Malaysians are intuitively uncomfortable with “in-your-face aggressiveness” seen from both sides at Hindraf’s demonstrations. But those people out in the streets, matter which side, were us. They affect us all as we all affect them. Street demonstrations notwithstanding, our dispossessed are nowhere near any critical mass. But that does not make denial a smart strategy.
To put things in perspective, the poorest of our Indian community still have basic healthcare, electricity and running water. In stark contrast, the same cannot be said for their ethnic brethren in Tamil Nadu. Middle-class families in Chennai queue up for water on a daily basis in conditions unacceptable to Malaysians from any economic strata.
While that allow us to advise the inimitable Mr Karunanidhi about glass houses and stones, it behooves Malaysia not to use that as an excuse to deny Indians solid opportunities to bootstrap them out of a fate decided by their rubber plantation history. These long gone plantations have morphed into an invisible elephant in our room.
According to The Economist, Indians constitute 8% of the Malaysia population but make up 14% of juvenile delinquents, 20% of wife and child beaters and 41% of beggars. This disproportion is not dissimilar from the ones afflicting the African-American community or ironically, India’s Muslims.
Statistics suggest that on average, the African immigrant to America does better than native African Americans. Same ethnicity, different results. Similarly, and this may hurt, non-resident Indians such as Indians working in Malaysia often do better than the ones burdened by a plantation past. The past prevails over their current situation. It is wise to accept that because once we know where to look, we will learn what to do.
The Indians’ travails in our post-independence history began when plantation-induced ignorance resulted in many Indians not applying for citizenship when it was offered in 1957. Subsequent whammies included the closure of rubber plantations, competition from illegal labour and a lack of quality educational facilities available for the community. Amazingly, this is something that is prevalent even today. All of these result in sad statistics. The fact that the government could have done more does not help ameliorate an unhappy situation.
As a nation, we have to accept the above. As a community, the Indians have to accept a portion of responsibility. It begs the question as to why the quota in tertiary institutions for Indians invariably remain unutilised. This is in sharp contrast to the Chinese community’s fanatical accord for education.
If the Hindraf demonstrations were a one-time wake up call, well, why not? Some good may come from the collective awakening to the situation. It may induce proactive change, which if surgically applied lends itself to buttressing stability. Any more disturbances however render the tool meaningless.
The very people who marched are the first potential casualties of an unstable social and civil environment. They have more vested in stability than those in gated communities. The rich rarely suffer. If I were asked for a solution, it would have to be education, education and education.
Our Indian community needs to take and be allowed to take a five-year sabbatical. It needs to participate in an ethnic renaissance sponsored by their own hard work and by a government that sees their success as its own.