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!