Sunday, February 24, 2008

Anger of Ethnic Malaysian Indians will teach ruling party a lesson

Angry ethnic Indian voters could singe ruling party in polls

Rinching, February 24, 2008

With a small knife, plantation worker Ramalingam Tirumalai makes raw incisions on the rubber trees every morning to harvest the oozing gooey latex.

Just like the gashes on the trees, Ramalingam says, countless wounds have been inflicted by Malaysia's government on the country's ethnic Indian minority, denying them jobs, education, freedom of religion and most of all dignity.

"We have been independent for 50 years," the stocky 53-year-old man said of his country, Malaysia. "But there has been no change in the lives of Indians."

Seething anger among ethnic Indians is likely to singe the government during parliamentary elections on March 8. No one doubts that the National Front coalition, which has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957, will return to power. But it is expected to fall short of its 2004 landslide, when it won 91 per cent of the seats. Anything less than a two-thirds majority would signal plunging support for Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Voters are upset by rising prices and a surge in urban crime. Ethnic tensions are also at a high, largely because of the increasing influence of Islam in daily life.

"We need a new kind of leadership," Ramalingam said in an interview near his plantation in Rinching town, about 45 kilometres from Malaysia's main city, Kuala Lumpur.

The National Front is dominated by the party of the Muslim Malay majority, which make up 60 per cent of the country's 27 million people. The Front also has the support of some ethnic Chinese, who are 25 per cent of the population, and some Indians, who are eight per cent.

Indians have traditionally voted for the Malaysian Indian Congress, their party in the National Front.

'Little by little,' Malaysian Indians build their cause
Discrimination in native land prompts protest
By Todd R. Brown, STAFF WRITER
Article Created: 02/20/2008 02:31:03 AM PST

About 25 people from the Bay Area shuttled to Los Angeles recently to participate in a rally for Malaysian Indian rights, an elusive cause in a nation where native Malays are born Muslim by law and minority groups avow ethnic favoritism.
Although the gathering was modest, some attendees seemed moved by their virgin foray into the world of political dissent.

"We have been used to the Indians being the timid group in Malaysia," said first-time demonstrator Lila Beckford of Hercules. "It was inspiring to see the bunch of people who showed up."

"You can't find anybody more of a conservative person by profession," she said. "I'm an accountant. I enjoyed myself a lot. It gave you a warm feeling."

Beckford is a member of the Bay Area Malaysian Indians, an online social group that played a key role in recruiting fresh faces for the weekend protest.

She knows firsthand the discrimination she left behind when she came to study accounting at the University of California, Berkeley, and obtain her M.B.A. at Cal State Hayward.

Now a U.S. citizen, she doubts she could have had the same success through a Malaysian education, because the university system is based on affirmative action for ethnic Malays.

"We never knew what freedom was like," she said. "We have to work harder than anybody else to get into good schools. When I came here, I realized how marginalized I was there."

"This country gave me a chance my country did not," Beckford said. "I'm trying to turn my anger into a passion to help."

The Saturday rally at the Malaysian consulate came a day after a slightly larger rally in Kuala Lumpur, the nation's capital, where rose-bearing protesters were met by riot police with tear gas and water cannons.

Mihir Meghani of Fremont, part of an awareness group, the Hindu American Foundation, called the Malay government's reaction"brutal." He attended the California rally in solidarity with local Malaysian Indians.

"It's really an apartheid regime in the way that they handle non-Muslim Malays," he said, noting that ethnic Chinese also claim unequal treatment there.

About 200 people attended the Kuala Lumpur protest, a far cry from the 10,000 who rallied there in November for ethnic Indian rights. Indians overall make up 8 percent of the population.

This time, Meghani's group said, the government blocked roads into the capital to prevent ethnic Indians from entering, racially profiling bus passengers and plucking them off.

The foundation said it received reports that 5,000 Hindus were detained.

Officially, about 125 people were detained at the protest, according to news reports, although fewer than 10 were kept in custody.

Among those arrested was a leader of the Hindu Rights Action Force. Five other leaders still are in jail after arrests at the November rally.

Local organizers said more than 50 people attended Saturday's rally in Los Angeles, most of whom had never picketed before.

