Saturday March 31
Indians left in the lurch
12:23pm, Sat: Malaysians are pragmatic people. We aren't given to venting anger by starting ethnic clashes. Race relations in Malaysia are good and harmonious. The system works, we are told. But then, how can we explain the clashes in Petaling Jaya Selatan, which stick out like a sore thumb?
Oh that! It's an isolated incident, caused by poverty. Possible. But,
probably it isn't so; and I believe it has demolished a myth. A myth
about the New Economic Policy (NEP) (now the National Development Policy).
NEP was launched with grand
The hope is still alive, but after the recent clashes, the means prescribed
by the NEP fall under suspicion. The origins The discontent between
ethnic groups in Malaysia is centred on economic disparity, created
during the British rule. The method of
- activities using Western technologies and organisation systems; and - activities employing less efficient traditional methods which evolved locally.
While the immigrant communities from China and India were exposed to the former, the Malays invariably continued with their traditional way of lifestyle. Isolated from the modern economy, the Malays fell behind, and by 1957, the disparity between the ethnic groups grew to a glaring scale.
Given the disparity, a compromise, or safeguard, was inevitable; hence
the bumiputra special position, which essentially confers
Nearly 12 years into independent existence, Malaysia saw its foundations
shaken to the core. The 'bargain', seen by then as a
In the wake of such a traumatic experience, it was obvious that a
new course had to be charted. The nation was in need to be
The new measure aimed to create a nation 'based on equal justice and
fairer share of the fruits of economic development for all
Perhaps, NEP - the albatross - has structurally sealed racism in our psyche.
But I beg to differ. I believe it's self-evident that all people have equal rights and dignity. However, owing to what John Rawls calls, 'The cumulative effect of prior distribution of natural assets - that is, natural talents and abilities - and such chance contingencies as accident and good fortune', we seldom find such equality in reality.
And racism and racial prejudice, almost invariably, built their foundations
on these 'cumulative effects of prior distribution' and
Even the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (adopted in 1965) provides, 'Special measures taken for securing adequate advancement of certain ethnic groups shall not be deemed racial discrimination'.
But there's a rub, however, which I believe, our government, to our
collective detriment, has forgotten. The Convention also provides that
those special measures will not be deemed racial discrimination only
if, '... such measures do not lead to
The question then is - are the special measures introduced by the NEP threatening to create separate rights? Sadly, yes. (Ask Suqiu, or those who threatened to burn the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, if in doubt.)
And secondly, are the special measures being continued after the achievement
of its objectives? Depends. In the case of
However, Prof K S Jomo, thinks otherwise. In 1990, he suggested, "Bumiputra percentage does not include shares owned by those who use nominee companies and other such devices obscuring the identity of the owner".
Now, consider the Indian-Malaysians. In 1970, they owned 1.1 percent
of the capital share. Thirty years later, their share of
Why should the plight of the Indian-Malaysians be ignored?
NEP hoped to create national unity by accomplishing two tasks. Firstly, it wanted to eradicate poverty. In general, the policy was a success. In 1971, the poverty incidence stood at 49.3 percent; now it is 5.5 percent. Secondly, it aimed to restructure the Malaysian society to eliminate the identification of ethnicity with economic function.
Again, this was a broad success. The three main ethnic groups may still be monopolising their 'traditional' economic activities, but Malaysia has evolved into a complex society, diluting significantly the possibility of stereotyping.
But wait! Where is the promised national unity and why do ethnic groups still clash? I feel that racism and racial prejudice are still rife, not only in poor areas, but everywhere, in universities, workplaces and marketplaces. The special measures used by the NEP, is akin to using racism to fight racism. To be effective, the measures must encourage a greater interaction between diverse groups.
This is seldom the case in Malaysia. Quota systems and special measures have only created ethnic enclaves - mental and physical. Malaysians are tolerant, but we remain indifferent to the concerns of other ethnic groups.
"Great deal of learning occurs informally," observed Justice Powell in a landmark case. "It occurs through interactions among students who have a wide variety of interests, talents, and perspectives and who are able, directly or indirectly, to learn from their differences and to stimulate one another to re-examine even their most deeply held assumptions about themselves and their world."
In Malaysia, I doubt our policymakers give two hoots to diversity. Life, for them, goes on in the monochromatic world of assimilation. Next, the job market is riddled with racism and racialism as well. Public sector jobs are generally reserved for the bumiputra. In the private sector, employers generally prefer members of their own ethnicity.
Curiously, there are no laws which protect employees from racial discrimination. If so how could racial discrimination (overt or covert) be prevented?
Finally, the Indian-Malaysians, supposedly better placed economically vis-à-vis the Malays, are now becoming the new objects of prejudice or contempt. As a class, they now suffer from what is known as, 'traditional indicia of suspectness', having been relegated to a position of political powerlessness. Yet the purposeful unequal treatment against them continues unabated.
We have spent the last 30 years restructuring our social reality.
But, the promotion of diversity, and of quality interactions across
the racial divide, has been overlooked. Most Malaysians merely co-exist.
They seldom intermingle, as Tun
That, alas, can only happen when we end racial discrimination, as it is practiced now. In its place, we have to erect institutions, like a race relations commission, that will tear down social structures and procedures with 'built-in-headwinds'. Only then could the ghosts of May 13 and Petaling Jaya Selatan be put to rest.
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