chairman of the Board is a former chief editor of Utusan Malaysia. It owns 4 TV stations, 3 major newspapers, 3 Radio stations, and a slew of other related companies.

Reporting on minority issues and problems are either selectively done or is slanted or is just plainly blacked out. There is a clear racist slant and scheme to the projections. The slant is that the Malay elite is the Tuan (Master) and the Non-Malay is always the recipient of his largesse.

6. Treatment in the Education system.

Article 12 of the Federal Constitution guarantees that there shall be no discrimination against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, descent, or place of birth.

The racial bias in the educational system is the area where racism is most blatant – all the way from pre-school and primary education up to Tertiary levels. One of the major features of the colonial rule was the identification of race with vocation. Separate communities developed around their places of work. The Malays in the villages, the Indians largely in the plantations and the Chinese largely in the urban areas. This served British colonial rule very well, keeping the people apart while extracting the most out of them in the service of British capital.

What has however happened in the post colonial period is the institutionalization of this communal division into a bifurcation in the education system all the way from Primary to the Tertiary level.

The Government budgetary allocations worth billions for education went largely into promoting education for the Malays, at the expense of allocations for the Chinese, the Indians and the rest. At the Primary school level, we have a fully aided stream and a partially aided stream. The partially aided schools are termed such as they essentially only have the salaries of the teachers paid. All other expenses have to be self-funded by the schools.

Primary Schools

For the Chinese community, they saw an opportunity in this and went ahead with community financing, built up an education system that essentially runs without establishment interference. For the Indian community it is working out to be a disaster as this has resulted in the crumbling of the foundation for the future of the Indian child. Because of the economic position of the Indian community, the partially aided schools are under-funded, under-resourced and in the process produces under achieving children. A national study done in 1973 by the Government concluded that these children from the plantation environment were underachievers and early leavers. This was the time the New Economic Policy was being implemented and the results of the study were ignored because of the racially slanted imperatives of the Malay elite. And so it remains. 371 out of
523 Tamil schools are partially aided. Many of these schools are no more than where the British had left them off at. Half the Indian children go to such schools. In spite of the chronic nature of the problem and the deleterious effects it is having on the Indian community, the Government continues to ignore this condition.

Secondary Schools

There are 42 fully residential elite Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (MRSM) (Mara junior Science College) (NST 5/4/08) with 12,440 places also in the fully residential schools (BH 21/11/09 at page 7). These schools have been almost exclusively for Malay Muslim students. Most of the non-Malay school pupils who easily qualify for entrance to these schools are summarily denied admissions. A few get in as a token. Each of the MRSM schools cost around RM100 million to build.

Indians and non-Malays are also almost 100% excluded in other elite schools like the Royal Military College, Aminuddin Baki Institution, Matriculation courses and the Malay College Kuala Kangsar.

80% Indian pupils had (been forced) stopped schooling after 5th Form (O’ Levels) because of performance and because of their socio-economic status [14].



There are two streams for entry into the Public Universities. One is through the Matriculation 12 month program specifically tailored for the Malay students and the other is through the 18 month and much more stringent STPM program. Of course the matriculation is especially reserved for the Malays. University entrance criteria are based on meritocracy the country is told. S0 4As in one is equated to 4 As in the other. But the awful truth of this is that 4Cs in one will probably equal 4As in the other. Again this is the working of the unique Malaysian racist system. What is guaranteed in the constitution is made totally inconsequential by the introduction of arbitrary methods, mechanisms and criteria.

Tertiary Education

Of course coming out of matriculation, will be “many more better performing students” who not only will be on the top of the lists for the Public universities, but they will also very likely get the scholarships, the courses of their choice and the loans for study.

Admissions into public Universities is more than 80% reserved for the Malay Muslims. One university with a student population of 170,000 in 2011(UiTM) is for Malay Muslims only. The other 19 public Universities with about 170,000 enrolments in all have a 60% Malay Muslims students making it 80% for Malay Muslims in all Public Universities. This does not even talk about the composition in the various courses offered.

Only a handful of seats in Medical Faculties of the Malaysian Government Universities are made available to Indians and non-Malays. Exact statistics are not available but it is estimated to be around 5% percent of the places. An estimated 90% of deserving Indian and non Malay students are denied places in the 20 Government run Universities in Malaysia.

