Beautiful family selfie of rising national badminton star Kisona Selvaduray gives us so much pride as Malaysian Indians.
Numbering continued from the previous post.
6. I ended the last post by noting the semantics (etymology and idiomatic usage), syntax (parenthetical punctuation marks) and the pragmatics of its context (the explanation in the apology) of the utterance leaves open the possibility that no racial slur was intended in the use of the word ‘keling.’ There is however more to this utterance that needs to be analyzed. While the focus of attention has been on the K word, there is another word that in my view is more insidiously troublesome, the E word – ‘estate’.
7. Malaysian Indians are of diverse backgrounds, in terms of regions of the subcontinent from which they hail, economic conditions and social status with which they arrived. Many Indians were brought from Tamil Nadu to a then British Malaya as indentured laborers within the colonial economy. As Dr. I Lourdeasamy writes, “The Indian migrants in estates lived under slave-like conditions. The European planters and their staff exploited them economically and socially. Wages were low, working hours long (10-12 hours a day), housing was crowded, sanitation and health facilities were almost non-existent, and their women were molested”. He quotes historian, S Arasaratnam, who writes that the newly recruited ‘estate’ workers were “cleansed with pesticides and docked around their necks with the name of their estates and shipped under the most deplorable conditions”. These Indian Malaysians who contributed their sweat and blood to the very infrastructure that became this nation were then abandoned as the nation achieved independence. Ocer half a century after independence, a sizable number of their descendants remain in the abject condition of stateless in Malaysia.
8. Using the word ‘estate’ as adjective for the noun ‘Indian’ is a denotation of all of this and within the Malaysian milieu, it has connotations of abjection and depravation. Estate Indian can certainly be used in a neutral manner, for instance, in a census, but there is no doubt that it also connotes a lowly status. While I object to this meaning, I have the word used in this both within the Indian community and within the Malaysian community at large. I remember a classmate in primary school who was teased and shunned the non-Indian students for his smell (he used coconut oil in his hair). He was picked on and even physically abused regularly by one of out teachers. Of note is that this teacher happened to also be an Indian. So even without any racial connotation, which it obviously carries as well, the word ‘estate’ carries all the pejorative connotations of a socio-economic slur.
9. To return to the offending statement, “BAM kutip india (keling) dlm estate mana lah jd pemain utama Malaysia,” it is the use of ‘estate’ as an adjective, rather than the ‘Keling’ noun that in pragmatic analysis reveals the strong likelihood of racist intent and meaning. Indeed, ‘Keling’ might be the obvious racial slur but I take more offence from the use of the word ‘estate’ in a derisory manner in the context of this statement about a Malaysian Indian.
10. I would like to suggest that Malaysian Indians take on all of this name calling in their stride (sticks and stones …), as I am sure our champion Kisona will have to do if she wants to keep her eye on the prize, so to speak! Other peoples stupidity and careless racism really is no skin off our black noses! What is more pertinent here, than a shock horror reaction – that the K word is racist, is that all Malaysians, especially Indians, take note of the implications of use of the E word. I am not saying we should not use ‘estate’ because it is derogatory. That would be too brittle or ‘woke’ in the North American sense, to be useful to Malaysians. What I would like to come out from this nasty little BAM episode is a reflection on the contributions of estate Indians to Malaysia, and on the plight of their descendants today. On an intra-communal note, whether or not one is an estate Indian, Malaysian Indians as a whole can be proud to be associated with the word ‘estate’ and even the word ‘keling.’ We should orient the understanding of these words towards the more noble and affirmative connotations that are latent within them.
11. In concluding this post, I would like to qualify my earlier acknowledgement of the rich metaphoric and respectable etymological aspects of the word ‘keling’ by noting that what is most significant about a word when sent as a message (when it is uttered) is its contemporary meaning for the contemporary receiver. The sender should temper their use of problematic words with the reception of their message in mind.
12. K is for Kisona!