Tuesday, December 18, 2007

PM Badawi, aren't ethnic minorities children of Malaysian soil?

PM Badawi, aren't ethnic minorities children of Malaysian soil?

PM gets earful on Indian plight

RK Anand | Dec 18, 07 11:29am

As citizens of Malaysia, Indians have the right to enjoy equal opportunities and must not be treated like third-class citizens.

This was the crux of Malaysian Indian Business Association (Miba) president P Sivakumar's hard-hitting speech during the special meeting between Indian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi last Friday.

"In the past, only the educated and middle-class Indians were unhappy about the difference in treatment. But over the last three years, every Indian in the country is unhappy and angry over the way we are treated," he said.

Sivakumar told Malaysiakini yesterday that at the onset of his speech, he sought permission from Abdullah to speak without fear or favour and to tell him the truth.

To this, he said, the premier replied: "Yes, please tell me the truth."

Following this, Sivakumar continued: "As you (Abdullah) are aware, the communities in Malaysia are affluent and very much matured after 50 years of Independence."

"The term bumiputera and non-bumiputera literally means 'son of the soil' and 'not son of the soil' (respectively). That means the Indian community was born where - in the sky?" he said, telling Malaysiakini that Abdullah tittered at this remark.

Sivakumar said in the past, the New Economic Policy (NEP) won the support of all three communities because it was initiated to address the socio-economic position of all races.

"So what is happening?" he asked the premier.

"What (is) 40,000 Indians? You should have given the (police) permit, there would have been more than 300,000 Indians on that day," he added in reference to the Nov 25 rally organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf).

The urban poor

Citing the agriculture sector, Sivakumar said there more than 70 percent Indians were involved in this sector.

"When the policies changed, what measures did the government take to address the thousands of Indians chased and driven out of the estates, with nowhere to go, and no housing left," he added.

The Miba president said this led to the emergence of urban poor, resulting in serious social problems like gangsterism.

"Indians killing each other for a living, who is to be blamed?" he asked.

"If only a Felda-type (scheme) had been extended to these Indians, with proper nurturing and with land given to develop small holdings and animal husbandry, they would have contributed well to the economy and even cut down our import bill, especially on dairy products. We need not depend so much on foreign workers," he said.

On the issue of funding, Sivakumar pointed out that MIC recently held seminars by calling Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister Muhyiddin Yassin who promised the Indian community help and support.

"But what happened? Let's take Johor for example, I personally followed up with the (state) Agriculture Department after Muhyiddin reminded the director to help the Indians.

"Nothing, not a single ringgit was given to the Indians," said the Johor-based businessman.

"Let's take other funding agencies, like MIDF, SMIDEC and SME. Yes, all (of them) like to hold seminars, (produce) good paper work. But nothing for the Indians," he added.

No help extended

As for privatisation, Sivakumar once again cited the situation in Johor.
He said the state government identified 43 projects. "The community was offered only one project, only to be retracted after two weeks. Why?"
Apart from this, the Miba president also reminded the premier that the latter had pumped RM100 million into a fund to help single mothers embark on business ventures.

"I checked with them (the fund), nothing was extended to Indian single mothers in Johor," he said.

Turning to the construction sector, Sivakumar said: "You (Abdullah) had offered 30,000 jobs, (but) when a group of Indians went to apply for tender, they were told to leave because it was only for bumiputeras.

"They had to leave the place with shame and tears. Is this fair? Aren't they citizens (too)?" he added.

Moving to the civil service, Sivakumar quoted Abdullah as saying that Indians make up five percent of the civil service.

"But our population is nine percent, what about the balance four percent? At least, place Indians where help is needed. For example, EPF in JB (Johor Baru), only one Indian, Socso none, post office none," he said.

The Miba president also highlighted that the scrap metal business, which involves many Indian businessman, is now under threat of licences not being renewed.
"Who will take care of their families and children if they cannot perform?" he asked.

Three-percent equity

On the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP), Sivakumar noted that it has been three years since Abdullah announced the three percent equity target for Indians.

"What are the steps and measures that you have initiated, please tell us. Even now, it is not too late, we have initiated an independent co-op for the community without any political group's control. PM can help by funding this.

"I have even given (MIC president) S Samy Vellu a project paper on where Indians can go into - bio-tech business as a self-help programme. Why not help us because the Indians need the government's help. The Indians need opportunities," he said.

Sivakumar also highlighted the issue of temple demolitions and asked for temples constructed before Merdeka not to be demolished.

On that note, he also urged Abdullah to review the detention of five Hindraf leaders under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and called for them to be charged in court.

He also called for the release of the 31 people charged for the attempted murder of a policeman in connection with the Hindraf rally. Yesterday, Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail withdrew the charge.

Sivakumar told Malaysiakini that he wrapped up his speech by apologising to Abdullah if he had offended the latter with his remarks.

According to him, the premier replied: "Not at all, Thank you for telling me the truth."
The special meeting between the NGos and the prime minister was called following widespread debates on the allegation raised by Hindraf that Indians in Malaysia are being marginalised.


RIGHTS-MALAYSIA: 'Neo-Liberal Policies Fuelling Protests, Not Race'
Analysis by Anil Netto

PENANG, Dec 18 (IPS) - After a series of street demonstrations in recent weeks top analysts and activists say the government is not tackling the economic roots of grievances among marginalised Malaysians, but appears stuck in its old mould of race-based thinking.

