Friday, April 11, 2008

HAF advocated for Malaysian Hindus at Congressional briefing

HAF Advocates for Malaysian Hindus at Congressional Briefing


Ishani Chowdhury
Hindu American Foundation
Director of Public Policy
Office: 301.770.7835
Fax: 301.770.7837

Washington, DC (April 8, 2008). The Hindu American Foundation Director of Public Policy, Ishani Chowdhury, testified on recent events in Malaysia at a briefing held by the Congressional Task Force on International Religious Freedom (TIRF) today on Capitol Hill. Entitled "Matters of Life and Death in Malaysia: Does the Recent Election Point to a Trend Toward Religious Tolerance?," prominent panelists included Dr. Bridget Welsh, Assistant Professor in the Southeast Asia Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University-SAIS; Angela Wu, International Director with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty; and Mickey Spiegel, Senior Researcher with the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch.

At the briefing attended by representatives of the U.S. Department of State, staffers of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Malaysian Embassy, Chowdhury flayed the Malaysian government on its record of persecution and discrimination of the country's substantial Hindu minority, constituting 7% of the population. "With a 40% minority population, Malaysia needs to include the minority population in dialogue and address grievances such as the violent responses to peaceful protests, judicial onslaughts against faith, and destruction of temples," stated Chowdhury. As noted in the Foundation's report 'Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Report: 2006', 76 Hindu temples were demolished, desecrated or forcibly relocated by the Malaysian government. The most prominent case is that of the destruction of the 100-year old Sri Muthu Mariamman temple, which was located on a rubber plantation and home to approximately 1,000 families.

"Hindus also face an socio-economic disadvantage as they are not entitled to benefits under the government's bumiputra program," said Chowdhury. The majority Muslim Malay, viewed as bumiputra or "sons of the soil," benefit from an affirmative action policy that includes discounts on housing, quotas on educational institutions, preference for government jobs, and disproportionate opportunities for economic advancement. "Many Malaysian Hindus have left Malaysia to settle in the United States, as they are unable to gain scholarships or admission to colleges or jobs, despite high academic achievements," she said.

This panel included discussion of the implications of Malaysia's March 8th elections on religious minorities. Although the elections served as watermark of Malaysian democracy, the long-term effects are uncertain. Religious minorities were galvanized during the vote by the government authorized destruction of Hindu and Buddhist temples, and legal decisions that limit their religious freedom rights related to issues of life and death, including marriage, conversion, custody of children, and burial. The election resulted in damaging losses for Prime Minister's Abduallah Badawi's coalition.

"As an economically strong nation with a large minority community, Malaysia has the opportunity to serve as a model of harmony in the Muslim world, with the US benefiting both strategically and economically, " said Chowdhury. "It is in the nation's best interest to work to promote dialogue, repeal the draconian Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite imprisonment without trail, and work with the Hindu community to ensure fairness towards all faith traditions. Otherwise, it may not be too long until we see another country spiral out of control into the contentious and devastating realm of human rights abuse, and religious and racial divide. "

The Hindu American Foundation is a 501(c)(3), non-profit, non-partisan organization promoting the Hindu and American ideals of understanding, tolerance and pluralism. Contact HAF at 1-301-770-7835 or on the web at

No comments: