Malaysia’s Indian Challenger

sivanesancover.jpgAt the town of Mentakab, about a ninety-minute drive east of Kuala Lumpur, A. Sivanesan is scheduled to speak at a temple around noon. The car arrives late, so the crowd is ready, coming out to greet him like a visiting celebrity, a role he plays with ease. Stepping out of his black Mercedes sedan, with his designer eye wear, salt-and-pepper hair, and embroidered kurta over slacks, Sivanesan is the picture of urban sophistication. There is the hush of deference and respect when he moves among the crowd, shaking hands and making his way to the center of a pavilion where some 400 people are sitting on the concrete floor. The men are one side, women on the other. The children are dutifully quiet, and toddlers are passed from lap to lap. As he speaks in Tamil for about an hour, Sivanesan’s tone is alternately humorous and determined, his manner is engaging, and the audience is rapt.

A prominent labor lawyer in private practice, Sivanesan spends his weekends driving the length and breadth of peninsular Malaysia, speaking to groups of Indians about the events of November 25th, 2007 and collecting money for the families of the HINDRAF Five. On that date, HINDRAF (the Hindu Rights Action Force) organized a rally in Kuala Lumpur, drawing tens of thousands of Indians for a peaceful protest in defiance of the Malaysian government, which had denied the request for a permit. Riot police deployed tear gas and water cannons shooting skin-burning chemicals. Many were injured in the melee. Soon thereafter, the five men who are HINDRAF’s leaders were detained indefinitely without trial under the Internal Security Act. They remain in prison.

After the crackdown, the two-million-plus Malaysian Indian community (which is predominantly Tamil) and minorities everywhere were shocked. So was the Malaysian government, a coalition of ethnic parties called the National Front (known by its Malay initials as the BN). One key pillar of the BN is the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). The government had not expected tens of thousands of Indians to march on Kuala Lumpur.Sivanesan says that surveys used to show that 87% of Indians supported the ruling coalition. Now, that figure has dropped to 35-40%: “Why? We are left out of the mainstream of development, we are marginalized, and we are not given opportunities in the government sector or universities.”

November 25th and HINDRAF, which began as an organization promoting Indian culture and religious education, have become shorthands for dissent, dissatisfaction, and — in the mind of the government — sedition.

Sivanesan is at the center of it. His own prominence as a lawyer and active member of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), Malaysia’s largest secular opposition party, have so far insulated him from the government’s interference. His co-counsel for the HINDRAF Five is Karpal Singh, lawyer and chairman of the DAP. Their clients are lawyers. All are well respected, and the fact that these men — professionals, educated, elite — are risking their lives and livelihoods on behalf of Malaysia’s Indian community is helping to mobilize support among people who have considerably less to lose. Though there are some high-profile exceptions, most of Malaysia’s Indian population is working-class, with few opportunities for advancement.

They are angry and energized like never before. Despite their entrenched second-class status in Malaysia and their failure to gain a foothold in the surging economy, most Indians would probably not have challenged the status quo. But when property developers began destroying Hindu temples, often historical but unused, the Indian community began to protest. The November 25th rally was the largest of a series of agitations, provoked by the temple destruction and the failure of Samy Vellu, president of the MIC, to halt the practice. The MIC was no longer seen as an effective Indian voice in Malaysia’s government. The indefinite detention of the HINDRAF Five was the final straw.

Toward the end of Sivanesan’s speech in Mentakab, men circulate among the crowd, collecting donations to support the families of the HINDRAF Five. When the money is counted, the crowd of about 400 have contributed 7,000 ringgits (about $2,177), which is not a negligible sum in rural Malaysia. “These are average wage earners. Why are they coming forward now?” Sivanesan says later. “They feel this is the only opportunity they have to tell the government enough is enough — give us what is rightly owed to us.”

Sivanesan’s barnstorming tours of Malaysia recall those of another British-schooled lawyer who fought for the rights of a minority population in a former colony. Mohandas Gandhi’s work in South Africa was about securing for Indians what was rightfully theirs under the law. Sivanesan, and those who have rallied behind HINDRAF, are only asking for their due. “We’ve got the quota system in Malaysia. It’s a policy matter that Indians should be given ten percent in all sectors,” he says.

Elections are scheduled for March 8th, and while there is little chance that the BN will be ousted from power, there are hopes that the opposition parties will pick up seats, taking them away from the Malaysian Indian Congress, which has always counted on Indians as its vote bank. Sivanesan himself is contesting a seat for the DAP in Perak state, which will pit him against MIC vice president S. Veerasingam.