Malini Kumar of Fremont, who spearheaded the local organizing effort, was impressed that people from various backgrounds, including American Indians, came to show support.

"We were so proud of ourselves, and to be in America, where we are able to practice our rights of peaceful assembly and speaking out," she said. "If we were in Malaysia, we would all be detained and jailed."

The budding activist said her confederates now will discuss a possible divestment campaign targeting businesses that make components in Malaysia.

Kumar said the exiled president of the Hindu Rights Action Force may attend a rally in April, possibly at the San Jose office of the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority, which facilitates Silicon Valley deals.

Among the high-tech firms based in Fremont that have operations in Malaysia are: AER Worldwide, Smart Modular Technologies, Unigen and WaferGen.

Beckford's colleagues at her Larkspur company joked that they'd break her out of jail if she got arrested at the recent protest, yet she seemed undeterred that her obscure cause and out-of-character activism led to a hokey punch line.

"Everybody asks me, 'What do you hope to achieve? You're not going to make a dent,'" she said. "If every one person I spoke to at the rally knows a little bit more about this problem ... we are a small group, but I think we can make a difference."

Translating a Malay proverb, she added: "'Little by little you can build a hill.' I'm ready to become a total activist."

Consulate officials did not return phone calls for comment.

Reach staff writer Todd R. Brown at 510-353-7004 or

From: Malaysia Hindu Sangam

Sent: Saturday, February 23, 2008 8:55 PM
Subject: Memorandum from 120 Indian NGOs

Memorandum from 120 Indian NGOs

Some NGOs which contributed to draft memorandum (both BN & Opposition) are tipped to be nominated as candidates for elections, I am of the opinion that a memorandum to be given now is inappropriate. Therefore, it is my opinion that during election time we just use the preliminary statement given to the Prime Minister on 28th Dec 2007 as the wishes of the 120 Indian based NGOs. It is a very comprehensive & well received memorandum. For your information the preliminary statement is given below:

Thank you very much for your cooperation. If necessary we shall meet again after the general elections to consider the need for fresh memorandum.

Preliminary Statement by 70 Indian NGOs: Urgent reforms for disadvantaged Indian-Malaysians

We, on behalf of the non-political, non-governmental organisations mentioned below, have prepared this preliminary statement to bring to Y.A.B. Dato’ Seri’s attention a pressing issue of national importance.
Recent events indicate that a large number of Indian-Malaysians, particularly the youth and the disadvantaged, feel marginalized and alienated from the mainstream development and progress of our nation. They are looking for just treatment, and for a government machinery at all levels that understands and empathises with their concerns so as to effectively address them.We view this as a wakeup call for all and as an opportunity for us as a nation to take a fresh look at our institutions in order to achieve our aspirations of becoming a developed nation. In the light of this, very crucially there must be a structural change in the implementing agency—i.e. a world class civil service composed of decision makers reflecting the diversity of our multiracial society.
We are currently preparing a more comprehensive memorandum, including matters not stated below, which will be submitted to you at our next meeting.

For the moment, we would suggest the following immediate steps be taken:

