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ALIRAN: Still Awaiting the "New Sunrise"
By Martin Jalleh

4/3/2001 3:01 pm Sun

[Satu penulisan yang amat berfakta sekali. Kaum India masih hidup begitu^ terpinggir dan kelam. Apakah yang telah dilakukan oleh MIC untuk dibanggakan? - Editor]

Still Awaiting the "New Sunrise"

Little has changed for Indian Malaysians in the 20 years of Samy's leadership of the MIC

by Martin Jalleh

In May last year, S. Samy Vellu, president of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) promised the 300,000-odd plantation workers in the country 'a new sunrise'.

"The period of sunset will diminish...when monthly wages come into effect". And the new hope was supposed to have been realised by the end of last year.

The year has ended, yet another promise is broken, and the plantation worker is still unable to see light.

Even if the Government were to announce tomorrow an agreed monthly wage, (after 50 years!)... the scandalous marginalisation of the Indian Malaysian, the plantation worker in particular, remains a 'damn spot' which the Government, the MIC and Samy cannot erase.

This, of course, has very much to do with the leadership of the Indian community. Alas, there is no reason to believe, when one looks back at 20 years of Samy's feudalistic leadership and lordship, that the Indian Malaysian will see sunrise.

20 Years

S. Samy Vellu is now into his 21st year as president of the MIC. He wants us to know that the MIC is the second oldest political party in the country, formed three months after UMNO in 1946.

He very proudly believes that the MIC "is the only party representing the Indians in the country" (Sun, 14 Sept 2000) But for the majority of Indians in this country, little has changed with the MIC, definitely very little with Samy.

Samy is adamant that the Indian community "has benefited and achieved from the country?s economic progress" (NST, 12 Nov 2000). Yet, the resolutions of each MIC General Assembly apparently have been the same with each passing year...for the past 20 years!

A delegate at last year's 54th MIC General Assembly, stated: "We pass the same or similar resolutions every year and memorandums have been presented to the authorities, but we are not taken seriously."

A Sad Joke

Even Samy does not take his claim that the Indian Malaysian has benefited seriously. He contradicts himself ever so often. What he says has become a joke, a sad joke.

Consider this, on Deepavali Day last year Samy had urged the Indians to ponder on the 'abundant wealth provided by the Government for the people'. Yet before the 54th MIC General Assembly he had called on Indians to free themselves from the 'shackles of poverty' (Star, 27 May 2000)!

Indians should not consider themselves 'third-class' citizens. They have benefited much from the country?s progress (NST, 12 Nov 2000). Yet months before, he had spoken so emotionally of the need to correct 'the imbalance of equity participation' of the Indians!

According to Samy, the Indian Malaysian is equal to all other citizens...yet he would when the occasion suits him ramble, rave and roar about the '...uplifting (of) the economic status of Indians'.

Samy had even declared at the 54th MIC General Assembly that 'the rubber industry workers have been neglected over the past 150 years.'

'...and,' he would add, '...the MIC is committed to ensuring a dramatic and significant change in their lives in this century (NST, 28 May 2000).

One hundred and fifty years of neglect - yet Indians have 'benefited'? Is this a joke? So where have the MIC and Samy been all these years? It appears that Samy Vellu and the MIC leaders have no sense of shame.

"The primary responsibility of redressing social imbalances among the communities falls on the Government's shoulders" - such strong and brave words, especially with the PM seated beside him at the 54th MIC General Assembly.

They remain mere words, and words are all Samy has, as he begs, bows, and bends before his political Master - who never fails to pat him on the the Indian plantation worker continues to bear the brunt on his/her shoulders...

The evidence is so clear and compelling - whether it be in housing, health, education or economics... the Indian Malaysian, the plantation worker in particular, has been shortchanged.

Housing Woes

During his term as MIC president, thousands of Indian plantation workers have been displaced from their homes and from the land which they and their forefathers had cleared, toiled and lived on.

For their daring and dedication in transforming harsh jungles into productive rubber estates, they have been deprived of a home, in many cases, to make way for the development of luxury homes.

For their long-service to their employers and for having contributed to the growth of the national economy, they have been served with eviction orders or paid a pittance as compensation, or dragged into a tedious Court process intended to break their resolve for justice.

Sad to say too, many of the plantation workers are in their twilight years. Some have served as long as 40 to 50 years. They have nowhere to go, they know not another trade - 'engines for Malaysia's economic growth' (according to Samy), yet now discarded.

According to the 1998 Productivity Report , estate workers played a vital role in generating the RM15.8 billion or 11 per cent of the country's revenue. For a people whose contribution to the economy has been so substantial surely they deserve better.

At the 4th Selangor MIC convention at the Dewan Jubilee in Shah Alam, Samy, with almost blurry eyes, 'deplored the plight of thousands of displaced estate workers living in squalor in dozens of long-houses and squatter settlements all over Selangor' (Star, 14 July 1997).

In an emotional two-hour speech, Samy said that the problem was not new as it was 'a predicament common for the past 20 years'. So what has he and his party been doing?