MIC president Samy Vellu recently issued an ominous statement, saying, “Don’t be emotional when casting your votes or you will destroy the community with your own hands.”

Sivanesan, too, knows the stakes are extremely high in the next election. “If the government is going to garner the same support, then the Indians in this country are finished.”

All photos by Preston Merchant

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39 thoughts on “Malaysia’s Indian Challenger

  1. A personal note: This is my last posting of Malaysia material. Thanks again to Abhi and crew for the remote access to the bunker and to everyone for reading and commenting.

    I would also like to say that the recent events in Malaysia, starting in the fall of 2007 and reaching a head on Nov. 25, are significant moments in the history of the global Indian diaspora and are well worthy of your attention (I posted a roundup of news and background information here on the SAJA Forum). Everyone is familiar with Gandhi’s time in South Africa, and many Sepia Mutiny readers have family experience of the Idi Amin purges in Uganda in 1970s — and resulting family trajectories out of East Africa to Britain, Canada, and the US. What’s going on in Malaysia right now is no less significant. The status of Indians, who are Malaysian citizens with roots going back four generations or more, while legally secure is tenuous in practice. What happens in the short and long terms are open questions, and while the government has made some conciliatory gestures it still rolls out the riot police when Indians gather in public. But there are hopeful signs. Certainly a stronger engagement in the political process is a good thing, and Indians are not the only ones calling for change. There is a very broad spectrum of opinion in Malaysia (even among the Indian community), and no one wants to see Indians or anyone else tear-gassed in streets of Kuala Lumpur.

    The Malaysian situation is complicated by the fact that the Indian government does not have a clear position on these issues. The price of cooking oil in Mumbai is partly dependent on the supply of Malaysian palm oil, and the two countries are trying to sign various trade and anti-terrorism agreements. Hindu groups and politicians from Tamil Nadu have expressed their concerns, but New Delhi has been quiet. Also, with few Malaysian Indians living in other countries (compared to Indians, say, from Kenya, Guyana, or Fiji living elsewhere), there are fewer stakeholders in the story and therefore less media attention. Malaysian Indians are also generally less wealthy than their counterparts in other countries, which also results in less coverage. Keep your eye on what’s happening in Malaysia.

  2. I recently heard from an Indian leader in America that, despite Indian Government choosing to sit out of this situation, Indians have managed to persuade US and & UK government to apply some pressure on Malaysian government. As a result, Malaysian government has given in to some demands of Malaysian Hindus by agreeing to not destroy temples.

  3. Let’s hope Sivanesan doesn’t goad Tamil youth to strap bombs onto themselves and blow themselves up in the name of “liberation” like in Srilanka.

  4. Preston and Sugi, thank you very much for a great series of posts, especially on the political situation in Malaysia. Your posts have definitely made me aware of a situation I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to otherwise, and also motivated me to learn more about it.

    It looks like the Indians are extremely poorly served by their current representation in the system, hopefully this will change as more active political voices emerge and force the Malaysian government to pay attention.

  5. 3 · Mishra said

    Let’s hope Sivanesan doesn’t goad Tamil youth to strap bombs onto themselves and blow themselves up in the name of “liberation” like in Srilanka.

    I hope you realize that the military conflict in Sri Lanka only began after 30 years of peaceful efforts to resolve the ethnic issue failed. I don’t support the violence, but it’s unnecessarily glib to relate Prabhakaran to Sivanesan. If anything, he’s more like Chelvanayagam.

    Thanks for the informative post, Preston.

  6. You’re right retorts, it is probably an unnecessary glib as most of the Tamils in Malaysia are of Indian origin and not Ceylon Tamils. Just like the Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka, Malaysian Tamils are not given to violence, suicide bombings, child soldiers and terrorism. That is why many people support them.

  7. I am malaysian indian and north indian. a minority within the minority. I will say that whilst preston has given a gleam into the situation. The bulk of indians in this country will NOT rock the boat. This is a safe country. Yes, politically and otherwise we are disenfranchised but i would argue that the main reason lies in poor ;eadership and massive schisms amongst and within the indian comminity here. Sikhs refer to themselves as Punjabis, to be differed from Indians. Likewise, with the smatterings of Gujaratis and sindhis. We are our own worst enemy.

  8. God bless you for your courage, Sivanesan. Malaysia needs more leaders like him (Indian and Chinese) to speak out against their permanent second class status.

  9. Preston, thanks for a great post. I can’t get behind this, though:

    We’ve got the quota system in Malaysia. It’s a policy matter that Indians should be given ten percent in all sectors,” he says.

