Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

More Than a Minority Problem

by Jed Yoong's blog, December 2, 2007

It has been 50 years since we achieved independence from the British but it seems the current Government may be even more cruel and evil than the colonial power. How else do you explain the indifferent crushing of legitimate complains from this group of ethnic Indians? Why else would the mainstream media ignore the sufferings of this people and go the extra mile of labelling as a group of thugs?...

Additionally, as we depend more on trade, we cannot afford to ruffle feathers, especially economic giants like India and China. Whereas before the Government would have gotten away with asking ethnic Indians and Chinese to "balik India or Cina", now it may be wiser to tip-toe around the Indian and Chinese government.

NAZRI HAS DONE IT AGAIN. But this time the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department underestimated the clout of the so-called "penyangak" or "thugs" who marched on November 25 under the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) banner. For so long these UMNOputeras have stomped on the most marginalised ethnic group in our country — the Indians. Snide remarks, blatant discrimination and negative stereotyping are common. But now, the issue has exploded into an international diplomatic time bomb and potentially another Sri Lanka.

A CALLOUS GOVERNMENT, THE MAKING OF A PEOPLE'S UPRISING?

Batu Caves

I've always believed that the true test of a person is how they treat those who are of no use to them, like the poor, weak and downtrodden. A man may put on his aristocratic best when talking to a Minister but bark at the lowly waiter. Perhaps the man was mistreated before he was rich and powerful. Hence, he thinks it is his turn to show-off his elevated status by being rude. By extension, the Barisan Nasional's government reaction towards the peaceful rally is telling of the ingrained values of the UMNO-led government: ketuanan Melayu or Malay supremacy at all costs.

After the BERSIH rally on Nov 10, in which about 10,000 gathered in front of Istana Negara or National Palace to hand over a memorandum to the Agong, the head of the monarchy, I was rather tired of our rallies. But when I saw the photos on Jeff Ooi's blog showing the police herding a group of ethnic Indians into the Batu Caves temple compound, one of the holiest Hindu shrines in the country, and then firing water canon and tear gas at them, it dawned on me that the Barisan Nasional government does not have an inch of sympathy or respect for other races, whether oppressed or thriving. As long as you oppose, you will be 'crushed'.

Malaysia's population comprises many ethnic groups, with the politically dominant Malays comprising a plurality. By Constitutional definition, all Malays are Muslim. More than a quarter of the population is Chinese. They have historically played an important role in trade and business.

Malaysians of Indian descent comprise about 7% of the population and include Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians. About 85% of the Indian community is Tamil.

Non-Malay indigenous groups make up more than half of Sarawak's population and about 66% of Sabah's. They are divided into dozens of ethnic groups but they share some general patterns of living and culture. Until the 20th century, most practiced traditional beliefs, but many have become Christian or Muslim.

This year alone, we have witnessed a marked increase in public rallies like the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) demanding a minimum wage; the Bar Council's 2000-strong Walk for Justice after the Lingam video was exposed; the 40,000-strong BERSIH rally for free and fair elections; and now Hindraf.

The Government appears to be losing their patience and Malaysiakini reported on Thursday that Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has threatened to use the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows detention without trial. He reportedly said, "So, I don't know (when to invoke the ISA), but ISA will be there. When it is appropriate to use it, it will be used….If there are views, the government is prepared to listen, but if demanded in the way that can lead to the country's instability, then we've to take action."

When the minority Tamil population was similarly oppressed in Sri Lanka, they revolted and now the country has descended into a full-fledged civil war, says an editorial in India Daily. It goes on to say, "A similar situation is arising in Malaysia. The Indian communities in Malaysia are abused for centuries." Additionally, India's Daily News and Analysis (DNA) reported that senior political journalist Baradan Kuppusamy "senses an increasing inclination to resort to militancy as a last resort." The report ends with this chilling sentence: "For the Indian foreign policy establishment, which is still grappling with the Sri Lanka-sized problem, the prospect of Malaysia going down the same road can only be a nightmarish proposition."

PERPETUATING PROPAGANDA VIA THE MASS MEDIA.

Instead of highlighting HINDRAF's grouses, the media coverage before and after the rally demonised this group - painting them as rowdy hooligans defying a court order issued to 'arrest on sight' any demonstrator. The phrase "illegal rally" was repeated throughout the reports but there was no commentary on the undemocratic practice of denying them a police permit. Our constitution guarantees our freedom to peaceful assembly but unfortunately, we are still under 'darurat' or emergency law since 1969. Hence, a public gathering of more than a few requires a police permit.

Admitedly, there were violent episodes but the rally was mostly peaceful. Some parties have also alleged that skirmishes were started by agent provocateurs planted by the Government.

Despite photographic evidence of the Batu Caves incident, the mainstream media continued to defend the harsh police action. The Star's frontpage on Nov 26 screamed: "Hindraf defies court order and goes ahead with gathering." While other headlines said "PM: Police had to take action", "Cops forced to use tear gas, water cannons", "Batu Caves temple property damaged, 69 protesters held" and of course, "Cop hurt trying to control crowd" with a photo of a bleeding cop to boot. There was even a video report alleging that the a police report was lodged by a temple staff hence forcing to the police to act but "Pictures tell the real story".

