The Indian community that established itself in Malay peninsula during the colonial times has been facing institutionalised discrimination since Malaysia’s independence. Dashing the hopes that the new government that replaced UMNO – the political party ruling the country throughout its history– will ease the pressure on Indians, Mahathir Mohammad-led dispensation not only kept the older discriminatory laws but added new ones, reports Asia Times.
In the aftermath of 1969 riots, the New Economic Plan (NEP) of 1970s gave Muslim Malays easier access to housing, jobs, medical care, and education. It suspended the participation of non-Malays in the economy and prevented newcomers from enjoying upward social mobility. About 54 per cent of Malaysian Indians work on plantations or as urban labourers, and their wages have not kept up with the times. Nearly half of the 2.6 million Indians in Malaysia are at the bottom of the income ladder, according to Yayasan Pemulihan Social (YPS).
Apart from riots against Hindus, the government also openly follows an anti-Hindu agenda. In past few years, hundreds of Hindu temples have been demolished by the authorities, many of which were more than a century old. Religious violence against Hindus is also common. In the capital city of Kualalumpur, to protest the proposal of building a temple in their neighbourhood, a group of Muslims chopped off a cow’s head and paraded it in the procession from their mosque to the state headquarters amid chants of Allahu Akbar. They dumped the severed head, spat on it and stomped it before leaving.
"The temple will disrupt our daily activities like prayers. We cannot concentrate with the sounds coming from the temple," a protester was quoted as saying.
Another case was of 27-year-old Tamil Hindu, Bangaramma, who was registered as a Muslim without her knowledge in an orphanage when she was a minor. She continued practising Hinduism and married according to Hindu rituals. The Government refused to register her marriage and to acknowledge her husband as father of her children. Worse, she faced the charge of ‘apostasy’ which in Islamic Malaysia means separation from husband and her children.
According to Associated Press, a 15-month old child was confiscated from a Muslim who converted to Hinduism. The mother was imprisoned in a religious rehabilitation centre for people who “transgressed” against Islam.
The organisations for Hindu human rights, fighting for equal citizenship in the country, like HINDRAF, face ban on flimsy grounds. P Uthayakumar, HINDRAF legal adviser and secretary-general, Human Rights Party of Malaysia, had to face charges of ‘sedition’ for leading the spectacular one-lakh-strong HINDRAF rally of 2008, which demanded equal citizenship rights for Malaysian Hindus and opposed the ethnic cleansing of Tamil Hindus. The leaders of these groups have urged India to incorporate their issues in its diplomacy with the Islamic country, but no serious steps have been taken so far.
Indians lag behind other ethnic groups in Malaysia by almost all measures. Though they form just 7 per cent of the total population, they account for 63 per cent of those arrested under the Emergency Ordinance for violent crimes. They also constitute 41% of beggars and 20 per cent of child abusers. Indians rank lowest in national elementary-school examinations; about one in every 12 Indian children does not even attend primary school. Indians, says political scientist P Ramasamy, have become “the new underclass.”