    It’s terribly disappointing that even the country’s most outspoken activists refuse to publicly question the racial quota system. I’m Malaysian (and Indian) and I know there are others who feel, as I do, that government aid/subsidies/discounts should be distributed on the basis of need, not ethnicity (don’t even start on comparisons to affirmative action — I’ve explained in previous threads why that is bullshit and will do so again but only if you make me). Which is why I can’t even get behind HINDRAF’s platform because it’s just another race-based platform. Someone needs a platform that transcends race — the last time that happened was in 1947, ten years before independence, and the British refused to consider it. They chose instead to engage with what became UMNO (the Malay arm of the BNP), and thanks to that we have what we have today.

  10. 7 · Mishra said

    You’re right retorts, it is probably an unnecessary glib as most of the Tamils in Malaysia are of Indian origin and not Ceylon Tamils. Just like the Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka, Malaysian Tamils are not given to violence, suicide bombings, child soldiers and terrorism. That is why many people support them.

    just a note of caution–it seems here that you are implying that all Sri-Lankan Tamils who do not trace their lineage through the migration from India in the 1800s are given to the bad things you identify (as opposed to the “Indian Tamils” in Sri Lanka–how Indian can they be with such a considerable stay in Sri Lanka?).

  11. 11 · Nayagan said

    just a note of caution–it seems here that you are implying that all Sri-Lankan Tamils who do not trace their lineage through the migration from India in the 1800s are given to the bad things you identify

    I see your caution and raise you a straight-up warning. Anyone who is going to respond to a sensitive post with such an insensitive attempt to be edgy or whatever (as Mishra did) deserves to be ignored. No commenting history means no context. Feed with caution.

  12. 13 · Nayagan said

    it was more because I felt Retort’s comment was being characterized wrongly but note taken.

    This is perfect. You can be the good cop, I can be the cynical, snappish intern (who was warning Mishra, not you!).

  13. dear brownelf. Whilst I completely agree with your need for a race-less platform, this will not exist in malaysia. We do not have a solid national identity. We did NOT fight for our independence, we waited for the movement to float over from West and we were granted independence. There was no creation of the Self or an Other – and there was no blood spilt, there was no creation of a national consciousness- there was no blood, soul or spirit and there never will be. Also, as I’m sure you know, the NEP has all but destroyed any true equality within the nature, primarily caused by the seperation of the education system alomg vernacular language schools. There is no unity in this country. Th multicultural malaysian experiment is a failure – because it lacks any true integrity. Consequently, in order to keep living in the farce that is this country…maybe all the disebfranchised Indians can do is to ask for a quota. What else are they to do – also I think it should be recognised that Hindraf only represents the Tamilians – yes the are the majority but there is no unity within the Indian community and I even dare say that the Tamils are very removed from the greater historical heritage, that of the whole of Indian and not just Tamil Nadu. Also, please stop blaming the British for divide and rule policies being the cause of Malaysia’s problems. It perpetuates the post-colonial state.

  14. Dear Priya:

    Also, please stop blaming the British for divide and rule policies being the cause of Malaysia’s problems. It perpetuates the post-colonial state.

    And yada yada yada. I’ve heard it all before, Priya, and I know what you’re trying to say, but 1) I’m not blaming the British entirely; I’m merely saying that they were at the root of the problem; and 2) My argument is based on fact: in 1947 there was a left-wing coalition that drafted a multiracial constitution for Malaya in which all ethnicities would have equal rights and be considered “Malayan.” There was widespread support for this constitution. But the British government refused to consider it; they chose instead to curry favour with the ruling Malay elite. If you’re interested, go watch the film Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka by Fahmi Reza. It’s about the 1947 constitution and hartal, and it’s available on the internet.

    I’m the last person on earth to whom you need to preach about perpetuating postcolonial mentalities, please. I know these arguments backwards and forwards and with my eyes closed. But the fact is that the British can and should be blamed for handing the country to UMNO on a silver platter. What has happened in the 50 years since — the widespread apathy, the fact that Malaysians have done almost nothing to challenge the status quo — is another matter. But “don’t blame the British” has become just another easy slogan to bandy about, and people seem to think it exonerates us from having to consider our history at all. How can you think about the present if you remove it from the historical context? We can’t just pretend the British were never there, or that they played no role whatsoever; that’s not the answer. We have to find a way to think about their role, not just pretend it didn’t exist.

