THE FUTURE OF THE MARGINALIZED INDIAN COMMUNITY

Paper presented by Mr. Sambulingam at the “Conference on the Future of Marginalized and Minority Communities in Malaysia” on the 23rd of Jan 2011

Good Morning.

I am here to present to u all a picture of the status of the marginalized Indian poor, what it is, the historical process that led to it, what is the prospect for the marginalized Indians if nothing changes and what it may be if the issue is addressed head-on and squarely and what we of Hindraf believe that needs to be done to eliminate this problem.

By marginalization of the Indian minority community, I mean that the Indian poor have been systematically pushed out of the mainstream of national socio economic developments in our country by virtue of how the system works today.

The manner in which this problem presents itself today is:

• Several hundred thousand stateless Indian children and adults .

Large urban-poor communities, living in extremely depressed conditions in the edge of urban centres, that is called squatter colonies, in mainstream speak. We believe at least 60% of the Indians in the country belong in this category

Low performance in life due to systematic denial of opportunities, and of equal opportunities:

• in the arena of education

• in the arena of employment

• in the arena of business

• Disproportionately high Involvement in crime – 40% of the Indian youth are involved in crime. More than 60 % of inmates of preventive detentions camps is Indian. More than 95% of police custodial deaths is Indians. Indians today are stereotypes ad criminals, like it or not, want it or not. This is a burgeoning problem

• Large numbers of Indians perpetually relegated to all the low end jobs in society

No involvement or negative involvement in various development programs in the country

Complete landlessness that results in many unresolved and serious land issues.

House ownership is lowest among the Peninsula communities. More than 30 per cent of Indians do not own a house, compared to the national average of 25.2 per cent for Malays and 17.6 per cent for Chinese

• And a breakdown of the social structure that makes the Indian community in the urban sqauatter colonies.

Suicide rates are disproportionately higher. There were 21.1 suicides per 100,000 Indians, 8.6 per 100,000 Chinese and 2.6 per 100,000 Malays. This is a result of the degree of oppression faced by the marginalized Indian poor.

Now let me talk a little bit about the historical antecedents that has resulted in this situation of a community in distress.

As we all probably know, the forefathers of the Indians in Malaysia were brought here 5-6 generations ago, beginning about 150 years ago as indentured labour largely, to satisfy the appetite of British colonial profits. They manned their various plantations and developed and maintained the infrastructure by which the profits flowed out to Britain.

It will be safe to say, that our Indian laborer forefathers were instrumental in laying the foundations for the modern nation state of Malaysia. albeit as laborers.

As history books tell us colonialism ended in 1957 and a new nation state, Malaya, with a clear Federal Constitution came into existence and we were all supposed to have been put back to a state of equality and goodness. But in fact colonialism never ended for the Indian poor and that promised equality never materialized.

The form of the state changed but the substance of colonialism never changed. Only British colonialism was replaced by local Malaysian elite’s neo-colonialism. In fact it actually got worse for the Indians, slowly at the beginning and then accelerating under Mahathir’s regime.

In the beginning the estates were broken up, as much of the large British interests left the country. This facilitated the take over of the plantation business and lands by the local elite, given the state of capital accumulation among the local elite at that time. What it started was the beginning of a massive displacement of the Indian plantation workers to the urban centers as the large estates fragmented and many of the estates were converted to commercial, industrial or residential development.

This process continues till today , of plantation lands being converted for a variety of such purposes. What statistics we can get hold of tells us that just in the period between 1985 and 2005, at least 300,000 Indian plantation workers were displaced due to this phenomenon.

A truly representative government would have put in place a resettlement program to regulate this displacement to avoid and to reduce the negative social impact of such a large displacement. But no such thing happened. No such thing is happening even till today. This is not because of ignorance on the part of the policy planners of our country. It is a systematic outcome, occurring in full knowledge of the planners.

All the stories you hear from time to time of demolitions of estate dwellings, of estate temples, of estate schools and burial grounds are nothing but a manifestation of this process of conversion of the land. The problems caused by the displacement were aggravated by a steady and growing influx of foreign, largely Indonesian workers into the estate sector. This had the multiple effects of reducing employment opportunities and of depressing the wages, which continue to remain at below subsistence levels and effectively reducing the economic status of the already impoverished Indians..

Mahathir for his part, pushed a paradigm of economic development which on the one hand accelerated the displacement of the Indian poor to the urban squatter colonies and on the other completely and systematically denied them opportunities.

