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Before Malaysia’s independence, 15% of Malaysian population was Indians. After independence, most Indians left whereas some did not take Malaysian citizenship. The reduction of Indians in the country also increased in 1969 after the race riots that took place in the country. Although the main targets were Chinese, the Indian majority also became victims for supporting the opposition parties which were against the government. Following their departure, Indians population in Malaysia has notably decreased.
In 1971, following the major economic division between the Malays and the Chinese as well as the Indian immigrants, Barisan National Coalition came up with the New Economic Policy (NEP). For the next 20 years, the NEP was to be in force. Its objectives were; to eradicate poverty irrespective of race and to eliminate identification of race with the Malaysian economy. This policy was preferential to the Malays, the majority ethnic group. Through the NEP, a category called “bumiputera” was created which referred to “the sons of the soil” and were given special privileges being the original inhabitants of the land.
The Malay supremacy claims that the Malay Muslim people are the Malaysia’s masters. The minority Chinese and Indians are considered by the Malays beholden, for giving them citizenship in return for special privileges. A special position referred to as “Malaysian social contract”, has been given to the Malays in the constitution. This has been done by Malaysia’s most influential political party.
Ketuana Melayu phrase came to be disputed in 2000s. It was brought to light by the opposition party that was non-Malay. These parties were Democratic Action Party and Malaysian People’s Movement. The Chinese were also against it. This Article was interpreted to mean that only Malay was a true Malaysian hence the ethnic minority in Malaysia were not Malaysian. In 1969, there was increased emphasis that non-Muslim citizens were being discriminated in terms of government employment, school entry and government contracts and licenses.
The official language in Malaysia is Malay. In universities and state schools, the language is used as the medium of instructions. This followed the exclusion of English in 1970s and this resulted to disadvantaging the ethnic minority which included Chinese and Indians. This helped create a larger Malay professional class. This made the less fluent in Malay language more disadvantaged because they had to seek university education in other countries like the UK and Australia. This also led to their immigration to those countries where they went for further studies. Those who did not have the opportunity to study elsewhere remained uneducated (Hirschman, 2007).
The Chinese as well as the Indians has expressed their discontent with the Malaysia’s government’s language policies. This is because the exclusive use of Malay as the national language has created a barrier when it comes to employment opportunities in the civil service and other working places. They want the use of Tamil instead of Malay while teaching in public schools. Despite the government stating that Tamil could be taught in schools, it is only being taught in a few private schools in Malaysia. However, in 2006, the schools that taught Tamil were no being fully funded by the government of Malaysia.
In 1969, there were demonstrations following opposition parties’ political gains in Malaysia. The opposition parties were associated with Chinese and Indians Minority. These riots led to deaths of over 200 people of which majority were Chinese. The Malay government saw the reason for these riots as the government not having enough control of the economy. The affirmative action programme was as a result adopted by the Malaysian government. This was an economic policy designed to increase the control of the economy by the Malays.
In 2007, the Malaysian lawyers supported by Hindi Rights Action Force filed a law suit in London on behalf of Malaysia’s ethnic Indians. They claim that the British government be held liable for shipping south Indians to Malaysia and eventually leaving them helpless without a good future and violating their rights. A compensation of one million pounds is being called for by the lawyers for every Indian in Malaysia for the suffering, discrimination, humiliation and colonization. They also want the Malaysia declared a secular state rather than an Islamic state.
Affirmative Action Programmes are based on ethnic background. The constitution violates the freedom of religion because it defines Malays as Muslims and as speaking the Malay language. Several state policies advocate for conversion to Islam and heavily discourage activities related to non-Muslims. Permits to build temples and churches have been denied to Hindus and Christians. Non-Muslims have also been denied burial lands. Where a non Muslim marries a Muslim, the former is forced by the law to convert.
The National cultural policy is also discriminative in that it is based on traditions of the Islam. The Indians and the Chinese, together with the other indigenous communities cannot therefore promote their own cultural practices while in Malaysia. Tension has therefore been created in the country with the law still favoring the Muslims. Many aspects of the National Economic Policy, which expired in 1990, have not been done away with in the current Development Policy. The ethnic minority continue been discriminated against.
Ethnic discrimination in Malaysia can be seen in all sectors. Out of the five major banks in Malaysia, there is only one which is multi-racial. Malaysian oil giants directors are all Malays and the gas stations are all owned by Malays. Most contracts are also given to the Malays with the excuse that they are poor and so they should be helped. For example, the PETRONAS contractors are all Malay. In businesses, non-Malays should not be hired. In contrast, the businesses led by the Chinese are required by the law to hire at least 30% Malays, no provision for Indians. In the army, only 5% are non-Malay. Business licenses for small businesses are only being granted to the Malays and 95% of the government contracts have been going to the Muslims .
Whenever Indians try to hold peaceful demonstrations, the police have used teargas to disperse such crowds. The participants have been beaten thoroughly including women and children. Even when the Indian young girls tried to present peace offerings in form of roses to the violent police officers, they coldly refused them and continued beating the demonstrators. This police brutality is not new in that almost every year we hear of Indians who are tortured as though they were illegal aliens even when they had all the necessary legal documents and were hired by Malaysian corporations. Indian crime suspects are also shot dead even before trial unlike the Malay suspects .
Immediately after independence, work permits for non-citizens were introduced in Malaysia. This was a great blow to the Indians who were yet to acquire Malaysian citizenship. The Indians were also disadvantaged when the government brought yet another policy where the Malays wee to have the greatest share of the public sector. Both the Chinese and the Indians also being the minority have little control over the country’s politics and cannot make any significant contribution to the Malaysian economy.
In 2007, the Indians in Malaysia held the largest protests ever witnessed in the country. They were protesting against ethnicity that has over time disadvantaged them. The street pretest was anti-government which had put in place certain policies unfair to the non-Muslims. They claimed that the government’s policy on affirmative action was favoring the majority Malays yet for them they were left marginalized. This protest happened ahead of the general elections with the hope that they would be considered and may be the policy would be revised to at least consider the minority ethnic groups in the country.
The Malay, Indian and the Chinese elites who negotiated independence have been bargaining on the national culture of Malaysia since they all have different cultures. However, the government granted the Malays special rights on land ownership, place of the rulers Islam and the language. At one time some Chinese wanted greater political power and in fact the riots that followed left hundreds dead. The parliament was also suspended for two years which made the government place tight rules on political debates on the culture of Malaysia. The government has indeed tried to make Malaysian culture the overall culture of the land but still the issue is yet to be settled.
The issue of ethnicity can also be seen on the March 2000 incident which happened in Kaula Lumpur resulting to five deaths of Indians leaving thirty others wounded. A certain Malay family was celebrating a wedding and they had some differences with an Indian family that was holding a funeral ceremony. This minor fracas led to a chain of similar incidents and two hundred people were arrest in connection to this. The opposition was blamed by the government for making political capital through ethnic clashes for a long time. However, some opposition political leaders viewed the clashes as a result of the poor conditions of living found in the villages other than racial differences. There was also another serious conflict between the Malays and the Indians when the Penang Hindu shrine was relocated.