The third largest ethnic group in Malaysia after the Chinese
and the Malays are the Malaysian Indians. Despite the fact that the Indians
constitute about 8% of the country’s population of 22 million they own less
than 2% of its national wealth.
The mass Indian (South Indian) immigration can be traced
back to the early 20th century when the British brought them to
meet the labour force requirements in the colonial public services and in
private plantations. While the bulk of the Tamils were employed in the
plantations, the Sri Lankan Tamils and Malaysians were in supervisory or
clerical positions. Of the North Indians, the Punjabis were in the police
force, while the Gujaratis and Sindhis were in the business (mostly
textiles). Despite the mass exodus of South Indians back to India after
independence and after the racial riots of May 1969, the Tamils (South
Indians) constitute about 80% of the total Indian community.
The Indians themselves are to some extent responsible
for their present unenviable and ignominious status, and the policies of the
Malaysian Government since independence had not been helpful either.
Ignorance born out of poverty in the plantations resulted in many of them
not getting citizenship which was offered in 1957 when Malaysia became
independent. This prevented them from getting jobs.
A major setback for the Indian labour force was the
steady closure of the rubber plantations giving way to tea and oil palm
plantations. Their numbers started dwindling and they had competition from
the illegal Indonesian immigrants. Unlike the Chinese who lay great
emphasis on education, it was not given due importance by the Indian working
The Tamil schools in the estates were often mere apologies and
offered no opportunity for progress in higher education. The undue
importance on Tamil education has also weakened the Indian community in
competing with the indigenous Malays and the Chinese. One of the major
reasons for the low percentage of Indian origin students in the tertiary
institutions in the country is the lack of merit and as a result, even the
quotas set for the Indians remain unutilised.
One wonders whether the Indians belong
to the third major race or to a third class race in the country. We are
not aware what recommendations the High Power Committee of Government of
India ( really high powered with extensive tours all over the world, five
star hotels and lavish receptions etc) have made for the poorer sections of
the Indian community abroad. Acceptance of the dual citizenship for a
selected class is not going to be helpful either for this hapless lot.
|Despite their economic backwardness, the Indians
were a peace loving people and were not involved in any racial riots
either in May 1969 or later except for a few incidents of clashes on
account of religious sentiments. However in March 2001, the ethnic
clashes between Indians and Malays in a village in the outskirts of
Kuala Lumpur, brought into focus the plight of the Indian community
The incident has since been forgotten on the assumption that the
clashes resulted on account of poor living conditions in the
villages than the racial differences. There has been no
introspection of this incident by the Government or by the Malaysian
Indian Congress (MIC), the leading political party of the Indians.
The MIC, a constituent of the coalition government at the center
since independence does not have much political clout and has not
been able to do anything substantial to improve the lot of the
As of now the problems faced by the
Malaysian Indians are not being attended to by the Malaysian
Government nor does the community have the economic or political
clout to demand their redressal.