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National Express

The Hundraf of Umno’s making

By Helen Ang

There is no typing error above; I did spell ‘Hundraf’ for Human Rights Action Force. Hundraf is the twin spirit of Makkal Sakthi, an expression translated as People Power, not Indian Power.

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar is reported by Bernama as saying the Indians are not neglected in Malaysia. What he implied is that Indians have little cause for complaint and thus the complaining Hindraf have no basis for their struggle.

Syed Hamid in announcing the ban on Hindraf said the Indian community was quite well represented with 14 Members of Parliament, 21.4% in the legal fraternity, 18.4% in medicine and their income was 1.2 times higher than the Malays.

Out of his count of 14 Indian MPs, only three are from MIC compared to six from DAP. There are three from PKR and one from PSM — Samy-slayer of Sg Siput, the redoubtable Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj. If Indians are ‘well represented’, it is no thanks to BN. (I could only recognise 13 Indian names, maybe I missed someone or perhaps there is a Malay Dilemma-ed MP in the House.)

Regarding the statistics Syed Hamid cited, may I ask how many Indian lawyers and doctors got their degrees from Malaysian public universities? And secondly, how many had their education paid for by the state?

This is what blog commentator Parameswara tells me about one of the Hindraf-5 lawyers: “To my knowledge. R. Kengadharan the eldest son of a postal worker and housewife, completed his law studies on the meagre proceeds of a single storey house that was hocked to a financial institution to procure a study loan. Having returned from his studies, he not only paid off the loan but educated his siblings through the same house and earning from his law practice.”

And DAP’s Tony Pua says of another Hindraf-5 lawyer V. Ganabathirau:

“Gana never manage to have the privilege of completing his education at one go. After finishing Form 5, he had to take up various odd jobs to help support himself and his family. That however, did not prevent him from investing his earnings and taking up part-time courses to pursue his ambition of becoming an officer of the court. His dream came true in his late twenties when he graduated with a law degree from the University of London external programme.”

Those who hold external or foreign degrees are required to additionally have the Certificate of Legal Practice, a hard-to-pass Malaysian exam designed to block entry into the profession.

SPIN ON STATISTICS

Syed Hamid conveniently forgot other professional fields where Indians are under-represented. From the same table of statistics that he drew his figures, here’s what the Minister omitted: Of architects, 45.3% are bumiputera, 1.4% are Indian. Of engineers, 46.0% are bumiputera, 5.4% are Indian.

I have statistics as well: While Indians accounted for 9.8% of civil servants in the 1980s, they were 5.2% in 2003. Malays are fast increasing in numbers in the skilled professions and dominating government and GLC posts, while the Indians are regressing in proportionate numbers.

And more statistics: In the present Abdullah cabinet, there is one Indian out of 27 Ministers — 3.7%. The Indian share in 2004 of corporate wealth (ownership of capital at par value) is 1.2%.

Now with regard to those living under the poverty line, Syed Hamid said Indians comprised 2.9%, Chinese 0.6% and Malays 8.3%. Again, he has deliberately obscured the truth. He said ‘Malays’. Wrong, it’s bumiputera 8.3%. These figures come from the Ninth Malaysia Plan. The poorest, least helped among bumiputera are the Orang Asli of the peninsula and the indigenes of Sabah and Sarawak who are not Muslim.

How did the statistics measure ‘poor’?

Over 300,000 Indians have been displaced in the last two decades after they lost their jobs in the plantations. In 2005, it was reported that more than 30% of Indians did not own a house. Indians are squatters in urban centres or the periphery; Indian vagrants sleep in the street — you have seen them.

The poverty line income used for 2004 in Peninsular Malaysia was RM663 per month for urban areas, and RM657 for rural areas. The Department of Statistics, ior year 2000, reported that out of approximately 1.68 million Indians, some 80% were urban and the remaining 20% rural.

If one lived in his own house in the kampung, he does not have to pay rent. If one planted vegetables on his land and reared chicken, he spends less on food. The use of household income as a single yardstick (RM663-urban and RM657-rural; the RM6 differential fails to reflect the cost of living gap between the two regions) does not signal the true level of deprivation.

While on paper mean household income may look more for Indians, it is an average jacked up by the earnings of Indian professionals, and Ananda Krishnan. But the figures also indicate class differences within any one community. Just as the Tan Sri Chinese tycoons have absolutely no bearing on my daily life, how much does the monthly income of RM3,456 attributed to Indians reflect their salary overall?

Yayasan Strategic Sosial in 2005 put 30% of Indians in the bottom strata of society, and 20% in the top strata. My analogy would be that for the one doctor and one lawyer Syed Hamid mentioned, you have three low-wage earners in the labourer, cleaner and production worker. Drawing from the same statistical pool dipped by the Minister, while Indians made up 7.5% of Malaysia’s population, they constituted 14.7% in the elementary occupations.

Next, Syed Hamid said the overall income of the Indian was 1.2 times higher than Malay. Heck, if I’m Indian and took home RM3,456 a month, why would I want to go out and demonstrate? So where does the Tamil underclass that is the backbone of Hindraf come from then?

TEMPLES IN A ROW

Are the Indians a community in distress? How about looking at this set of social indicators? There were 2,555 suicides nationwide [Health Ministry report cited by NST in Sept, 2005], and 21.1 suicides per 100,000 Indians, 2.6 per 100,000 Malays. They are killing themselves in despair, it would seem.

Syed Hamid further claimed that there is a ratio of one temple to 149 Hindus and one mosque to 2,300 Muslims in this country. Aaah, the good Minister must have gone around the country tallying the little Hindu shrines under trees and altars lodged in rock crevices. I hope these ‘temples’ — one for every 149 Hindus — are marked on maps because tourists may like to visit them.

He also equated action against Hindraf to action taken against Al-Arqam, Al-Ma’unah and Kumpulan Militan Malaysia in the past, saying “The government’s priority is to protect the security of Malaysians”.

As a Malaysian, I do not feel threatened by the Muslims of Al-Arqam as I know the Malays to be a race full of kindness and budi bahasa. And as for the KMM, Syed Hamid as Home Minister should sign the order for their immediate release from ISA; prove their militancy in open court. Otherwise, I could think that Syed Hamid has committed fitnah, a grave sin in Islam, to allege his fellow ummah are militants.

Lastly, Syed Hamid said the government “cannot tolerate groups that propagate extremism and stir up racial and religious tension” and accused them of having “created fear among the people”. Yet it appears to me as if he is describing Umno factions. Is Umno going to be declared illegal soon too?
– Centre for Policy Initiatives

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