LETTER | The current Indian diaspora in Malaysia can be traced to the British colonial policy of enabling global Indian migration flows to their far-flung colonies to serve as labourers especially in burgeoning rubber plantations.
Over time, they settled permanently and as the vision for an independent Malaya (then, Malaysia) grew, the basis of their identity was also inextricably linked to that of this nation.
However, as we began to transform into a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society, the rosy tale of three races coming together – united in nationalistic spirit – began spotting cracks in its foundations.
From political representation to socio-economic challenges, a majority of Malaysians of ethnic Indian descent now find themselves handed the short end of the stick – in a place which we have called home for close to a century.
The government which should rightly be the vanguard of its citizen’s rights has consistently failed the Indian community in this country. Regardless of political affiliations, there seems to be a toxic pattern of outrage and inaction practiced, especially by Indian political leaders.
Take for example the Malaysian Indian Blueprint launched in 2017 targeted particularly for the B40 Indians in the country. Its aim was to improve income and wealth levels, increase education levels and enhance social integration.
This was to be achieved by long- and short-term welfare assistance, education and training programmes, income and wealth upliftment interventions and steps to inculcate community inclusion by addressing social ills and improving documentation of Indian children.
Can any leader in this country come out and openly say that these aims have been achieved? Or at the very least, steps have been properly taken to meet these goals?
The outrage and rhetoric which led to the creation of the blueprint were then met with lacklustre attempts by the powers that be to actually realise this ambition.
There is definitely truth to the saying that politicians are all talk and no action. In this case, Malaysian politicians – especially those who vehemently claim they are stewards in the fight against Indian marginalisation in the country – are the embodiment of it.
At best, it is apathy and at worse, it is downright corruption. Just last month, news broke that 16 company directors were nabbed by the MACC on suspicion of being involved in the misappropriation of funds of the Malaysian Indian Transformation Unit (Mitra).
Mitra receives up to RM100 million annually to be spent on grants, projects and other forms of funding aimed at transforming and uplifting the Indian community in the country. But that seems the least of their concern.
In the days preceding the budget announcement, National Unity Minister Halimah Mohamed Sadique dropped a bombshell that Mitra has been receiving lesser funding yearly for the past few years because of a mysterious debt obligation.
This came as a shock to many as the minister then remained mum as to the reason for the debt and its source.
Kicked while they’re down
Right now, this issue has left the spotlight of the mainstream media. No politician or the various pundits on television and radio have continued championing this issue or at the very least persisted in questioning the government for a more cogent response.
Therefore, it is no surprise then that most Indians in the country – especially those from the B40 segment – feel as if their welfare is not important to the government.
Time and time again they have been kicked while they’re down. This is made even more painful by the very fact that most of the people doing the “kicking” are Indian politicians as well.
This is also emblematic of the socio-economic gulf between the have and the have nots in Indian society. Intra-ethnic income inequality is a structural problem that needs immediate redressing.
According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), Indian households with more than RM15,000 monthly gross income accounted for 33.5 percent of the total income share while only making up 11 percent of total Indian households. In contrast, households earning less than RM3,000 a month, which make up 16 percent of total Indian households only accounted for 4.6 percent of the total income share.
This then forces many B40 Indians to turn to unlawful activities such as gangsterism and other forms of crime to eke a living.
Here is an interesting statistic: Indians in Malaysia make up close to seven percent of the nation’s population but account for 31 percent of arrests for violent crimes. It is also estimated that 72 percent of gang members in the country are Indians.
What these trends continue to do is paint an unfair characterisation of Indians as gangsters and criminals.
It is a trope which has been ingrained into the collective psyche of society – from the casual racism of disciplining your child by saying “the Indian uncle will come and catch you” to the use of the derogatory term “k****g” by the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) in the online Kamus Dewan dictionary.
Enough is enough. Fiery speeches in the name of protecting the welfare of Indians and not following that with palpable action will only worsen the problem.
What is needed is political will and a united aspiration to see to the most marginalised race in this country.
This, it seems is too much of an ask for our politicians to respond to.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.