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Culture, Language, Identity and the Culture of Self-help for the Way Forward for the Malaysian Indian Community

Dr N. Iyngkaran and Dr P Kunaletchumy

Introduction

The Human spirit is larger than any of us can imagine. Left to its own design, in the natural state of human affairs, its evolutionary trajectory is always towards progress, prosperity and preservation. Culture is the product of the adventure of the human spirit.

The decimation of some ancient cultures like the Mayas, Aztecs, and other indigenous cultures in many parts of the world in the past are the unfortunate outcome of brute adventurism of materialistic and technologically superior cultures on innocent spiritualistic cultures. Fortunately that phase of human cultural cannibalism will probably not be seen for a long time notwithstanding the recent cultural genocides the world witnessed in recent years in Africa, Europe and even Asia. We are fortunate in Malaysia. The cultural cross-currents from the five major religious civilizations have had free interaction. The free flowing cultural crosscurrents, notwithstanding the NEP and some religious restrictions have benefited the nation immensely.

What hinders the onward march of a community is its culturally determined attitudes and socio-economic hurdles. Over a period of time the two may ostensibly influence each other until the actual cause becomes clouded. It is however clear that more money without a proper mind set will not give the individual better times. What will set them on a right course is a positive culture that imbues self-respect, self-pride, self-esteem and self-confidence. This can only be done through education, formal and informal and cultural interaction and cultural engagements.

The spirit of the working class Indian community gets dampened by its own negative unprogressive culture and not by the exclusivity of external factors like indifferent Government policies or perceived racial biases. While a community in the gutters needs external assistance to as a push or pull factor, I do not believe that Malaysian Indian community at the present time is in that state.

The community is poorer in attitude and action than in material resources. The latter can be rectified easily but the former is often high nigh impossible.

If we are make progress we have to change our mind sets. We cannot be playing the old tunes. We have to fabricate bold new innovative programmes if we are to bridge the socioeconomic gaps. Confrontational politics, crying foul at everything perceived as racially biased and anti-government sentiments is not going to take us far.

What has prevented our community to have helped to improve the standard of Tamil schools and in the process ensure that generations of children received quality education? That investment in human capital would have benefited the community and won the respect of the nation? It is our culture of shameless dependency and lack of self-pride that has cost us dearly. Are we to believe that there are not enough well to do Indian individuals, businesses and establishments (temples) that could have provided the funds to complement and supplement government support in improving the Tamil school performance? Or should we take the stand that education being a National issue it is exclusively the governments responsibility and if the government does not do more we should rather let the children go down the drain rather than help? As a concerned community should we not everything possible to complement ongoing Government efforts and improve the Tamil school performance. But we would rather lobby for the closure of Tamil schools for whatever reasons. Some of us are indifferent, some ignorant, some convinced that Tamil schools should be closed and many others could care a less what happened to the children in Tamil schools: blaming the parents for their emotional folly in sending their children to Tamil schools. If we as a community cannot have consensus on the important issue of Tamil schools, what great things are we going to achieve deliberating on many other issues? Where is the Indian middle class? What is its share and its role? Can it take the stand that because it does not send its children to Tamil schools it is free of its moral responsibility to help? If the middle class had played the role of the Good Samaritan by helping to improve the Tamil schools it would have enhanced its image and that of the community in the eyes of the nation.

How poor are we that we cannot afford to donate RM 50-100 per month to a Tamil school development? There must be at least 300 to 400 hundred thousand Indian households that have a per capita income of 5 -10 thousand RM/ per month. Even if half of them donate RM 50 per month the Tamil school fund will receive 12 million per year. That can be used to as incentives for the teachers to upgrade their teaching skills and offer additional teaching sessions.

A question we have to ask is what proportion of the Indian students have the various NGOS helped to improve their lot returned in the spirit of the Good Samaritan to help the community on their own or through any of the NGOS. Talking to many of NGOS the number is paltry. Is it not strange that hardly a few candidates return to help the community once they have grown wings? Where have failed? Or is yet another one of the negative manifestations of our unprogressive survivalist Indian culture? Or have we as agents of change in our earnestness to help forgot to sow the seed of love thy neighbor as thy self. We must have a new focus for the millennium. We have to change our mindset.

