The Indian contribution — Ranjit Singh Malhi
NOV 10 — I refer to Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz’s recent invitation to Indian groups to meet with the Government and discuss the grievances of the Malaysian Indian Community.
Let’s face the stark reality and look for permanent and holistic solutions to the problems plaguing the Indian Community. The Indian Community which forms about 7 per cent of our nation’s population does rightfully feel alienated and frustrated.
Indeed, one can argue that the Indian Community over the last few decades has become in N. J. Colleta’s words, “Malaysia’s forgotten people.” I would add that the community’s position has been reduced to that of a “footnote” in our school history textbooks which scantly acknowledge their contribution towards the economic development of our nation.
The problem of the marginalised Indian community, particularly of the more than 300,000 displaced plantation workers must be viewed as a grave national problem which must be tackled immediately with a sense of urgency and sincerity.
The Indian community is plagued by a number of problems besides poverty, low self-esteem and having the lowest share of the nation’s corporate wealth. It has the highest number of gangsters, prisoners, drug addicts, alcoholics, suicide rate and single mothers in proportion to population. Indians commit about 50 per cent of our nation’s serious crimes and record the highest percentage of deaths whilst under police custody. Indians also have the lowest life expectancy rate among the major races.
In all fairness, the Government has recently undertaken certain initiatives to alleviate the problems faced by the Indian community such as increasing the number of seats for Indian matriculation students, promising one hundred scholarships for top Indian students and approving myKad for over 4,000 Indian Malaysians.
Such initiatives are definitely steps in the right direction but they do not address the basic problems faced by the community. Much more needs to be done for the Indian community such as enhancing the quality of teaching and learning in Tamil schools, allocating increased seats in institutions of higher learning, creating adequate job and business opportunities, providing appropriate skills training, and introducing land settlement schemes.
The Government should bear in mind that our nation owes a debt of gratitude to the Indian community for their invaluable contribution before Merdeka. It was Indian labour (mainly South Indians) that was the backbone of the rubber industry and primarily responsible for opening up much of what is today West Malaysia with their sweat, blood and tears.
Rubber was the chief export of Malaya for several decades beginning from 1916.
Indian labour was also primarily responsible for building the roads, railways and bridges besides constructing ports, airports and government buildings. Virtually every mile of railway track which totalled over 1,000 miles and about 6,000 miles of metalled main roads and several hundred miles of tertiary roads by 1957 were built by Indian labour. As aptly stated by Muzaffar Tate, “The Public Works Department was an Indian preserve.”
A little known fact is that hundreds of thousands of Indians died in developing modern Malaya. According to the 1957 Federation of Malaya Census Report, much of the 1.2 million net Indian immigration to Malaya between 1860-1957 appears to have been wiped out by disease, snake bites, exhaustion and malnutrition. In the words of Michael R. Stenson, “… South India provided an indispensable tribute of human lives without which the European owned plantation industry in Malaya could not have been established.”
To conclude, our nation owes a debt of gratitude to Malaysian Indians for their valuable past contribution in nation building, particularly in opening up the malarial and sparsely populated jungle for commercial agriculture which formed the backbone of the country’s economy until 1980. The Government is morally obliged to initiate significant and long lasting measures aimed at vastly improving the economic and social wellbeing of the Indian Community.
* Ranjit Singh Malhi reads The Malaysian Insider.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.