Malaysia: Truly Islamia
by Sandhya Jain on 28 Jan 2009 1 Comment

Some months ago, mocked by orthodox international groups for hosting the world’s largest Kartikeya murti, Muslim-majority Malaysia felt stressed enough to plan a Bamiyan-style demolition. The iconoclasm was staved off only by the fear that this would expose Malaysia as a grim and joyless hub in Islam in South East Asia. It would dim the glitter of this cheery tourist destination and rip the mask off “Truly Asia” to reveal the reality: “Truly Islamia.”

The mask, like the Kartikeya image, is therefore on. But Malaysia’s citizens of Indian origin (descendants of British-era indentured labour), a small minority of just 8 percent (most of whom are Hindu), are increasingly discriminated and brutalized in this resource-rich country. Ninety percent of all custodial deaths are of Hindus, and State-led pressures to force conversions upon hapless Hindus are increasing by the day. 

Though not formally an Islamic country, Malaysia is fast moving in that direction, with the government consciously institutionalizing Malay Muslim religious extremist and supremacist policies, reducing Indians to slave status, according to HINDRAF, the organisation dedicated to fighting this discrimination. Malaysian Indians are openly harassed by the United Malay National Organization-controlled government in breach of Article 8 of the Constitution which prohibits discrimination and upholds equality. Yet Indians are kept out of the national mainstream in almost every sphere of life.


Five decades of independence have been a grim struggle for survival for majority ethnic Indians, aggravated by institutionalized discrimination in Article 153 which gives special privileges to Muslims. Indians are paid just half of what Muslims are paid for the same job, according to HINDRAF chairman Waytha Moorthy Ponnusamy, Barrister at Law, Lincoln’s Inn (UK).

State wrath falls quickly upon those who protest the violation of Indian minority and human rights. Currently, four Malaysian Indian lawyers, P. Uthayakumar, M. Manoharan, R. Kengatharan and V. Ganapathi Rao are under detention without trial since 13  December 2007, at Malaysia’s native “Guantanamo Bay” (the Kemunting Detention Centre)! Initially for a two-year period under the draconian Internal Security Act, the detention is now indefinite! Their crime - the HINDRAF successful rally, discussed later.

On 31 December 2008, Malaysian police poured hot water on an Indian youth in custody, and when he screamed in pain, stuffed a cloth in his mouth and trampled upon him with police boots. In a rare exposure of this brutality, NTV7 splashed this gory burn because the Member of Parliament for Kapar dared challenge UMNO’s dictatorial system. The poor youth had been arrested on mere suspicion of theft as he happened to be working near the place where the incident occurred. He was finally released after five days in captivity without any charge, as there was no evidence against him. This is just one instance of the treatment meted out to Indian youths.

The lawyers named above were jailed for protesting such acts of official atrocity. The Internal Security Act was also invoked to detain Mr. Waytha Moorthy Ponnusamy, but he happened to be abroad, lobbying for international support. His Malaysian International Passport was revoked and he was denied entry to the country! He is now forced to live in exile in London, separated from his family.

At a brief visit to Delhi after the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas at Chennai (7-9 January 2009), Mr. Ponnusamy lamented that even third, fourth and fifth generation Indians are suffering discrimination. Though Article 8 of the Constitution guarantees equality before law and specifically prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, religion, colour, creed, etc., the UMNO defies both the Constitution and the law and plays up race and religious issues to appeal to the 60% Malay Muslim population, thereby retaining its grip on political power for 51 long years. The threat of violence is used effectively (as in the 13 May 1969 racial riot, Kampong Medan racial attacks against Indians or detention without trial indefinitely under the Internal Security Act).

In remote rubber and palm oil plantations, thousands of ethnic Indians live as virtual slaves (NST 15 Sept. 2008, p. 12). Slavery still exists in Bahau, Negeri Sembilan; the slaves are fed just one meal of watered down rice a day. Children, barely skin-and-bones, are beaten with rubber hose and sticks and sent to a “prison” in Bahau as punishment for not working hard enough. Women and children are used as sex slaves. An enslaved mother said “my son was beaten so badly that he almost died. Some slaves have even died of hunger, exhaustion and sickness.” They toil from dawn to dusk, more than 12 hours daily. There is no question of school (Ibid, p. 12-13).

A few years ago, the State capped the monthly salary of Indian plantation workers at RM 325/month (approx. US$ 85). Thousands of Indians in the Blue Valley tea plantations in Cameron Highlands receive a meagre RM13/day (US$ 3.50). They get no annual leave or bonus, and cannot afford medical treatment even at the Ipoh General Hospital when sick (Tamil Nesan, 11 Oct 2008, p. 4).