We have to rekindle the spirit in the community. It is the spirit embodying our minds that must be changed first if we are to succeed.

Culture

TS Elliot defines culture as a way of life (SLIDE 2). It is that unconscious factor that influences our thoughts, words and deeds determining our overall behaviour and attitude to life. Culture is a time related phenomenon, changing to the needs of the individual with time. We cannot stop the relentless march of culture nor guide in any particular direction.

The three pillars of culture are mother tongue, religion and traditions. Mother tongue occupies a pivotal role among the three as its nuances give culture its true flavour.
(SLIDE 3)

The captivating beauty of a tree resides in its majestic poise and sway and the magnificent display of its leaves, flowers and fruits. Seldom do our minds wonder what guarantees the tree its beauty. We know for a fact that the tree cannot manifest its external beauty if not for the strength and vitality of its anchoring roots. The roots being below the earth's surface they are not visible to our eyes and remain outside our consciousness. Culture is analogous to the roots, it is that factor that is outside our consciousness but gives shape, colour and character to our attitude, appearance and behaviour. (SLIDE 4)

The height and the radius of the flight path of the kite depend on the resilience of the kite, the strength of the winds, the length of the string, and the skills of the operator. If the kite represents the individual, the wind education, the operator parents, the string is culture. Just as the kite, will not be able to take full advantage of the strong winds and enjoy the wide open skies without the string, the individual will not be able to exhibit his talents fully if he is not anchored to his mother culture. If the string snaps while the kite is in mid-air the kite will be blown away and snared by the branches of trees or simply be grounded. Similarly deculturalisation of the individual can cause considerable harm him.

No one can stop the relentless march of culture in any particular direction. Its direction is set by the sum total of the attitudes, perception, religious practices, fears, anxieties, concerns, emotions, expectations and materialistic needs of the community in the context of its own past traditions. In a situation where the culture of a migrant community is constantly changing and interacting with other dominant cultures in the nation, how should the minority migrant community adjust? Should the community capitulate as the African Americans did and adopt the host culture? If that is the scenario what are consequences of deculturalisation? Would cultural substitution be a better option?

In the process of adaptation there have been some untoward consequences, some serious enough to impede or obstruct the realisation of the full potential of the community.

Education should not be the cause of cultural alienation but rather the basis to understand, appreciate, respect and promote cultural diversity. Education has succeeded only if the child is proud of his roots, his mother culture and his identity. A child with good scholastic achievements but not rooted strongly in his mother culture or an effective substitute culture may not have the strength of character to withstand the pressures of life and excel. He will be like a well-equipped ship without an anchor, drifting in the uncharted waters of the high seas, vulnerable to the vagaries of the natural elements! The child must know himself, what he is and who he is. He must have respect for himself, his mother language, his mother culture, and mother religion if he is to respect these values in others and live in harmony with them.

Have we, as community lost confidence in our culture that has been contributing to world civilisation incessantly for more than five millenniums? As one of the oldest surviving cultures, there is an argument that it has outlived itself and is outdated. Our loss of confidence (if it is so) in our culture is tempting us into uncharted waters. We must bear in mind that deculturalisation and cultural capitulation both come with heavy prices. We have to tread very carefully and rediscover ourselves. Fortunately for us the IT revolution seems to vindicate the depth, strength and resilience of the Indian culture. We have once again underestimated the resilience of the Indian culture. In this paper I wish to take you through the following areas first to show and remind the richness, depth versatility, resilience and most importantly the creativeness of our culture.

