Monday, January 14, 2008

Not easy to train local priests: Malaysian Indian leader

Tough to get local priests: Malaysian Indian leader

Mon, Jan 14 11:11 AM

Kuala Lumpur, Jan 14 (IANS) Malaysian Indian leader S. Subramaniam has urged the government to review its policy of restricting employment of Hindu and Sikh priests from India, saying it is not easy to train them locally.

Subramaniam, a former deputy president of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), said it was difficult to get locally trained Hindu priests because they lacked knowledge of Sanskrit, were not experienced in performing rituals and were not vegetarians or teetotallers.

Moreover, the salary offered is low. Priests get only about Ringgit 500 (about $160) per month.

MIC represents the predominantly Tamil Hindu population of ethnic Indians who form roughly eight percent of Malaysia's 27 million population.

Subramaniam was commenting on a statement last week by Home Affairs Minister Radzi Sheikh Ahmad that the government had tightened the rules on the entry of foreign religious teachers and priests from other countries to encourage more locals to become priests.

He pleaded that the government consult the concerned communities before making policy changes, The New Straits Times said Monday.

Last month's policy change, interpreted by sections of the media as an attempt to freeze intake of workers from India, led to a controversy.

The Malaysian government denied any policy change but said it was regulating the presence of over 300 priests and musicians, many of whom had overstayed. The policy was not India-specific or about a single community and pertained to other faiths as well, Ahmad had said.

Subramaniam recalled that a memorandum was submitted to the Home Affairs Ministry in the 1970s outlining the various difficulties faced by temples and gurudwaras in employing local priests and musicians.

'Following the submission of the memorandum, a new policy was formulated by the Home Affairs Ministry in 1984 stating that Hindu and Sikh priests from India can stay in Malaysia for a maximum period of seven years and musicians for a maximum period of five years, (with their visas) to be renewed on an annual basis,' he said.

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