No.ProposalUnder the purview of:
1. Non Political Independent Task Force
1.1. Establish an independent, non-political Task Force made up of 9 members to help the Prime Minister design and develop specific programmes based on the following proposals. The terms of reference of the Task Force should include undertaking the programmes, monitoring, evaluating and submitting periodical reports on the implementation and progress.Prime Minister’s Office
2. Temple demolitions: moratorium pending guidelines
2.1. Short term:
2.1.1 Moratorium on demolitions of places of worship throughout the country pending the formulation of comprehensive guidelines in consultation with the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (“MCCBCHST”) and relevant authoritiesMinistry of Housing & Local Government
State Government
Local Authorities
2.1.2 Gazette qualifying places of worship as heritage sites under the National Heritage Act 2005Ministry of Culture, Arts & Heritage
2.2. Long term:
2.2.1 Need to ensure land is alienated for all existing established places of worship, and allocate land for the places of worship of all communities in new developments with funding by the developer or the authorities concernedFederal & State Governments
3. Education: Towards national unity and integration
3.1. Short term:
3.1.1 All Tamil schools to be fully funded by the government.Ministry of Education
3.1.2 Pupil’s own language lessons should be made available from the 2008 school year in all national secondary schools irrespective of the number of students.Ministry of Education
3.1.3 Increase the proportion of non-Malay students in residential schools. Residential schools should be a model of all aspects of multi racial Malaysia. In particular, places of worship for students, food, culture, composition of teaching and administrative staff and all other areas must reflect the diversity of Malaysia’s population.Ministry of Education
3.1.4 Increase the number of Indian students admitted into vocational and technical schools.Ministry of Education
Ministry of Human Resources
3.1.5 Increase by way of recruitment and promotion the number of non Bumiputeras, especially Indians, employed in decision making positions in the education service at all levels - national, state, district and school. This would be a proactive measure to create national unity amongst students in schools and end ethnic polarization.
Ministry of Education
3.2. Long term:
3.2.1 Acquire/Alienate land in areas with high concentration of Indians, so under-enrolled Tamil schools can be relocated to serve the needs of the community.Ministry of Education
3.2.2 Increase the number of places at public universities for marketable degrees while maintaining global admission standards for deserving students from all races. More equitable participation in tertiary education for Indians, especially in critical courses.Ministry of Higher Education
3.2.3 Admission to public universities should be based on a common entry exam. Ministry of Higher Education
4. Economic measures: Empower the urban disadvantaged
4.1. Short term:
4.1.1 Ensure that suitable and affordable housing is made available on an equitable basis to disadvantaged Indian households.Ministry of Housing
State & Local authorities
4.1.2 Provide sufficient financial assistance, grants, training and credit facilities to all deserving and disadvantaged groups so that they may grab the ladder of opportunity and become self reliant. For example, facilities and privileges now given to Bumiputera petty traders must be extended to Indians and all other deserving applicants. Ministry of Finance
Entrepeneurship Ministry
4.1.3 Provide sufficient trade licenses (e.g. taxis, hawkers, petty traders etc) to all deserving applicants irrespective of race, with a particular emphasis on ensuring equitable distribution to Indians.Relevant ministries & Local authorities
4.1.4 Implement specific, tangible and targeted anti-poverty programmes to uplift and empower urban low income groups, in particular displaced and disadvantaged Indians. For example, extend the skills training programmes currently available to Bumiputera to all deserving youth and young adults. Mechanism to be set up to publicise, educate and enlist Indians to participate in such marketable skills training programmes.Ministry of Education & Ministry of Human Resources
4.2. Medium to Long term:
4.2.1 Implementation of the policies in respect of the Indian community which were approved by the Majlis Perundingan Ekonomi Negara 1991 (MAPEN 1991) and the 9th Malaysia Plan. A comprehensive plan of action for this should be announced within 3 months.PMO
Task Force
4.2.2 Implementation of an affirmative action programme in Malaysia for all disadvantaged Malaysians.
5. Other measures
5.1. Establish a Community Development Fund under the Prime Minister’s Office to be administered by the proposed Task Force. Provide incentives to independent, non political NGOs to implement community empowerment programmes. Among the areas of concern are the problems affecting single mothers, orphans, homelessness, and squatters. Indian based NGOs in particular should be given funding and other incentives to address problems where Indians are disproportionately affected.PMO
Task Force
5.2. Implement the legislative reforms proposed by the MCCBCHST in their Memorandum dated 20 October 2005 entitled “Respect the Right to Profess and Practice One’s Religion” immediately. At the moment, these reforms are being considered by the Law Reform division of the Attorney General’s Chambers.Attorney General’s Chambers
5.3. Religious programmes on State owned radio and television, in Bahasa Malaysia and in all the vernacular languages, should recognize similar values preached in other religions and not suggest that the universal values shared by all religions are only unique to Islam. There should also be religious programmes on Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism.Ministry of Information
5.4. All national schools to ensure religious and cultural classes for non Muslims, by teachers sanctioned by the religions concerned, as part of the curriculum. In addition, civic studies should be introduced for all students irrespective of race and religion.

Datuk A. Vaithilingam
Malaysia hindu Sangam

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