These displaced people had no new skills by which now to cope with the urban setting. They were systematically denied opportunities for employment in the Government sectors and government linked sectors all in the name of the NEP restructuring. Additionally and also consequently upward mobility opportunities in education, in employment, in state support were also denied. The NEP turned out to be a terrible lie.

All this effectively took the Indian poor off the map of national development. At every one of the 9 five year development plans it has been recognized that there was this large Indian poverty problem, but there has not been any budgetary allocation of significance to address them. This was supposed to be inevitable for a community of pendatangs and it did not matter that they have nowhere else they can call home but Malaysia and whose forefathers were instrumental in laying the foundations of modern Malaysia – all in the name of Ketuanan Melayu.

This massive displacement with no programs to regulate it resulted in a complete breakdown of the social structure for the displaced communities. The plantation communities had two very important roles – social control and social care. Urban communities are more complex as compared to plantation communities and they pose a multitude of challenges. Coupled with a lack of adequate incomes that led to the majority of them residing in squatter areas or in densely populated low cost flats, it left little room for more than squalid day-to-day lives.

In this environment with an absence of elders as both parents had to work and absence of control structures in the new neighbourhoods the social structure began to break down. This has contributed to a total loss of direction among the youth. The rest as we say is history.

Today the urban slums are a den for all kinds of social problems – Ignorance. Illiteracy, alcoholism, involvement in drug use and distribution, crime, single mothers, orphans, undocumented marriages and births, low academic performance, high suicide rates, when they cannot take all of this. About 40% of the Indian community live in such settlements. They are caught up in a trap. And with the passage of time and without intervention a significant underclass has emerged.

So there you have it – a brief picture of how this marginalization problem came to be. And the trend on this problem is that this is progressively getting worse and urgent attention needs to be given to this problem if the situation is to be salvaged. Otherwise a community of the Indian poor would be physically wiped out in time.

Now let me talk about the possibilities for the future. There are two possibilities.

One is that the status quo is not altered and this process of deterioration just continues till the Indian marginalized are slowly reduced over the years by a combination of factors .

a. Their life spans continue to reduce due to drugs, alcohol, involvement in crime, poor health, ignorance and limited life opportunities. They live short unproductive lives.

b. Then the next possibility is a complete loss of the rich heritage of the Indian value system as a result of the combination of the environment in which they grow up, coupled with an ineffective Primary education system.

c. Large numbers will populate the prisons of the country, Indians become the low end criminals of Malaysian society, and many will continue to be killed off by the shoot to kill policies of the Royal Malaysian Police.

d. Because of the oppression they experience in their lives, suicides rates in the community will be prevalent.

e. They will occupy all the low end jobs in the country and their upward mobility will continue to reduce – not just the poor and marginalized Indians but for all Indians.

f. Or they all convert to become Muslims to avoid this turn of events satisfying the Ketuanan Melayu criteria for state assistance.

This is definitely an outcome that Hindraf absolutely does not want to occur. Hindraf is fighting tooth and nail just to avoid this particular set of outcomes. And we will continue till we succeed or till we ourselves are all killed off by the system.

The other outcome , a truly desirable outcome is one in which there is positive State intervention and the Indian poor are brought back into the mainstream of national development into a functional and thriving community. A sample of the manifestations of such a revitalization would be:

a) All Indians in the country are with proper citizenship status

b) The Indian underclass is steadily reduced and finally completely eliminated.

c) Disproportionate involvement in crime among Indians is a thing of the past.

d) The Tamil School system is revamped, consolidated and significantly improved and is made robust and begins to produce world class citizens.

e) The Indian poor category begin to work their way out of povertyby the minimum wage provisions and the provision of employment opportunities and equal upward mobility opportunity as any other Malaysian citizen.

f) Indians are productively employed in all sectors of the economy in proportionate terms , again with the provision of equal opportunities.

g) Alcoholism and drug abuse is reduced and finally eliminated as a scourge of the Indian community.

h) Educational performance of the Indian community begins to reach out to excellence.

j) Proportionate number of Indians are inducted into the various branches of Government and the regime of racism is eliminated.

k) Indians populate the various ranks of the employed in the private sector and the government linked company sector at proportionate levels.

l) All Indians live at a minimum in well maintained, quality state provided homes.

m) Life expectancy improves to world class levels with improvements to living conditions, health and awareness.

n) All social indicators to the performance of the Indian community return to the norm and are no more outstanding in any category.

p) The cultural life of the Indians are reinvigorated and the social structures return to the robust states that they need to be in.

