A full revamp of economic policy is urgently required to address the problems of the marginalised Indian community in Malaysia, said political analyst Tricia Yeoh.
She was delivering a briefing yesterday at the House of Lords in London before Sandip Verma (left), the Conservative Party’s shadow minister of education.
The three key policy areas that need to be re-examined are education, housing and employment, said Yeoh, who is director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies at the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute.
“Financial allocations for the Indian community need to be more thorough and channelled through more transparent and publicly accountable entities,” said Yeoh (right).
Also needed is a “needs-based affirmative action policy as opposed to a race-based one” and “political will to change the plight of the Indians”.
Yeoh and three other Malaysians had been invited to brief Verma on the plight of the Indian community, on behalf of the Friends of Minority Communities in Malaysia.
The briefing, held at the House of Lords, saw the attendance of some 65 people – a quarter of them Malaysians. It was held to enable British parliamentarians and others in the UK to hear first-hand about the problems of Indian Malaysians.
The other speakers were Ishani Chowdhury, the director of public policy of the Hindu American Foundation; self-exiled Malaysian human rights advocate P Waythamoorthy; and Malaysiakini editor K Kabilan.
Yeoh further said that Indian Malaysians have been excluded from the mainstream, that their needs have been mismanaged, and that they make up a misunderstood community.
There are 40,000 unregistered Indian children nationwide, she said, as a result of which they have been excluded from sitting public examinations, attending university, obtaining scholarships, or gaining access to healthcare, business and employment opportunities.
“The Indian participation in the civil sector has also dwindled in recent years. Their representation stood at 7.2 percent in 2006 and now it is 2.8 percent,” she said, also touching on government measures to resolve the community’s problems.
Push for reform
Kabilan spoke on the plight of plantation workers, stating that their condition has largely remained unchanged since independence in 1957.
“Issues such as wages, housing rights, education and healthcare are still there,” he said, drawing from Malaysiakini coverage of problems affecting Indian Malaysian plantation workers.
“In 1941 and then in 1946, reports were published stating that plantation workers wanted a better wage structure, an improvement of living quarters, and proper healthcare and education,” he said.
“Malaysiakini did a story on bonded labourers two years ago and found that they are being denied the same benefits originally sought in 1941.”
He also said that government efforts to date have not sufficiently addressed the problems.
Waythamoorthy, who is chairperson of the banned Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), spoke on issues pertaining to temple demolitions well as issues taken up by Hindraf.
He said Hindraf would continue to push for reform of government policies.
“We will continue highlighting the grievances of this community in the international arena, since the government is not keen to meet us to address the issues,” he said.
Waythamoorthy (photo, right) described Verma (photo, left) as one of the more vociferous members of the House of Lords. She has been involved in debates relating to human rights issues, unequal treatment of the disabled and of women, as well as issues related to education.
“The opportunity she has provided (us) to highlight the plight of the Indian Malaysian community will have a far-reaching effect among lawmakers in the UK and interested parties who have been closely following the issues,” he said after the briefing.
Empathy over demolitions
The Washington-based Chowdhury (right) said the Malaysian government should work with the “peaceful and productive minority community” to address legitimate grievances.
“Only then can it ensure true upliftment of its people and progress as a multi-ethnic nation,” she said.
“This is an important event that emphasises the need to sustain focus on a nation that continues to discriminate against the minority Hindu population by judicial onslaught, educational impediments and temple destruction.”
Verma expressed empathy with the community over the demolition of Hindu temples.
“It is not just (about) Hindu temples. Any place of worship of any religion should not be torn down,” she said.
She also said that it is important for everyone in the UK to speak out against such actions.
“We need to lobby our parliamentarians to do something,” she said.
She however remained non-committal to a suggestion from the floor for her to head a pressure group on the matter.
Din Merican’s Response
We continue to frame our discourse on the poor, the marginalised, mismanaged and misunderstood along communal lines. Why must this still be so, when we know that these issues transcend ethnicity? Because poverty and marginalization cut across all sections of Malaysian polity, we should be looking for solutions which are not race specific or centered. We need a systems approach to come up with programmes and in situ activities which will be a departure from our existing “divide and rule” policies which have been implemented by the UMNO-Barisan Government over the last 5o years under the label “Dasar Ekonomic Baru”(DEB).
PKR-Pakatan Rakyat advocates a different approach to socio-economic development issues, one that seeks to integrate and unite all Malaysians, including Orang Asli, Dayak, Orang Ulu, Bidayuh, Melanau, Penan, Bajau, Kadazan, Dusun, Bugis, Malays, Chinese and Indians, not just the elite UMNO Malay leaders and their cronies. It is based on needs, always ensuring that resources employed to tackle poverty, provide health care and education, and build much needed infrastructure in economically disadvantaged places throughout our country are not in the hands of corrupt politicians and their henchmen.
What purpose is served by going to the House of Lords in the United Kingdom? Let us start solving our problems at home, and expect nothing from the British and anybody else for that matter. We have the wherewithal to solve our poverty problems, only if we have the political will.—Din Merican