    I’m not even going to deal with rest of your er, arguments — Oh wouldn’t a race-free platform be lovely, but no, we could never have one here, not in Malaysia, there’s no unity here and we will never be able to do anything to change it so we are doomed to languish in this state forever and ever — because this kind of pessimism just about gives me instant constipation. If you rule out positive change, of course it’ll never happen. At least I know that a significant minority of Malaysians feels otherwise, unlike you — the trick is getting them to say so publicly.

  15. yes the are the majority but there is no unity within the Indian community and I even dare say that the Tamils are very removed from the greater historical heritage, that of the whole of Indian and not just Tamil Nadu.

    Can you explain this??.

  16. Ponniyin: Even though I disagree with Priya’s main argument, I think I understand what she was trying to say with that statement, so I’ll take the liberty of explaining, and she can correct me if necessary. I think what she means is that Indians in Malaysia have been so far removed, for so long, from the political situation in India, that a sense of “greater” Indian identity never developed. Tamils are the majority, and the separate communities — Tamil, Punjabi, Malayalee, Gujarati — have so far not been able to come together for the greater “Indian” cause. This may be (perhaps) because that greater Indian identity developed after our grandparents and grandparents left India — so while Indians in India have forged a national identity in 50 years, we’ve been mired in a kind of benign sectarianism. Nothing unites us. The definition of “Indian” in Malaysia is generally narrow — it means Tamil, and sometimes Malayalee — but all other communities define themselves otherwise. As she points out in her comment, Punjabis will say “I’m Punjabi,” not “I’m Indian.”

    But that’s neither here nor there — I completely disagree with her that the situation could never change, or that the above alone is a reason to dismiss the possibility of a non-racial political platform.

  17. Can you explain this??.

    ponniyin: I apologise for terrible grammar. I was in a hurry. What I meant to say is that it would seem that a great number of Malaysian Indians are removed from the rest of India and its realities, their extension to the once-homeland only extends as far as Tamil Nadu. However, i would also argue that this can be seen in all the other ‘types’ of Indians also in Malaysia. The Malaysian-Indian diaspora is very myopic in comparison to my observations of the ‘rest of the world’ Indian diaspora. This is my point and there is no representation of Indians in politics – forget visibility. Forget politics, we are also completely invisible in the media – save for stupid stereotypes.

    brownelf: I do see how it might be difficult for a high and mighty type to deal with my “..er, arguments” and so I think it is probably best that you deal with your constipation. Also, please try to limit your self-righteousness to your personal circumvent. I don’t think that a public forum debate is the place for it. Also, really… breaking into seinfeld-isms will NOT help your street cred. :)

    I still hold steadfast to the failure of the multi-cultural experiment in Malaysia being caused by the lack of any consolidated nationalism. There was never an intellectual elite in this country, and if we have any now – they are ensconced in far away countries safe from the oft and secretly practiced draconian security measures presesnt in the country. As for benign sectarianism – the Indian community has been politically mobilised – though it is again not reprsentative of all Indians – most upwardly mobile, educated and metropolitan indians seem to be a little embarassed by the whole issue. Still, the Indians have been empowered and that is some thing to consider for a race that has long been taken for granted by the rest of the country. I think though that any change in this country if the Indians were to put forth a strong consolidated face. And then maybe, the Malaysian Indian Congress might live up to the tenets that its namesake holds steadfast to. And this is primarily becasue…quite honestly the idea of a secular, representative Malaysia cannot be created in the state we are in. There is no historical legacy and so any attempt to change and unite around nation as opposed to race – may intially succeed but will eventually crumble. Fatalist, sure…and I am sad about it.

  18. What I meant to say is that it would seem that a great number of Malaysian Indians are removed from the rest of India and its realities, their extension to the once-homeland only extends as far as Tamil Nadu. However, i would also argue that this can be seen in all the other ‘types’ of Indians also in Malaysia. The Malaysian-Indian diaspora is very myopic in comparison to my observations of the ‘rest of the world’ Indian diaspora. This is my point and there is no representation of Indians in politics – forget visibility. Forget politics, we are also completely invisible in the media – save for stupid stereotypes.

    Thanks for your response. Actually I’d not call that behavior as “myopic”. It is true that for a majority of Malaysian Indians (who are Tamils) their natural homeland is “Tamilnadu”. If you read Naipaul, he claims that he is more comfortable with the North Indian (U.P) Brahmin lifestyle because that is his “natural” homeland.

  19. If you read Naipaul, he claims that he is more comfortable with the North Indian (U.P) Brahmin lifestyle because that is his “natural” homeland. – Ponniyin.

