Related Issues

  • Review/113/06: Umma not adequate for migrants in Malaysia, 22 February 2006
  • Review/CHR61/62/05: Mid-night knocks in Malaysia, 2 March 2005
  • Review/53/04: Malaysia: Truly Asian Police State, 29 December 2004

  • Malaysia: Racism is allowed, protest against racism isnít

    Malaysia is in the news again after hundreds of its citizens of Indian origin under the aegis of the Hindu Rights Action Force demonstrated on 25 November 2007 outside the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur seeking US$ 4 trillion compensation from the British government for bringing the indentured labourers from India. The real focus was not the British government but the Malaysian government’s racist policies and practices which have crippled the Indian origin Malaysians.  

    The Malaysian government banned the demonstration on the ground that the protest may create “racial tensions”. Obviously, State-sponsored racism and racial preferences are allowed but any protest against such racism and racial discrimination is classified by the State as “seditious” and “criminal”.


    I. Racism and its impact on minorities in Malaysia


    Under Article 2(2) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, State parties can “when the circumstances so warrant, take, in the social, economic, cultural and other fields, special and concrete measures to ensure the adequate development and protection of certain racial groups or individuals belonging to them, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms”. It further states, “These measures shall in no case entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate rights for different racial groups after the objectives for which they were taken have been achieved”.


    These measures are intended towards the oppressed groups. But in 1971, the Malaysian government introduced New Economic Policy (NEP) to perpetuate the rule of the majority Malays. The NEP provided affirmative action programmes for the majority “Bhumiputras” (sons of the soil) i.e. the ethnic Malays in business, education and the civil service. Within two decades, the NEP had crippled the Indian and Chinese origin Malaysians. Yet, in 1991, the NEP was revised under the New Development Plan (1991-2000) to achieve further socio-economic upliftment of the Bhumiputras. The same preferential treatment of the majority Malays continues under the New Vision Policy (2001-2010).


    The statistics of the devastating impact of the pro-Bhumiputra policies are telling.


    Today, Malaysia is one of the South-East Asia’s most vibrant economies and the socio-economic conditions of the majority Malays have improved exponentially. But there has been little improvement of the conditions of the Indian origin Malaysians.


    In 1970, the overall share of wealth of the ethnic Indians stood at 1.1 percent but three decades later, their overall share of wealth increased only slightly to about 1.5 percent which is disproportionately less in relation to their population. [1]


    Indian origin Malaysians constitute about 8% of the total population. But, they also constituted 15 percent of juvenile delinquents, about 50 percent of all convicts in prisons in 2004, [2] and 41% of the beggars in 2003. [3] According to Hindu Rights Action Force, the percentage of Indians in the civil service fell from 40% in 1957 to less than 2% in 2005. [4] According to official records, 30-35 Indian origin Malaysians per 100,000 committed or attempted to commit suicide annually as compared to 10-12 Malaysians per 100,000 in 2006. [5]


    In education, Indian origin Malaysians made up of less than 5% of the total university intake of over 45,000 annually. Nearly half of the 523 Tamil vernacular schools do not receive any government funds although they are in shambles. [6]


    In addition, their religious freedoms are violated. Under Article 3 (1) of the Constitution of Malaysia, Islam is the religion of the Federation. According to the Hindu Rights Action Force, there is an “unofficial policy of Hindu temple cleansing in Malaysia”. At least three Hindu temples were demolished, one was partly destroyed and two others had been served demolition notices in Kuala Lumpur and neighboring Selangor state since February 2006. [7]


    II. Repression to silence protest against racism


    Malaysia remains a truly Police State.  It resorted to high-handedness to bludgeon the protestors on 25 November 2007. The Malaysian riot police broke up the rally by using disproportionate force – using batons, tear gas and water cannon against unarmed protestors. [8]


    The state also invoked the Sedition Act though on 26 November 2007, police had to release three Hindu Rights Action Force leaders including its President, Waythamoorthy, legal advisor, P. Uthayakumar and V.S. Ganapathi Rao [9]  for failing to produce any evidence of their alleged seditious statements. [10] On 27 November 2007, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi stated that the draconian Internal Security Act, whch allows suspects to be detained for indefinite period without charge or trial, could be used against the demonstrators arrested on 25 November 2007. [11] More than 70 people are currently detained without trial under the Internal Security Act and some of them have been detained for more than six years. [12]


    Moreover, many students face suspension under the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 which prohibits undergraduate students from taking part in demonstrations. Under this Act, those arrested and charged in court are suspended and are allowed to resume their studies only if the cases against them are dropped or if they are acquitted. Hence, those who participated in the rally on 25 November 2007 could face suspension of their studies.


    It is high time that the international community protested against the racist policies and practices of the Malaysian government and the use of the Internal Security Act against those who protest against the policies and practices of the “racism and racial discrimination”.

    [1] . Criticism of 30-Year-Old Affirmative-Action Policy Grows in Malaysia, The International Herald Tribune, 5 JANUARY 2001,

    [2] . RIGHTS-MALAYSIA: Ethnic Indians Demand Fair Share of Prosperity, IPS, 17 October 2005,

    [3] MALAYSIAN INDIANS: The third class race by C. S. Kuppuswamy, South Asia Analysis Group, 28 February 2003, available at

    [4] . RIGHTS-MALAYSIA: Ethnic Indians Blame Britain for Sorry Plight, IPS, 11 September 2007, available at

    [5] . Suicide rate high among ethnic Indians in Malaysia, Daily News and Analysis, 23 July 2006,

    [6] . RIGHTS-MALAYSIA: Ethnic Indians Blame Britain for Sorry Plight, IPS, 11 September 2007, available at

    [7] . Hindu group protests 'temple cleansing' in Malaysia, The Financial Express, 23 May 2006, available at

    [8] . Malaysian police break up rally, BBC News, 25 November 2007

    [9] . Police arrest Hindraf leaders, The Star, 23 November 2007, available at

    [10] . Malaysia Hindu activists released, BBC News, 26 November 2007

    [11] . Malaysia PM issues demo warning, BBC News, 27 November 2007

    [12] . Malaysia PM issues demo warning, BBC News, 27 November 2007


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