Star Tuesday, November 27, 2001
Nagging pains of local Indians
Despite serious efforts by Indian politi-cians and the community, the spate of violent crimes involving Indian youths seems to be continuing. What are the causes? Is the media contributing to the problem by exaggerating crime stories? A.LETCHUMANAN reports from talks with academics and social activists.
ON DEEPAVALI day, former national walker Mahadevan Kuttappan was slashed to death by an Indian gang at Sri Sentosa flats in Petaling Jaya.
In Klang, a Deepavali reunion of five former colleagues at a public park ended in a bloody tragedy when they were set upon by a group of parang-wielding assailants.
These attacks come in the wake of other brutal acts such as the shocking drowning of a toddler, who was thrown into a river, in Kampung Medan and the rape of an eight-year-old girl in Kuala Lumpur, the harassment of her family and the brutal killing of her father.
These incidents are worrying the Indian community and its leaders.
According to police statistics, the number of Indians involved in
Figures from August last year have not be tabulated but based on news reports, the upward trend is not expected to change.
Police records show there are 38 Indian crime gangs in Peninsular Malaysia with membership of around 1,500.
About 63% of detainees under the emergency ordinance and 14% of detained juveniles are Indians - members of a minority community.
It is not that Indian political and community leaders are not aware of the statistics. The MIC has, in fact, taken steps to resolve problems faced by Indian youths by setting up the social arm called Yayasan Strategik Sosial.
Independent Indian-based non-governmental organisations have been working with plantation and squatter communities.
Why then do these unpleasant events continue to afflict the Indian community?
Social workers and academics believe the Government must do more to address the root causes of alienation faced by Indians.
Engineer and social activist K. Arumugam, who has carried out many
"Feeling marginalised and generally trapped in poverty, the Indians are devoid of a caring and sharing Government.
"Feeling ostracised in all sectors - schools, institutions, enforcement agencies, government and corporate - they tend to seek a defence mechanism to overcome their woes and challenges," he said, adding that organising themselves into groups or gangs provided Indian youths a senseof belonging.
Arumugam said that some of the groups had developed links with forces
"They have become protectors, mediators, collectors and judges and mete out punishment for a fee paid either in lump sum or monthly taxes," he said, adding that even students in secondary schools were being influenced.
Although the MIC and other Indian-based organisations had taken steps
"These are no permanent solutions. It must be accepted that such steps do not deal with underlying causes but only postpone the inevitable," he said,adding that the problem was entrenched and interwoven with poverty.
He said that gangsterism was likely to thrive when those with power and money exploit the situation.
"Political parties and NGOs have the desire to resolve the problem but they do not have the means. The Government has to seriously look at socio-economic inequalities beyond race.''
"It is essential that long-term programmes be developed and implemented
Sociologist Dr M. Nadarajah, who lectures at Stamford College, said the Indian Malaysian problem was a nagging one that would not go away if only the symptoms were dealt with. He said there had been many explanations of the root causes of problems faced by Indian Malaysians, especially Tamils.
Some blamed external factors like government policies while others pointed a finger at internal issues such as culture, Tamil schools, movies and family system.
However, he said the low status and marginalisation of the Indian community today was a consequence of vast problems faced during themarket-directed growth of a post-colonial state trying to define its identity in a particular way.
"During that period, the Indian community was trying to make sense of its moorings while faced with immense internal problems such as lack of socio-economic resources, low political bargaining abilities as a result, and absence of visionary leadership at critical times of its life in this nation," said Dr Nadarajah.
He said the problem could not be resolved firmly unless the values of compassion and justice were upheld. He believed this could happen only when the nation's politics was transformed beyond race and when people stopped thinking in ethnic terms on issues and situations that were essentially national.
Dr Nadarajah also took issue with the coverage of Indian issues in the media. He said the media's role in representing the community, especially putting up issues on the front page, added a symbolic load.
"If what appears on the front page covers ethnic news relating to a particular community, the symbolic load is great, given ourethnically-charged environment. When problems are printed on the front page in connection with a rich community, what is reported is seen as an exception to the rule.
"But when a problem is reported involving the Indian community, it is usually read symbolically as a rule. That kind of representation on asustained basis builds the image of the Indian community as a problem community which is different from a community with problems," he added.
Dr Nadarajah said this recasting of the community as a problem community presented serious problems in the everyday life of individual members.
He said that many informed and sensitive Malaysians knew the MIC had
"This unresolved problem is exploited in ways that add to the
"Of course, as observed, the south Indians we are dealing with are of the majority Tamil community, not Sri Lankan Tamils or non-Tamils who understandably have their own grievances," he said.
Dr Nadarajah said the Malaysian media had never shown enlightened concern for ethnic communities and this revealed the perceptions and(unwritten) editorial policies of media owners towards the Indian community.
He said that media reports of high crime statistics involving Indians were out annually but there was hardly any serious discussion on the reasons why there were such a high number of gangs.
"Without careful analysis of the situations that give rise to
Dr Nadarajah said without proper examination, the recasting of Indians
as a problem community contributed to the creation of a punitive strategy
"Improving Tamil schools and education, for instance, as a national
Dr Nadarajah said that media reports tended to be one-dimensional
"Sincere reporting related to ethnic groups, informing citizens of happenings in the nation, need to be balanced with the clear focus and strategy of disallowing negative image formation and communalising Malaysians,'' he said, adding that a politically and economically marginalised community was always at a disadvantage.
MIC education bureau chairman Prof Datuk T. Marimuthu, however, felt
He said it was the same question thrown at media in the United States
Economist Charles Santiago said that Tamil films were not the main
"Tamil films like Talapathi show the people taking the law into
He said that racial clashes in Kampung Medan and the indiscriminate
"These temples have been there 30 to 40 years and suddenly one
Prof Marimuthu said that rapid urbanisation was putting pressure on
He said that many Indians were forced to migrate to towns after the
"These slum areas lack infrastructure. There is no value system
Prof Marimuthu said that only education could save the children and
"The quality of living has to be improved, and infrastructure
Prof Marimuthu said, after the Kampung Medan incident, the Government
He said there was now a need for government intervention with assistance
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