It is hardly surprising that Indians comprise 60% of urban squatters and 41% of beggars (The Economist, 22 Feb. 2003). Nearly 70% Indians rank as poor and hardcore poor, but are uncared for even by NGOs, civil society and opposition parties (18 Point Demands to Prime Minister Badawi, 12 Aug. 2007).

In the March 2001 Kampong Medan “Ethnic Cleansing,” two-week-long racial attacks were unleashed against Indians in what is widely believed to be an UMNO-sponsored “secret political operation.” Five Indians were massacred and grievous bodily harm inflicted on total innocents under the watchful eyes of the Malay Muslim Police Force. Despite numerous police reports, including Police Report Petaling Jaya No. 4301/01, no serious investigations and criminal prosecutions were launched. The Attorney General and Chief Justice refused to order an inquest into the five deaths.

The Malaysian Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) refused to hold a public inquiry and when a civil suit was filed to compel SUHAKAM to do so, the Malaysian High Court struck out the Kampong Medan victim’s suit without even the UMNO-controlled Malaysian Government having to file a statement of defence to the allegations of state-sponsored murders and violence. The government refused to order a Royal Commission of Inquiry or present a White Paper in Parliament as promised (Malaysian Bar Resolution, AGM minutes, 22 March 2003).

An estimated 150,000 Malaysian-born Indian children have been denied birth certificates and identity cards, and are hence denied and excluded from even primary school education, let alone university education, skills training, job opportunities and even from exercising their democratic rights as voters (NST Editorial of 23 Oct 2008 concedes a 50,000 figure). Such children also cannot open a bank account or get a driving license and can be arrested anytime as illegal immigrants!

Official statistics concede that 63,441 Malaysian-born, third, fourth and fifth generation Indians have been denied citizenship and given only red identity cards (Permanent Resident status, vide NST 19 Nov. 2008, p. 12). Yet two million foreigners (largely Muslims from neighbouring countries) have been granted citizenship since 1957 (NST 15 Apr. 2008 p. 6).

Ms. M. Rajeswary filed a civil suit against the Home Minister for RM6 million ringgit as she did not have a identity card with her when wrongly arrested, detained, and made to plead guilty to being a foreigner, and sent to prison where she delivered a baby girl (NST 11 Nov.  2008, p. 22). There may well be thousands like her thus languishing in prison after being denied their birthright. By thus disrespecting the law, the UMNO creates a problem of Stateless Persons, which persists from one generation to the next. Prior to the 8 March 2008 general elections, the Chief Minister of the State of Selangor publicly acknowledged that there were 30,000 Indian children without birth certificates in that province alone.

Every week one Hindu temple is maliciously and ruthlessly demolished (Tamil Nesan, 30 Oct. 2008, p. 3). In the Selangor State Legislative Assembly, Executive Council Member Dr. Xavier Jayakumar officially revealed that between 2004 and 2007, 96 Hindu temples were demolished in Selangor (Ibid).

Every week, 1.3 persons are shot dead by the police (The Star, 11 May 2007). Nearly 90% victims shot dead by the police are Indians. 80% cases of being beaten in custody, police harassment, death in police lock ups, inmates of police and prison jails (mostly due to poverty-related crimes) are of Indians, who are only 8% of the population (Police Watch Memorandum to the Police Royal Commission, 4 March 2003). Every two weeks, one youth dies in police custody; 80% of the victims are Indian youths.

Indians are disempowered in other ways also. Nearly 70% of 371 out of 523 Indian (Tamil) schools are denied fully government funded status. They languish in dilapidated cowshed-like pre-war buildings. They are denied full teaching and learning facilities available to Malay Muslim schools. About 1400 (20% - Tamil Nesan, 16 June 2008, p. 15) of 7800 Tamil school teachers are temporary and untrained (NST 13 June 2008, p. 24) to teach the 150,000 Tamil school pupils. Tamil schools in Mukim Pundut were not allowed to establish their own kindergartens even in a vacant school building (Tamil Nesan, 3 July 2008).

719 Tamil school high achieving students scored 7As (Tamil Nesan Headlines 14 Nov. 2008) but were excluded from the fully residential (Government run) MARA Junior Science Colleges and the scores of elite schools reserved exclusively for Malay Muslim Students. In many states, the Indian population is denied the right to open Tamil schools, though the local Chinese and Malay Muslim have their own schools.

