A fourth generation descendant of Tamil indentured labour, P Uthayakumar, HINDRAF legal adviser and secretary-general, Human Rights Party of Malaysia, has returned from New Delhi’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas jamboree to face trial for ‘sedition’, a charge made by the ruling United Malay National Organisation regime.
Advocates Uthayakumar and M Manoharan spent 514 days in Kamunting Jail under the draconian Internal Security Act for leading the spectacular one-lakh-strong HINDRAF rally of 2008, which demanded equal citizenship rights for Malaysian Hindus and opposed the ethnic cleansing of Tamil Hindus in that Islamic country. If convicted, the duo could face a three-year prison term, a real possibility given the nature of the Malaysian judiciary and the studied indifference of the token creamy layer of establishment Hindus.
The Hindu organisation has been banned since, though it poses no threat to Malaysian social or political stability. As India’s human rights ‘industry’ only serves Western geo-political interests, it cannot be expected to speak up for suffering Malay Hindus. Hence New Delhi should take up the matter with Kuala Lumpur and urge it to permit HINDRAF to work as a non-governmental minorities and human rights organisation.
Sadly, the HINDRAF leaders who came here to present the Malaysian Indian Minority & Human Rights Violations Annual Report 2009, Malaysia Truly Racist, received only a perfunctory hearing by official New Delhi.
The HINDRAF & HRP leaders urged Foreign Minister SM Krishna to diplomatically espouse the cause of the Indian minority which the Malaysian Government is subjecting to systemic racist, religious extremist, and supremist policies that keep 70 per cent of Indians desperately poor and outside the national mainstream development. As Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak is coming to India with a trade mission on January 19, a firm word from New Delhi could have a timely impact.
Mr Uthayakumar laments that Indians are denied equality and equal opportunities in direct contravention of Articles 8 and 12 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution, created by the founding fathers. Today, the state has denied birth certificates and citizenship documents to nearly 300,000 minority Indians; hence they cannot secure admission to kindergarten and primary schools, deserving students are denied places in elite schools and institutions of higher learning, loans and scholarships, and licences to do trades and related occupations.
He informed the Foreign Minister that Hindu temples, schools, burial grounds, or settlements are regularly demolished or relocated arbitrarily; poor and landless Indians excluded from agricultural land schemes; Indians denied top jobs in Government, corporate and business sectors.
So horrendous is the discrimination that Indians are arrested without cause and released only when no charges can be framed against them; over 90 per cent deaths in police custody are of Hindus. Every week, 1.3 persons on average are shot by the police; 95 per cent are Hindus. A staggering 70 per cent of Indian Malaysians have been reduced to hardcore poor, poor or working class, with 90 per cent being in the daily or monthly wage-earning category. As the racism and religious persecution is all state-sponsored — ordinary Hindus have no problems with ordinary Malay Muslims — there is a strong case for the Government of India to take up the human rights violations and religious freedoms of these besieged Hindus.
One of the worst problems is forced conversions to Islam, which has become particularly acute since 2001, despite the provision for freedom of religion entrenched in Article 11 in the Malaysian Constitution. A recent case that has shaken the country involves a 27-year-old Tamil Hindu, Bangaramma, who was converted as a minor in a Government orphanage and registered as a Muslim without her knowledge. She continued to regard herself as a Hindu, worshipping and marrying a Hindu in a temple, according to Vedic rites.
Bangaramma is now fighting for her religious freedom in order to live as a Hindu with her Hindu husband and two children, as the Government is refusing to register her marriage and to acknowledge her husband as father of her children. Worse, she is being threatened with the charge of apostasy, which in Islamic Malaysia means she can be forcibly separated from her husband and children (aged two and seven). It is obvious that the whole controversy is aimed at forcing the entire family to accept Islam.
Another acute problem is the deliberate attempt to reduce the number of Hindu professionals in the country. At independence, innumerable top Government jobs were held by education Hindus, but gradually Hindus are being frustrated in their quest for higher education. Some of the reputed, and relatively cheaper, medical institutions in Russia, China and East Asia have been de-recognised by the Government so that Hindus cannot practice medicine when they return to the country. The number of medical seats for Hindus was reduced from 16 to one in 2004 (out of 2,000).
Students also need a Government no-objection certificate to study overseas, and this is another obstacle. Leaders of HINDRAF have urged the Government of India to stop offering medical seats to Malaysia on a Government-to-Government basis, and to grant the seats directly to Malaysian Indian students alone. This is a legitimate request, and the task can be easily executed via the Indian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur. India could also consider scholarships for Malaysian Indian students wishing to pursue other professional courses such as pharmacy, IT, and such.
More direct pressure can be exerted by sourcing India’s imports of palm oil from Indonesia instead of Malaysia; curbing further Indian investments and discouraging Indian IT professionals from working in Malaysia; and, choosing to work with Malaysian corporations with a decent Indian Malaysian equity participation or employment of Indian Malaysians, especially at the top level.
Meanwhile, the BJP has a long way to go in its quest to rediscover traditional political values. Mr Uthayakumar unhappily observed that New Delhi only cares for the rich diaspora, from whom it solicits investments. Thus, it came as no surprise to learn that while the savvy Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi assured HINDRAF he was aware of the plight of poor and working class Malaysian Indians and would champion their cause in India and with Kuala Lumpur, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Ms Sushma Swaraj, expressed astonishment at their plight, though HINDRAF had come to India with a human rights violations report in 2008 as well.