This group is commonly dubbed the ‘underclass’.
Their story does not sell newspapers. They have no public appeal. They
are not newsworthy.
one in Malaysia wants to know about this particular minority group. Not
BN. Not Pakatan. Not even the editors of a few papers who refused to
tell their story. Shame on them!
Theirs is a story of a forgotten group, whose lives mean nothing to
others. This neglected lot isn’t detected under anybody’s radar. They
have been abandoned, even by their own kind.
This group is commonly dubbed the ‘underclass’. Their story does not
sell newspapers. They have no public appeal. They are not newsworthy.
Who are they? ‘They’ are Malaysian Indians.
On April 26, MIC deputy president, Dr S Subramaniam, claimed that
Indians were ashamed of their community and were looked down by the
other races. According to him, 45% of the country’s crimes involved
This is a serious charge: The Indian population of 2 million (out of
29 million people), is responsible for almost half of Malaysia’s crime.
When Subramaniam suggested immediate remedial action to combat the
increasing criminal involvement of the Indian youth, he claimed that MIC
had worked tirelessly with various government agencies.
The MIC was formed in 1946 and its original aim was for Indians to
fight for the independence of the motherland, India.
importance, the MIC was to check social problems, promote racial harmony
and co-operation as well as obtain a fair share of the economic pie for
the Indian community.
It has been 54 years since independence, and many Indians will claim
that BN/MIC leaders have done more than enough to help themselves only.
The leadership of S Samy Vellu, the MIC’s longest serving leader
since Oct 12, 1979 was not without controversy as his tenure was marked
by allegations of corruption and a decline in Malaysian Indian welfare.
It is not just the high crime rate involving Indians that must be
resolved. Many Indians have no birth certificates or identity cards.
They are stateless.
‘Hey, who cares?’
Many Tamil schools are in a deplorable state, lack funding and are
situated on illegal land. Several Hindu temples lack proper land titles
or are built on illegal land. Many centuries old Hindu temples, with
significant historical attachment and cultural identity have been
Nearly 90 percent of Malaysian Indians are of South Indian origin, principally Tamilians, Malayalis and Telugus.
If Chinese or Malay communities were treated as badly, there would
have been a severe backlash. “But hey, who cares? They are only
Indians,” is the common reply.
The Indians record the highest percentage of deaths whilst under police custody, so why is the bar council relatively silent?
Today, the Indian community has progressed from mainly plantation
workers to one consisting of entrepreneurs, intellectuals and
Despite this, the general perception toward Indians has remained
intact. Malaysia’s survey of race relations still paints an
unflattering, stereotypical image of Indians in Malaysia, in much the
same way people generalise with comments like “Malays are lazy, or
Chinese are greedy”.
Malaysia’s Indian professionals are highly successful and form the
bulk of the country’s top lawyers and doctors. Conversely, the other end
of the social spectrum, comprises Indians who lack confidence and are
The poorest labourers in Malaysia are Indians who survive on a ‘hand to mouth’ existence.
In 2000, TimeAsia reported that Indians had the lowest share of the
nation’s corporate wealth: 1.5%, compared to 19.4% for the Malays and
38.5% for the Chinese.
The Indians record the highest rate of suicide of any Malaysian
community. Gangsterism and violent crime was largely associated with
Indians. In 1994, 128 of the 377 murders committed in Malaysia were by
Indians. Some 15% of the Indians in the capital are squatters.
The Economist reported that in 2003, Malaysian Indians comprised “14
percent of juvenile delinquents, 20 percent of wife and child and 14
percent of its beggars. Less than 5 percent of successful university
applicants were Indian.”
Many people assume that the marginalisation of the Indians happened
during former Prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s era. It did not. It
happened much earlier, possibly around the time of Independence.
The Indians were a source of cheap labour in plantations and
construction sites at the expense of their political and social
mobility. Malays benefited from state patronage and the Chinese,
stronger in numbers than Indians, exploited their business and social
The Indian middle class excelled but the Indian “problem” is
exacerbated because of the lack of interaction between the well-to-do
Indian middle class and the Indian working underclass.
It is a Malaysian problem
The low self-esteem amongst the Indians, their lack of interaction and
the marginalisation of working-class Indians is reflected in their poor
performance in business, equity ownership and employment in professional
sectors and the civil service.
A Malaysian Indian entrepreneur who runs an IT firm in Cyberjaya,
said: “There are two main reasons behind the backwardness of Indians.
One is that we are a minority here, and two, the politicians who
represent us do not promote our cause.”
Bumiputra politics place Indians at a disadvantage both in education and work opportunities.
Local university seats and scholarships are all awarded under a
racial quota system. Even after getting a degree, many say that
discrimination is commonplace. Indian doctors are reportedly excluded
from lists of approved doctors for civil servants or company employees.
When rubber plantations were converted into housing estates and golf
courses, many displaced estate workers drifted to urban areas to form
Indian ghettos which are a hot-bed of crime.
Indian Malaysians are in a bind. Most have resigned themselves to
their plight while discontent simmers within the community. Malaysia
cannot afford to alienate its Indians.
For 54 years, the MIC acknowledges yearly, that the Indian community needs help.
But Malaysians must realise that issues affecting the Indian
community are not just an Indian problem. It is a Malaysian problem.
What happens to our fellow Indians, affect both the Malays and Chinese.
Tamil Nesan quoted Subramaniam as saying that 45% of the country’s
crimes involved Indians. But he forgot to highlight two things; The
first is the race responsible for much of the white-collar crime. Second
is the race which robs the rakyat blind by raiding the treasury.
Mariam Mokhtar is a political observer and an FMT columnist