Amid simmering protests by ethnic-Indians against alleged marginalisation, activists on Sunday asked Malaysian premier Abdullah Badawi set up a 'non-Muslim affairs department' to look into issues faced by other communities in this predominantly Islamic country.
"It is timely for the prime minister to set up a department to look into non-Muslim affairs. What we have in the prime minister's department now is a Muslim affairs department," A Rajaretnam, Secretary of the Federation of Malaysian Indian Organisation, told media persons. He suggested that such departments should also be created at state levels.
Abdullah met 13 NGOs on Friday to hear their views on various issues faced by ethnic Indians in Malaysia and 'assured us that he will personally address the issues,' Rajaretnam said.
Abdullah had asked the NGOs to list out the community's grievances that led to the November 25 demonstration called by Hindu Rights Action Front (Hindraf). Rajaretnam said a committee would be set up to prepare the list within a month.
He said the NGOs had requested Abdullah to set up the separate department as Malaysia was 'a multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.'
"The premier should look very seriously into the setting up of the department."
Rajaretnam said the NGOs also urged Abdullah to try the five Hindraf leaders, arrested on Thursay under the Internal Security Act that allows indefinite detention without trial, in a civil court.
"We want to create an environment where Malaysia is a place where no one is victimised."
Ethnic Indians, mostly Hindus, form 7.8 per cent of its population of 27 million people. A majority 60 per cent are Muslim Malays while ethnic Chinese are 25 per cent.
"We shared our problems with the premier and he is fully with us," Rajaretnam said.
He said the NGOs had appealed to Abdullah to appoint officers from various backgrounds so as to 'create a room to share views.'
He felt any problems faced by the Malaysians were 'a problem of the nation, of its citizens. We are one, this should be the sentiment of all people,' he said.
Friday's meeting was the first time Abdullah has held talks with representatives of ethnic Indians. Rajeretnam said the NGOs hoped that the premier would meet with them atleast every six months.