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





On Being Malaysian Tamil 9

UPDATE 28 JAN 2020: Court denies Gadek assemblyperson G Saminathan bail.

In a post titled Indian Vote: Entha Kabali? made before the Malaysian federal election in 2018, I wrote, . … “Whatever happens in the voting, it looks like it is indeed going to be close and, perhaps, the Indian vote is going to be important.” Further, I asked, ” … does the opposition look like they will treat us any different [from Barisan]? Just look at how they made unholy exaggerations and unfulfillable promises on the Stateless Indians issue … should they not be shown that the Indian vote, just like the vote of the other communities, has to be earned?”  While I was skeptical about the outcome for Indians, I did, as indicated in my post titled Kabali Da!, cast my lot with the new Malaysia promised by the Pakatan Harapan opposition led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Well, it came to pass that Mahathir and Harapan did win and, in the 2 years since, many have become disillusioned and dissatisfied with New Malaysia for their many unfulfilled promises. One such promise pertains to the Indian statelessness problem. Indeed, in this matter Harapan has been deeply disappointing. They promised a complete solution within 100 days, but their re-branded ‘Indian affairs’ body, the Malaysian Indian Transformation Unit (MITRA) has not solved the this problem as yet. As far as I can ascertain, the last statement issued by the minister responsible states that MITRA was still working “to outline a comprehensive solution to the stateless issue, in line with the PH government’s manifesto promise”.

Since then another issue has arisen to affect the Indian community at an equally deep symbolic level – the spate of LTTE related arrests and charges. I have discussed the apparent pervisity of these arrests and detentions under SOSMA of 12 Indians including 2 government MPs previously in this series (beginning with On Being a Malaysian Tamil 1) and the question I explore here is how one might understand the implications for the Harappan government visa vis the Indian vote. The perceived involvement of government, even if it is misplaced, will surely be detrimental to their ability to garner Indian votes in the next general elections

In principle the police act independently of the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Judiciary and the government is distant from the decisions of all these bodies. While the judiciary is independent by virtue of the separation of powers expected in Malaysia’s Westminster based legal system, the police and the AG’s chambers are extensions of the executive. They too, however, are expected to act independently of executive interference and without improper collusion with one another. If all is running as it should be in our nation’s governance, no blame can be laid at the feet of the Harappan government for these LTTE arrests, detentions, changes and for the eventual judicial outcomes, whatever they might turn out to be. However, the history of the relationships concerned in Malaysia is such that it will be very difficult for the people to believe in the integrity of the system, even if it were true.

There is no question that the majority of Malaysian Tamils, like most of their fellows throughout the world support the Elam struggle, regardless of their misgivings about the terror tactics of the LTTE. Certainly, most of us feel there was an equal amount of state terror being deployed by the Sri Lankan government in this conflict and that the Terrorist organization designation applied to the LTTE, however justified it might be, is ultimately a political assignation. Indeed, the evidence for this suggestion is the fact that the Tigers were not so designated in Malaysia till 2014, years after the war ended and all acts or terror had ceased. Given this fact and the fact that our Malaysian institutions of state are known for being questionably interdependent, it is going to be difficult for Harapan to win the hearts of the Indian community and, of course, this may have a bearing on their votes in the next elections.





Stateless Indians Clock 2


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



Promising Indians!

promising indiansWith with just 55 days left on the STATELESS INDIANS CLOCK, 20 or so promising Indian lawmakers from Pakatan Harapan held a press conference to renew their election promise to resolve the ‘stateless Indians’ problem in 100 days from coming into office. According to Malaysikini reporter Alyaa Alhadjri they held a press conference on the 25th of June 2018, with about 55 days on the clock … and proposed that the previous government’s, “Socioeconomic Development of Indian Community Unit of the Prime Minister’s Department (Sedic) be retained, as part of the government’s commitment to the community promised in its election manifesto”. In a seperate article Alyaa notes that PKR vice-president Xavier Jeyakumar told the press he is confident that the government will strive to resolve Indian citizenship issues within its first 100 days in office. Come on Annai can you really do it! What are action items … what is the timeline for this mammoth project … Please publish it so we can believe you … or at least be smart and let the 100 day deadline you set yourselves in your election promise to the most deprived sector of Malaysian society fade into the background noise along with the rest of the deadlines which will be forgotten in context of the post-election ‘realization’ of financial limitations brought about by the alleged malfeasance of the previous Barisan government! It seems that there are ‘promising Indians’ in every walk of Malaysian public life!

Image: https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/431196


Stateless Indians Clock

100 DAYS! Good Morning Malaysia this is Day one of a new Malaysian era! While I celebrate our change of government as an unprecedented expression of democratic praxis, I feel obliged to note that, in the midst of the euphoria, the clock is ticking on promises made. Writing as an Indian Malaysian, I want to remind the new government in power that as they the opposition they gave themselves 100 days to solve the ‘Stateless Indians’ problem. I was skeptical about this promise, which I suggest is, at best, hyperbole for a much less expansive promise – to set in place the laws, administrative procedures and outreach that might make it possible to begin addressing the problem stateless among Malaysian Indians. So while I hold that the promise was unscrupulous in its overreach, within it there is a discernible and actionable offer made to the Indian community. This offer, it seems, has now been accepted. And consideration has been given in the form of the mandate to govern. It is now up to Tun Dr Mahathir and his presently crystallizing Pakatan Harapan cabinet to deliver on this contract  – on this Indian aspect of the new social contract. The 100 day clock is ticking!

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

Ini Saja India Mau!

samat keling 2

As a Malaysian living abroad, I am troubled by the electoral scenario unfolding at home. We have to choose between, on the one hand, a leader of government whose family and associates have been implicated in criminal proceedings on the global stage on a scale that threatens to beggar our nation. On the other, as challengers, we have two former political combatants, who between them are responsible for sowing the nearly all the seeds of our contemporary dysfunction. Indeed these two have accused each other heinous offences – one of corruption on a scale that, if adjusted for inflation would approach that of the current debacle, and the other of homosexual acts that are abhorrent to both the law and the official religion of the land. Nevertheless, choose we must and I too have a favorite in the race. All this is, however, just context for the kernel of my post – as as much as I am a Malaysian abroad, I am also an Indian!

What I really want to raise here is my disappointment at not hearing the issue of Indian statelessness being raised sufficiently loudly at this possibly, however marginally, opportune moment for Indians in Malaysian politics. As far as I can measure this is the gravest Indian problem that needs to be addressed by our polity. What else is there that we need as a community while our brethren remain stateless – equality as citizens, favourable quotas, strengthened Tamil language education, projects and contracts, all these possible Indian asks seem hollow to me, while there are those of us who have for generations been left stateless on mere technicalities. As lawyer Eric Paulson has put it “While these people of Indian origin are not denounced as non-citizens by the authorities, they are nonetheless stateless as they are not considered citizens under the operation of law.” If indeed, we Indians are still a force of consequence in the national equation, then this is what we should want, what we should demand. Before we worry about anything else Indian Malaysians should fight for the status for our kin. I venture to suggest that even financial corruption on the scale alleged and believed by many to have come to pass in our nation today, pales in comparison to the moral bankruptcy of a set of communal concerns that does not foreground and prioritize this matter.