Wednesday, January 5

A Heritage Denied

Decades of official discrimination have turned Malaysia's ethnic Indians into a disgruntled underclass

By Anthony Spaeth

Bujang Valley Multiracial malaysia has three heritages to celebrate: Malay, Chinese and Indian. In the Bujang Valley in northern Kedah state, Malaysia's Indian roots are visible. An ancient kingdom existed there, of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, dating back to the 4th century. It was a trading and migration port, within sailing distance of India, and it eventually became part of Sumatra's mighty Sriwijaya Empire. Since the site was rediscovered by explorers in the 1930s, more than 50 temple ruins have been excavated in the valley, making it Malaysia's richest archaeological treasure trove.

But an Indian Malaysian visiting the Bujang Valley might come away feeling demeaned rather than proud—and that would be no accident. The government has spruced up some ruins and built a museum beside them to showcase Bujang's archaeological finds. The ochre ruins are classically Indian in design, neat, dull—and there is nothing to tell the visitor how grand the originals may have been. The museum has Buddhist and Hindu statues behind glass—cows, Ganeshas, lingams—but the official literature does its best to downplay, even denigrate, the Indian impact on the region. A board on the museum wall describes an "old Malay kingdom" in the Bujang Valley that had "contact with various people of different cultural origins and environments." The museum's brochure is even more explicit. It states that maritime trade led to the "indianization" of the Bujang Valley. The indigenous culture, it says "was eventually adulterated."

If that sounds like a wan cheer for Malaysia's Indian heritage, it's a sentiment familiar to most of the country's 1.8 million people of Indian descent. Affirmative action-type quotas for the Malay population, along with a political system controlled by the Malays and Chinese, make many Indian Malaysians feel like third-class citizens. The result is an increasingly aggrieved population, and a timid one, that isn't very happy about its place in society. "I'm not sure I can see a future in this country for my children," says an Indian-Malaysian businesswoman in Kuala Lumpur who asks not to be named. "We'll give it another few years. If things have not improved, we'll leave for Europe."

Race is the big divide in Malaysia, as it has been ever since the watershed race riots of 1969. In his 20 years in power, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has tried to uplift the Malays, who make up 55% of the 22 million population, and guarantee them a large percentage of available business opportunities. The second-largest group, the Chinese, were supposed to lose their disproportionate grip on the country's economy. But it may be the Indians who were the real losers. Most were imported a century ago to work the rubber plantations and tin mines, and they still dominate the bottom rungs of the social ladder. "Indians have neither the political nor the economic leverage to break out of their vicious cycle of poverty," says Selvakumaran Ramachandran, an Indian-Malaysian academic who works for the United Nations Development Program. "If their problems are not arrested and reversed, it is almost certain they will emerge as an underclass."

Already, Indians have the lowest share of the nation's corporate wealth: 1.5%, compared to 19.4% for the Malays and 38.5% for the Chinese. Not surprisingly, Indians claim the highest rate of suicide of any community. Violent crime is becoming Indian turf. In 1994, 128 of the 377 murders committed in Malaysia were by Indians. Some 15% of the Indians in the capital are squatters. "I have a feeling," says P. Ramasamy, a political science professor at the National University, "that if something is not done soon, something is going to really blow."

The Indians' main problem is numerical. With only 8% of the country's population, they don't have enough clout to alter pro-Malay business or employment policies, or even stand up to Malay chauvinism of the sort exhibited at the Bujang Valley museum. The Chinese community has a slew of ambitious political leaders. The Indian community's politics are dominated by the Malaysian Indian Congress (mic) and its leader of more than two decades, S. Samy Vellu, who happens to be the only Indian in Mahathir's cabinet.

When the government wants to dispense largesse to the Indian community, it usually does so through Samy Vellu, as a recent scene at mic headquarters demonstrated. Indian parents and their children came to hear Samy Vellu describe a new government scheme for student loans. It was a "very special allocation" made through the generosity of the Prime Minister and the Education Minister, he said. To qualify, families had to earn less than $5,300 a year. A young Indian woman in the crowd admitted that her father made more than the stipulated amount. "Can I still apply?" she asked. "Don't worry," Samy Vellu assured her. "Come see me afterwards and I will make sure you can get it." Obviously impressed with the minister's magnanimity, the crowd of 500 applauded warmly. "Whatever we get," says a senior Indian journalist, "we can get only through the mic. That's how the system works."

