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The Rediff Interview/P Wytha Moorthy, leader of Malaysian Indians
'I appeal to all human rightists to help Malaysian minorities'
December 11, 2007
An unassuming and simple person, his eyes show anger and sadness when he speaks about how Malaysian citizens of Indian origin, mostly Hindus, have been treated in Muslim-dominated Malaysia, and recounts the incidents: temples trashed, married women forced to get Islamised, Hindus buried as Muslims, and doors closed for employment and business opportunities.
Malaysia has been a region with a marked Hindu influence since the second century Gangga-Negara era to the Sri Vijay Empire ending in the 14th century. The Islamic influence grew through traders and battles in the 15th century, yet the Hindu marks show up everywhere. 'Malay' in the country's name and 'Pur' in its capital Kuala Lumpur are Sanskrit words, and its national language is Malay Bahasa (or bhasha), sons of the soil are called Bhumiputras.
Yet, the growth of Arab money and the Wahabbi influence has resulted in the denial of the country's heritage and a discriminatory policy towards non-Muslim minorities, as evidenced by the recent protests in the country. Wyatha Moorthy spoke to Tarun Vijay in New Delhi about the conditions in Malaysia.
What brings you here when Malaysian Hindus of Indian origin are agitating back home?
I am here to request Indian leaders and the media, who have always supported human rights of persecuted people the world over, to give voice and support to Malaysian citizens of Indian origin reeling under the torturous attitude of an oppressive Malaysian government.
The way our November 26 protest rally was crushed and people praying before the Batu Caves temple were arrested and later attempt to murder charges were registered against them, clearly shows that the government doesn't have any sympathies for the issues we have raised and wants to throttle the voice of reason through brute force.
I am going to the United Kingdom and the United States of America to seek international support.
Why should you seek support from outside Malaysia? Why can't you fight it out on your home turf?
We have been protesting mildly and waiting for justice for the last 50 years in general and 20 years in particular. More than one thousand letters, all recorded, have been written to the prime minister, even the Sultan, and all the political leaders. But nothing happened.
There have been numerous cases which created anger and instilled a feeling of subjugation among Hindus in Malaysia, yet they chose the prescribed way of mild protest. Their women were kept forcibly in Islamic 'rehabilitation' camps and asked to convert
A famous case is Revathi, whose 15-month-old daughter was snatched from her Hindu father and sent to the mother's parents to be raised a Muslim. A Hindu mountaineer was buried as a Muslim against the wishes of his family and without proof that he had converted to Islam.
So far thousands of temples have been razed before weeping and praying Hindus, the latest one being a hundred-year-old Maha Mariamman temple.
When, for the first time in Malaysia's history, Indian origin citizens of Malaysia protested unitedly on November 26, the rally was declared illegal and chemical mixed water cannons were used by police who brutally assaulted women demonstrators too. Thirty-one Hindus have been charged with attempted murder.
I appeal to the human rightists of the world to help the Malaysian minorities. That's the reason I am here.
How are the general economic conditions? A Malaysian minister has stated that Indian origin people are more prosperous than the Bhumiputras?
Statistics speaks the truth. Indians form 60 per cent of urban squatters and 41 per cent of total beggars (The Economist, February 22, 2003). About 70 per cent of our community is in the poor/hardcore poor segment but receives no attention from State powers.
Hopelessness, poverty and lack of opportunities lead to high rates of Indians working as petty labourers, office boys, security guards, public toilet cleaner, road sweepers etc.
Your rally turned violent and the government accused it of damaging public property and attacking the police.
The fact is the rallyists were totally peaceful. This was first time in our history that such a large number of people of Indian origin had gathered, defying efforts by government leaders including the prime minister who said Tamils shouldn't come out of their homes on November 26. Yet, everybody came out, because they wanted to show solidarity against continued oppression.
HINDRAF is a Hindu front of Malaysian citizens of Indian origin. How are the other minorities responding?
The UMNO (United Malays National Organisation)-led Barisan Nasional (the 14-party national coalition government) targets us particularly. Malaysia is a constitutionally declared Islamic republic and only Malay Muslims are recognised as Bhumiputras or sons of the soil. But other minorities and human rights groups in Malaysia are standing with us.
Why are the temples being demolished?
It all got accelerated during (then prime minister) Mahathir Mohammed's regime. They say the temples were built illegally without the government's approval. But they don't recognise the fact that these temples were built before the constitution came into force. They were mostly on plantations, as Indian origin Hindu Tamils were brought there by the British as plantation workers and were allowed to build the temples.
Now, after 50 years or 100 years of such construction, if the government says bring the original land use documents, how can we give that?
The Chinese, Christians, Buddhists and other minorities along with progressive Muslims are also sympathising and actively supporting us to uphold human values. Former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim has issued a statement supporting the cause of ethnic Indians, saying it is purely a matter of violation of human rights and Indian origin people are being denied the right to equal opportunity which has been guaranteed by the constitution.
Generally, the local NGOs and Muslim masses fully appreciate our pain and problems. It is only political expediency that is hurting us. I am sure the government will have to rethink its repressive policies towards us.
Why did you want to petition the British queen, and why did you display Mahatma Gandhi [Images] posters at your rally?
It was the British who brought our ancestors here 150 years earlier. They were not allowed even to write letters or have any communication with their families in India. I am of Tamil origin but can't say which my original village is because the British cut off all our links with India. Now, as a result, we are forlorn and facing the brunt of religious fundamentalism. Hence, it is the responsibility of the British to ensured the protection of the rights and privileges of ethnic Indians. Mahatma Gandhi is a global icon of non-violence, justice and fair deal.
What about the new generation of Malay Hindus?
They are the worst affected. They feel marginalised and permanently colonised. Traditionally Indian doctors are highly respected and well qualified, but now to deprive us of the medical profession the government has reduced medical seats in the University of Malaya for us by 98 per cent, from 16 in 2001 to just one in 2003, so that Indian origin youth (of 1.8 million Indians) have to compete for just one medical seat in this university, which is disproportionate to their numbers.
When they opted to study at affordable universities abroad, the government started derecognising their degrees in an abrupt manner. In the general category also, the university intake for Indians has been reduced drastically -- from 20 per cent in 1956 to 5.2 per cent in 2003.
Studies have shown that Indian origin Malaysians have the lowest per capita income, of about RM 1000 per month, while the national per capita income is projected at RM 17,741 in the 2006 budget.
What was the response you received in India?
Very good. Indian leaders, government officials and the foreign ministry were helpful and sympathised; especially the media, which also took up our cause.
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