There are 62,000 diploma places and 60,000 degree places for 2010 at 27 Polytechnics in Malaysia [15]. Our estimate is a very small number of these places will be allocated for non Malay students no matter their qualifications. Most of the places are allocated to Malay-Muslim students.

8,132 Phd graduates produced from the 20 government Universities [16]. Our estimate is again a very small number will be Indians and non-Malays.

There are 163,779 students studying at the 19 other Public Universities nationwide at an annual expenditure cost of RM 2.6 Billion [17]. Our estimate is a mere 5 % of this expenditure will accrue to non-Malay students.

The former prime Minister, the architect of this racist system Mahathir decided to restrict the number of students studying medicine in various universities in Russia after a visit in 2003. Most of the Malaysians there were from Indian families, many of whom had scraped the bottom of the barrel to put their children through a medical education. There just were not enough places for them in Malaysian universities because of the Governments discriminatory practices; Russia,  Romania, Indonesia provided affordable alternatives. But the Government decided to reduce those alternatives. Several of the Universities were derecognized by the Malaysian Government from 2006 onwards despite there being a shortage of doctors in Malaysia by 50% [18].

RM 2.8 Billion is allocated for the 2010 National Budget for students assistance [19] scholarships, but only an estimated 5% may reach the non-Malay students. Most of the funds go for scholarships to Malay Muslim Students.

1,266,671 students have benefited from the government PTPTN (Government Higher Education Loan Fund) study loans till 2009. 147,441 such loans were approved at RM 17.0 Billion [20]

But thousands of private Indian medical students studying in Russia, Ukraine, Romania, India and
Indonesia have been denied these loans. Similarly Non-Malay students studying at private Universities and Institutions of Higher Learning have also been denied these study loans.

Ms Syamala Devi

Ms M Syamala Devi’s a 28-year-old final year medical student has returned home from Romania because she cannot afford to continue her education. She had taken a RM20,000 loan to finance the final two years of her study for which she now has to pay RM2,000 in interest every month. She is a student with the University of Medical Pharmacy of GRT Popa in Romania; she needs another RM40,000 to complete her degree. Syamala said after completing her STPM examination, she had applied in vain for a place to do medicine in the 20 local universities. She has also applied for scores of scholarships and education loans, including the Public Service Department (PSD) scholarship and Higher Education Loan Fund (PTPTN), but was rejected in each of these applications..

Contrast that with the following scheme for Malay Muslim students going abroad to do Medicine. Kolej Teknologi Timur in Sepang,which has graduated its 4th batch of students on what is called the Kursus Intensif Timur Tengah (Middle East Intensive Course). This is a 3 month program preparing MARA sponsored students selected to do medicine in the Alexandria University in Cairo. This is a 100pct Malay Muslim program and it is 100pct funded by the Government.

All allocation of the National resource has been slanted in favor of the majority ethnic group and away from minorities as a matter of overt policy.


Article 11 of the Federal Constitution provides for religious freedom, which includes the right to establish and maintain places of worships and own and acquire property.

Article 12(2) among others provides that no person shall be forced to receive instruction in or to take part in any ceremony of act of worship of a religion other than his own.

Article 12(4) provides his parent or guardian shall decide the religion of a person below the age of 18 years.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the constitution and the government placed restrictions on this right. The constitution defines all ethnic Malays as Muslims at birth and stipulates that Islam is the “religion of the Federation.”

In 1988, Article 121 of the Federal Constitution was amended to make provisions for the recognition of Islamic Syaria Courts/Laws. It was intended to adjudicate upon Muslim marriage and personal law. However this provision has been the manipulated by the authorities to implement and impose syariah Laws on non-Muslims. The Judiciary abdicated its powers to the inferior Syaria courts whenever there is a dispute between a Muslim and non-Muslim.

The government significantly restricted the practice of Islamic beliefs other than Sunni Islam. Article 11 of the constitution states, “Every person has the right to profess and practice his religion,” but it also gives state and federal governments the power to “control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.”

