K is for Kisona 4

Beautiful family selfie of rising national badminton star Kisona Selvaduray gives us so much pride as Malaysian Indians.

Numbering continued from the previous post.

BAM kutip india (keling) dlm estate mana lah jd pemain utama Malaysia

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!

Image https://www.nst.com.my/sports/badminton/2017/10/292171/after-years-missing-out-deepavali-joy-last-shuttler-kisona

https://says.com/my/news/bersatu-leader-resigns-after-racist-remark-against-malaysian-shuttler

https://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-semantics-and-vs-pragmatics/

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2021/07/20/the-indian-problem-what-are-its-roots/?cf_chl_jschl_tk=pmd_nj6UJhssa3by0H4oHCAX8c5ijM71HvTviDykWPdJEOw-1633719811-0-gqNtZGzNAqWjcnBszQoR

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/highlight/2021/10/08/kisona-in-tears-when-asked-about-racist-comment/?cf_chl_jschl_tk=pmd_r_V6tEZ49TeaYEZ4bC0vXP06DBV7lh20xIvZqdFDOaE-1633742346-0-gqNtZGzNApCjcnBszQsl

K is for Kisona 3

In this post I will begin to unpack the meaning, possible meanings rather, of Bersatu Pasir Puteh division vice chairman Borhanuddin Che Rahim statement on social media, made with reference to Kisona Selvaduray, in the context of her recent defeat in the Sudirman Cup semi-final match in Finland. “BAM kutip india (keling) dlm mana lah jd pemain utama Malaysia” or “Which estate did BAM (The Badminton Association of Malaysia) fund this indian (keling) and make her Malaysia’s main player”.

As I noted in the previous post, my instinctive response is the same as that of most Malaysians. Surely, this statement is a racial slur. Still, given the immediate apology and resignation of the perpetrator, I now have some doubts as to the meaning of his text and as to his intention as well. To satisfy myself and to do justice to the accused, I will attempt interrogate the statement in terms of its semiotics in order to determine if indeed the statement is racist and if so, what exactly constitutes its racism. If it is not racist, I will ask if it is, nevertheless, a slur of some sort, and again how it achieves its harm. In doing this, I will unpack the syntax, semantics, and pragmatics of this utterance –

BAM kutip india (keling) dlm estate mana lah jd pemain utama Malaysia

  1. I will begin with some definitions. ‘Syntax’, is way in which the words are put together to form the offending phrase, ‘Semantics’ involves the meaning of words used independent of the context and ‘pragmatics’ is the meaning of the statement in relation to the context of its utterance. Pragmatics helps us approach the meaning as intended or implied by the speaker.

  2. The obvious trigger word here is ‘keling’ and while it is clearly used in a derogatory manner as exemplified and evidenced by the infamous ‘Keling Babi” video, the word is deeply complex both in its etymology and in its current usage. It is in fact a mainstay of Malay idiomatic expression (Please see my exhaustive Keling Lexicon). In semantic terms, to define ‘keling’ as having a racist denotation, or even a necessary connotation of racism, would mean denying the benign etymology of the word. At the very least it would mean that the contemporary negative connotations (which one can in fact see even in the older idiomatic expressions of the lexicon), have displaced other more neutral denotations of Indian origins and Indianness.

  3. Further, in this question of usage, there is a clear geographical diversity in the understanding the word. I have come to understand anecdotally, that the word is used freely by Malays in Kelantan, under the impression that it is not a slur and that Indians do not take it as one. I am yet to gain any insight about the Kelate Indian communities position in this matter but I consider my Malay informers astute, sensitive and reliable. If indeed this is the position in Kelantan, the explanation given by Borhanuddin Che Rahim stands corroborated. He states in his apology, “Saya tidak berniat menghina kaum India dengan panggilan tersebut, ia sebaliknya bahasa percakapan di Kelantan yang merujuk kepada orang India”.

  4. There is also syntactical indication that the use of the term might not be as a slur. It is used, not instead of ‘India’ but, as an ancillary to ‘india,’ and it is set within brackets, as if to indicate that it is an adjective modifying the noun. If the word ‘india’ is being explained by the more Kelate appellation of ‘keling’, or if ‘india’ is being qualified – indicating which type of ‘india,’ ‘keling’ or perhaps ‘mamak’, then there arises the possibility that no racial slur arises in the use of the word, at least not from the perspective of intention.

To be continued in the following post …

https://www.badmintoncentral.com/forums/index.php?threads/s-kisona.183894/

https://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-semantics-and-vs-pragmatics/

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2urrs8

https://www.utusan.com.my/terkini/2021/10/saya-minta-maaf-tidak-ada-niat-hina-kaum-india/

K is for Kisona

Please lah Ker! … No need to forgive so quickly … learn the F___ ing lesson first !

“Let us together cultivate unity and friendship with the aim of Keluarga Malaysia. Reject prejudice and misconceptions or racial resentment. To err is human, to forgive, divine.”

Image https://varnam.my/news/2021/43785/s-kisona-clinches-the-spanish-international-title-last-saturday/

https://www.msn.com/en-my/news/other/citing-e2-80-98keluarga-malaysia-e2-80-99-deputy-minister-wants-bersatu-man-forgiven-for-insulting-shuttler-s-kisona/ar-AAP6O8J

Chennai, a place in between

I am happy to note that Jane Frankish has had her essay, Chennai, a place in between, published in the Liberal Studies Journal ,Simon Fraser University hosted within the Ormsby Review. This short piece tells the story of our family’s migration from Malaysia to Canada through the lens of a visit to Tamil Nadu we made on route.

https://ormsbyreview.com/category/sfu-graduate-liberal-studies/

https://ormsbyreview.com/

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Early Internet Art in Malaysia 2

In 1996 I made a web work titled The Failure of Marcel Duchamp/Japanese Fetish Even! which is the first Internet art work in Malaysia and, as far as I know, also in Southeast Asia. This work was both an admiring tribute and a harsh parody of Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas) which is installed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In this meticulously realized work, Duchamp cleaves from logos, an abyss of eros. I suggest that it represents the culmination of the humanist trajectory in the philosophy of being, as in its presentation, the visual perspective of the ‘eye’ is fused, or confused, with the ‘I’ of the anthropocentric worldview. In this hypostatization of the ontology underpinning photography, sculptural form and visual image are rendered indifferent, arguably heralding the end of the retinal orientation in the art of the West and the birth of conceptual art. Étant donnés is a paragon of visibility, a par ergon of reality, a hyperreality even!

My own work remixed an image appropriated from a Japanese bondage site, an erotic or pornographic element, within the photographic documentation of an intervention I made at the site of the Duchamp installation in 1993. The erotic element would have been unacceptable on Malaysian servers and so was isolated from the rest of the image and located, with the help of media artist Paul Sermon, on a server at the The Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst (Academy of Fine Arts) in Leipzig. Part of the aim of the work was to address territoriality and cultural difference in the Internet. The work underscored the fact that information that was then becoming globally accessible is not universally acceptable. Another aim of the work was to reify, in the context of what was in the mid 1990’s, the ‘slow download’ of the Internet, Fredric Jameson proposition that the visual Image is, in Itself, essentially pornographic. With the advent of the mass access to computer mediated communications brought about by the World Wide Web, Duchamp’s delayed image was no longer an esoteric encounter. It was becoming democratically accessible (Given:) as the slow download (The Waterfall?) on a personal illuminated screen (The Illuminating Gas!).

The The Failure of Marcel Duchamp/Japanese Fetish Even! was launched at a poster session at ISEA 1996. That presentation, from which this post has been developed, was titled Locating The Image In An Age Of Electronic Media .

http://isea-archives.org/docs/1996/proceedings/ISEA96_proceedings.pdf


Malaysian Indian Artists 2

In his article on Malaysian Indian artists published in the Penang Monthly, Ooi Kok Chuen writes of J. Anu and myself both being of Sri Lankan Tamil descent. This observation, in the context of the question of Malaysian Indianness, raises two concerns pertaining to blood ties, one intimate and familial and the other, public and communal.

The first is a fact – I am proud to note that Anu and I are not only members of the same community, we are of the same family. Anu’s mother Gana, whom I call Acca, is my cousin, and this relationship is celebrated in an image of the Koboi Balik Lagi series of the Koboi Project.

4 Ikatan Pertiwi
4 Ikatan Pertiwi, Koboi Balik Lagi, https://koboibalikkampung.wixsite.com/baliklagi

The second is a question that underpins Ooi’s own pertinent question – ” WHY ARE THERE so few artists of Indian (including Singhalese) descent in Malaysia?.” It is this – Who is Indian in the Malaysian context? As I have noted in a previous post, Ceylonese Tamils in Malaysia have historically tried to preserve a distinct identity from Malaysian Indians. We have our own organization, the Malaysian Ceylonese Congress (MCC), that has been traditionally aligned to Barisan National. Although the MCC is not a registered political party, it had, until 1981, a senator in the Malaysian parliament’s upper house, the Dewan Negara. However, as Suhaini Aznan notes, Malaysians do not recognize the difference between Indians and Ceylonese and in the 2000 census many Ceylonese were counted as Indians. In this light, MIC seems to have invited the Ceylonese to join up with the Indians but, as Aznan notes the Ceylonese declined. He explains, after Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan, president of the MCC, “every race wanted its own identity to survive.”