In discussing culture in the development of the community there are several separate but interrelated areas for consideration:

1. The Creativity of the Indian culture
2. The dichotomy and divisiveness of the Indian culture
3. The culture of want and the culture of excesses
4. Deculturisation/ cultural capitulation
5. The three pillars of culture: mother tongue, mother religion and traditions
6. Cultural diversity (identity) and self-respect
7. National integration and cultural identity
8. The culture of self-help


The Creativity of Indian Culture (Slide 4a)

David Frawley, an American archaeologist, in the 1991 edition of his book, Gods Sages and Kings took the bold contentious stand that India is the cradle of world civilisation. Ten years down the line his stand has gained some merit by the accidental but fascinating discoveries of submerged cities off the coasts of Mahaballipuram and Gujarat, in 2002. Preliminary data suggest that these cities are at least six to eight thousand years BC making them the oldest organised urban living in the world.

Einstein, the greatest mind of the century was exuberant in his praise of Indian contributions to the world in the fields of mathematics and science. He has credited the Indians for their discovery of the decimal system of numbers, one to ten. The Indians have the unique distinction of having contributed continuously in one form or another to world civilisation for the last five thousand years.

In recent times the world has been taken by surprise by Indian creativity in computer software technology. Indian engineers have been proclaimed the hidden geniuses of the tech revolution (SLIDE 4c) Why India? Is not India best known for its poverty and squalor? Why are Indians on the forefront in software technology? What is the secret behind the IT revolution erupting in India that promises India a quantum leap from an agrarian to an IT service economy?

Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft when asked why Indians are particularly good at software programming, replied that the Hindu heritage of abstract thinking gave them the advantage. More recently, Restall addressed the same issue in the Wall street journal but offered a different reason. He argues it is cultural, an atmosphere of freedom where individual achievement is encouraged. (SLIDE 4d)

The Malaysian Indian community is from the same gene pool that gave the world all the great discoveries. Does it not have the right ingredients to scale greater heights? But it remains a pale of shadow of its rich cultural past.


The Malaysian Indian community then and now

The Indian community has undergone considerable changes. Undoubtedly there is a noticeable upward mobility of the community in absolute terms in almost all sectors, the general quality of life, educational achievements, family income, longevity and infant and maternal mortality rates. However, compared to the other major communities, it is lagging behind in almost all sectors.

The socio-cultural and economic improvement in some segments of the community has come with a price. The old problems of the community are being substituted with new ones. The pitiful state of abject poverty, under nutrition and alcoholism of the green ghettoes is being replaced with problems pertaining to rapid rural - urban migration, cultural dislocation, low educational achievements, and the breakdown in social values pertaining to the family, the school, temples and other community based organizations. More importantly, there are warning signals that the dreaded phenomenon of identity crisis is beginning to rear its ugly head. The community has to grapple with these socio-cultural issues and come to terms with them for its immediate vibrancy and long-term growth and development.

While our rate of material progress may be slower the same cannot be said of our happiness index. In the Asian pacific region Indians (in India) have the highest happiness index and Chinese (in China) the lowest, but the rates of growth (GDP) are the reverse. There appears to be an inverse relationship between the index of happiness and the rates of economic growth. Whether it is peculiar to these two countries or a universal phenomenon is not certain. Is it possible that a high happiness index is commensurate with satisfaction, resignation or acceptance of the status quo and is the antithesis of material progress? The difference between the Hindu and Confucian rates of economic growth has a bearing on the differences in the cultural attitudes and level of basic education between the two regions.

The reason I have raised this matter is because it illustrates that culture and education are the very foundations of our quality of life, our attitudes to life, our functionality and our performance. The difference between us, as successful Indian professionals, and the Indian working class as less successful, is one of culture.

The dichotomy and divisiveness of the Indian culture (SLIDE 5)

Why is the working class Indian community what it is? Why dose it not tick the way the rest of the nation does? Why has it been left behind while the rest of the nation has progressed? The reasons are many but the most telling is the culture of the working class. The culture is a dependent culture of living for the day. It does not imbue self-pride, self-respect and self-confidence. It does not encourage expectations. The middle class culture gives the highest weight age to education but not the working class culture. The uneducated individual remains a walking corpse lacking in vision and drive. This is compounded by the lack of co-operation, cohesion and collaboration between the various sub-groups within the community. The leadership at all levels has not only been weak, uninspiring and ineffective without vision or mission, in many instances it also been preying on it. The result is a powerless and direction-less community, like a ship drifting in the open sea with its engine shut and rudders jammed.

