Friday, February 1, 2008

Bay Area (USA) Malaysians planning rally

Local Malaysian Indians planning rally
By Todd R. Brown, STAFF WRITER
Article Created: 02/01/2008 02:32:27 AM PST

FREMONT — While countries such as Israel and Pakistan are infamous for imposing strict emergency security rules on civilians, the plight of ethnic Indians in Malaysia is less well-known.

The tropical nation along the South China Sea officially is Islamic, and Hindu residents there complain of second-class treatment by the government.

Recently, Malaysian police detained several Hindu Rights Action Force leaders under a nearly 50-year-old law that allows people to be held for years without charge.

On Saturday, local Malaysian Indians plan to gather in Fremont to make banners for a rally Feb. 16 at the Consulate General of Malaysia, Los Angeles, to call for an end to discrimination they say their people routinely suffer under Muslim dominion.

"It's a form of apartheid," said Malini Kumar, 36, of Fremont, originally from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. "They've marginalized Malaysian Indians. They've altered the constitution in such a way that it's biased against them."

Kumar is part of a Yahoo discussion group, called Bay Area Malaysian Indians, that has about 40 member e-mails so far. The banner-making will be at 1 p.m. at her home, 2503 Parkside Drive.

She said people from the Internet group will trek to the consulate to present red roses signifying peaceful struggle and yellow roses signifying a demand for justice.

"When the British gave us independence, it was supposed to be equal for everybody," she said of Malaysia's

50-year-old autonomy. "We have no political and financial power. We've become the poorest ethnic group in Malaysia."

Indians there make up 8 percent of the population, compared with ethnic Chinese at 25 percent and Malays — born Muslim under the law — at 60 percent.

Malaysia also uses a two-court system, a civil court for non-Muslims and a Sharia system that follows the Quran.

Ishani Chowdhury of the Hindu American Foundation said cases in Sharia court pitting Muslims against non-Muslims typically go against the minority groups.

In one case, she said a Hindu mother who got a divorce could lose her son because her husband converted to Islam, then forced the child to convert. A Sharia court would not grant custody of a Muslim child to a non-Muslim parent.

In another case, she said a woman born to Muslim parents but raised as a Hindu by her grandmother was forced into an "Islamic rehabilitation center" to try to prod her to renounce her faith.

Ratha Maniam, 54, of Redwood City said she plans to attend the banner-making and the rally "to support my fellows back home." The native of Perak in northwest Indonesia said her Hindu brother registered his transportation company under a Muslim owner's name because of ethnic bias.

"We cannot own a business," she said. "(My brother) pays per truck like $500 a month just to use his name."

She and Kumar said a university quota system also favors Malays at the expense of Hindus, who must have far superior test scores to get into higher education.

"I have good friends who are Malay. You feel it's a little bit unfair. The government says they're doing this because they want to bring the Malay race on par with the Chinese," said Kumar, noting that rubber plantation and tin mine owners in the 1800s brought in Chinese and Indian laborers, whose descendants succeeded in business.

Kumar said although their number is small, Malaysian Indians here need to make a statement about their historic struggle.

"We don't expect the government to change overnight," she said. "We just want to voice out our frustration. We are Malaysian citizens, but just because of our race, you're treated so differently."

On the Web: Bay Area Malaysian Indians,

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