The Malaysian polls are scheduled to be held on March 8, 2008. It is for the first time, since 1957, that the minority Hindu community is exhibiting discontent and indignation towards the government. The Hindu Rights Action Force has been waging demonstrations and protests against the ruling government to highlight the deplorable plight of the Indian minority. Malaysia has always taken pride in proclaiming itself to be a pluralist multiracial and multicultural state. However, recent events like the political and cultural negotiations wrought by the Indians to fight for dignity for themselves among the dominant Malays have put Malaysia’s claims to be a genuinely multicultural and pluralistic society into doubt. In Malaysia, the ethnic Malays consist of a slim majority of 54 percent of the total population followed by minority of Chinese at 26 percent. The Indians form a low 8 percent and are predominantly Hindu. It is now being speculated whether this small 8 percent of Malaysians can exert influence on the upcoming polls and swing it in favor of the opposition.There are reasons which impress uncertainty upon this question. One major reason is that not a single constituency has Indians in the majority. The current coalition government, the Barison Nasional is headed by Prime Minster Badawi of the United Malays National Organization. The Malaysian Indian Congress is a part of the multiracial Barison Nasional coalition and has relied on the United Malays National Organization and other allies for electoral victories. The Malaysian Indian Congress had won all constituencies allotted to it by the United Malays National Organization in 2004.
However, the ethnic Indians have, in recent months, rallied behind the Hindu Rights Action Force. This is essentially a non-political group, some of whose leaders have links with the opposition parties. It has been protesting against the negligence on part of the government towards the welfare of the minority Indians.
The crux of the unrest lies in the ‘bhumi puteras’ policy of the governmentt. In most countries, affirmative action programs or quotas are reserved for underprivileged minorities. However, in Malaysia, the beneficiaries of government largesse are the bumiputeras “the sons of the soil”, a category that includes, expectedly, the orang aslis and other aboriginal people, but also, quite unexpectedly, the numerically dominant Malays. It has been argued, of course, that though the Malays are a majority, the Chinese are the dominant economic force. Dishearteningly, Indians, whose poverty is only eclipsed by that of aboriginals, are not only not entitled to affirmative action privileges. Furthermore, some five generations after they arrived in Malaysia still may find themselves denied citizenship and even identity cards. In the eastern Malaysian state of Sabak, entry permits, residency status, and identity cards have been conferred on thousands of recent Muslim immigrants from the Philippines, and the category of bumiputera is sometimes extended to all those, whether Indonesians or Filipinos, who can lay claim to ancestral origins in the Malay archipelago. Yet the status of some Indians who have known no country other than Malaysia remains doubtful.
The Hindu community has been more profoundly disturbed by the seemingly relentless destruction of Hindu temples over large parts of the country in the last six months. The chairman of the Hindu Rights Action Force has gone on record to say that “there appears to be an unofficial policy of Hindu temple-cleansing in Malaysia in recent months.”
The group is also demanding that five of its top leaders, being held under the Internal Security Act without legally-testable charges and without recourse to trial at all, be released. They were detained for two years following their lead roles in last November’s mass protest. The main opposition parties — the Democratic Action Party and the Parti Keadilan Rakyat — have begun to evince streaks of multiracialism and each have fielded a Hindu Rights Action Force leader for the upcoming election. Parti Islam Se-Malaysia has, for the first time, renounced its goal of establishing an Islamic state and nominated an ethnic Indian.The Malaysian Indian Congress is thus slowly losing out its credibility with the Indians. Therefore, these opposition parties have ventured out fielding ethnic Indians for the elections hoping to cash in on the discontented minority vote bank. This is providing a stronger voice for the ethnic Indians against the heavy handed government. We only hope that next government recognize the ethnic Indians as an integral part of Malaysia and confer upon them equal privileges as the rest of its citizens presently enjoy.
[image by : http://www.flickr.com/photos/shamshahrin/2075782158/]