Pity the Stateless Children

I make this post in the wake of the recent policy reversal by the Malaysian government that requires adopted stateless children to the present of a passport in order to register for schooling. The specific issue of adopted children, cogent though it is in itself, brings forth the more general and much more important question of the state’s moral obligation to provide education to all children, stateless or otherwise, who live within its borders.

I ask the following questions, as an Indian and as a Malaysian –

First I ask, in the context if the statelessness of many Indians in our country, how can any person of Indian identity, holding Malaysian citizenship, fight for equality for themselves, without first embracing the fundamental struggle of our fellows who were brought to British Malaya as indentured laborers in the colonial political economy and then abandoned as the nation achieved independence? Do Indian Malaysians not have to fight for a parity of citizenship amongst out own people before we have the moral standing to question the injustices purportedly meted out to us in a Malaysia dominated by Malays who have, no doubt set their own postcolonial colonial reclamations and interests above all else in the nation.

According to the current UNHCR website ” the Malaysian Indian Community has faced challenges related to identity documentation and confirmation of Malaysian citizenship for many years” and in the estimation of Malaysian NGO, the Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (DHRRA), there were 12,400 established stateless persons residing in West Malaysia as of the end of December 2017. The UNHCR notes that the documentation problems faced by stateless communities that might best be addressed by the Malaysian government at a policy level. (As an aside, the Pakatan Harapan GE 14 election campaign seems to have been hollow and hypocritical, if not downright dishonest in this its claims and promises on this matter)

Secondly, acknowledging that by no measure is the Indian community the only one facing the curse of statelessness, I ask, can any Malaysian meaningfully strive for anything else of moral worth in our nation, while accepting this denial of access to education to innocent children who are caught within its boarders, trapped in the administrative limbo of statelessness? Shame on Malaysian Indians when we cry louder about a lost Thaipusam holiday! Shame on all of us Malaysians who accept this situation!

Image: https://www.unhcr.org/ending-statelessness-in-malaysia.html

https://malaysia.news.yahoo.com/stateless-children-still-denied-access-015100401.html

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2021/01/21/mic-puts-heat-on-kedah-mb-over-cancelled-thaipusam-holiday/

Who is Rajinikanth Dada?

Disappointingly, as reported in Swaraj, SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth supports the BJP’s new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019. Wearing his politician hat he has stated, with a Kollywood glibness, “CAA is no threat to Muslims. If they face any problem, I will be the first to raise my voice for them.” Ludicrously, his measure of harm seems to be the effect this act has on Muslims who crossed over into India at partition, while the act’s direct impact is on newer refugees, and indirectly, on the very definition of India as a secular nation.

This Citizenship Amendment Act provides access to Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who fled to India from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before 2015, glaringly excluding Muslims. The CBC cites Niraja Gopal Jayal, a professor at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance at New Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University, who states that the Act runs afoul of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees to all persons (not just citizens) the right to equality before the law and the equal protection of the law. She stated that it “creates gradations of citizenship based on religion, which is clearly discriminatory.”

https://swarajyamag.com/news-brief/taking-dravidian-parties-head-on-rajinikanth-backs-caa-sends-clear-signal-on-his-political-path

https://www.cbc.ca/news/india-citizenship-law-protests-1.5397915

Stateless Indians Clock 2

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On day 1 of the new Pakatan Harapan government, I noted that within the wide promise made to the most powerless section of our society, there was an actionable kernel  – to set in place the laws, administrative procedures and outreach that might make it possible to begin addressing the problem of statelessness among Malaysian Indians.  Instead of reporting, as I had hoped, on the state of development of the requisite policy/administrative instruments, this new government has offered relief to that portion of the stateless Indian community that has the least to benefit and whose citizenship has the least consequences for the Malaysian polity. 3,407 Indians above 60 years of age will be given citizenship on the basis of their meeting the requirements for permanent residents to become citizens. The new Prime Minister is reported to have said “We promised this in our manifesto. It took us some time, but we will stick to our promise and issue them a blue IC and they will be regarded as a citizen.” I am sorry to say it, but this is mere eyewash, bunkum even! … and a sign, that for the wretched of our earth, it seems to be Malaysian business as usual Barisan = Harapan … dosen matter bah!

Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) advisor N Surendran is reported in Malaysiakini to have countered that what we need, instead of this expediency, is a review of procedures for granting citizenship. I present the report on his words in numbered points for clarity and efficacious communication –

  1. “The policies, operating procedures and methodologies must be thoroughly reviewed and restructured by the new government.
  2. It is the inflexible and unnecessary demands for non-existent documents, evidence and witnesses insisted upon by the ministry and NRD (National Registration Department) which are responsible for both creating and perpetuating the problem of statelessness in Malaysia.
  3. We must reach out to the thousands of stateless persons who have difficulty dealing with the bureaucracy and stringent procedures of the NRD.
  4. Most stateless persons are those who already qualify to be citizens by ‘operation of law’ under Article 14 of the Federal Constitution, but are denied citizenship because they have either inadequate or no documents, are abandoned or adopted children, or their parents’ marriage was not registered.
  5. The problem is generational. Parents and grandparents have no identification documents at all or only red ICs, although born and residing in Malaysia and entitled to citizenship”.

Regardless of how far down this road of reform the new Home Ministry has gone or failed to go, these are the honest and pertinent terms in which the 100 day reckoning of the ‘STATELESS INDIANS PROMISE’ should have been couched.  And you know what my dear Pakatan Harapan? … you can still come clean! In fact you must!

Image: https://boingboing.net/2015/12/02/theres-a-100-hour-rule-n.html

http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2018/08/14/citizenship-stateless-over-60-mahathir-updated

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/438983