Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Tragic tale of Indian diaspora in Muslim countries

December 24, 2007
Tragic tale of Indian diaspora in Muslim countries

By Shyam Khosla

THE Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) has rendered a yeoman’s service to the cause of Indian diaspora living in Muslim-majority countries by focusing global attention on the pitiable conditions in which most of the people of Indian origin work and live in Malaysia. It is now fairly known that around 18 lakh Malaysians of Indian origin who constitute more than eight per cent of the country’s population are victims of institutionalised policy of discrimination. There are communal and racial tensions in the country because of successive governments’ “Bhoomiputra” policy of positive discrimination in favour of majority Muslim Malays.

Racial politics that continue to prevail in Malaysia is responsible for the plight of ethnic Indians and to some extent Chinese. As if to add to the misery of ethnic Indians, more than 1.5 lakh Indian workers, majority of them from Tamil Nadu, have discovered that there visas were not being extended. Many of them are unskilled workers and labourers. They are at their wits’ ends and don’t know what awaits them in case the Government decided to throw them out. There were massive protests organised under HINDRAF’s banner at Kuala Lumpur last month against the Malaysian Government’s policy of discrimination against people of Indian origin living in the Muslim-majority Malaysia. The riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators. Their grievances include plans to demolish a large number of Hindu temples, denial of jobs, fair wages and educational facilities. Rising influence of Islamic fundamentalism has further accentuated a sense of insecurity among minorities.

Unfortunately, the Indian State has seldom shown courage and fortitude in protecting Indian diaspora’s interests and helping them out in difficult situations. Rarely has the Government made earnest efforts to address the concerns of people of Indian origin. Of course, we never fail to celebrate spectacular achievement of any person of Indian origin whether or not he or she relates to his/her motherland. As is its wont, the UPA Government chose to ignore the ruthlessness with which the authorities in Kuala Lumpur dealt with the peaceful demonstrators. Delhi eventually expressed its concern over the developments only after public opinion in Tamil Nadu forced Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi to raise the issue with the Prime Minister. On the other hand, House of Commons through an Early Day Motion signed by 17 MPs condemned the use of force by the police on protesters and the stated intentions of the Malaysian Government to demolish 79 Hindu temples. The motion called upon the British Government to make the strongest possible representation to the Malaysian Government to cease the programme of demolition and to allow the legitimate voice of protest to be heard without physical interference.

Malaysian Government’s response has been on expected lines. Insisting that ethnic Indians were not “our enemies”, it has shown some interest in setting up a special committee to look into the minorities’ demand to end their marginalisation. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmed Badawi is outraged over the charge of “ethnic cleansing” and accused HINDRAF of spreading “blatant lies. His Foreign Minister dismissed India’s expression of concern as “interference” in his country’s internal affairs. “Ethnic cleansing” may be a harsh word that was difficult for the Prime Minister to digest, but can Kuala Lumpur deny that it proposes to demolish a large number of Hindu temples—an issue that has deeply hurt Hindus not only in Malaysia but also all over the world? Is it not a fact that a large number of Indian workers, who were taken to Malaysia by the British colonial rulers, are being harshly treated and have been reduced to second-class citizens? Can it deny the charge that there is discrimination against them in jobs and education? Interference argument doesn’t hold water. Every nation has the right, nay duty, to look after the interests of its citizens living abroad. Aren’t Indian citizens being denied extension of their visas? Let Kuala Lumpur come clean on issues rather than pretending outrage and complaining of interference in its internal affairs.

It is not only in Far East that the Indian diaspora is suffering. Their plight is no better in other Muslim majority countries, particularly in countries with growing Islamist clout. Around five lakh Indians work in the Gulf in horrific conditions at extremely low wages. The Government informed Parliament the other day that there was simmering anger and frustration among Indians working in Dubai. Working conditions in that country are pitiable and the earning of Indian workers has gone down considerably. That is why Dubai witnessed a worker’s uprising recently. Many who joined the protests are on the verge of losing their jobs. A large number of emigrants work in Saudi Arabia—a country known for flagrant denial of human rights. There are confirmed reports of several Indians having been sentenced to death for minor offences. Our Government’s insipid response to these incidents is in sharp contrast to strong protests the Western countries lodge when one of their national is convicted in another country and the efforts they make to get him back. Still fresh in our minds is the persistent and hard lobbying done by Russian Federation to secure the release of its citizens involved in the serious crime of dropping a consignment of arms in West Bengal after entering Indian air space without Government’s permission. Is New Delhi listening?

Let Kuala Lumpur come clean on issues rather than pretending outrage and complaining of interference in its internal affairs.


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