Dr Kumar of Persatuan Sosialis Malaysia has written a well thought through comment on the HINDRAF Campaign. I believe that it sets out the primary issues that should be given consideration when we consider the campaign and the events of 25th November 2007.
The Hindraf Campaign: A Critique – Dr. Kumar
Thousands of Malaysian Indians from all over the country are responding to Hindraf’s campaign. SMS messages are being amplified and sent out by the hundreds, petition forms are being signed, funds have been collected, and there is a massive mobilization to present a memorandum to the British High Commission on Sunday 25th November 2007. All this highlights the extent to which Malaysian Indians have been neglected and marginalized by the policies of the Barisan Nasional government. It shows the level of frustration and resentment within the community.
Many friends and contacts have been asking what is the Parti Sosialis Malaysia’s stand on the Hindraf Campaign? Why is the PSM not organizing buses to support the program on the 25/11/07? The main points of the PSM stand are outlined below –
1. It is undeniable that Indians in Malaysia face racial discrimination.
- difficulty in getting government jobs;
- lack of special programs for Indian students from poor backgrounds;
- the poor state of many Tamil Primary Schools;
- absence of laws to protect the estate community when they are evicted in the name of development; Ditto for the peneroka bandar;
- insensitive handling of Hindu Temples which are demolished to make way for “development”;
- extremely insensitive handling of cases of Indian individuals caught in “inter-faith” situations for example Moorthy, Subashini, and others;
- the negative profiling of Indian youth by the police and other authorities as “gangsters” and the harsh treatment of these youth when caught by police;
These are just some aspects of the reality of Indians in Malaysia. Indians are made to feel that they are second-class citizens, and after 50 years of Merdeka they are beginning to resent it more and more!
2. Ethnic based mobilization is relatively easy to do. Malaysian society has been tutored in racial politics by the BN parties (as well as by some opposition parties also) for the past 5 decades. The vast majority of Malaysians think in ethnic terms. However ethnic based mobilization of Indians will not be able to overcome the racial discrimination that Indians face. At this point Hindraf is asking for
- Cessation of the Bumiputra policy
- Institution of affirmative policies for Malaysian Indians
- Monetary compensation from the British Government for “leaving us in this mess”!
These are emotive issues, and it is obvious that many Malaysian Indians have responded to them. But is even remotely possible that they can be attained by ethnic based mobilization of the Indians who make up only 7% of the population?
3. We should not forget that apart from racial discrimination, the majority of Indians face economic discrimination because they are workers in a system that favours the businessmen and the capitalists. About 70% of Malaysian Indians are workers. The problem they face as workers include
- low wages. In many factories the basic pay in RM 18 per day, which works out to RM 468 per month.
- There is no job security. Outsourcing, the widespread use of contract workers, and the easy availability of migrant workers all weaken the bargaining position of Malaysian labour.
- Labour laws are being tightened and being made more pro management;
- Low cost adequate housing is difficult to find.
- Prices of goods is rising faster than wages! Petrol, toll and now flour.
- Basic services – health care, education, roads, water - which used to be heavily subsidized are now becoming increasingly expensive;
The problems listed above are also experienced by workers of all races in Malaysia – even the Malays, who are the beneficiaries of the Bumiputra policies. Only about 20% of Malay workers have jobs in government. The remainder have to work in the private sector where they too experience economic discrimination as workers in a capitalist economy. Malays workers are not exempted from the problems of low wages, job insecurity, rising costs of basic services, etc.
4. It appears that that some sections of working class Malays are beginning to question the Bumiputra policy which has benefited the UMNO-putra and their cronies far far more than the average Malay worker. Consider the following -
- the Mat Rempit phenomena. Isn’t this, in part, an expression of the frustration and resentment of ordinary Malay youth who are having difficulties finding and holding jobs because of the low-wage and migrant labour policies of the BN government;
- more than 50% of the 40,000 Bersih demonstration on 10/11/07 was made of Malay youth who were not from PAS or KeAdilan. They turned up because they are fed-up with the government which is only helping a small sector of Malay elite.
- Anwar Ibrahim has been openly calling for the ending of the Bumiputra Policy which he claims only helps the rich UMNO politicians. He wants a new policy – the Agenda Baru - that is based on economic need and not on race. All poor Malaysians should get government help.
- PAS spearheaded the Protes Coalition which opposed the hikes in Petrol and Diesel prices. They are also active in the Coalitions against Health and Water privatization.
Anwar is an astute politican, and PAS does have close contact with the Malay community. Their articulation of such issues must mean that in their assessment, ordinary Malays are resentful of government policies that favour the rich.
5. The political choice facing Malaysian Indians is simple. Do we
1. mobilize ourselves as Indians to fight the Bumiputra policy and ask for affirmative action for Indians?
2. Work towards a working class coalition that fights for a better deal for all ordinary Malaysians irrespective of race?
In other words, do we use ethnic based mobilization or class based mobilisation to fight the present state of ethnic discrimination of Indians?
6. Obviously 1000’s of Indians have jumped into the Hindraf bandwagon of ethnic mobilization. But the support of large numbers does not necessarily mean that that campaign is in the long term interest of the Indians in Malaysia. Nor does it mean that it is likely to succeed!
The PSM salutes all those who have thrown off their apathy to stand up for their rights despite the threats being made by the BN government in the media. However, action for action’s sake is never enough. Action must be guided by the correct analysis, and this is where we differ with Hindraf. Though Hindraf leaders have made sacrifices, and have shown courage, we believe that they are inadvertently playing into the hands of the “enemy”. Why?
7. Who are the major beneficiaries of the Bumiputra policy? Surely people like Najib, Hishamuddin, Khairi and other top UMNO leaders must be very uncomfortable with growing perception among the ordinary Malays that the Bumiputra Policy has been abused to make a small group of Malays filthy rich – all in the name of uplifting all Malays. These UMNO leaders are also worried about the coming elections for the people are frustrated with price hikes and corruption. Ethnic mobilization on the part of Hindraf would provide them with the perfect opportunity to
- resurrect the “Ketuanan Melayu” issue. They could use Hindraf’s demands to abolish the NEP as an example of how “lebih” the Indians have become, and of the importance to band together under UMNO for race and country!!
- Use some of the gangster groups associated with UMNO to provoke a racial incident that will come very useful for BN in the election campaign period. The old BN argument that we have to vote BN to avoid another May 13!
8. This does not mean that the PSM is advocating not fighting back when Indians are evicted or when houses and temples are torn down. Not at all. The PSM track record on this is clear – we have gone to stand with the people facing eviction and bullying by developers or the government in many estates and Peneroka Bandar kampungs. But we never have generalized this into an ethnic issue for all the reasons listed above.
This local fight-backs must continue whenever any community is faced with bullying by developers or government. But national level mobilization should be of all ordinary Malaysians (from all races) and not of Indians only!
We hope these brief explanations make sense to you. Do not retire from the struggle! Just reorient it to make it multi-racial and fight for the justice of all the ordinary people of Malaysia!
Written on 24 November 2007