One area in which Indians have prospered is the professions, particularly medicine and law, and Indian names stud the rolls of professional societies. Many of this group hail from white-collar families who worked in Malaysia when it was a British colony. Yet even with that background, an Indian Malaysian can find it difficult to become a doctor or lawyer. Local university seats and scholarships to study overseas are all awarded by a racial quota system. Even when someone gets a degree, discrimination is frequent. Indian doctors, for instance, complain that they are increasingly excluded from the lists of approved doctors whom civil servants or company employees can use. "I wish you Americans would invade—just for a while," a small-town Indian doctor tells a visitor. "Then I would have a fairer chance of working in this country of ours."

So far, Indians have resigned themselves to their plight. But some rumbles are being heard. Last October, five Malaysian men were attacked and killed one night in the town of Kampar, 150 km north of Kuala Lumpur. Their charred remains were found in a torched pickup truck. The police arrested 13 cattle ranchers of Indian descent. The ranchers had complained for two years of people poaching their cows, but apparently the local police had done nothing to help. The 13 ranchers have yet to be tried, and poaching has reportedly ceased in that area. The defendants are quietly regarded as heroes among the Indian community. "Malaysia cannot afford to have about 8% of its population feel alienated," warns R.V. Navaratnam, a prominent businessman. "Malaysian unity can be as strong only as its weakest link—which is the Malaysian Indian community."

With reporting by Ken Stier/Bujang Valley

-Gp- This article appeared in the Time in 2000. Its summarizes the lives of Indians living in Malaysia who are regarded as third class citizens by the rest of the population. This article connotes racial segregation and cultural genocide that is rampant in todays world in many countries. Hopefully one day race, religion, color and culture will cease to be a barrier in human development as there are larger issues facing earth to be adressed.

Dreamer's Anthem

as i lie awake,
on this cold wet night,
million of miles from my dream,
the universe slowly passing me by,
expanding further into the void,
of my future,

as i lie awake,
dreaming still of my dream,
the thought of when and where,
will i achieve my dreams,
its more than dreams actually,
it's my passion in life,
my silent and warm antidote,
for my cruel life,

as i run away,
from my crude past,
someday even the cool rain,
won't drive my sorrows away,
someday it gives me hope so high,
even the stars seem to be in touch,

oneday
someday,
when i'm fully awake,
from this dying dream,
when my sorrows cease to eat me,
and my feelings cast away my anger,
and i forget all my hate,

that one day,
i know i will reach the stars,
riding high,
all my dreams will come true,
humanity saved,
and everyone old and young,
newborns and dreamers alike,
drifters and legends,
will sleep an innocent slumber,
dream beautiful dreams,
of the garden of the Gods,
for i am there to save you,

when that day comes,
all the questions answered,
and all journeys end,
that day i will say goodbye,
to my blood and to my soul,
to my brothers in arm,
and to my fellow dreamers riding high,
on the back of the enigmatic neutrino,
to the far reaches of the universe,
and to the heavenly garden of the Gods,

and all days,
will be happy days,
when the passion is fulfilled,
and the hatred suppressed,
when the crimson rivers,
turn into crystal manna of life,
and the amber skies cleansed,
mothers breathing pure life,
and the land of the humans,
returned to humans,
and the land of green,
green again in high soul,
and the sea mighty once again with tides,
so high that the dreamers drift course,
towards the water of passion,
and everyone will know,

that one day,
the pain died,
lives not lost and loves not killed,
running on the fields of dreams,
when and where their past generations,
failed and failed again,
before gaining victory,
and that night all over the gifted earth,
the third rock from sol,
vibrates with happy souls,
who sleep with a hope,
and a single dream,
to wake up tomorrow,
and face another day,
to live a new life,
and give birth to a new baby,
who will live her life,
and tell this high tale,
of bravery and courage so true,
its the greatest story ever told,
to her son and daughter,
lying on the lap of God.

I love you.

-Gp -2005-
Ghost Tags:

Saggitarius Sky

late in the evening,
under the saggitarius sky,
i looked back at my life.

fireflies all i remember,
for only they bring happiness,
we were young and alive.

have i known one day in the future,
i will break some rings,
loose some friends.

how chaotic my life was,
trembling as i walk along,
not knowing which road to take.

what future holds for me,
my dreams so cosmic,
burdening the time strings.

how i wish everyday,
to meet my progenitor,
to end my voyage.

-Gp - 2005-
Ghost Tags:

when

it rains around the world sleep welcomes the dream, and  enigmatic souls awaken along the eternal shores of destiny