It is my own opinion that Malaysian Tamils of Ceylonese origin should, to the extent that the Malaysian Indians will accept us, be absorbed into the category and identity of ‘Indian’. It is not a question of renouncing ones Ceylon Tamil background but, rather, of integrating it into the wider Malaysian Indian mosaic. Regardless of my own identification, however, the question remains, “are Ceylonese Tamils included in the category ‘Malaysian Indian’?” The question of Indianness does not stop here. It is clear from Ooi’s placing ‘including Singhalese’ within parenthesis in his question, that even he feels his placement of this other Ceylonese community within the Indian category is questionable. And then there is the question of the Mamak or Indian Muslims – it is unclear if they would all be equally happy with the highlighting of their belonging to the Indian category, as some might be in the process of transferring their identity into the ‘Malay’ category’.

Returning to the first concern, that of family, artist T. Selvaratnam is related to both Anu and myself, but that is a story for another blog post.

https://penangmonthly.com/article/20432/spotlight-on-indian-malaysian-artists?fbclid=IwAR3CB_s6jMPFH2A8P-4UcFwKXz6oUzjwBn7aRXijHkPNp35Aob8d9iE5Gto

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaysian_Ceylonese_Congress

https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2005/03/27/standing-up-for-the-ceylonese

Malaysian Indian Artists

“WHY ARE THERE so few artists of Indian … descent in Malaysia?” Veteran Malaysian art Journalist Ooi Kok Chuen presents an overview of Malaysian Indian artists in the Penang Monthly which opens by questioning the dearth of Indians in the national canon. He goes on to offer some possible answers that he notes have been ‘bandied about,’ “Economic status, parental / social disapprobation, opportunity, (lack of) role models, patronage, minority syndrome (proportionately smaller population, of only 6.2%), “estranged” Indian-ish themes, and discrimination,” Ooi rightly states no preference amongst these reasons. Nevertheless, while it is difficult to go beyond speculation in this matter, I am glad he has asked the question publically. It is an important one as it points to the undeniable fact that, while a few Malaysian Indians have made significant contributions to the practice and theorization of the visual arts, overall, our numbers are low.

This is something that gave me pause during my years of intense involvement in the Malaysian scene from 1996 to 2002. I gave my support and encouragement to individual artists with a sense of communal allegiance whenever the opportunity came my way, but my own concerns during that period were national and international, and while intra-national questions of race and communalism formed the framework of my practice, I was not community oriented. I often wonder if I could have engaged more actively with my community in those years in terms of promoting and developing the arts.

This personal reflection and recollection, triggered by Ooi’s question, leads to a more fundamental question that lies at the heart of my Malaysian identity. Am I an Indian first or a Malaysian first? An Indian Malaysian or a Malaysian Indian! Of course, an analogous question arises for the other races of our multiethnic nation. Such pondering has even been turned into political capital. Malaysia’s present Prime Minister is reported to have said, back in 2010, “I am a Malay first, I want to say that … But being Malay does not mean that you are not Malaysian.” While the country struggles with the horrors of the recent covid-19 crisis atop an ongoing and now long running political one, the foundations of the nation are being shaken. Will the old Malaysia, whose founding social contract is premised on communalism, survive this crisis in its present form? Will we regress to a more ethnocentric paradigm, or will we emerge from this national trauma with a reformed and refined national agreement? These questions might seem far from the world of Malaysian art but this is where the stream of thoughts that flowed that follows from Ooi’s innocent, perhaps not so innocent question, has brought me – WHY ARE THERE so few artists of Indian … descent in Malaysia?”

https://penangmonthly.com/article/20432/spotlight-on-indian-malaysian-artists?fbclid=IwAR3CB_s6jMPFH2A8P-4UcFwKXz6oUzjwBn7aRXijHkPNp35Aob8d9iE5Gto

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/03/01/asia-pacific/politics-diplomacy-asia-pacific/muhyiddin-yassin-malaysia/

Bunuh Keling

Malaysiakini

According to Yahoo News A Ganapathy died in hospital on April 18 2021 from injuries allegedly sustained while in police custody. He was arrested on Feb 24 in connection with investigations into his brother who is wanted by the police. He was released and admitted to Selayang Hospital on March 8th. Ganapathy was an Malaysian Indian trader who had earned his living selling cow’s milk. He leaves behind two children aged five and seven. This is the latest in an ongoing series of such incidents in Malaysia wherein Indians have died amidst allegations of police brutality and custodial killing.