On Nov 10, some 50,000 people rallied in the country’s largest city Kuala Lumpur to call for electoral reforms in an initiative spearheaded by Bersih, a coalition of civil society groups supported by opposition parties.

Two weeks later, on Nov. 25, close to 30,000 Indian Malaysians participated in a huge protest over the community’s economic marginalisation and what they perceived as racial and religious discrimination. The protest was led by a group calling itself the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf). Indian Malaysians make up 7 per cent of the country’s population.

There have also been a series of much smaller "walks", vigils, temple prayers for those arrested, and submissions of memorandums on a range of pro-democracy issues.

The administration of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has responded by hauling dozens of demonstrators to court on charges of ‘illegal assembly’, ‘causing mischief’, ‘sedition’. Murder charges pressed against them were, however, withdrawn on Monday.

Five key Hindraf leaders have been in detention since Thursday under the draconian Internal Security Act.

Analysts looking at the profile of the two large demonstrations found common threads. ''There is a simmering discontent in the country played out in different ways,’’ said economist Charles Santiago of the Monitoring Globalisation research centre. The Bersih and Hindraf protests were a culmination of an outpouring of demands for justice and accountability, he told IPS.

In the case of Bersih, most of the demonstrators were low-income Malay Malaysians upset over what they perceive to be electoral manipulation by the Malay-dominated political elite.

In the Hindraf protest, many of the Indian Malaysians, once seen as compliant and supportive of the ruling coalition, were low-income ethnic Tamils. Earlier, low-income urban workers, many of them ethnic Malays, had also protested in support of trade union demands for a realistic minimum wage to cope with the increased cost of living.

''All this, put together, suggests there is a lot of inequity being felt,'' said Toh Kin Woon, a senior member of the Penang state government known for his independent thinking. ''They are worked up and prepared to take action to press their case.''

Santiago sees the protests as largely coming from a post-New Economic Policy generation of youth, especially Malay and Indian Malaysians. The NEP was a 20-year affirmative action policy favouring Malays and other indigenous groups. It expired in 1990, but its race-based thrust has been extended in various forms.

''These youth are trying to send a message to the government that their voice is not being heard and they don’t have a place in the Malaysian sun,'' he said.

‘’Working-class Malays are increasingly seeing the elite Malays in the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) as their exploiters and no longer their protectors,’’ agrees opposition political activist Jeyakumar Devaraj.

According to some analysts, sections of Indian Malaysian youth experience marginalisation on a daily basis. They assert that Tamil-language schools have been neglected: many pupils drop out and become unemployed, some turn to gangsterism or end up in prison, and occasionally, there are complaints of deaths in police custody.

''The Indian Malaysian poor perceive themselves as lacking opportunities to improve their life chances,'' Toh told IPS. Unlike their Malay counterparts, they have no state support, and unlike the Chinese Malaysians, they have little financial support from the larger Indian Malaysian community, he added.

Deveraj told IPS that Indian Malaysians often feel discriminated in scholarships and government jobs. Fuelling the resentment further has been a series of disputes over civil-sharia jurisdiction cases involving Indians converting to Islam as well as a number of temple demolitions.

However, others point to the existence of many other Hindu temples, which they say are evidence of the government’s commitment to supporting a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society.

Devaraj feels the economy is a bigger factor fuelling the grievances, especially neo-liberal policies and the continuing exploitation of the working class within the capitalist system.

According to some analysts, the government has increasingly been transferring its responsibilities to the profit-driven private sector and dismantling elements of a welfare state. Under a neo-liberal regime, tariffs for essential services have risen, while wages have been kept low, driving up the cost of living for low-income workers. Jobs are no longer secure and the import of cheap migrant labour has suppressed local wages.

Other commentators assert that the Hindraf leaders’ exaggerated claims -- including that of "ethnic cleansing" -- have actually played into the hands of the government, giving it ammunition to criticise Hindraf leaders and portray the group as anti-Malay/Muslim. The multi-ethnic, though Malay-based Bersih movement, meanwhile, has been accused of being used by the opposition.

Government leaders are also playing to the Malay racial gallery, turning the Hindraf issue to their advantage, says a leading public intellectual Rustam Sani, author of books on Malay nationalism. ''UMNO and the ruling coalition have been playing the ethnic game for years and they are old hands at it.''

The government should have investigated the causes of the grievances rather than attacking the language use by the Hindraf leaders and demonising them, said Toh, a senior member of Gerakan, a ruling coalition party.

''A better approach would have to been to engage with the Hindraf leaders and talk to them about their grievances rather than with groups sympathetic with the MIC."

Toh said that he did not agree with Hindraf’s racial and religious approach, but stresses that they were not the first ones to use it, alluding to the government’s own race-based approach. He added that the ISA detentions of Hindraf leaders have actually aggravated the unhappiness among Indian Malaysians.

UMNO itself is in trouble, unable to chart a new more inclusive direction: cracks are emerging in the ruling coalition, which is increasingly dominated by one party, claimed Santiago.

The premier’s leadership qualities have also come under fire. Abdullah Badawi is an out-and-out administrator, muddling his way through and not providing answers to the real long-term problems of society, said Rustam. ‘’He hasn’t articulated any vision, but merely reacts in an administrative way. And those around him are not socialised in democratic thinking.’’

There’s also a sense of anger among certain sections of society over what they perceive to be betrayal by the leadership. They sense that the leadership lacks direction over the future and how to defuse social issues differently, said Rustam. ''People are restless -- and that’s progress.''


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