The situation was unacceptable especially when 'the Selangor Government had a policy to ensure workers received low-cost housing and alternative employment before approving re-development of estates' (NST, 14 July 1997).

He could only lament: 'We should not be solving problems on an ad hoc basis. We should find permanent solutions'.

Later when opening the Federal Territory MIC Convention, Samy had said that a special committee would be set up in the Federal capital to 'look into the woes of the community'.

'I have directed Senator Datuk V.K.K. Teagarajan (the FT MIC chief) to set up a special committee and gave him two months to come up with the list of Indians who are living in squatter areas and long-houses' (NST, 14 July 1997).

Three years have passed. Yet at the MIC General Assembly last year, Samy cited the case of some 25,000 Indian Malaysians still living in squatter houses! So what had the 'special committee' done?

During a verbal clash in Parliament in November last year over the Opposition's allegation that the Government was not giving proper consideration to the Indians, MIC secretary-general S.Sothinathan stood up to ask: 'Do you think MIC is doing nothing?'

The answer, as they say, is blowing in the wind.

Till today, the Attorney-General's Chambers continues to delay expediting legislation making it mandatory for estate owners to provide housing for retrenched workers when converting or selling their land for commercial development (Sun, 11 Sept 2000).

The marginalisation continues.

Schooling Whilst Chinese schools in the country have been making much headway in education, Tamil schools have lost their way.

In the 1992 UPSR examinations, eight out of 16 Tamil schools in the Federal Territory recorded 'zero passes' (Star, 2 May 1993). In March last year, it was reported that all the UPSR students in 22 Tamil schools in Selangor, failed in all the subjects of the examination(!) (Sun, 12 March 2000)

In September last year, Samy, whilst dismisaasing a gloomy picture painted of Tamil schools, said: 'Who says all Tamil schools are gone. Even the blind will not say such things' (Star, 23 Sept 2000).

The following month, however, Samy revealed that about 200 of the 520 Tamil schools in the country may have to close down due to development, migration and change of estate crops (Star, 30 Oct 2000).

'The conditions of most of these (Tamil schools) are deplorable, and many lack basic necessities like libraries, tables and chairs (NST, 30 Oct 2000).'

Some time back, a survey by the PM's Deprtment showed that only three out of 1,000 estate children managed to make it to the university (Star, 12 June 1993.)

As in previous assemblies, delegates continued to raise the plight of Tamil schools at the 54th MIC General Assembly in May 2000. Education topped the party?s list of resolutions (Sun, 29 May 2000).

Samy provided his usual stereotyped responses - he would raise their complaints with the Cabinet, a study would be conducted, a special unit would be set up ....till the next General Assembly...


Even in estate healthcare, the MIC and its president have little or nothing to show. One does not need to go very far back.

Five years ago, the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) revealed that medical services in plantations had shown 'no significant improvement over the last six years despite calls and recommendations by concerned bodies including the MMA' (NST, 4 July 1995).

According to S.Pakirisamy, President of the Estate Hospital Assistants Association, who has had 40 year?s experience in plantation services, 'health care was much better in the 1950s'! (Star, 25 June 1995).

In December 1996 , then Health Ministry parliamentary secretary M.Mahalingam announced that the Government intended to close 42 out of the 50 estate hospitals in the country 'due to their deplorable condition' (Star, 23 Dec 1996).

In 1997, the Cabinet directed the Health Ministry to take over the hospitals and clinics 'for only a year' (!) (Star, 18 Aug 1997). Two years later (1999), MMA president P.Krishnan was still lamenting over 'the never-ending healthcare issues in estates' - which in his opinion was due in part to 'the lack of political will to solve the problem'.

He added: 'I cannot understand why none of the politicians are taking the issue up.' (The Star, 24 Oct 1999)

Who has Eaten my Cake?

Every year on Deepavali, Samy Vellu very symbolically feeds the PM with a piece of cake. Is this why the economic cake of the Indian Malaysians has been shrinking with each passing year?

What has Samy Vellu and the MIC done to improve the economic well-being of the Indian community in Malaysia? The resolutions of each passing year provide more and more evidence of mismanagement, scandal and frustration.

Even if Indian Malaysians were to ignore the Maika-Telekom shares scandal, they would still be left with the disastrous performance of Maika Holdings Bhd in 1998 and 1999.

Maika Holdings

Set up in 1982, Maika Holdings Bhd was an MIC investment vehicle meant to bring hope to the Indian Malaysians.

But it only brought them misery. Its soaring cumulative losses have only brought nightmares to the poor Indians who had invested whatever they had for a better tomorrow. Its pre-tax losses for 1997 were RM22.63 million, for 1998 RM35.79 million, and for 1999 a staggering RM44.35 million.

The losses, of course, reflected very poorly on Maika's newly-appointed Chief Executive who happens to be the son of Samy Vellu. (The Star, 12 Dec 1999)

Chairman Dr K. Ampikaipakan, in his statement in Maika's Annual Report thanked 'our founder, Y.B. Dato' Seri S. Samy Vellu, for his untiring assistance and guidance'!