    I was just voicing a grouse, I suppose. Myopic i think is thr right word because it fits in with the blinkered, limited Indian consciousness. Malaysian Tamils refer to their homeland as “Thamizh” – please indulge my spelling if its wrong. In contrast, Malaysian Punjabis refer to it as the generic, “desh” or perhaps if Pakistani as “watan”…the latters are not as exclusivist as a direct reference to the Indian state of their orgins. Of course, in and amongst the North Indian expatriates in other countries…India is often referred to as ‘bharat’…as it is reffered to in India. Also…I am not exactly sure what the link to Naipaul is in the sense, he was born in the Islands – trinidad I think – but his family was from Benares or around there – I think. In this way, his link still remains to the wider India…not just his brahminacal gangetic existence? I’d appreciate it if you’d calrify your meaning, should you choose to. However, I’ll try very hard to hold back for my extreme dislike for Sir Vidyadhar!

  20. Priya: I’m sorry if I offended you, but no postcolonial scholar would support the argument that we simply shouldn’t talk about the British role. It’s one of my pet peeves that postcolonial theory has been dumbed down so much that people now think it boils down to never blaming the British/Dutch/[insert relevant coloniser] for anything.

    As for your insistence that there was never an organic, unifying nationalist movement in Malaysia: please, please, PLEASE go and watch Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka. The belief that we never had a “consolidated nationalism,” as you put it, in Malaysia, is a blatant lie first propagated by the British (yes, I’m sorry, but it was) and then perpetuated by Barisan Nasional. There was a very strong multiracial nationalist movement in Malaya. All of its leaders were arrested by the British under the guise of “fighting Communism.” You remember the Malayan “Emergency” you might have studied in secondary school, in its pat “The Good People Vs. The Red Scare” formulation? Yes, well, what they didn’t tell you about those “Communists” was that a lot of them were left-wing nationalists who had fought for a constitution that would accord equal rights to all Malayans regardless of origins. And guess what: almost half these “Communists” were Malays. They didn’t tell you that either, did they? They want us to keep believing that the Communist movement consisted entirely of slant-eyed FOBs from China as depicted in the British propaganda pamphlets. But Malays were there, too, and Indian labour leaders, all fighting for an independent, multiracial Malaya. It wasn’t UMNO who fought for independence from the British. The idea came from the Malayan left, and UMNO was happy to kiss British arses — sorry if you think this is another attempt at “street cred,” but I have so little street cred that only makes me laugh more. The British sided with UMNO precisely because UMNO was happy to kiss their arses and let them continue pillaging the country for another ten years — it was a completely symbiotic relationship. The British got what they wanted, and in the end UMNO did too — a narrow, racist constitution that favoured Malays.

    That’s my hasty summary, just in case you persist in not watching the film, but really, if you have any time at all, you should watch it. Like I said, it’s on the internet, and for any non-Malaysians interested, it’s fully subtitled.

  21. I was just voicing a grouse, I suppose. Myopic i think is thr right word because it fits in with the blinkered, limited Indian consciousness.

    First, if you extrapolate it further, even identifying as Indian is “myopic”, why not a “south asian” as many would support here, and better still why not identify as a “human being”.

    Also…I am not exactly sure what the link to Naipaul is in the sense, he was born in the Islands – trinidad I think – but his family was from Benares or around there – I think. In this way, his link still remains to the wider India…not just his brahminacal gangetic existence?

    Naipaul’s example was to show the analogy. I think he has claimed either in one of his trilogy on India that he was more comfortable with the North Indian rituals / culture that he grew up with. It is the same case with the Tamils.

    The “pan Indian” consciousness is a project in the making. The early migrants (like the Malaysian Tamils / Trinidad Indians / Fiji Indians ) were not involved in the “pan Indian” project. At best when they migrated they were part of one global British empire and it is natural that they treat the lands where they come from as their “homeland”. Anyways this is sidetracking the main “discrimination” issue.

  22. One of the most interesting things about Malaysia is that its Indian communities are not united. While Tamils are by far the largest in number and are the default setting for the notion of “Indian” in Malaysia, even they are not united in their political ideas nor in their thoughts on how to solve the problems. Other Indian groups in Malaysia–Punjabis, Sindhis, North Indian Muslims from various places–did not come over as rubber estate laborers under the British, so there are caste, class, and language divisions that affect political viewpoints. The MIC still has considerable support among Tamils, and HINDRAF is an upstart in all this. Note that HINDRAF is not a political party and does not have membership rolls. It’s an activist organization and a rallying cry. But there are plenty of Tamils who disagree with its positions and its tactics (and, on the other side, there are plenty of Chinese and Muslims who agree with them).