By an accident of history the vast majority of Indians who came to Malaysia were caught in a cultural trap of the green ghettoes. The prolonged political, social, economic and culture isolation from the mainstream of national life resulted in the stagnation and regression of their once rich culture. Over time their culture evolved into a culture distinctive and divergent from that of the mainstream national culture. The estate Indian slipped out of the Indian consciousness.

The difference between the successful Indian professionals and the less successful Indian working class is culture. (SLIDE 6)

The two sub-cultures, the working class and the middle class Indian cultures are as different, distinctive and divergent as eastern and western cultures. The attitude, attire, values expectations and lingua franca of the two groups are distinguishably different. What is worse is that there is hardly any meaningful interaction between the two sub-cultures. Any interaction is reduced to one where the middle class assumes a patronizing or paternalistic attitude. Otherwise it is one of indifference, non-interference, disgust, denial or shame for the state of affairs of the working class Indian community.

This dichotomy of cultures within the community is of grave concern. They are analogous to the parallel lines of the railway track, the two lying side-by-side ever close to each other along the entire length station to station, but sworn never to meet.

In all communities, the middle class is the engine of growth for the community. In the Indian community it is otherwise. The Indian middle class is divorced from the working class. The middle class engine is chugging along by itself without caring to pull along the working class coaches. Unless there is some degree of cultural integration within the Indian community the stagnation in educational and socio-economic development of the community is set to continue unshackled for a long time.

The differences in socio-economic status, caste, religion, educational levels, occupation and the multitude of sub-ethnic groups add festering pain to the otherwise colourful diversity and complexity of the Indian community. The English educated Indians who should be providing the leadership have compounded the problem by spinning cocoons around themselves and their sub-culture.

The deep socio-cultural- religious diversity has seen to it that the community can never come together to take common stands on common issues affecting it. In the first place, there were probably no common issues that cut across the sectarian interests of the various sub-groups. There really never was a common problem where one and all could join forces and take a common stand. The middle class Indian's preoccupations are education and job opportunities for his children. Whereas the preoccupation of the working class Indian is improvement in basic wages, health benefits, basic housing and some rudiments of education in their mother tongue for his children.

The problems of the disadvantaged Malaysian Indian community are not a peculiarity of the Malaysian Indian community per se but a peculiarity of any minority community subjected to prolonged social injustice, neglect and indifference to their needs. The problems are similar in other marginalized groups in many other parts of the world.

To many African Americans their progress has been undermined by the fact that a third of the African American families live below the poverty line; 1 in 3 African American males in his 20's is in jail, on probation or on parole; that a African American middle class consisting of blue collar workers is shrinking. Almost one in two mothers is single; Children growing in a single parent culture is almost as common as children growing in a family culture! The African American feels that he is looked upon as an inarticulate, stupid, incapable or dangerous but never as creative innovative or contributive. This analysis was published in the Time Magazine on October 16th, 1995 and came out of a classroom discussion with University students.

Should we allow the poverty of cultural crosscurrents within the Indian community to continue unabated to the detriment of the whole community? What measures should we take to remedy the situation?

(SLIDE 7)

The Culture of Want Vs. the Culture of Excess (SLIDE 8)

If the culture of want haunted the community in the past there are potentially greater cultural upheavals awaiting to haunt it in the new millennium. The Hippie-culture of the sixties bears some similarity to the 'Indian wayward culture' of the nineties. Both have the semblance of excesses of addiction, unabashed sexual behavior and antiestablishment sentiments and attitudes.

The Indian community has the unique distinction of being simultaneously afflicted with the paradox of cultural extremes: the culture of want and the culture of excesses. On one extreme are the less privileged who need assistance in almost all his basic needs and on the other is the over privileged overindulgent or the social delinquent and deculturised Malaysian Indian youths. They are given in to the excesses of life without compunction or concern.