The Annual Report contained pages of businesses within the Group that had 'faltered', 'ceased operations', been 'put up for sale' and of the company's 'negative growth'.

After having listened to the PM's speech on how the Indians have "made much progress", like the many general assemblies they had attended, delegates of the 54th MIC General Assembly came forward to share how economically backward their community was/is.

The Indian share in corporate equity rose from 0.5 per cent to 1.5 per cent during the last 30 years but was extremely low compared to the equity owned by the Bumiputra and Chinese communities (The Star, 28 May 2000).

The delegates' resolutions reflected how they really felt about the way they were being treated. They urged the Government to:

  1. make it mandatory for firms going for public listing to reserve at least 5 per cent of the shares offered for the Indian community;

  2. impose a condition to ensure Indians have a 5 per cent participation rate in all privatised projects;

  3. provide more job opportunities for Indians in the Government sector.

Ask Komala Krishna Moorthy - Kapar MP, MIC's Information Chief and a member of the National Economic Consultative Council II Economic Committee - and she will tell you that 'a large number of Indian businessmen are not getting their share of business' (Star, 4 June 2000).

The PM had claimed during the General Assembly (and this would later be repeated in Parliament by Parliamentary Secretary in the PM's Department Noh Omar) that the average monthly income of the Indian household has increased from RM304 in 1970 to RM1,209 in 1990 and RM2,702 last year (NST, 28 May 2000).

The figure is misleading, and is surely not the average income of the thousands of Indian plantation workers.

P.Kanniyama, NUPW, Sungala Estate secretary tells of the plantation worker struggling to survive: 'What do you expect us to do with RM300 and less a month, we cannot support our families as everything is expensive now...the plantation owners are making millions in profits but we have been neglected all this while' (NST, 5 June 2000).

The PM had also announced that the Government had agreed in principle to monthly wages for estate workers, with only the amount to be determined. This was the result of the hard work of Samy, the PM had made sure to mention.

Samy chose to respond in poetic fashion: 'The period of sunset will diminish and a new sunrise will be visible in the life of the estate workers when monthly wages come into effect. (NST, 28 May 2000).

He would later add that 'estate workers could expect monthly wages before the end of the year' (Star, 28 May 2000).

"They don't have to live hand-to-mouth. I was prepared to sacrifice my (Cabinet) position...I said if this was not successful, it is better for me to leave the Cabinet so the Cabinet thought it's better to sit and discuss."

This was not the first time that Samy had offered to resign. Ten years ago, he had done the same. The Government had to intervene and force more than 300,000 workers from prolonging a strike to protest against the worsening conditions in the estates.

Similar protests were held in 1994, 1995 and 1996.

But Samy has always returned to Kuala his 'Cabinet' to sit and discuss long-standing issues that he would dramatise when things came to a dead-end.

Two months before the PM's monthly-wage revelation, Human Resources Minister Fong Chang Onn had in fact given the assurance that a permanent pay system would be finalised by July 2000.

It is now February 2001. Yet, Samy Vellu has nothing to show.

Disillusioned and Dysfunctional

Five years ago, then Deputy Home Minister Megat Junid had warned that there was an alarming number of 1,000 Indian gangs nation-wide: 'Not only gangsterism but other social problems (involving Indians) are also on the rise' (Star, 25 Sept 1995.) What has Samy been doing since 1995?

About four years ago at the opening of a working meeting of MIC's divisional chairmen, Samy presented a paper entitled 'An Agenda For Action: Overcoming Social Ills in the Malaysian Society, The Role of the Malaysian Indian Congress' (NST, 10 March 1997). What has the MIC been doing since 1997?

Displaced, deprived and disempowered - disillusioned by the empty and broken promises of politicians like Samy Vellu - demoralised by the slow grinding wheels of justice = drowned in a vicious cycle of poverty and violence = the poor Indians, especially their young end up dysfunctional in society. They are studied and documented and may even one day be damned into oblivion!.

Surely the grave social problems that plague the Indian community are as old as the presidency of Samy and the MIC. Yet his response is one of calling for more studies and the setting up of task forces.

Indian Malaysians cannot be blamed for feeling third-class or an underclass or outclassed = they have been led and misled by pathetic politicians who seemingly have neither shame nor scruples.

Perhaps the greatest 'crime' of the majority of Indian Malaysians, plantation workers in particular, is having entrusted their lives and future into the hands of their leaders, who in return, have handed them only hype and hypocrisy instead of home and hope, more suffering instead of a new sunrise.


The Indian Malaysian

Population: 1.8 mil. or 8 per cent of 22 mil.

Corporate Wealth: 1.5% compared to Malays 19.4% & Chinese 38.5%

Pop. of estate workers: 300,000 (About 40% are Indians)


40% of country's serious crimes by Indians 38 Indian-based gangs with 1,500 active members 100% increase in Indian gangsters in three-year period Highest number detained under the Emergency Ordinance and banished to Simpang Renggam Prison

Social woes:

15% in KL are squatters
Highest suicide rate
41% of vagrants & beggars
20% of child abusers
14% juvenile delinquents

Martin Jalleh is a poet and social commentator based in Penang.