The recent protests by Malaysian Tamils in Kuala Lampur demanding equality and a share of the national income, were the first after the demonstrations for independence in 1957 by Malays. After independence, a Muslim majority government came to power. The country is now experiencing an economic slowdown that has hit ethnic Indians harder than other ethnic communities. At the time of independence, the Malay Muslims were the most economically backward community in Malaysia and constituted almost sixty percent of the population. Economic policies were formed with a “Malay first “ approach. This meant Malays lapped up economic and education opportunities and other ethnic communities were deprived of employment. The Chinese however are better off than ethnic Indians as they control sixty percent of the economy.
Ethnic Indians in Malaysia are descendants of 19th century Indian laborers who were brought there by the British. The protests were led by Hindu Rights Action Force, which goes by the abbreviation HINDRAF, which was formed in 2005 to fight for Hindu rights. The agitators were demanding that licenses, jobs, and other privileges that are reserved exclusively for Malays, be made available to them. The Malaysian government, which had warned against protests, took strong against the protestors. Police fired at the protestors and rained tear gas shells upon them.
The protests have aroused considerable public and political interest in India. With Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Karunanidhi asking the union government to interfere and help the Tamils. Now I am no foreign affairs expert but in my opinion, the Indian government should restrict itself to expressing its concern for the ethnic Indians purely because the issue is an internal issue of Malaysia and the Malaysian government should tackle it. The Indian government should respect the sovereignty of the Malaysian government and its laws however discriminatory they may be. Moreover, the Tamils are not even claiming to be NRIs (Non Resident Indians) or PIOs (Persons of Indian Origin). That they are demanding for a share in the national wealth (of Malaysia) is proof enough that they consider themselves Malaysian nationals and not Indian nationals. This case is in no was similar to that of say, Mohammed Haneef’s as in this case, the government was fighting for the rights of an NRI in Australia. Indian government should pressurize the Malaysian government but should not represent the aggrieved Tamils in their fight for equality and justice.