Most of us have been focusing only on the culture of want. If we are not careful and do not take appropriate remedial measures now, the next generation of Indians may not fare as well as the present generation because they are spoilt by the culture of excesses. Parents tend to pay more attention to scholastic and academic achievements of their children rather than their overall development. Should academic achievements be at the expense of traditions, values, and culture and character development?

The culture of anti-social activities and gangsterism is the result of severe want, frustration, lack of opportunities and role models. The problem cannot be solved by wishful thinking, punitive police action or banning Tamil movies. These people need help. We have to understand the root causes and institute preventative measures. The authorities should engage in rehabilitation and retraining with easy access to small business licences, vocational training and social skills. The community itself must show the Hindu Dharma and compassion or the spirit of the Good Samaritan.

Cultural identity, deculturisation and cultural capitulation (SLIDE 9)

There is a view from some quarters some even from the high echelons of the government that minority communities should capitulate their culture and adopt the mainstream culture of the multicultural nation

The African Americans were robbed of their most precious possessions, language, religion, culture, and even their names and given a 'pseudo White' identity. Despite this they have been unsuccessful in integrating completely into the fabric of American society even after more than 400 years of interaction with the American Caucasians. They have been faring poorly in almost all areas of development. The trade off of their self-respect and self-worth for material progress did not pay. Instead they were rewarded with the psychological trauma of loss of their identity. It may be easier to accept the pangs of discrimination if the individual's identity is intact than if it is not.

While there have been many African American leaders, it was Malcom X who struck the right cord with the grassroots when he said that black is beautiful and that African Americans should accept themselves as they are and be proud of their heritage. He galvanized them when he said, "A race of people is like an individual man; until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its history, expresses its own culture and affirms its own selfhood, it cannot fulfill itself" The Malaysian Indian community is in a similar boat. (SLIDE 10)

Only after Malcolm X had taken this stand did the African Americans begin to move. Until then they were blaming everyone else except themselves. Today despite many continuing to search for their roots and their identify within the framework of the American constitution they have a new found friend in their own inner strength and self-confidence which have come about only after their self-realization of who they really are.

Identity, self-respect, self esteem and self pride are indispensable value systems that an individual cannot afford to loose if he is to find his inner strength and his self-confidence. (SLIDE 11)

Tun Abdul Razak did the right thing when he recommended Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction in the National education system. It is the best thing that could have happened to the Malays. It has given them a sense of identity pride, fulfillment and confidence. The use of the language in commerce and trade and science and technology will give yet greater confidence. The measure has allowed Malays all over the country, be they rich or poor, strong or weak, bright or ordinary, to be receive a sound education in a language that they are all familiar with. This would not have been possible with English as the medium of Instruction, but this was ill-founded. There was unhappiness among the middle class when English was replaced. The education system will collapse, many had emphatically said. But the system has flourished and has brought tremendous benefits, in terms of unity, cohesion, and balanced opportunity for all.

The National system of education in Bahasa Malaysia has been successful because of the acceptance by the Malays and the government's financial muscle. Chinese schools have succeeded for the same reasons, namely acceptance by the Chinese community and unlimited financial support from the community. But in the case of the Indian community it is a sad story. As a starter, only half the community supports the Tamil schools. The notion that the community lacks the financial resources is not entirely correct. It is more so the lack of conviction, commitment, and confidence in the Tamil education system. Furthermore the fear of their children loosing out if they did not adhere to the national system of education has an overbearing effect on their love for the Tamil language and culture. The community cannot or would not see the relevance of cultural identity and its positive impact on the functionality of the individual and community.

Cultural Diversity (identity) vs. National Integration (SLIDE12)

There can be no creativity if all humans looked alike, had the same attributes, shared the same language, culture and religion and remained immortal. Utopia on earth is a contradiction to creativity. Human creativity can only occur on Nature's theme of unity in diversity (SLIDE 13).

