Wednesday, 11 April 2007

The Economist On Malaysian Indians

My computer was giving me the business again, and I very generously decided to give it some time off to recuperate from its meltdown.

While waiting, I casually picked up an old copy of The Economist. Pretty old. As in 2003 old. Don't ask why my company still keeps these old issues. I don't want to know and I'm sure you don't either.

But I digress. This particular issue of The Economist had an article about Malaysian Indians and since I fall under those demographics, my curiosity was piqued.

Below is the complete article:

Malaysia's deprived Indian minority gets none of the benefits reserved for Malays

Malaysia's underdogs

PEOPLE of Indian origin account for only 8% of Malaysia's total population, but they make up 14% of its juvenile delinquents, more than 20% of its wife- and child-beaters, and 41% of its beggars.

They make up less than 5% of successful university applicants, and own less than 1.5% of the country's share capital.

To make matters worse, they are not eligible for any of Malaysia's lavish affirmative-action programmes, which are reserved for Malays and other indigenous people.

Other countries may have upwardly mobile Indian immigrants, but Malaysia is fast developing an Indian underclass.

The problem stems from the decline of Malaysia's rubber plantations. British colonialists shipped indentured Indian labourers to Malaysia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to tap rubber.

After independence, many Indians stayed and became citizens, tapping rubber all the while. But over the past few decades of breakneck economic growth, developers have ploughed up many rubber plantations to plant less labour-intensive oil palms, or to build shopping malls and housing estates.

The displaced workers and their families have wound up in shanty towns on the outskirts of Malaysia's cities.

Until recently, the government largely ignored the problem. The many well-to-do Indian doctors and lawyers, after all, help to give Indians higher incomes on average than Malays. Many Indian labourers, even, earn more from odd jobs in the cities than rural Malays do from fishing or farming.

But unlike poor farmers, explains Denison Jayasooria, the head of an Indian think-tank-cum-charity, they have to buy their own food, pay rent, and travel to work — all at inflated urban prices.

Jaya Partiban, a senator from the Malaysian Indian Congress, the biggest Indian political party, says that the sheltered life of the plantations imbued Indians with a culture of dependence.

Furthermore, argues P. Ramasamy, a professor at the Malaysian National University, Indians have little prospect of advancement, since Malaysia's Chinese minority dominates business, and Malays control the bureaucracy.

Indians often complain of neglect or discrimination at the hands of civil servants, and harassment by the police.

All these frustrations boiled over into a race riot in a squatter community outside Kuala Lumpur in March 2001. Six people died and scores were injured. To this day, many Indians live in rusty corrugated-iron shacks in Kampung Medan, the scene of the riot.

I keep hearing bits and pieces about this, but never the full story. Why has someone gone through such great lengths to keep this incident under wraps?

They [The Indians] complain that jobs are hard to come by, especially since employers fear that many Indians may be involved in crime. Although the police have set up three posts in the area since the riots, locals say, only one of the officers staffing them is Indian.

There are no playgrounds, sports fields or clubs to tempt their children away from street gangs. The local Indian school, they add, is in a dire state.

The government has at least pledged to change all this. It has promised to move all squatters in the area to subsidised housing by 2005. It is hiring more Indian teachers.

It is also financing the Yayasan Strategik Sosial, Mr Denison's outfit, to develop schemes to help poor urban Indians.

Most dramatically, it has declared its intention to double Indians' stake in Malaysian companies by 2010—the sort of race-based target normally reserved for Malays.

Sure. When hell freezes over. It's three years to 2010 by the way, and I see NOTHING to remotely suggest that anything has been or will be done.

As it is, government officials like to point out, Malaysia's richest man is an Indian: Ananda Krishnan. His fellow Indians, however, tend to view his success rather more cynically; they joke that Mr Krishnan takes up the community's share of the national wealth all by himself.

Ah. You see, the source of the problem is that it's all about race.

Affirmative action policies will never work. I'm staunchly against them. Those who are successful through legitimate means will find that their qualifications have lost their credibility.

In other words, people (especially potential employers) would assume they graduated from university even though they didn't deserve it.

In fact, even now the quota is probably adequate for university entry. Most Indians I know who have made it through university rarely find themselves unemployed.

It's not them we should worry about. It's those who drop out of school at the age of 12. And those who have never even had a proper primary education.

There's no way they can fend for themselves. To eat, you need to have money. To have money, you need to have a job. To have a job, you need a minimum education at least.

Some of them don't even have that.

And so they turn to crime. That's when it becomes everyone else's problem, because throwing some of them in jail isn't going to cut it.

Helping the poor shouldn't be a racial issue. Poverty spans all races - Malay, Chinese and Indian. Eliminating poverty should not be focused on any particular race.


blueheeler said...

at least when malaysian chinese complain about unfairness from the govt, they have about 30% of the population behind them. the indians, who are already not as rich as the chinese, can complain all they want, but sadly their numbers (and amount of votes) do not get heard by the politicians.

Crankshaft said...

that's right blueheeler. they're considered quite insignificant in the eyes of politicians and subsequently the government.