Ethnic Relations in the Malaysian Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Under it, conversion to Islam was irreversible and only Malay and Islamic cultures were recognized and in disregard of the fact that about half of the total population in the peninsula was non-Malay and non-Muslim.

Although the privileges and favors given to the Malays were to help bring them to the same economic productivity level as the Chinese, the government policy of discrimination did not appear likely even if the Malays managed to achieve that purpose. The system was seen as staying where it was, that is, in favor of the Malay, the bumiputera, and Islam. The experience of privilege and favor reached the unconscious level of the Malay mentality, whereby they began to believe that the treatment was a birthright, not a condition or encouragement to productivity. They were quite smug in the awareness that this subsidy or privileged position was directly linked to or caused by their "inherent" or traditional political dominance.

To compound the Chinese's travails, the Malay and the government's share in the economy was projected to increase, further decreasing Chinese political or economic leverage or grounds to acquiring government concessions. This already immensely disadvantaged ethnic minority was also predicted to diminish in population from 22 to 5% in the next decades. Largely urban Chinese tended to have fewer children due to the effects of industrialization and immigration from Indonesia and Southern Philippines. Immigrants from these foreign countries were themselves ethnic Malays and Muslims. Gleaning from the earlier and recent developments, the minority rights of Malaysian Chinese at present and in the foreseeable future are deemed unlikely and not visible.

The Indians were another ethnic minority that had much trouble with the Malays. One of the skirmishes between them occurred in the first week of March, 2000 in a village at the edge of Kuala Lumpur and killed 5 Indians and 1 Indonesian. A Malay family wedding coincided with an Indian funeral and led to a quarrel and a series of other clashes. Police apprehended around 200 persons and charged 75 with various offenses. Expectedly, the ruling party accused the minorities of taking advantage of the situation by putting the capital in bad light through this incident. Opposing parties contended, instead, that the turbulence simply exposed its true cause, which was the poor living conditions of the villages due, in turn, to racial differences and discrimination. The last recorded major conflict between the Malay Muslims and the Indians was in 1998 involving the relocation of a Hindu shrine in Penang. These contentions may seem isolated and affected only a small area, but the tensions remained and something that the political leaders of the Malaysian Indian community should adequately address. These poor Indian communities were isolated and left out of the stream of progress but exploited for political ends. These clashes, though few, brought attention to the sore and sordid conditions of this third largest ethnic group in the peninsula, referred to by the Malaysian government as those belonging to the Indian sub-continent, inhabited by the Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans.

The Malaysian Indians comprise 8% of the total population of 22 million, but they own only 1% of the peninsula's natural wealth. The country's labor force was also once dominated by this ethnic population, but the ingress of Indonesian laborers began to displace the Malaysian Indians. Some critics blamed the Indians themselves for their plight, to some extent. When Malaysia became independent in 1957, it offered citizenship but perhaps because of ignorance and the poverty that characterized the plantations, many of these Malaysian Indians failed to take that offer of advantage that could have allowed them to acquire or keep jobs. More than half of their population worked in plantations or as hired hands or menial laborers in the cities. They ranked lowest in school exams and highest among drop-outs. Moreover, probably because of steep poverty, delinquency and drug trafficking were prevalent in Indian communities. Asiaweek (2001 as qtd in Kuppuswamy) reported that 63% of emergency arrests for violent crimes, 41% of beggars and 20% of child abusers in the country were Indians.

The Malaysian Indians, unlike the Malaysian Chinese, did not value education or consider it an investment. Tamil schools did not provide an opportunity to higher education for them and these Indians' insistence for a Tamil education further disadvantaged them by pushing them into a hopeless competition with the Malays and the Chinese. Urban Indian families, who were better-off economically and realized the situation, sent their children to universities abroad, instead.

The better educated and more vocal Indians blamed the Malaysian Indian Congress or MIC for neglecting the conditions of the Indians. The MIC was the leading political party of the Indians and the only one representing their interests. It was a constituent of the coalition government since independence, but which did not appear to have very much power or suitable environment with which to improve the minority's condition. There were differences and clashes among the party leaders themselves and this eroded its credibility in the Malaysian political arena. Dissensions also brewed between Tamils and non-Tamils. Approximately 80% of the total Malaysian Indian population was composed of Tamils, and this Indian population was the hardest hit sector by the stringent government policies against non-Malays.

The Malaysian Indians failed to take advantage not only of the government's offer of citizenship but also the introduction of work permits and the allocation of quotas for educational institutions for the different ethnic groups. When the NEP introduced the bumiputera policy and gave the bumiputera the major share in the public sector, the Indians were unrepresented. All of the private sector belonged to the Chinese. The Indians were too few and their contribution to the national economy too negligible to be heard or to matter. The government of India paid little attention to the concerns of the Malaysian Indians and other Indians in the South East Asian region through the years. It could and should help them by offering educational opportunities for them in India, closely monitor the labor conditions of Malaysian Indians and strengthen cultural and economic ties with them, thereby bolstering tourism potentials in Malaysia.

Prospects for the improvement of the conditions of the Malaysian Indians ultimately depended on the cooperation and extent of the integration among them. How they could survive the problems and lack of economic resources ad adequate government support and how they could remain passive in the face of these make observers wonder if they are merely resilient or an insensate third major race or third-class race in Malaysia.

With the enforcement of the Malaysian language as the official medium of instruction, most Malay graduates still opted for public service positions, which entrenched their political supremacy, and left businesses and the professions to the Chinese. Malay graduates failed to fulfill the goals of the 1990 Second Malaysian Plan to come to par with the economic productivity of the ethnic Chinese, with only an estimated 10% turning into commercial and industrial entrepreneurs, short of the 30% minimum goal. One reason was the persistence of colonial-based government programs, which disinclined Malay graduates to engage in commerce. The Malay Reservation Enactment continued and broadened Malay involvement in agriculture under the Merdeka Constitution. The Federal Land Development Authority or FELDA made land accessible only to Malays and encouraged them to develop untilled government land for agriculture and could buy it at cheaper cost.

These two laws were demonstrative of the lingering effects and influence of British colonialism and its colonial policy of vitalizing Chinese enterprise and acquiring Indian labor drastically changed the demography of the Malayan peninsula. The open resolution of real and critical issues that pit the ethnic races against one another remains forbidden by power fluctuations and further intensifies the chronic and traditional dissension among them. Even school children who sing about unity and success were told by their parents to stay away from their Malay or Chinese playmates or classmates. The spirit of the 1969 riots appeared to stay in these parents and until and unless the deeply-rooted animosity was addressed realistically, the front would be reduced to mere propaganda.

Discrimination could be easily gleaned in the area of education. In 1980, 70% of the total enrollment in Malaysian institutes was Malay, a sharp inequity, considering that Malays accounted for only 40-5-% of the total population. If the ethnic minorities were considered or counted as Malays, the figures would be different and equal. The fact was that most of the indigenous people were traditionally rural and tribal and with low educational attainment. It was also unlikely for these indigenous people to enroll or attend universities.

Malaysia is a middle-income country, which evolved from a producer of raw materials in the 70s to the 90s to an emerging multi-sector economy through its controversial New Economic Policy or NEP. Its growth was almost entirely exports-driven, especially electronic products, for which it was hit hard by the global economic crisis in the information technology sector in 2001.


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