Unthinking and passive as it may appear to be, Nature is man's best teacher. We can only ignore its lessons at our own peril. The brute efficiency and excellence that Nature proudly manifests of itself is due to her uncompromising stance on biological diversity and free competition. Diversity in her books does not mean discord or disorder. In fact there is strong underlying unity, order and harmony within Nature's biological diversity and free competition. She has made this possible by her non-discriminatory application of her non-discriminatory laws of adaptation.

If Nature's recipe for a healthy earth is biological diversity, God's recipe for a socially, culturally and spiritually healthy man is linguistic-cultural-religious diversity. If Nature desires unity and harmony within its biological diversity, God desires unity and harmony within man's linguistic-cultural-religious plurality. If God had willed, He could have created a single race sharing a common religion, language and culture. That He chose not to can only mean that diversity is the central theme to His creation. Diversity is by design not by accident! (SLIDE 14)

Our Founding Fathers of this Nation appreciated that national integration is a political necessity, needing an intellectual effort. They realised that attachment to one's mother tongue and culture is an emotional necessity. The former is vital to the political, social and economic well being of the nation and the latter to the psychological and emotional well being and functionality of the individual. It was apparent at the time of independence that one without the other was not possible, nor healthy. Our past political and community leaders have to be credited for not allowing the political expediencies of the day to cloud their intellectual convictions on this matter.

Integration can only occur at the political level. It is against Darwin's law for complete cultural integration to occur without cultural regression.

(SLIDE 15)


The Way Forward (SLIDE 17)

There are many of us who are compelled by circumstances to take a self-centered view and believe that our responsibility is only to our individual families and as long as it is doing well we are all right. Unfortunately this simplistic argument does not hold water. No matter in what position of life we are in, we have a primary responsibility to our families, a secondary responsibility to our community, and a tertiary responsibility to society at large. This is not my concoction but the serious exhortation of Thiruvalluvar in the Thirukurral.

Christ had said 'love thy neighbour as thy self'; Thiruvalluvar said that one who has the opportunity to earn must use that opportunity to earn well; in the next phrase he quickly exhorts that a portion of the earnings must be distributed to needy relatives and members of society otherwise that earning carries sin

(SLIDE 18). Confucius emphatically said that the individual can only be as strong as the community. All these sages were uniform in their teachings that self-interest must be balanced by common interest. Can we with true conviction say that they are wrong?

For argument sake let us reject the exhortations of these sages and look beyond altruism, egalitarianism, Christ's spirit of the Good Samaritan and the Veda's clear exposition, 'help ever but hurt never'. Is it not in our own self-interest and that of our families and children to help the less privileged Indian in our midst? Firstly for our safety and that our family; secondly, for our spiritual well being and thirdly, our own self-respect, self-esteem and self-pride. Whoever or whatever we are, we will be identified as Indians. If we are to be respected our community must be respected. The community will gain respect only if it is doing well and seen to be doing well. We therefore have no choice but to uplift the community.

The Government has its own priorities and it is difficult to see the Government's total commitment to resolving the socio-economic problems of the community. That leaves only the community to help itself. Unfortunately those who need help lack the resources, education, social skills or training to help themselves; the people who have the resources are convinced that they must conserve all their savings for their families' needs as they cannot depend on government for hand outs.

The community has very few choices for its way forward. It has to take the matters into its own hands. We can appeal to the government for help. The Government will certainly give its minimum help. We have to use our ingenuity and find innovative approaches to forge our way forward.

You will agree with me that among all the Indian Diasporas in the world we in Malaysia are in one of the most advantageous position. The community has a well structured Tamil primary school system, round the clock, government funded Tamil radio and Television service, Tamil cinema and video services, well-patronised Hindu temples all over the country, a myriad registered Indian NGOS, Chair in Indian studies in the University of Malaya, and Indian based political parties and Indian political representation at the federal and state levels. We can use this advantage to improve ourselves and also to provide leadership to the Indian Diaspora in the rest of the world. Indeed the Malaysian Indian community is a unique position for this role.

