My perspective, having gone through the mill

A street in Port Klang town, which is the main gateway by sea to Malaysia.

The Indian Dilemma Part 4

By Ganabatirau Veraman

Social issues affecting the Indian community in Malaysia are certainly plenty. And real. The basis for this statement is my deep observations over the years, right from school days to the early days in politics and finally becoming a member of the present day MADANI government.

I was born in a tiny estate in Teluk Intan. Received my basic education through a Tamil school, worked through multiple low-wage jobs before becoming a lawyer. I protested hard for the Indian community through Hindraf, got detained by the Internal Security Act (ISA), lost most of my hard-earned savings, became a councillor and a Member of the Selangor State Legislative Assembly and Executive committee.

Now I am a Member of the Malaysian Parliament. I contested in three consecutive elections and with the people’s support, I won it all.

I have been in the lowest income category and am now in the higher income group.

There have been many lessons throughout this journey and what I have learned so far is that the marginalisation seen by Indians in the country is real and have been unbearable at various points. Other races may have faced them too but derogatory terms like the “K” word, “India Mabuk”, or “India gangster” carelessly thrown about in the face of many Indians have only added on to the community’s wounds already faced with issues like gangsterism, alcoholism, high crime rate, and single motherhood.

It is my humble opinion that we have to go beyond the “festive handouts”, or the according of public holidays during the festive period or even making Deepavali commercials to highlight the issues faced by the community. There needs to be more concerted and systematic efforts to tackle these issues. Even allocations given in the annual budget alone will not be enough to solve these problems.

There needs to be recognition that many of the social issues faced by the community are simply symptoms of the challenges faced by them. Historically, the British had kept the majority of the Indians poor with minimal education, economic opportunities, and high access to alcohol in estates owned by them. In the post-independence era, as the economy was restructured by the government and private companies, many of them lost their livelihoods.

On top of that, Malaysia’s diversification from rubber plantation to palm oil or 1st sector to 2nd and 3rd sector left most of these low-income group Indians behind with no proper education or skillset. With this, getting educated became harder for the low income group students as most of their families were unable to afford it.

This is one way how Malaysian Indian students make up for a disproportionate amount of primary and high school dropouts in the country. Without proper education they take on low paying jobs, which at times are also taken up by foreign workers. Many are stuck in the cycle of poverty, setting the tone for the younger generation. However, some of them do break from this cycle and go on to higher education and even manage to become graduates.

Then there is another challenge faced by high performing students whether from the urban or rural areas. It is called the quota system for entrance into the institutions of higher learning in the country. A good number don’t make it despite making it in the grades. With the high cost of education in private institutions, many of them from the lower income group would again give up and go for lower paying jobs to make ends meet. Problems arise there as well as prospects for them to rise in the private sector remain low.

Malaysian Indians, predominantly from the estates, have suffered the consequences of the economic restructuring by the previous governments that paid little attention to them or had no strong political will to uplift them. Many were left behind from such restructuring, losing access to higher education and economic opportunities.

Ethnics Indians have always been welcomed as workers including as high-skilled employees in many growing economies across the world, especially in Europe. Many Indians of migrant parents have gone on to hold some of the highest positions in international companies. Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google), Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft), Kamala Harris (the-sitting Vice-President of the United States of America), the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Rishi Sunak, and the list goes on and on. This indicates that Indians are capable and can become assets in any administration or country.

My concern is how are we going to address the issues of the local Indian community where home is Malaysia. What kind of attention and support can they can garner from the MADANI government so that they can shine. I’ll present some of my ideas in the next and final chapter of this series.

The views expressed here are that of the writer’s and not necessarily Weekly Echo’s.