This is a sketch of the revitalization that we envisage as a desirable outcome of state intervention to bring the Indian poor out of their marginalized status and into the mainstream of national Development.

For this to happen the following national programs need to come in place. And all of this is part of our struggle to create. There is substantial resistance to these plans because the political system in our country is too top heavy. The distribution of the wealth of this nation of ours is too skewed to the elite. We need to alter that to create the political will within the system to address all the issues to bring about the revamping we so talk about.

Even as I attempt to layout a program to make all of the above happen, I would like to add that none of the programs we desire is of a racial consideration specially for the Indians only. The purpose of it all is to bring Indians into the National mainstream of development and to make them into equal citizens with equal shots at life.

Some of the programs are specific and targeted at the Indian poor to rehabilitate and to address some unique issues. Many are general to Malaysian society and politics and affects all poor and marginalized in equally positive terms – for we do believe there cannot just be a program for Indians nor is that what we seek. Some of the programs are short term in nature and some are longer term in nature.

Let me now briefly lay out our vision of usch aprogram of change and revitalization:

a) The most impactful program will be a minimum wage program which causes the wages to be set at a level that supports a reasonable life for all. The exact number needs to be worked out but we envisage in 2011 cost of living terms , of at least RM1,300/= per month

b) The next thing will be a steady reduction of foreign workers into the country in various sectors to incresase employment opportunities for Malaysian which when coupled with a minimum wage would provide adequate opportunities to the Indian poor as to the rest so that the rise out of the poverty trap may proceed positively.

c) New agricultural land needs to be opened up just like the FELDA schemes and new employment opportunities need to be created thus in the Agro sector and new opportunities need to be provided for the Indian poor as for the rest.

d) A program to address the Statelessness issue needs to be urgently setup with the objective of eliminating the problem terminally by various improvements to the law, to the administrative procedures and to proper resourcing of these efforts at the JPN departments.

e) The entire Tamil School primary system needs to be revamped, with National standard level infrastructure and teaching resources. The performance of this segment of the national education system must be revamped to provide feeder material for eventual world class educational performance.

f) All Tamil schools, Hindu Temples, and Burial grounds need to sit on government gazetted land for those purposes.

g) Equal opportunities based on merit must become the norm for all levels of education, in the practice of religion, in employment, in government programs of all sorts, in awards of government businesses and this regime of equality must extend into the private sector. To facilitate this there needs to be reaffirmation of the second limb of Article 153 or even a complete repeal of that article and Article 8 of the Federal constitution for equal rights . A new Equal opportunities commission needs to be setup as a watchdog organization. A new Race relations act needs to be put in place to regulate the need to maintain interracial harmony to facilitate this.

h) Samsu or cheap liquor production in the country needs to be eliminated by the withdrawal of licences for such production. The drug problem must be addressed effectively by bringing the invisible kingpins in the background to book. To facilitate this we need a corruption free Police force and in order to do this we need a Police commission watchdog to watch over the Police. To facilitate all this we need an anti corruption organization that is independent of the politicians and has strong biting teeth. To facilitate all this the Judiciary needs to be revamped so that prosecutions of the true criminals may proceed effectively and all of these compromised institutions currently are put back to their basics.

h) Specific transparent and accountable budgetary allocations in key sectors and Ministries to implement the specific priority development projects and programmes targeting the Indian community needs to be put in place.

j) Indians should be allowed to practice the religion of their choice as guaranteed in the constitution and the civil courts are the courts of adjudication for all issues concerning this matter. The Syaria court must return to the authority provided for in the constitution.

One parting comment to my other speakers and to all of you who represent various facets of marginalization in our society :

At the and of our analysis what we will surely find is that, even though our specific problems may differ, the root cause is the same. It is the current inept and corrupt racist segregationist regime of the UMNO led BN government that has ruled our country continuously for the last 53 years. It is time they be replaced and we all move on to really find the Malaysia that we all desire that lies buried hidden under all this mismanagement and corruption.

See what is happening in Tunisia today as I speak – the time is near for change. Let us all, the marginalized communities of Malaysia be that catalyst that precipitates the change. Let us all work together to create the second Tsunami -for that change.

Thank you.

Sambulingam

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