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With GE15 around the corner and the nominees making their campaign rounds with smiles and a long list of promises, Penang Hindu Association (PHA) is more concerned with the manifesto that is to be declared with the formation of the new government. What is greatly anticipated in the manifesto is the readiness to make appropriate and effective policy changes for the betterment of the minority groups, particularly the Indian ethnic group. Such changes have long been overdue and need to be effective and sustainable to truly reflect the slogan ‘Keluarga Malaysia’ where all family members are treated without prejudice.
Among the main policy changes expected by PHA is to give all the races an equal and well-balanced educational, economic, social and political opportunities to function on level grounds. PHA fears that without these changes, there would exist an insidious perception of superior and inferior races within the fabrics of Malaysian society. PHA strongly believes that policies that discriminate by race reinforces racist beliefs. Generally, Indians in Malaysia have been at the receiving end of this belief despite having contributed immensely towards economic development and nation building. Reality sinks in when they are denied entry into public universities despite having the grades, face tenancy issues and labeled as drunkards and gangsters, all because of their ethnicity. In addition, job opportunities in both the public and private sectors are also not easy to come by despite having the required criteria. Even if by chance they secure the job, then there is the issue of the glass ceiling that they have to face and accept at their workplace, again due to their ethnicity. A cursory count of the number of Heads of Department or Institution Heads from the Indian ethnic group would reveal this view as a fact. And to say that they lack experience and/or qualifications would be an unconvincing excuse. These are not mere narratives but real cases of stereotyping the Indian community for decades. PHA sees this as psychological and systemic oppression and is concerned if the nation is slowly moving away from the national principles stated in the Rukun Negara. Among the principles declared are for our nation to achieve a closer unitary society, and to create a just society where the country’s prosperity can be enjoyed by all in a fair and equitable manner. The check and balance to achieve these principles rests on the government mechanisms, and if cracks begin to show, then appropriate and effective policy changes need to be made to put the nation back on track. As such, the new government needs to have a special think tank to look into the plights of the Indian community and to eliminate such stereotyping in order to create a just and harmonious society. The government has a big role in this and even a simple gesture of the Prime Minister’s live telecast of festival wishes for the various communities can go a long way to show all are seen as equal. This has been a norm for many years.
Another aspect which PHA would like to suggest to the upcoming new government is to ensure that the relevant ministries, as well as the school and administrative bodies are proactive in creating awareness with regards to human sensitivity in a multi-ethnic society. Human sensitivity basically refers to common-sense and appropriate actions and reactions to the cultural and religious practices which, in due course, will lead to sustaining a harmonious society. PHA believes that it is probably due to the lack of human sensitivity that we have recently seen the issue of an individual defacing the Deepavali Kolam as well as the allegation on a teacher who purportedly asked her student to erase the holy ash from her forehead and to cut the blessed thread tied on her wrist. PHA believes that the individuals involved in the incidents would have known that the drawing of the Kolam is a cultural practice and the holy ash and the blessed thread is a religious belief. However, their choice to react in the manner that they did, shows the lack of human sensitivity, which has created ripples among the Hindu community. Voices from the Malay and Chinese community condemning the incidents show that the acts of the individuals involved do not reflect on the community as a whole. However, PHA is of the opinion that although the incidents were isolated, appropriate actions need be taken against them as a deterrent. To prevent recurrence of such incidents, awareness creating programmes need to be carefully drawn up and regularly carried out to create and sustain harmony within the society. It should be made mandatory for corporate and government institutions to include in their vision and missions the human sensitivity aspects in order to create a harmonious atmosphere at the workplace. More important than seeing the guidelines on paper is to ensure that what has been written is carried out.
The difficulties in obtaining birth certificates, MyKad and citizenship by many Indians in this country are also issues that PHA would like to highlight. These issues have remained unsettled for decades and it is disheartening to know that those born in this country have yet to receive their official documents to be regarded as a legal citizen.
PHA hopes that the Indian political leaders who will be elected into the new government would act as a catalyst to the new government to push for reforms for the community. They need to genuinely look into the plights of the Indian community and find solutions to the issues plaguing them in order to highlight the reality that Indians are very much relevant and part of Keluarga Malaysia and that the slogan is not just a political rhetoric.
This letter was written by P.Murugiah, the president of Penang Hindu Association (PHA).
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