The increasing destruction, desecration and removal of Hindu temples in Malaysia has highlighted an ugly side to a nation which has been much vaunted as both an economic success story and as a successful model of multiculturalism. [Talking to any one of the many Malaysian students who study degree courses at British universities, and bring in much needed income,] they will praise how wonderful their country is, how beautiful it is, and how all races there live in harmony compared to the racism, discrimination and prejudice suffered by non-white ethnic minorities and immigrants in Britain. If this sounds too good to be true, then it is.
1969 witnessed vicious anti-Chinese riots by Malays in Kuala Lumpur known as the “May 13th Incident”. Frustrated that the ethnic group which had dominated business was now set to take over the political running of the capital city with the victorious showing of the Chinese dominated and opposition Democratic Action Party and Gerakan, Malays rioted resulting in the death of 196 people, and large displacement of Chinese from the city. Political repercussions were more long-term. Tunku Abdul Rahman who had led Malaya to independence from Britain and had also formed the subsequent federation of Malaysia, resigned. Expelled from the ruling UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) was one Mahathir bin Mohamad. It is a fact that many talented people who are on the “fringes” of a community become its most stalwart zealots. The Netherlands born Hendrik Verwoerd prided on being known as an “extreme Afrikaner” and the architect of grand aparthied in South Africa. Austrian born Adolf Hitler was to squash his native country under the reich of German nationalism. Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili was born in Georgia, but as Joseph Stalin extolled Russian nationalism under the guise of Communist internationalism. Mahathir was no exception. This medical doctor with Indian ancestry on his father’s side, penned the now notorious “Malay Dilemma” in 1971 which called for further special rights for Malays especially with job reservations at the expense of the Chinese and Indians. Indeed a more Malay nationalist and racial supremacist ideology came to the fore under the new prime minister Abdul Razak, despite the fact that the indigenous Malays already enjoyed special privileges since the days of British rule.
Mahathir himself was readmitted back into UMNO in 1972, and succeeded Abdul Razak as prime minister in 1981. By now the cake had been neatly carved. Malays as indigenous “bumiputra” enjoyed rights such as discounts on mortgages, scholarships, job reservation in government, and especially guaranteed political hegemony. The Chinese have been able to flourish in the private sector. Malaysians of Indian descent by contrast are accepted as being fit to do the dirty work. Derided by the Malays and Chinese as subservient “Kelings”, the butt of all national jokes even up the level of the farce which parades itself as the national parliament (in an authoritarian racist state, it is not exactly going to have much power is it?), the largely Tamil-speaking Hindus were originally brought over by the British to work on rubber plantations are thrown the leftovers from the political table, demonstrated by The kow-towing attitude of Dato Seri Sammy Vellu, the token Indian in Malaysia’s ruling coalition (Malaysian Indian Congress being part of the alliance with UMNO). While Malaysia’s economic progress has been immense on the statistics and on aesthetic factors such as the Petronas Towers, only 8% of the total population, Indians are plagued by lack of educational and employment prospects, and are consequently blighted by the highest rates crime, victims of police killings, depression and suicide, the lowest life expectancy of all racial groups, are subject to physical and sexual abuse in a system of plantation servitude more in common with the ante-bellum American South than an emerging Asian economic power house, have been almost eliminated from their once predominant position in the civil service to a mere 2%, are given little if any help with improving dilapidated Tamil schools, and offer easy targets for unprovoked physical attack by a 95% racist Malay police force and gangs of racist Malay criminal youth, who can act with impunity. On examining these facts one dos not have to be a genius to see that this racial paradise is even worse than when the National Front used to march through Southall with heavy police protection (and sympathy), and when skinheads turned Paki-bashing of defenceless “Asians” into an unhealthy national pastime. So when the visiting Malaysians have the audacity to compare their success with that of British failure, an emotion between laughing in the utter stupidity of that remark and the anger at their complete No Remorse on the issue is the only rational reaction. Of course there are those that do are to speak the truth, and break out in a cold sweat shuddering at the very thought of one of their Malay “friends” finding out about their divulging of the truth. A little bit of research will back up what these brave souls have to say.