Annie Dorol notes, in an article in Living that, while the government acknowledges that 284 detainees have died while in police custody between 2000 and 2016 (more current statistic being unavailable), news portal MalaysiaKini and Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) found that custodial deaths are under-reported, with only 1 in 4 deaths actually publicized. Further, ethnic Indians, who make up less than 7% of Malaysia’s population, account for almost a quarter (23%) of officially reported deaths in police custody. However, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), estimates that the actual figure could be as high as 55%.

There is a Malay expression that pits the threat of an ‘Indian’ against that of a ‘snake.’ In its most extreme form, it goes like this, “kalau bertemu ular dengan keling, bunuh keling dulu”. Sadly, it seems that more and more snakes are getting away ….

https://malaysia.news.yahoo.com/autopsy-confirms-ganapathy-died-severe-234200624.html

https://www.therakyatpost.com/2020/06/04/indian-malaysians-are-over-represented-in-police-custody-deaths/

https://falsafah-tunsheikh.blogspot.com/2009/10/pemikiran-falsafah-adat.html

Keling Pariah 4

Pa. Ranjith is the director I admire the most in mainstream Tamil Cinema. His ability to infuse this commercial medium with the messaging of an ascendant Dalit consciousness, as he did in Kabali and Kaala, while maintaining box-office success, is astounding. Ranjith is a fearless activist and provocateur. Ranjith hails from a cheri (ghetto) in Karalapakkam, Tamil Nadu and, according to wikipedia, he is from the Paraiyar community.

Pariah has become a slur and a derisive word in English and in Malay and Indians get upset and enraged when they hear this word. Why? Well, this name comes from the cast order that is Indian and Hindu. Attitudes towards it reflect the worst racial prejudice that is innate to Indian culture. The Pariyar are a community that is categorized as outside of the Brahmanical social order. While I deplore the use of the name of this community as a slur in English and Malay, I suggest that it is more important that Indians stop flinching when they hear this word, as that reaction comes from their own racist impulse.

https://www.firstpost.com/india/india-and-the-indian-i-hope-my-daughter-inherits-a-country-unbound-by-caste-lingustic-strictures-writes-pa-ranjith-6839771.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraiyar

Keling Pariah 2

Indians should be proud to be called Pariah! The fact that the term is offensive to Indians, both in India and in the diaspora, is really a symptom of our own horrendous internal racism or catseism. Pariah is the name of one of the oppressed Dalit communities in Tamil Nadu and, according to devendrakulam.org, the English language the use of the word ‘pariah’, meaning ‘social outcast’ was first recorded in 1613. Devendrakulam.org also notes that Paraiyan is mentioned in the Classical Tamil Sangam literature in the Puram text – “Without the following four – Thudian, Panan, Parayan, Kadamban the citizens’ Categorization is not complete” . These are all categories of music workers – Thudian is a player of the Thudi drum, Panan is a singer Singer, Parayan is a player of the Parai drum, and Kadamban is a player of the instrument named Kadambu which I think might be a katam (கடம்), the clay water pot vessel that is used as a drum (I stand to be corrected).

Devendrakulam.org offers a speculative narrative of the descent of the community as Bhramanism rose in South India through the centuries. Among the intriguing possibilities offered here are the idea that the Paraiyar were Buddhists who held out against the ascendant Bhramanism and that some of the Shudra casts of the contemporary South like my own Jaffna Vellala caste emerged from the Paraiyar in a process of assimilation. The Paraiyar community has, despite millennia of oppression within the entrenched Brahmanical order, produced significant figures in Indian social, political and cultural life including, M. C. Rajah, R. Srinivasan, Thol. Thirumavalavan, Illayaraja and Pa. Ranjith. I repeat, Indians (I include Jaffna Tamils) should be proud to be called Pariah!

Image: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Castes_and_Tribes_of_Southern_India/Paraiyan

http://devendrakulam.org/uploads/Who%20are%20the%20Paraiyars.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraiyar