Greetings, Mutineers. Abhi and the gang have graciously allowed me another round of guest blogging, this time from Singapore and Malaysia. As you may recall, I am at work on a photography book about the global Indian diaspora and reported from Kenya last January.
For this junket through Southeast Asia, Iâ€™ll be joined by V.V. Ganeshananthan. Sugi is Sri Lankan, a writer, and a newly elected member of the SAJA board. Her first novel, Love Marriage, will be published by Random House in April. She, too, is working on diaspora issues, especially those affecting the Sri Lankan communities around the world.
Weâ€™ll be posting here, jointly and separately, during the first few weeks of January from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and other places in between.
Tamils from India and Sri Lanka, along with Malayalees, Punjabis, and Sindhis have been in the region for a very long time, as traders even before the colonial period. In the late 19th century, Tamils were brought over in great numbers by the British as laborers in the rubber plantations and railroads (the majority of persons of South Asian origin in Singapore and Malaysia are Tamil). Singapore even served as a penal colony for Indian convicts and as a conduit for indenture, as the city was built partially on forced labor. Singapore even had its own Sepoy Mutiny in 1915. If you have been following the recent news, people of Indian and Sri Lankan origin in Malaysia have been protesting the governmentâ€™s Malay-first policies. In late November, some 10,000 Indian protesters clashed with police in KL and the leaders of HINDRAF, an Indian rights group were detained. Malaysiaâ€™s prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, has been making the right noises about minority rights, including plans to halt the destruction of Hindu temples, but tensions remain high and the outcome unclear.
Itâ€™s a dynamic region, one of the most culturally diverse in the world. In addition to the various South Asian communities and the native Malays, there are large and important Chinese, Thai, and Indonesian populations, a big mix of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, and animists (indeed, itâ€™s often unclear where one ethnicity ends and another begins). Thereâ€™s a huge amount of money at stake. Malaysia is well integrated into Tom Friedmanâ€™s global supply chain for the manufacture of computers by American and Chinese companies. The Straits of Malacca are the most strategic choke point for the global shipping industry (piracy, terrorism). Malaysia still exports rubber and the surprisingly lucrative substance of palm oil. Plus, it makes a lot of the furniture you buy at Ikea.
South Asians have been involved in, and have benefited from, all this growth. In the next few weeks, Sugi and I will be posting about this stuff. Stay tuned.
And a personal request: weâ€™d like to meet Mutineers in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, informally or in an organized meet-up. So if you are interested, send up a flare. You can also post in the thread I started in the SM Facebook group.