Indian Malaysian

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"The problem of the marginalized Indian community, particularly of the more than 300,000 displaced plantation workers, must be viewed as a grave national problem which must be tackled immediately with a sense of urgency and sincerity."  —  Ranjit Singh Malhi [1]
Malaysian Indian Ethnic Cleansing  (Uploaded by sanmorgan on 19 February 2008)
Ethnic Indians protest in Malaysia (24 Nov 07)
(Video credit: AlJazeeraEnglish)
Year Population % of Malaya's
1871 33,390 11%
1911 267,170 10%
1931 621,847 14%
1957 735,038 10%
Source: Guy Hunter, Southeast Asia: Race, Culture, Nation

Indian Malaysians are a group of Malaysians citizens, largely descended from those who migrated from southern India during the British colonization of Malaya. However, they had been conspicuous in the archipelago much earlier, especially since the period of the powerful South Indian kingdom of the Cholas in the 11th century, and were among the most important trading peoples of maritime Asia.[2] In 1901, the Indian population in Malaya was 120,000 but by 1957, the population had reached 820,000. As of 2008, there are about 2.2 million Indian Malaysians, comprising 7.8% of the total population.[3]

Indian Malaysians practise a number of religions and faiths. Islam found its way to the Malay peninsula not from Arabia, but from Tamil country.[4] The practice of Hinduism, however, began to rise during the 2nd wave of people from the Indian subcontinent during British rule. A minority among them practise Christianity, with roughly 10% practising Islam, while Sikhism is practiced amongst the Punjabis.

2.  The earliest Indians in the Malay peninsula: People from India first arrived in the Malay peninsula which they called the "Land of Gold" from at least the 3rd century.[5] The Malays adopted Indian culture, including their writing, stories, kingship, and Hinduism.[5] There is evidence of the existence of Indianized kingdoms such as Gangga Negara, Old Kedah, and Srivijaya in the Malay peninsula since approx. 1,500 years ago. Early contact between the kingdoms of Tamilakkam and the Malay peninsula had been very close during the regimes of the Pallava Kings (4th - 9th century) and Chola kings (9th - 13th century). A very essential cultural element needed to carry out commercial transactions is a common language understood by all parties involved in early trade. Historians such as J.V. Sebastian, K.T. Thirunavukkarasu, and A.W. Hamilton record that Tamil was the common language of commerce in what is now Malaysia and Indonesia during historical times.[4] In Melaka and other seaports up to the 19th century, Malay terminology pertaining to bookkeeping and accountancy was still largely Tamil.[2]

3.  Indian diaspora: In the 13th century, Gujeratis from the west coast of India and Chettiars from Tamilnad sailed to the Malay peninsula to trade. Many were Muslims and they spread Islam to the Malays. During the British colonial period, Indians migrated to Malaya to work as laborers in British plantations. The overwhelming majority were ethnic Tamil and from British Presidency of Madras. British acquisition of the Straits Settlements (Penang, Melaka, and Singapore) from 1786 to 1824 started a steady inflow of Indian laborers, traders, sepoys, and convicts engaged in construction, commercial agriculture, defense, and commerce. But large scale migration of Indians from the subcontinent to Malaysia followed the extension of British formal rule to the West coast Malay states from the 1870s onwards as British brought the Indians as workers to work in the rubber plantations. A significant minority, however, worked in Government public works departments. The North Indians, with the exception of the Sikhs, were mainly merchants and businessmen. The Sikhs were either in the police force or employed as watchmen. This close correspondence between the ethnic and occupational divisions of the Indian community was inevitably reflected in the community's geographical distribution in Malaya. The South Indian Tamils were concentrated mainly in Perak, Selangor, and Negri Sembilan on the rubber estates and railways. In recent times, however, most Telugus has shifted to high-end profession like doctors, lawyers, and businessmen in major cities.