    While Malaysian Tamils feel a natural connection to Tamil Nadu (food, movies, MGR), they have been Malaysian citizens for a long time and really don’t feel a connection to Malaysian Punjabis, for example, just because they are from India. Their Malaysian experiences have been considerably different, so a notion of pan-Indian solidarity in Malaysia would be very hard to propagate.

    I really think this is a good thing. Most Indians in Malaysia are Malaysians; they have stake in the future of Malaysia, not India. And the political solutions of the future will not be about placating the Tamil community but about expanding economic and educational opportunities for all minorities.

  23. Preston, thank you! This:

    Their Malaysian experiences have been considerably different, so a notion of pan-Indian solidarity in Malaysia would be very hard to propagate. I really think this is a good thing. Most Indians in Malaysia are Malaysians; they have stake in the future of Malaysia, not India. And the political solutions of the future will not be about placating the Tamil community but about expanding economic and educational opportunities for all minorities.

    ….is what I’ve been trying to say the whole time. We don’t need a pan-Indian identity in Malaysia; in fact, a strong pan-Indian identity would simply be detrimental to the cause of national identity, the way the pan-Malay/pan-Muslim identities have been. What we need is a Malaysian identity. It’s not an impossible dream; the things standing in its way are already crumbling. We also need a race-blind economic policy, and I don’t think that’s impossible either.

  24. brownelf. I certainly will watch the film. As for my secondary school – I was in boarding in the land of the coloniser and cosequently am very postcolonial(babu-like, even) – chip et.aL. So no- I was not exposed to the seemingly Manichean history of Malaysia. however, if what you say is true then perhaps a united Malaysia is possible – but there is a lost generation in between tha seperated by vernaculars and UMNO/Mahathir’s polices are more disassociated from each other. In my little while in the Malaysian workforce – this dissaciation slaps me in the face except when a festival comes around or a Petronas ad is screened. I will say that as a member of the South Asian (thank you ponniyin – but again that sort of association can only be dependent on one’s politics)diaspora – of course freshly returned from the West -and parts of the Rest – I do feel most disconnected here and I do feel that even if the British created the schisms that we have today, it would be a herculean effort to engender a nationalist or even patriotic identity. Case in point – the number of Malaysians that choose not to come back and remain happy as they chow down peanut butter satay sauce at ‘open houses’ held by our men in other countries. Incidentally, as for street cred, it was a reference to your use of Yadda yadda…I suppose seeing as to your missing that – it is testament to your lack – I laugh with you. :)

    Preston – I see your point and agree with you. A pan-Indian identity would be hard to propagate but it would be wonderful if it could happen.

    Ponniyin – I do not think that the pan-Indian consciousness is something in the making. Akhand Bharat- in the glory day of the Hindu Empire even included parts of Southeast Asia. (Of which Kadabaram under the Chola Dynasty was to later become Kedah.) And its been part of the Indian cultural mainstay in hindi/urdu/sanskrit lierature from Bankim Chattopadhyay to Tilak and Iqbal. I cannot speak for Tamil literature because I do not know – any ideas? As for treating the lands that they came from as their homelands – would you be suggesting then that these early migrants knew only of Tamil Nadu and not a wider India?

  25. I was curious about an article linked from Preston’s informative SAJA Forum post. The last line says:

    “You can push us, you can cheat us, you can discriminate against us,” said Mr. [Charles] Santiago, who is of Indian heritage, “but you can’t tell us that we’re not Hindus after we are dead.”

    Is Charles Santiago a Hindu, or is “Hindu” just a catchall for Indian or non-Muslim in Malaysian lingo? On a related note, does the Hindraf (which the Economist describes as a radical group) represent all Indians, just Indian Hindus, or just Tamils?

  26. Ponniyin – I do not think that the pan-Indian consciousness is something in the making. Akhand Bharat- in the glory day of the Hindu Empire even included parts of Southeast Asia. (Of which Kadabaram under the Chola Dynasty was to later become Kedah.) And its been part of the Indian cultural mainstay in hindi/urdu/sanskrit lierature from Bankim Chattopadhyay to Tilak and Iqbal. I cannot speak for Tamil literature because I do not know – any ideas? As for treating the lands that they came from as their homelands – would you be suggesting then that these early migrants knew only of Tamil Nadu and not a wider India?

    Priya,

    :-) I think you are taken in by the propaganda. There was no Akhand Bharat or a glorious Hindu empire all over what constitutes India today. Cholas are sea faring people and waged wars and ruled over parts of South east Asia / Sri lanka for some time. And they always had tough fights with other neighboring rulers. And their borders stopped south of the Vindhyas.

