Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Malaysian state is a bully

Ethnic Indian's anger hits Malaysian basis of racial stability

Kuala Lumpur (AP): Malaysians typically sit and gripe about the government while sipping tea in safe sidewalk cafes. Few want to protest in public and face possible arrest.

That could be changing.

About 20,000 minority ethnic Indians clashed on the streets with the Kuala Lumpur police for seven hours in November last to demand equal rights and a fairer share of national resources. They dispersed amid clouds of tear gas and water cannons. Some 250 people were briefly detained and five protest organisers are in jail under a law that allows indefinite detention without charges or trial.

"It was a watershed event," said S Nagarajan of the Education, Welfare and Research Foundation, a non-profit group that represents impoverished ethnic Indians. "It showed that Malaysians have overcome the fear of authorities. Even we were surprised by the scale and the spirit of the people."

Emboldened by the impact of the November 25 demonstration, ethnic Indians have become increasingly vocal with claims that they are marginalised in this multi-racial country. They claim that the Malaysian Indian Congress, the third largest party in the ruling National Front coalition, has become corrupt and has not done enough to improve the situation for Indians.

According to Nagarajan, Indians make up 5 per cent of the civil service now compared to 21.5 per cent in 1969. Only about 1.2 per cent of corporate equity has been in the hands of Indians for the past three decades.

"The anger has been building up," said Nagarajan. "The state has been arrogant and a bully, not realising that even the marginalised can react."

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