Conclusion and Suggestions for Solutions

We have to reestablish our respect for our culture and spiritualistic values. Culture and economy cannot be divorced from each other as the two are intertwined one influencing the other to the improvement or detriment of the other.

The Malaysian Indians have been caught in a trap from which they are finding it difficult to extricate themselves. The dramatic changes in the economic, social and cultural landscape of Malaysia may seem to have passed them by. There is a perception that the Indians have been marginalized and that they have a lesser role to play in the changing fortunes and direction of the Malaysian economy. Human fortunes are difficult to predict but certainly they are neither an all or none, nor a now or never phenomenon. The East Asian miracle should be our standard bearer and a source of inspiration. (SLIDE 19)The indomitable manufacturing might of America after the war did not daunt Japan from trying and succeeding as a manufacturing hub for the world. Similarly Japan's success and its leadership in manufacturing did not deter Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, ASEAN, and now China from cascading sequentially into their respective success stories in manufacturing. The success of the former spurred rather than spurned the latter from trying. The right mental attitude, self-confidence and hard work are necessary for one to engage in the true spirit of free competition and succeed.

Contrary to popular perceptions, the Malaysian Indians have not lost out, because the race is not over! They are awakening to realities of multiracial Malaysia. The sub-ethnic communities of the Malaysian nation should not be viewed as participating in a conventional race, a hundred meter dash or even a marathon race. The race of life has a beginning but 'no' end. No one knows and no one will ever know where the goal posts are. It is God's will, for if we know where the goal posts are there will be insoluble problems between the 'early birds' and the latecomers! Life is a continuous chain of events, individuals joining uninterrupted at regular intervals along its non-ending path. Where is the 'early bird' and late bird in the unending chain of life; are the latter units less important or more disadvantaged than the former? Is it permissible under the laws of Nature? Indians must wake up from their sad slumber and bounce back with confidence to participate and succeed in Malaysia's continuing economic growth and development to their benefit and that of the nation. They should not bemoan their past misfortunes. They should look to the future not with trepidation but with confidence. For this they must first come to know their inner selves, the richness of their culture, its resilience and its bottomless depth in creativity. For creativity is the mother of all progress.

It will be to Malaysia's advantage to re-discover the potential creativity culture of the Indian community. The community has much more to offer this country than surmised. America had to overcome its own biases and prejudices to look beyond the natural barriers to realise the potential strengths of the Indians. The Indians are playing a significant role in the growth of the new American economy to the benefit of all sides. As the Indians are today in the forefront of the new American economy, the Malaysian Indians, God willing, can also be in the forefront of the IT revolution in Malaysia. The Tamil schools if primed properly have the potential to be a hotbed of creative thinking and a breeding ground for IT wizards. Emotions aside, let us not be hasty and underestimate the creative potential of the Tamil language and the Hindu heritage of abstract thinking.

Contrary to popular views the community is not poor economically but culturally. It needs cultural revival and refurbishment; a cultural renaissance. The cultural dichotomy between the middle class and the working class needs to be bridged. The bridges should act as freeways for cultural interaction.

The divisiveness in the community and unfounded, passions and emotions in respect of sub-ethnicity, religion and, caste must be dismantled. The community has to identify common issues or common identifying symbols for it to rally around and gel. A cultural common center is a very useful concept.

The community's problems in the long term can only be solved through education. While continuing to increase opportunities for higher education our immediate focus and emphasis should be directed to the improvement of educational achievements of the working class children in primary education and particularly Tamil primary education. There is a need to focus our efforts on the improvement of Tamil schools. Solving the Tamil school problems will immediately solve fifty percent of the community's problems. As at least fifty percent of the other half is middle class ( which can take care of itself) solving the Tamil school problem will effectively solve at the very least 75% of the community's problems.

There must be a change in the education culture of the community. There must be pressure from the community as a whole for the head-teachers and teachers to adjust. Both the parents and teachers must be held accountable by the community for the performance of children in Tamil schools.