    That’s right, I don’t think the early migrants would have bought the idea of India as the recent migrants do.

  27. There was no Akhand Bharat or a glorious Hindu empire all over what constitutes India today. Cholas are sea faring people and waged wars and ruled over parts of South east Asia / Sri lanka for some time. And they always had tough fights with other neighboring rulers. And their borders stopped south of the Vindhyas – Ponniyin

    Do you have proof of this? Again – I do not see your point when linked to mine. And you did not answer my question about the nationalist ideology in Tamil literature? As for my falling for the propaganda – I suppose being patronising is the easiest way to disregard a sentiment not shared by oneself, eh? However, it is is most unbecoming in a public forum. :)

    Rahul- I am truly not too sure. Charles Santiago’s statement does seem a little out of whack. But having read some of Hindraf’s manifestos’s…etc..grammar and sentence structure is a little faulty. I think it was a direct reference to the legal case that he was speaking of but it is strange that he used ‘we’ despite his seemingly Catholic name. Genreally, I think that in malaysia, the use of the word Indian is a reference to Tamils of Hindu origins. As for representation- I think it doesnt’t claim to reperesent only Hindu ideas ( though destructions of small temples or indeed Hindu shrines ) served as a catalyst for the movement but it now seems to have extended its wings ideologically – we do have an election around the corner. However, I think that its reach does not exrtend to all Malaysian-Indians, but primarily to Hindu, tamil and working class ones. Of course, all this confusion over the use of terminology has arised out of the myopic definition and usage of the term Indian or India in the Malaysian context. And it is one that I still see as being at the root of the problems faced by a great many Malaysian-Indians.

  28. So, what is the perception of the election results in Malaysia? This article from the Economist seems to indicate that while the ruling party didn’t sweep the polls, it still did reasonably well by absolute standards. It also seems like Samy Vellu lost, which would probably be good news for Hindraf and DAP. But is the loss large enough for things to change substantially for the ethnic minorities?

  29. I think the recent election results in Malaysia show the kind of collective political clout indian Malaysians can have when they put their minds to it. Not only did Samy Vellu lose his seat but almost all the top leadership of MIC lost. But I think what is also most heartening is that Malaysians voted across racial lines this time around because they no longer believe in racial politics. Look at Manoharan (one of the imprisoned HINDRAF leaders) who won in a mostly-Chinese majority neighbourhood. Also, Malaysians are sick of the corruption, as manifested in them voting in 4 people who were involved in exposing the Lingam video case: the guy who shot the video that indicted lawyer Lingam; the lawyer that represented Lingam’s brother (who testified against him), and two more who were witnesses but who weren’t called. All stood for elections under Anwar Ibrahim’s multiracial PKR (People’s Justice PArty). Many of the new people who won seats in the Opposition have no political experience but are people who are perceived to have integrity. The results register protest votes but are also very much about the desire for transparency, accountability and better efficient and clean management. Lastly, the results are surprisingly amazing when you realise how mch of a media blackout there was in Malaysia when it comes to coverage of the opposition’s campaign, and despite the threats from the ruling government about racial violence if voters vote against them. I think there is a kind of quiet courage from those who voted for the Opposition and as a MAlaysian, I’m thankful for that.

    On another issue altogether, can anyone help me with this question: I’m doing research on tamil Muslim eateries in MAlaysia and Tamil Muslim identity. I notice that in the material I’ve read so far, everyone seems to say that the kingdom of “Kalinga” is a south Indian one. (Since Malaysian Indians, the majority of whom are Tamil Muslims, are known as Keling –now a pejorative term). But my random search on Wikipedia notes that this ancient kingdom was in the north. There seems to be a mistake somewhere along the line?

  30. Yes, the Malaysian elections were historic. The BN’s comfortable 2/3 majority (necessary for changing the constitution, which has happened often) was reduced to a simple majority. The opposition parties did really well, especially the DAP, which has attracted a lot of Indians. The MIC was gutted, and Samy Vellu lost his seat after three decades in government. Sivanesan won his seat in Perak.

    It’s important to point out that the election wasn’t narrowly about the treatment of Indians in Malaysia but a referendum on the rights of all minorities, government corruption, cronyism, and the status quo. Political participation expanded significantly after Nov. 25th, and the incumbents were dealt a hard blow.

    The BN will continue to rule but with a reduced mandate and a much more vital (and larger) opposition.

  31. Malaysia is a multi-ethnic country,with different races.Mr sivanesan, in wanting to see the enhancement of tamil minority is truly commendable.I was wondering if leaders like Datuk samy velu had done their role’s effectively,there would not be no hindraf or sivanesan.I do agree there is lot more to do,for indian communitys.

