As much as the Malaysian government tries to hush things up, it cannot avoid the intensifying international scrutiny of its allegedly discriminatory practices against the domestic ethnic Indian minority after Sunday’s (25 Nov) protest by the Hindu Rights Action Force’s (HINDRAF).
The bad publicity looks set to get worse especially as Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi is ready to use the notorious Internal Security Act (ISA) against those who threaten national security and disrupt racial harmony through street protests. PM Abdullah warned, “The ISA is there, if the situation warrants it, it will be used. If there are reasons for us to use it, we will use it.” For the time being, Abdullah Badawi intends to let the police decide on how to manage the upcoming rallies planned for December, such as the annual Human Rights March organised by the Bar Council human rights committee.
80-odd participants of Sunday’s rally have already been charged by the Malaysian courts yesterday for taking part in an “illegal assembly”. Now, the government also wants to revoke the “discharge” of the three HINDRAF leaders –P. Uthaya Kumar, P. Waytha Moorty, and V. Ganapati Rao –under the Sedition Act given on Monday (26 November). The Malaysian Attorney-General’s application for a “revision” is expected to be taken up next week.
Obviously, the high-handed way that the Malaysian government is dealing with the issue has raised more opposition. For instance, the Malaysian Bar Council President, Ambiga Sreenevasan, highlighted that “the police action only served to muzzle voices that must be heard” as these are valid concerns of a part of Malaysian society that feels “marginalised, frustrated, and helpless”. The Bar Council also advised the government not to dismiss these grievances as mere political mischief before the 2008 elections, but instead see how they can be addressed. Additionally, the Bar Council will provide free legal services to the protesters. Other NGOs have also protested against the government’s threat to unleash the ISA.
International dissent has also been heard from the US. An anonymous State Department official said, “We believe citizens of any country should be allowed to peacefully assemble and express their views.”
More radically, the Tamils in India are getting riled up and jumping on the bandwagon of protest. Muthuvel Karunanidhi, Chief Minister of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, has asked the Indian Union government to intervene to “end the suffering” of Malaysian Tamils. To this, Malaysia pointedly told him to “mind his own business”.
There is a drawback to all this publicity though. If the HINDRAF is not careful, the “circus” may get out of hand such that the real grievances of Malaysian Indians may be discredited and all the Malaysian government needs to do is to bide its time till the matter blows over. Already the suit filed at the Royal Courts of Justice in London for 1 million US dollars for every ethnic Indian in Malaysia, and the letter to British PM Gordon Brown with allegations of a “mini genocide” of 100 Indians at Kampong Median, reeks of sensationalism. The HINDRAF letter also petitions for “an emergency United Nations resolution condemning these state-sponsored atrocities and persecutions of Malaysian Indians in Malaysia” and the referral of “Malaysia to the World Court and the International Criminal Court for Crimes against it’s own ethnic minority Indians”.
If it really wants to change the unequal status quo, what HINDRAF and the Indian community need to do is to go about the issue in a rational manner. The forces of international scrutiny, reliance on foreign labour and global economics that Malaysia depends on to rise to the status of a developed nation can perhaps compel the Malay elite that the “current system is demeaning to Malays in general” and greater change is needed. This is because not only the Indian community is suffering but the “recent protests that brought out middle-class and professional Malays is testimony that they too benefit little from the present system”. (29 November 2007)
80 Indians charged with taking part in illegal rally in Malaysia (The Hindu, 29 November 2007)
US defends peaceful protests in Malaysia (AFP, 29 November 2007)
Malaysia raps Karunanidhi for meddling (Reuters, 29 November 2007)
Discharge of ethnic Indians to be “revised” (The Hindu, 29 November 2007)
Malaysia’s Racial Policies Draw International Scrutiny (Asia Sentinel, 28 November 2007)
Ethnic Indian anger shakes Malaysia's foundation of racial stability (AP, 28 November 2007)
Lawyers criticise Malaysia's threat to invoke security law (AFP, 28 November 2007)
We will use Act against street protestors if we have to, says PM (Star, 28 November 2007)
Hindraf denies affiliation to any political party (Star, 28 November 2007)
Protestors to be charged Wednesday (Star, 28 November 2007)
Bar Council expresses concern (Star, 28 November 2007)
Karunanidhi seeks help for Tamils in Malaysia (Times of India, 28 November 2007)