A new year and a new day, what do Indians in Malaysia want?

During special days like the Puthandu or Tamil New Year, and spring festival like the Vaisakhi, small traders like florists used to enjoy good business but the COVID-19 slowed down many of these businesses. However, many are hopeful that the new year will herald better business days ahead.
Reports by Manjin and RK Indumathinii

SUBANG JAYA, April 14: Today, Malaysians of Indian origin will be ushering in a New Year in accordance with the first day of the Chithirai month in the Indian/Tamil solar calendar. It generally falls around mid April every year in the Gregorian calendar and is celebrated as the start of the harvest festival by the farming communities.

N.Kaur, who welcomed Vaisakhi today, has a tailoring shop in the Subang Jaya Gurduwara. She said orders were down during the pandemic but have been slowly picking up.

Just as in India, the celebration, which marks the harvest season and spring, carries different names in the various communities like Puthandu among the Tamils, Vaisakhi among the Sikhs, and Vishu among the Malayalees. The underlying spirit nonetheless remains the same, that is of gratitude and thankfulness to the Creator for the many abundances on earth that have made it possible for human beings to exist, prosper and live out their lives.

Apart from prayers and a vegetarian lunch, some Tamils also cook the sweet Ponggal, a mix of rice, milk, brown sugar, raisins and cashew nuts in earthen pots much like what is done during the Thaipusam festival with the wish for another year of overflow in blessings and prosperity. 

Weekly-Echo meets up some of those celebrating and checks on their wishes this year and expectations as Malaysians.

Inder, a real estate agent from Cheras said she will join the prayers in the Cheras Gurduwara.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on all of us, whether we are Indians, Malays, Chinese or Iban. However, I think Malaysians have generally worked well together.

“With the new year, I am hoping to see some changes for the better in the country this year. 

“There needs to be more equality in many areas. There needs to be equal economic opportunities for everyone. Employers must recruit workers based on their qualifications and not on their race. Government contracts must be awarded through merit and with more transparency.

“Housing, particularly for the urban poor must be given for all. All Malaysians must qualify for discounts equally,” she said, adding that there were many housing projects that catered to only one community and the others were left looking at houses that they can never afford to buy or end up paying high prices to rent houses closer to the city where they are working.

“While it was necessary in the past to level the playing field for all the races in the country, 60 years should be enough to uplift any community and acknowledgement must be made of the efforts taken by all Malaysians to prosper the country. No one single race alone was responsible for the country’s economic, social and academic development.”

For Jagjit, a former school teacher from Kampung Pandan,  the number one wish for her is that the authorities will clear corruption from all institutions trusted with the funds of the people to run the country. “It is everywhere. The enforcers must work harder to weed out this disease from society. A culture of honesty, integrity must prevail in all organisations.

“There also needs to be a sense of moderation in the adoption of religion in the education field. There seems to be too much emphasis on religion in schools and this could lead to more polarisation, which is already an issue in some schools.

“There needs to be review of history books as well, with emphasis given to the roles various races played in the development of the country. In the earlier days, the country’s jungles were infested with mosquitoes and so on, and they were cleared by workers brought into the country, to lay down roads and railway lines, as well as develop the rubber and tin industries.

“The Sikhs came in as British military and police force to fight the Japanese, but very little information is carried in text books,” she said.

Buvana, 45, Puchong, said his family, as usual will be up early, to do the prayers and cook Pongal.

“As usual, our doors will be adorned with two sugar cane branches by the sides and fresh mango leaves. My mother will cook some Pongal and also a vegetarian lunch served on banana leaves.

“My hopes this year are to travel again if possible. We have signed up for vaccination. Hope we can do this sooner.”

Meanwhile, for Venuka, 56, Shah Alam, the day will be like any other day.

“After prayers, it will be work as usual,” said Venuka who volunteers at a non-governmental organisation.

“While many Indians are reasonable in expressing their grievances in the country, many of them are also their “own enemies”, she said when it comes to matters like documentation such as changing their red identity cards, resolving citizenship issues and so on.

“Many Indians in the country do no know what they are entitled to. They do not bother to find out how to go about getting help from their local councillors and so on. Sometimes you cannot blame them, as they may be old, feeble and just don’t have family support to get things done for them. But often the follow up to their applications is poor.

“It is true that due to the COVID-19, several government offices including the Home Ministry (KDN) were closed to the public and officers only attended to few cases via appointment. This also posed a lot of problems for many people who had been waiting for years to resolve their documentation issues,” she said, adding that some of the counters at the ministry only fully re-opened on Monday.

“However, a large number of them are also ignorant and are too busy to seek help from their local Adun offices,“ she reiterated.  

Is it possible that these people do not know and may not be getting the information that they should have, like where to get the forms they may need to fill up for certain documentation or even what kind of programmes are available to them or meant to help them in business or work? Could lack of publicity for such programmes also be a reason?

“Yes, that could be one reason. What about the younger generation? This is the information era. They should make an effort to know what kind of assistance the government, federal or state, is offering and how they could benefit from such assistance and even how they can help their older family members with outstanding documentation issue,” Venuka said.

So, if everything is in order, will the Home Ministry speed up document related applications?

“They should.”