Sunday, December 16, 2007

Shocking levels of apartheid practised in Malaysia

Comment by a reader
"Recently a few foreign friends of mine told me bruntly that Malaysia was the only country practicing apartheid to the highest level in this world!"
Outraged, angry, hurt and impotent seeing the photos of the police's brutality: Are we Not Indian Enough
Dear friends,

I feel so outraged, angry, hurt and impotent seeing the photos of the police's (government's) reactions to Sunday's rally. In Batu Caves for instance, the protesters were literally boxed into the temple grounds and had water canons and tear gas shot at them. It looks totally unprovoked, except that I suppose it contravenes the court order obtained to ban the protest. But the reaction of the police should not have been to do what they did - that was an unprovoked, unjustifiable use of force.

Somewhat paradoxically, I am very grateful that this is finally happening. That the Indians have found their voices. The temple demolitions could have been the best thing to happen for our country and community in terms of seeing a grass roots agitation to topple the clearly illegitimate status hierarchy and power differential in Malaysia.

I read Malik Imtiaz's article and I think it is good. Same for Haris Ibrahim. I only wish that people would STOP saying that they have a problem with the Indians fighting for Indian/Hindu rights. That they should be fighting for the collective poor's rights. I am afraid I find this kind of reasoning completely devoid of logic or historical foundation. The Indians have been the most marginalised group in this country. Have there been millions of Malays who have been marginalised and who fall below the poverty line? Yes. But as a group, the Indians stand out as having received the least favour and the worst treatment over the last 50 years, BECAUSE they are Indian. So as a group they coalesce (finally) and stand up to fight for their rights, and then you have all these Malaysian liberals who would have this low status, disenfranchised group fight for the rights of ALL? When the discrimination against the Indians has been based on their group membership, suddenly we want them to put this aside, rise above it and say 'let us fight for all the poor'?. This is seriously flawed thinking. It panders to an ideal without taking into account the reality on the ground. People are constrained by their experiences - the people of Malaysia have been taught over and again to see themselves in terms of their racial groups. Thus a reaction to the racism they have suffered is NOT a deracialised response. That would be neither possible, nor given our history, even desirable. Malaysia is all about race and as long as that is the case, people must coalesce around such groupings. Once we can, at a higher level, dismantle racial politics, policy, education etc., then we can ask that people stop thinking of themselves as Indians and more as Malaysians.

I don't like that Hindraf has made this a Hindu issue - I think introducing religion into an already racially charged atmosphere is a very incendiary thing. And doing this means that the support of non-Hindu Indians will be absent for this cause. Having said that, Hindu reactions are not out of place given the more extreme Islamic tendencies of this country since the 1980s and the more recent destruction of temples. Seeing the images of the destruction of the temple in Shah Alam was a very painful experience. And that's the thing about religion - its simultaneous sanctity and primacy -even when we do not buy into a particular faith- make it an incredibly emotive issue around which to gather people to action.

The last 3-4 days have been very difficult for me emotionally because I have felt hopelessly helpless sitting here in Oxford spending hours poring over spss output sheets rather than being involved on the ground back at home. I have no doubt in my mind that I would have been at that rally on Sunday. It has more to do with just protecting the right to allow people to express themselves and protest (though that is very important). It has more to do with the fact that we, as upper middle class Malaysian Indians have not done enough to show our solidarity with less socio-economically successful Indians. Of course we engage in important charity work which tries to raise the educational and socio economic standing of the Indians. We give to temple funds. We pay for individual Indian children to be fed and educated. But we are always giving a helping hand up - trying to elevate the Indians to where we are. I do not for a minute dispute that this is an incredibly important thing to be doing. But on Sunday we had the opportunity to stand alongside -shoulder to shoulder with- our fellow Indians rather than above them and I feel that many of us lost this perhaps once in a life time (though I hope I am wrong about this) opportunity. Times like this are not ones to debate over the particular words used or issues mentioned - I find it somewhat absurd that this rally would have had as one of its central aims submitting a letter to the Queen of England. For me that perpetuates us in our roles of a time that we should have long transcended. But that said, I think it would be duplicitous of me not to join in the march because of these issues.

Because I, like many of you, know that that is not what this rally was about.

It was about being neglected, about not having a seat at the table to bargain, about having a national and communal leadership that we do not trust and is utterly discreditable. It is about saying no to being the forgotten Indians, and not enough of us in our comfortable houses, those of us who managed to work the system to our benefit - stood with the other Indians, who are not so different from us.

I don't mean to attack any of you personally. Perhaps some of you did march. Or perhaps some of you didn't because of compelling reasons. But the fact remains that many of us who were able did not, because we don't identify ourselves with these poorer versions of ourselves. I worry that we are not Indian enough in a way that counts.

Best wishes from a bleak and distant place,


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