Feb 25, 2014
What is the Hindraf problem?

Did the prime minister fully understand what he was dealing with, when he invited P Waythamoorthy, the leader of Persatuan Hindraf Malaysia, to join the cabinet?

Or, was it simply a ploy, to co-opt the movement’s leader for the thirteenth general election and then to ignore the man and his issues and concerns, when it was not convenient any more?

Regardless of the PM’s pure intentions, it is now obvious that he could not keep some kind of promise, whereas it is claimed that Waythamoorthy(left) had tried his best. That was obviously why he resigned in protest, after having given the PM a few months to respond to the issues and concerns raised.

Therefore, I do not understand why the cousin or other barking dogs choose to speak for the PM who is quite capable of speaking up for himself? I have now also noticed that the PM often does not speak up whenever he is caught between a rock and a hard place.

That may be wise too; except it also makes one look like a lame-duck PM. It also smacks of lack of moral maturity and integrity.

I do not know if either Umno, or Umno-linked think tanks like Isis or Mier or any of the ones in public universities, have ever tried to study and understand the real Hindraf problems and issues.

I once first asked a notable Tan Sri who heads a think tank if my NGO think tank could collaborate with it to study the Hindraf problem. It seemed like my question motivated an angry and emotive response which sounded like: ‘Why do we need to study an artificially created problem?’

So what is the Hindraf problem and the related issues?My limited and not comprehensive study of has informed me as follows:

1. The Hindraf issues and concerns are largely related to migration of indentured labour for rubber plantations in Malaya from two South Indian communities, namely the Tamils and Telugus.

2. These migrant labourers and their families came to Malaya more than 100 years ago and were hosted in British-owned rubber plantations within clusters which included a temple, a toddy shop and Tamil school organised around some barrack-type housing lines.

3. They were recruited from the public square or marketplace in India and verbally promised not just jobs but also accommodation and a lifestyle. Most were single and only travelled back to get married and start a family once settled in the job.

4. Throughout Malaya, there were many small settlements of ‘Indian colonies’ which were almost identical in structure and form. They were visible to anyone with eyes to see.

5. The real problems began when the rubber plantations were fragmented because of sale of the principal ownership, either by self-selection or by forced sale as in the now famous ‘London Raid’.

6. With fragmentation, smaller lots were taken up by housing developers, whether called PKNS or Sime Darby or Guthrie. While these ‘developers’ made plans to comprehensively develop their acquisitions, they did not take care to understand the residual problem of the ‘squatters’ they inherited.

7. The resultant issues and problems became known as Hindraf issues or concerns. What are these?

- Many of these ‘squatter residents’ did not have proper documents to establish their citizenship, even if they were third- and fourth-generation Malaysians. Even the birth certificate, the defining document of one’s identity, was not available to them. Moreover, as the Tamil school was privately run by the estate owner, the requirements in registering pupils may not have included a birth certificate.

- Most of these schools remained primary schools with a focus on language and culture; there was less emphasis on the teaching of Malay or English, math and science.

- The toddy shop and the culture of drinking became part and parcel of life on the rubber estates. Movies shown were also part of the system of ‘forgetting one’s predicaments in life’.

- The temple priests (all brought in from India) and their rituals became the defining hierarchy of culture and life, with the rise of absentee fathers another common feature.

- Then, one day, the residents of the ‘rubber plantation village’ were told they were squatters because some developer had gained the right to develop the land into a new township and they had to leave because they were ‘squatters’.

8. At the height of the Hindraf crisis, it was estimated that there were about 50,000 Malaysian third- and fourth-generation Tamils and Telugus whose grandparents had migrated to British Malaya rubber plantations. They did not have birth certificates. Whose problem was this? Who created this problem?

9. At the height of this crisis in Selangor, the debate centred upon the state authorities seeking to demolish a 100-year-old temple which was declared to be “situated in the wrong place”.

How could this be? The Federation of Malaya and Malaysia is less than 100 years old! So, what was the real problem?

Seeking solutions

We, the Merdeka generation of Malayans, are part of the Hindraf problem. We never took time to understand and appreciate the real issues and concerns of these rubber plantation workers, especially those who only studied in Tamil with little or no Malay and English.

Of course, as a young man, I had assumed that the so-called Indian Party would address the problem. Obviously, it did not!

My father is a founder member of the Kedah portion of that party and therefore I too have to assume some blame for its failure. I have never been and never will be a member of the party but that is not the point here. The point is our negligence of the issue.

The Merdeka Malayans must now ask the Hindraf-type victims of colonisation a la the British divide-and-rule system that we be forgiven for our neglect of the issues and concerns of these groups of Tamils and Telugus. Is that too difficult to do? Why so?

And is this problem too difficult to quantify and resolve, Mr Prime Minister?

May God bless Malaysia!

KJ JOHN was in public service for 29 years. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at kjjohn@ohmsi.net with any feedback or views.