Then there is a disparity in outlays. The official allocation per pupil for a Tamil school is RM10.55, but for a Malay Muslim school it is RM33.30/pupil (and millions more) as per the Ninth Malaysia Plan (Sembaruthi Magazine, Aug 2008, p. 47). Yet Article 12 of the Constitution stipulates there shall be no discrimination in providing education out of the funds of a public authority and Article 8 provides for equality before the law!

Almost 99% of deserving Indian students have been denied places in public universities and government PSD scholarships (Tamil Nesan, 15 July 2008, p. 3 and 7 July 2008 front page respectively). In 2007 there were 847,485 local public university places (NST 7 Aug 2008, p. 16). In the University Technology MARA (UITM) there were 120,000 places exclusively for Malay Muslims (NST 13 Aug 2008).

This adds up to 967,485 university places in 2007, but only 2,750 Indian students were admitted (Tamil Nesan, 15 July 2008, p. 3). This is just 1% of the total Public University intake. A total of RM 1.7 billion PSD scholarship was awarded to overseas university students, but only 34 Indian students out of 2000 students (1.7%) were awarded these overseas scholarships (NST 16 May 2008, p. 6) and 161 (1.61%) Indian students were awarded PSD scholarships in 2007 (to study at local universities out of 10,000 scholarships – Tamil Nesan 7 July 2008 front page). At least 375 SPM high achieving students scored 8 A1s (Tamil Nesan 12 July 2008, p. 5) but did not get scholarships.

Four matriculation colleges are to be completed by 2010, raising the number of available places with full hostel facilities to 40,000 under the Ninth Malaysia Plan. There are now 9 matriculation colleges with a total intake of 28,000 students annually. Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said this will increase the number of Malay Muslims in institution of higher learning. He said 10% of the places are for non-Malay Muslims (Utusan Malaysia, 2 Nov.  2008, p. 4), but so far no Indian student has managed to join any matriculation colleges. At best 0.1% of the places may be given to Indians.

In 2003, only one medical seat was allocated at the University of Malaya. At the same time, scores of degrees of foreign medical colleges with almost all Malaysian Indian students in Ukraine, Russia, Romania, Indonesia and India were derecognized in order to reduce the number of Malaysian Indian doctors in Malaysia (PRIM Memorandum to Education Minister dated 25 July 2003). This is despite the 100% shortage of doctors in Malaysia (NST, 28 May 2008, p. 6).

The discrimination spreads into agriculture, land, civil service, military service, business licenses, permits, government contracts and projects, business opportunities, government sponsored business loans, banking and even private sector jobs. Not surprisingly, the suicide rate among ethnic Indians is the highest, about 600% higher than in the Malay Muslim community (NST 14 Sept. 2008. p. 21).

Parliamentary seats are delimited in a manner that Indians do not have even one Indian-majority seat at national level or in any of the State Assemblies, despite there being about 2 million Indians in Malaysia.  

Decades of suffering drove Malaysian Indians to finally summon the courage to hold a 100,000-strong HINDRAF People Power peaceful assembly at the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur on 25 November 2007, to draw the attention of the international community to their plight. The Malaysian government reacted harshly by beating up and arresting 241 leaders; more than 100 were actually prosecuted for attempted murder and unlawful assembly and even denied bail! Two weeks later, lawyers P. Uthaya Kumar, M. Manoharan, R. Kenggadharan and V. Ganapathi Rao were detained without trial and imprisoned under the draconian ISA. HINDRAF was declared an unlawful society and banned on 15 October 2008.

Malaysian Indians continue the lonely quest for equality, equal opportunities, and an end to institutional discrimination, but the fight is an unequal one. An Indian Government with a consciousness of its civilisational legacy and responsibility could yet level the playing field, by raising its voice against the de facto Islamic nature of the regime and severe discrimination against the ethnic Indians who have contributed vastly to the material development of the country.

Just as a slowly awakening India recently banned the import of Chinese toys – to convey its disapproval of Beijing’s unsympathetic attitude towards Mumbai 2008 – so also New Delhi must be prepared to show a big stick to Malaysian companies working on road, highway, monorail and other projects in India. A temporary ban on the import on Malaysian palm oil could also have a salutary effect. 

Malaysian Indians should be helped to study medicine in India by providing educational scholarships directly to deserving students, rather than making the provisions open to government manipulation. Malaysian Indians should also be provided access to education, especially technical and professional education, in other fields as well. As most ethnic Indians in that country are Tamil-speaking, the Tamil Nadu government could take an interest in the matter. This is a far more worthwhile cause than that of the murderous LTTE in Sri Lanka.

The author is Editor,

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