Tamil schools must be viewed as a community asset and never lost. The question of closure of Tamil schools is irrelevant in the context of linguistic and cultural diversity and its potential benefits to the community and the nation. The lobby for closure of Tamil schools must be pronounced dead and buried. The new mantra should be excellence in the quality of Tamil education with trilingual proficiency. The Tamil school should be the soul of the community. The community as whole must adopt the Tamil schools a community project and contribute actively to its growth and development.

We cannot become euphoric over the government's offer to improve the community's economic pie from 1 to 3 percent. We should view with some concern the sudden emergence of groups showing unexpected interest in mobilizing the savings of the community for investment in PNB like instruments on behalf of the community. Although times have changed and the community has a larger and more talented business management pool than ever before we must avoid the pitfalls of the past. The establishment of mass based companies to tap the community's savings and venture into PNB like businesses is more than likely to meet the same sorry fate as Maika and Sampoorna. We will have to examine different models.

The community faces an uphill task to find easy solutions to their problems.. But we have to face up to the challenges if we want to be seen to have done something for the coming generations. We have to engage the government of the following points.

The NEP will always influence the way we think and act. The community cannot find solutions independent of it but has to adjust to it.

The Indian community unlike the Chinese community lacks the resources to be self-reliant. Its lack of self-respect and self confidence and its limited resources has made it to depend on the government. However it is time the community discarded its 'fear of government and dependency syndrome'. It should shed its conformist role for that of a creative non-conformist one and be prepared to work outside the government but in partnership and with the support of the Government. This should be the community's new strategy.

The government must encourage the growth and development of mother tongues. Contrary to general belief this move will have a more positive effect on national integration. The minorities will have greater self-respect and self-confidence which will remove the feeling of deprivation, engender appreciation that the minorities are respected and wanted by the political majority. This will encourage greater respect and tolerance and facilitate integration.

Every mother tongue has its own values, culture and traditions. The teaching of the language will highlight these values which will play a positive role in integration at the various levels and engender national integration in a more conducive environment.

As it is becoming timely for the upgrading of English it is also timely for re-rating the importance of proficiency in one's mother tongue. It must be taught as a compulsory examination subject or as a necessary instrument for entrance to tertiary education as in many other countries. This move will give the minorities confidence in the government and allow the dismantling of the vernacular system of education.

In essence the government should aim for nation with trilingual proficiency. This will remove many of the current social and cultural ills plaguing the nation in general and the Indian community in particular.

The changes in the social dynamics of Indian families' are beginning to have telling effects on the cultural, emotional and intellectual growth of our children. There is an imperceptible but relentlessly change in the way we are bringing up our children. The physical growth and academic performance take priority over the child's emotional, intellectual, ethical and cultural development.

We have to make our children face hardships. Parents should not meet all their material needs. They have to grow up knowing what they missed. They will work hard to achieve that. Otherwise wont they become soft? Wont their competitive spirit and the drive for excellence of their parents be lost?

Like a kite held by a string, children are kept under surveillance with the long 'cordless cord' of the hand phone. Parents have to spend time listening to their children if they are understand their children's minds.

CHILD has initiated the following:

1. Establish a council of Indian NGOS as a platform forum where important issues of the community will be discussed for a consensus opinion and a common stand irrespective of the ideologies and programmes of the NGOS

2. Establish a Tamil school development fund to improve the performance of Tamil school children.

3. Through CHILD'S involvement in Tamil schools, we built cultural bridges between us and the large cross section of the working class Indians. This has yielded noticeable changes on both sides of the cultural bridges.

4. CHILD"S Young professional grooming programme, under which we now have almost three hundred children, has been yet another opportunity to build cultural bridges between the middle and working class groups. They are acting as freeways for cultural interaction between the two groups. There are forty of them here today walking the cultural bridge here. You can interact with them.

5. Child is mooting the idea of a cultural center for the Indian community as a whole.

sountek
     
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