Another factor linked to entrenched acceptance of the majority Malays as a master race, is that of Islam being the state religion. Although freedom of belief is theoretically guaranteed by law all Malays are Muslims, and it is forbidden to change one’s religion in that circumstance. By contrast anyone marrying a Malay must convert to Islam, thus further entrenching racial supremacy as they effectively become Malay. Specific anti-Hindu attitudes, in addition to racist ones against the dirty “Kelings” have become increasingly prominent as Islamic fundamentalism has emerged over the last 20 years in what was a one of the most tolerant of all Muslim countries. Before conversion to Islam from the fourteenth century with the Malacca sultanate, the region now encompassed by Malaysia and Indonesia was dominated by Hindu-Buddhist civilisation, in the magnificent empires of Shrivijaya, the Shailendras and Majapahit. Hindu elements survived in Malay culture, notably the dances patronised as the courts of sultans, and the popular wayang (puppet theatre) with their themes drawn from the Mahabharata, and especially the Ramayana in its two local versions the Hikayat Seri Rama and Hikayat Maharaja Wana. Now these are looked down upon with the growing influence of PAS, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia or Malaysian Islamic Party, which although a minority party does threaten the hegemony which UMNO has over Malays, in its calls for greater extension of sharia law, which already exist in Malaysia’s legal system in that officially Islamic state. Hinduism is also being eliminated from the country’s pre-Islamic history as much as possible. In the Bujang Valley in northern Kedah state, Malaysia ‘s Hindu roots are obvious. The government built a museum to display showcase Bujang’s archaeological finds, with their Hindu images, Buddha statues and other artefacts. But a board on the museum wall describes this Hindu-Buddhist civilisation as an “old Malay kingdom” that had “contact with various people of different cultural origins and environments.” The museum’s brochure is even more explicit. It states that maritime trade led to the “Indianization” of the Bujang Valley which “eventually adulterated” the indigenous Malay culture. So anything remotely connected with the “Keling” underclass, especially its sacred beliefs, is denigrated mercilessly by official sanction.
This does not exactly bode well for deprived community, who as well as being looked down upon as dirty “Kelings” are also overwhelmingly “idol-worshipping” pagans. This explains the specific anti-Hindu outrages which are making the much vaunted Asian Tiger draw its claws and teeth deeper and deeper into the Malaysian Hindu jugular vein. Things are so bad that even death is no escape. In December 2005, national mountaineering and military hero M Moorthy, was given an Islamic burial in opposition to his widow and family members who wanted him to have a Hindu funeral. But former army colleagues insisted he had converted to Islam, and as a Hindu Mrs Moorthy’s was not allowed to appear before the sharia court which can only take the testimony of a Muslim, and an area in which civil courts have no jurisdiction. But it is the temple demolitions which should alert everyone to the last bastion of tolerance being turned into a sick joke. On 17 October 2006 a 60 year old temple’s Hindu statutes were hammered, smashed up and thrown into a drain by about enforcement officers from the Manjung District Council, two police officers and the use of a bulldozer. This was on instructions from the Chief Minister of Perak, Dato Seri Tajol Rosli Ghazali and the President of the Manjung District Council and District Officer Tuan Haji Abu Bakar bin Haji Said. Other examples include a Hindu Temple in Petaling Jaya Malaysia forced to relocate next to a sewerage tank by the state on 14 July 2006. The situation is so bad now according to human rights group Police Watch Malaysia that Hindu temples now get destroyed on average every three weeks.
HHR calls upon the Malaysian government to live up to its own supposed adherence to respect and tolerance in a pluralistic society. While one cannot doubt the strides made by that country since it gained independence from Britain , and the pragmatic steps that its leaders have taken in ensuring that it develops into a high technology and prosperous example of post-colonial success, that should not detract from the rather unsavoury aspects that have emerged. One cannot help feel that if it was another community suffering in this manner then there would have been an outcry. But once again the desecration of superstitious idols and shrines is not going to alert the conscience of otherwise vigilant organisations who seek to promote democracy and human rights, any more than western democracies will be when they cannot see past the glitzy veneer of a supposedly modern Asiatic state. Whichever way one looks at it voicing of this issue was long overdue.