    But I must add a word of caution,some of them had indicating “LTTE” (liberation of Tamil Tigers of Elam) style approach) to spearhead the indian cause.I must say it’s destiny to fail.First the tamil’s in sri lanka are against sinhalese who might be majority in sri lanka,but they are minority when you compare to the 60 million stong tamil population in tamil nadu, right at the door-stop.The terrain,which sri lankan tamil’s had settled are mostly dense under-growth,the narrow water-channels between tamil nadu and sri lanka make’s logistic support possible.If u want to wage war with muslims in malaysia in the same format as sri lanka tamil did to sinhalese,it will turn out to be islamic jihad,which might drag largest muslim nation indonesia and other muslim elements within the equation,which will lead to massive carnage.Many had pointed out US and UK would pressure malaysia for the beneift of tamil interest.I doubt this would materliase as malaysia and indonesia are stragedic partner in their “war in terror”,at the most they will release some statement on human right’s.Lastly,economic sancation It would not have much impact,if it materliase.why? after 9/11 attack’s,many oil-rich arab nations are feeling very uneasy about placing their billions in america or westeren nations,they have channeled most of it to malaysia via Islamic banking.It had become global hub for islamic banking.

    I hope as,indians we should emphaise the indian people to get a better education,even if u are not so educated,you can cross the causeway and find a job with good salary(the conversion rate from singapore currency to malaysian ringgat).I hope Mr sivanesan will work with proper channel’s to address the indian problem,as the previous leadership had choosen to have one on one coalition with the govt,I hope he will provide new approach in his leadership which include’s working with all relevant body’s to solve the indian problems and stamping out corruption.May god be with u

  32. it’s true that the “Kalinga empire” which stretched from andra pradesh from the south,orissa in the eastern indian.Their religion practised was jainsim,though the were some tamil kingdom which was vassals to the kalinga kingdom.There are also evidence to suggest that trade was practised between java,thailand,malaysia,bali and the “kalinga” kingdom.some of the king’s settled down in south-east asia intermarried with the locals.I also find it puzzling the reference to tamil’s as “kilangs”.Kalinga was not a tamil kingdom,unlike the chola’s.The laugauge used was “brahmi” not tamil.Their origin’s are traced before 200 B.C.

  33. Hi everyone, We should be worrying about the present situation (for Indians) instead of arguing about the past. We should think as Indians and not as Tamilian, Gujirati, Panjabi and so on. I think we should contribute for the developement of the Indian community as collective and not as mentioned above. The Indians should inform thier children what’s really going on and let them take active part in politic, too. Most of the younger generations don’t really know what’s really going on. Maybe the political leaders should not only give speeches amoung the grownup generations but also younger ones (minors) too. Malaysia should be devided into quota system. One should be given everywhere a chance according to his or her ability and qualifications. sural.

  34. Hi everyone, We should be worrying about the present situation (for Indians) instead of arguing about the past. We should think as Indians and not as Tamilian, Gujirati, Panjabi and so on. I think we should contribute for the developement of the Indian community as collective and not as mentioned above. The Indians should inform their children what’s really going on and let them take active part in politic, too. Most of the younger generations don’t really know what’s really going on. Maybe the political leaders should not only give speeches amoung the grownup generations but also younger ones (minors) too. Malaysia should be devided into quota system. One should be given everywhere a chance according to his or her ability and qualifications. sural.

  35. I am sorry there is a mistake on the comments which i send earlier – that is malaysia should’t be devided into quata system. (and not as written should be devided into quata system) sorry guys!!!!

  36. How long does the Malaysian government want to use this quota system? forever? When is the end? What about the minorities – Chinese and Indians? Why should there be terms such as “bumiputras” – the government is the one deviding the people by using terms bumiputra and so on. The Chinese and the Indian feel as Malaysians and nothing else. The government should start think as Malaysian and not as for bumis one rule and other another.

  37. Let me tell all who are known as Indians. First of all in India none of the states are friendly with each other behaving worse than Pak/India. Next the people are further divided into various caste sectors,which is more dangerously divisive than what Indians face abroad. They get slaughtered here. There is no common language here whereby any two person can converse and treat each other as Indians. There is colour bar between North Indians and South Indians,a small time apartheid is in practice here. Like that the government has divided the people on religion and reservations even after 60 years of Independence. In spite of these drawbacks Indian politicians will only bark without taking any action. Indians are different from the way Strong China is ruled. Probably due to Karmas and Punyas,India survives peacufully.