I am almost apathetic to slight skews towards the government but to publish inconsistent statements or accounts of events bordering on fiction has "crossed the line". On Nov 26, the paper reported that Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Musa Hassan, said demonstrators " destroyed temple property" and "no tear gas or water cannons were used at the demonstrators during the incident." But on the very next day, the same paper reported that "the temples were not damaged by Hindraf demonstrators" and another police officer "admitting that water cannons and tear gas were used to disperse the crowd". More at Jeff Ooi's.

A NEW GLOBAL COMMUNITY

It has been 50 years since we achieved independence from the British but it seems the current Government may be even more cruel and evil than the colonial power. How else do you explain the indifferent crushing of legitimate complains from this group of ethnic Indians? Why else would the mainstream media ignore the sufferings of this people and go the extra mile of labelling as a group of thugs?

But the Government can no longer continue down this path in this information age. Petitions can be sent via fax or email. Blogs pick stories up even before the mainstream media. You can snap a photo or record a video, and almost immediately post it on your blog. You can garner international support as the news is all over the worldwide web. It's just simply easier to organise and co-ordinate a global petition or revolt.

Additionally, as we depend more on trade, we cannot afford to ruffle feathers, especially economic giants like India and China. Whereas before the Government would have gotten away with asking ethnic Indians and Chinese to "balik India or Cina", now it may be wiser to tip-toe around the Indian and Chinese government. After all, if either country impose any sanctions on our goods or services, our economy is likely to be hit hard. If the Government is sincere in attracting foreign investments or talent from these two countries, then it better start treating its 'people' better.

The HINDRAF rally has proven that in the new geo-political and economic reality, the Government has to adjust to the needs of immigrant communities. The plight of the HINDRAF supporters is now more than a 'minority problem'; it's now a crisis of global proportions.

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UNLIKELY TO HAPPEN HERE, BUT …

by P N Balji, Editorial Director, Singapore Mirror, December 1, 2007
balji@mediacorp.com.sg

THE thought must have struck every concerned Singaporean, not just the Indian Singaporean: Can the boiling over of years of pent-up emotions, anger and frustration of the ethnic Indian community in Kuala Lumpur happen here?

The instantaneous answer I got from the 10 people I spoke to since that Sunday street march: Very unlikely.

The reasons went something like this: The community is not doing as badly, the firm arm of the law will not allow such a march to take place, the well-off Indian Singaporeans will not fight for their less well-off brothers and, most importantly, Singapore doesn't have a policy similar to Malaysia's bumiputera policy.

But as the conversations went a little deeper, not everyone was convinced that everything is fine with the community. Top of the list is the view that a social and income divide is becoming pronounced and this gap is under-reported because for every failure there is a success to shout about.

Whether it is in the Cabinet or in the very visible professions like law and journalism, the Indian community's achievements cannot be disputed.

Similarly, the entry of high-calibre Indians from outside Singapore into top-end jobs in private banking and hedge funds has turned the attention away from the plight of the less well-off.

Two recent experiences are enough to reveal the palpable sense of impact the entry of these expatriates is bringing about here.

At a reception held recently, I was introduced to a roomful of expat Indians. And, oh boy, was I surprised! There was the macro economist from JP Morgan, another from Morgan Stanley, and yet another from BNP Paribas. But the most memorable introduction was to this entrepreneur who owns four banks in India and has a stake in a sovereign wealth fund-linked company.

They came across as articulate, bright and extremely confident of themselves and what they can bring to the table.

It seems the presence of these high-calibre Indians is being felt in our upmarket shops, restaurants, condos, movie theatres and tourism destinations like Sentosa and the Night Safari, all of which are on a charm offensive to get a slice of their business.

The next example should show the extent of this group's reach.

An Indian Singaporean woman related this incident of how she was pleasantly surprised by the royal attention she got from a salesgirl at Tangs. She understood the reason an hour later, when the salesgirl asked: Are you an expat?

Such stories can unwittingly screen from the public domain the struggle of the one- and two-roomers. Yes, there are similar struggles among the Chinese and the Malays. But what sets the Indian community apart is its inherent divides.

Unlike the Chinese and Malays, the Indians are not bonded by a common language, religion or even a common colour. Of the three, the biggest hindrance in having a good fix of the problems of the less well-off is language. The Malay professionals will tell you how important language is in breaking the ice with the one- and two-roomers in their community.

Language is a leveller. It helps not just to communicate but to also gain the confidence and trust of the people you deal with.

That, plus the fact that two of Singapore's closest neighbours are mainly Muslims, have helped to focus national attention on the Malays. And the progress the community has made is there for all to see.

For the lower segment of the Indian community to get that kind of attention, we need more concerned Indian professionals, both local and expatriate, who can speak the language, understand the undercurrents and have an acute empathy for their plight to come out and articulate openly and responsibly the real problems this section of the community faces.

And, if necessary, roll up their sleeves and come together, like the Association of Muslim Professionals did as a parallel group to Mendaki, 16 years ago.

The 10 Singaporeans are correct. An Indian street march like the one that took place in KL is very unlikely to take place here. It is unnecessary, too.

But that doesn't mean the not-so-well-off in the community don't need more help.

The community, and Singapore as a society, can only benefit with more hands being stretched out to make sure that no one misses the boat of prosperity.