Civil courts continued to concede jurisdiction to Shari'a courts on cases concerning conversion from Islam and certain areas of family law involving disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims. The syaria laws, does not permit Muslims, born into Islam, to convert to another religion. Shari’a courts do not allow renunciation from the Islamic faith. The law strictly prohibits non-Muslims from proselytizing Muslims; proselytizing of non-Muslims faced no legal obstacles.

Forced religious conversions and religious intolerance are evidence of creeping Islamization in Malaysia. Whenever there is a conflict between Muslim and non-Muslims, the tendency is for Muslim Laws to prevail over the non-Muslim issues regardless of the merits of the case. This can be seen in the several cases of non-Muslims who have found themselves or their children forcibly converted and are not able to reverse the process. This is an area where clearly minority rights are being deliberately overdrawn by the majority Malay Muslims over minority non-Muslims.

The decision of the Court of Appeal on 21st August 2010 in the case of Maniam Moorthy is a disturbing trend in the role of the Judiciary which has abdicated its powers to the inferior Shariah Courts which was meant to serve the Muslims only on matters (personal) pertaining to marriage, divorce, property distribution etc.

Lina Joy, 42, who was born to a Malay Muslim couple, became a Christian when she was 26. She lost her final round of appeal when the Federal Court dismissed her appeal on 30th May 2007 against a ruling that the National Registration Department was right not to allow her to remove the word “Islam” from her identity card.

This decision by the apex court removed an individual’s constitutional freedom to choose one’s religion as well the right to private married life, especially for those who want to renounce Islam and for people who convert to Islam but later want to revert to their former religion.

In August 2010, the newspaper of the Catholic Church in Malaysia, The Herald, filed a legal suit following warnings that its permit could be revoked if it did not cease use of the word “Allah” in the Malay language section of its newspaper. The paper has a circulation of around 12,000 and writes in four languages.

Several Malaysian churches have been attacked and fire bombed, leaving at least one badly damaged, in an escalating dispute over the use of the word “Allah” by Christians. Muslim groups with the tacit support of the government held protests and threatened violence publicly for an alleged act of challenging the superiority of Islam.

A religious edict (fatwa) by a Muslim cleric in the state of Sabah caused the Sabah state government to cancel the construction of a 108 feet Goddess of Sea Mazu statue by the Taoists in 2008. The construction was approved by the Local authorities but cancelled by State Government on grounds it would offend the Muslims.

In August 2011, The Selangor Religious Department raided a Church dinner function organised by an NGO on allegation of Christian proselytizing campaign. The Selangor Ruler who heads the State Islamic faith conveniently relied upon the biased investigations conducted by the raiding authority instead of forming an independent investigation committee and warned the Christians not to influence and distort the understanding and belief of Muslims towards Islam.

According to the government, it allocated 428 million ringgit (approximately $125.9 million) to build Islamic places of worship and 8.1 million ringgit ($2.4 million) to build Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and other minority religions' places of worship between 2005 and the end of 2008.

Examples of forced conversion:

Rani, 56, has been struggling for the past thirty years to get her Muslim name and religious status changed to Hindu. Rani was only a sixteen-day-old baby when she was given away by her Muslim biological mother to a Hindu neighbour family due to extreme poverty. Rani’s Hindu adopted father brought her up as a Hindu. Her marriage registration application was rejected and her Hindu husband was forcefully taken away, circumcised and converted.

He agreed to the conversion after he was threatened with jail sentence if he refused to convert to Islam. As a consequence, Rani’s children as well as her grandchildren have all been denied their Birth Certificates even after thirty years of struggling as they are all practising Hinduism. In an interview with HRP, Rani’s famiy threatened to commit suicide.

A mother of two, S Banggarma was unknowingly converted to Islam by state religious authorities as a child at the age of 7 while at a welfare home in Penang against the provisions of Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution. She discovered this when seeking to register her marriage in 2000.

Due to her Muslim name, she could not register her marriage to Sockalingam, which was conducted according to Hindu rites. She was also unable to register her husband's name as the father in her children's birth certificates. The civil courts will not hear her case and the decision of the Syaria Court is a foregone conclusion

Indira Gandhi’s 3 children were converted without her consent and knowledge and her 11 month baby girl abducted by her husband who had converted to Islam just to spite her because of marital problems (see NST 28/4/09 at page 4). The Islamic authorities and the police had refused to secure her baby from her estranged husband despite a High Court Order in favor of applicant. (The star Apr 24 2009).

