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Life on a razor's edge for poor Indians in Malaysia
By Marty Logan

21/3/2001 12:11 am Wed

[Masalah kaum India sebenarnya disebabkan oleh sikap kerajaan sendiri. Masalah mereka tidak akan dapat di atasi dengan membedil kumpulan samseng. Sebaliknya mutu pendidikkan dan taraf hidup mereka perlu diperbaiki segera. Keadaan hidup yang miskin dan tertekan didesa menyebabkan mereka berhijrah ke bandar. Tetapi kelulusan yang lemah menyebabkan mereka mendapat gaji yang tidak memadai sehingga ramai yang mencebur diri dalam kegiatan haram. Dan Kg Medan adalah salah satu tempat mereka bersarang.

Tragedi ini adalah lambang kegagalan MIC dan BN memainkan peranan. Kita tentu belum lupa bagaimana SAmy Vellu bersuka ria dengan majlis perkahwinan anaknya yang mencecah jutaan belanja. Kali ini dia cuma mampu menangis sahaja.... tetapi itu tidak akan dapat mengembalikan apa-apa. Pertubuhan peladang dan NGO sudah lama berdemo dan memperjuangkan nasib kaum India yang tertindas di ladang tetapi Samy Vellu berdiam sahaja. Sekarang terimalah akibatnya....
- Editor (perhatikan ada dua kaum India berbeda di Malaysia)



Life on a razor's edge for poor Indians in Malaysia.

By Marty Logan

KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 (Reuters) - When communal clashes broke out last week in a tough, crime-ridden neighbourhood outside Kuala Lumpur the violence highlighted the plight of Malaysia's impoverished ethnic Indian minority. Four of the six people killed in the nation's worst ethnic violence for more than 30 years were Indians, a community regarded as the poorest in the nation's multicultural society.

Taman Desaria, where the clashes occurred, is a fringe of villages on the edge of Petaling Jaya, a satellite town south of Kuala Lumpur. It is divided into pockets of almost exclusively Indian and Malay communities, along with some immigrant Indonesian workers.

It is also one of the nation's most violent places. Police say there were 53 murders last year in the area, the highest rate in the country.

Indigenous Malays were settled in Taman Desaria as part of Malaysia's New Economic Plan, designed to lift the economic and social lot of the majority ethnic group.

The Indians arrived from rubber plantations and erected slums next door, and with no jobs many turned to crime.

A gang culture flourished and, according to police, violence has been going on there for the past decade.

Most of the Indians are Tamils. Their forefathers came from southern India around a century ago to work in the plantations and do the backbreaking work for their British colonial masters, such as building roads and railways.

While Malaysia has transformed itself into one of Southeast Asia's most developed nations, its ethnic Indians are still bottom of the heap, holding less than two percent of the country's wealth.


While race issues are highly charged, Malaysia's record for keeping the peace has been fairly good since Malay-Chinese riots in 1969, when around 200 people were killed after an election.

The last serious conflict was in 1998, when nine people were hurt in Hindu-Muslim clashes over the relocation of a Hindu shrine in northern Penang state.

The latest bloody fighting erupted last week after an argument over a broken windscreen. But days earlier there had been skirmishes when a Hindu funeral procession crossed the path of a Malay wedding.

Even before these clashes, taxi drivers would seldom venture into Taman Desaria.

"In this particular area you not only have economic backwardness but a high level of drug addiction as well," activist Charles Santiago told Reuters. Indians have been blamed for committing more serious crimes than other ethnic groups in the country though they make up less than a tenth of the country's population.

Malaysian police last year said 38 Indian crime gangs with about 1,500 members were active in peninsular Malaysia.

For many Indian youths on the edge of society, heroes are drawn from the gangsters in the gory Tamil movies they adore.

The Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), a partner in Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's coalition, endorses Tamil-language schools, a factor regarded as hampering the community's ability to integrate.

The Chinese also protect their own language schools, but they are many rungs higher on Malaysia's social ladder.

Many Indians feel their interests have been neglected, blaming the federal government's race-based policies, particularly the affirmative action policy to help Malays move up the socio-economic ladder, for their plight.

"The Indian members of the working class have had difficulty competing for facilities and resources because the government was so involved in pushing programmes for Malays," political economist P. Ramasamy said.

"The message of last week's violence seems to be very clear - there are groups that have been alienated by the racial policies of the government," he said.


Indians are the most visible of the urban poor, sweeping the country's streets and collecting its garbage.

They officially make up about eight percent or two million of Malaysia's 22 million people, while Malays make up 55 percent and Chinese 30 percent.

But the race numbers are blurred. Many northern Indians living in Malaysia tick the box for "Others" rather than "Indian" when they fill in government forms.

While at least 80 percent of Indians are labourers, they also account for 32 percent of Malaysia's doctors and 25 percent of lawyers, Ramasamy said.

Many have successful careers in business and entertainment as well.

But the majority of southern Indians have struggled to move on. They still account for 40 percent of workers in Malaysia's plantations, but modern methods mean fewer are needed and thousands more are expected to flock to the city slums.

The government, on its part, has approved a 20 million ringgit ($5.3 million) grant to help the impoverished community and plans are being drafted to build low-cost housing for squatters.

After meeting grief-stricken relatives last week, MIC President Samy Vellu said: "Everyone is asking me what to do. I can't do anything at the moment except to cry."