Tamil women carrying rubber latex in c. 1900.
Indian roadside vendors in the 1920s.
Indian mobile hawker

4.  Indian community's contribution to Malaysia: Malaysia owes a debt of gratitude to the Indian community for their invaluable contribution before Independence. It was Indian labor (mainly South Indians) that was the backbone of the rubber industry and was primarily responsible for opening up much of what is today West Malaysia with their sweat, blood and tears. Rubber was the chief export of Malaya for several decades beginning from 1916. Indian labor was also primarily responsible for building the roads, railways and bridges besides constructing ports, airports and government buildings. Virtually every mile of railway track which totaled over 1,000 miles and about 6,000 miles of metaled main roads and several hundred miles of tertiary roads by 1957 were built by Indian labor. As aptly stated by Muzaffar Tate, "The Public Works Department was an Indian preserve".

A little known fact is that hundreds of thousands of Indians died in developing modern Malaya. According to the 1957 Federation of Malaya Census Report, much of the 1.2 million net Indian immigration to Malaya between 1860-1957 appears to have been wiped out by disease, snake bites, exhaustion, and malnutrition. In the words of Michael R. Stenson, "South India provided an indispensable tribute of human lives, without which the European-owned plantation industry in Malaya could not have been established". Malaysia owes a debt of gratitude to Indian Malaysians for their valuable past contribution in nation building, particularly in opening up the malarial and sparsely populated jungle for commercial agriculture which formed the backbone of the country's economy until 1980.

5.  Marginalization of the Indian Malaysian community: The Indian Malaysian community over the last few decades has become, in N. J. Colleta's words, "Malaysia's forgotten people". Its position has been reduced to that of a "footnote" in the country's school history textbooks which scantly acknowledge the community's contribution towards the economic development of the nation.

The Indian Malaysian community is plagued by a number of problems, besides poverty, low self-esteem, and having the lowest share of the nation's corporate wealth. It has the highest number of gangsters, prisoners, drug addicts, alcoholics, suicide rate, and single mothers in proportion to population. Indians commit about 50% of the nation's serious crimes and record the highest percentage of deaths, whilst under police custody. They also have the lowest life expectancy rate among the 3 major races.

In a study done by ACP Amar Singh Sidhu, entitled "The rise of crime in Malaysia", Amar said that the main cause of violent crime and gang-related activities were due to manifestations of urban poverty. He noted that Indians in urban squatters had developed a subculture, alienating them from mainstream Malaysian society and this subculture mindset was besieged by hopelessness, captive to low self-esteem, and low self image, coupled with the lack of opportunities to pursue education and employment.[6]

Hadi Ho Abdullah, the director of criminal investigations (CID) Bukit Aman, said that the police records of known gang members revealed that 71% were Indians.[6]

6.  Discrimination against Indian Malaysians: Although Malaysia has advanced phenomenally since independence in 1957, the gains have not reached minority Indians who suffer from poverty and marginalization.[7] Rapid development that uprooted rural Indians, who form about 60% of the Indian population, turned many of them into urban squatters. According to government statistics, nearly 40% of convicted criminals are from the Indian minority. Marginalisation is also reflected in: [7]

  • the relatively high suicide rate among Indians of 21.1 per thousand, as compared to 8.6 among Chinese, and 2.6% among Malays;
  • the predomination of Indians as laborers, industrial manual workers, office boys, road sweepers, beggars and squatters;
  • the percentage of Indians in the civil service, which fell from 40% in 1957 to under 2% in 2005;
  • nearly half of the 523 Tamil vernacular schools being left in a dilapidated condition, without basic modern facilities like computers, proper library, sports and recreation facilities and textbooks, as they are not funded by the government; and
  • annual university intake, which on average is under 5% of the over 45,000 total annual intake in 15 public universities.

7.  Gangsterism: On 7 September 2013, MIC deputy president Datuk Seri Dr. Subramaniam Sathasivam said he was concerned over the tendency of Indian youths to fall prey to gangsterism. He said statistics showed that 25% of the community's youths were involved in such activities. "We're in the process of providing more work, skills, and business opportunities to Indian youths. Such chances will help to keep them away from these negative activities," he said. Saying that the MIC also aimed to provide rehabilitation opportunities for these youths, he added that weak family background and lack of education were among the main causes for their fall.[8]  more... at Chronology

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