She would not obtain justice as the highest Federal Court are most likely to rule that the conversion of her children is within the jurisdiction of Syariah Court. It is highly likely her children would soon be removed from her custody and placed with the Islamic authorities.

Raimah Bibi is a practicing Hindu. She was once adopted by a Indian-Muslim family when she was a child. Her National Identity card had never indicated that she was a Muslim until when she applied for her new Identity card when her name was changed to Rahimah Bibi bt Noordin and identified as a Muslim. On 2nd April, 2007, seven officers from JAIS arrested her and told her husband that his wife of 21 years was a Muslim and that she and the six children must be placed in a rehabilitation centre. She is still forcibly separated from her family by order of the Islamic Shariah Court.

State Sanctioned Destruction of Hindu Places of Worship

Throughout the years since Malaysian independence in 1957, the government has been disregardful of the systematic destruction of Hindu places of worship, which previously stood on estates and state owned estates and land. An estimate of about 10,000 Hindu places of worship have been demolished. The government justifies the demolition of the places of worship on the grounds that they were illegally constructed or were occupying government land.

-       Most of the places of worship and graveyards/crematoriums demolished by the state were built during the colonial era and therefore existed up to 200 years ago

-       The Indian migrant workers transported under the indentured labour system were assigned to clear large acres of thick jungle areas and prepare land to plant rubber trees; these lands later referred to as rubber plantation estates. The workers who were encouraged by their colonial employers to reside on the plantations were given permission to build their places of worship on the plantation land, which survives to date

-       Upon independence, the government of Malaysia failed to observe its responsibilities under the Federal Constitution specified above and issue land rights to the Hindu places of worships, whereas existing mosques built before independence were granted land titles to legitimize them

-       A study by Centre for Public Policy studies shows that since the 1970’s whilst in the process of acquiring thousands of plantation estates under the Land Acquisition Act for development purpose the government has been directly responsible for displacing 300,000 ethnic Indians from the plantations. A further 300,000 were at risk in year 2000. Displacement came with destruction of places of worship without relocation program on the basis that temples sited on government land were without permit

-       The rights of the poor Indians are seldom acknowledged or respected in those situations and the State Governments tend to use their full might of State power and the media to manipulate public opinion, corruption and ‘Mandorism’ to evict the marginalized Indians who, unaware of their entitlement, are denied their legal ownership of land in majority of cases

-       Their historical occupation of the land in the many cases appears not to count for much and any offer of compensation seldom matches their loss.

-       Although we are without an exact figure on the number of places of worship destroyed since 1957, witness statements available from community leaders, estate workers, temple committees, union leaders and residents clearly demonstrate that the number of such places destroyed by the state runs into thousands.

HRF, Malaysia estimates that a high proportion of the existing number of temples estimated at 10,000 currently based on plantation land risk being demolished due to the government’s unwillingness to grant land rights and to legitimize their existence.


The Malaysian minorities long to live with dignity and freedom but are denied dignity and freedom by a racist regime that has developed over the last 50 years in the name of affirmative action for the majority. The endless extensions of the affirmative action policies have now led to serious Human Rights violations of the minorities in the country. This is inconsistent with developments around the world and with the aspirations of the minorities of Malaysia. It is time for the international community to hold the Malaysian government accountable for this performance. The world has to wake up to these developments in Malaysia, for the future of all of this is being told many times over now, in the many tragedies that are happening around the world even as we pen this report.


13. Norman Fernandez: Jul 5, 2011 “Media whitewash on non-Malays in civil service” -

14. Malaysiakini/10/07/11-Lim Teck Ghee, Asli

15. New Straits Times 22/11/09 at page 25

16. The Star 2/12/09 at page 20

17. Utusan Malaysia 8/10/09 at page 29

18. Utusan Malaysia 25/3/08 at page 31

19. Ministry of Higher Education 2007

20. Ministry of Higher Education 2007


The author is a Malaysian lawyer of Tamil origin who is currently a member of the HINDRAF campaign to fight discrimination against Malaysian Hindus

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