The Star
20 Nov 2008

The hidden and marginalised Malay
A Writer's Life

They’re the kind of Malays the rest of Malaysia wishes to ignore. They
are the Injecting Drug Users (IDUs), sex workers and transsexuals, the
dregs of society at the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

I PRESENTED a paper at a roundtable conference organised by the Centre
of Media and Information Warfare Studies, UITM about a week back on
the Hidden and Marginalised Malays based on the communities I had met
and worked with in Chow Kit. They’re the kind of Malays the rest of
Malaysia wishes to ignore.

Unfortunately, there are very few Malaysians who are willing to stick
their necks out to help Injecting Drug Users (IDUs), sex workers and
transsexuals. These are the dregs of society, at the lowest rung of
the economic ladder.

I had written the paper to find answers, the solutions to these
dilemmas and all I could come up with was this: drugs and the sex
trade, the marginalised community will not go away, whoever governs
the country.

An excerpt from the paper:

“This dis-engagement with these marginalised communities – that happen
to be predominantly Malay – impact the nation as a whole. If
Malay(sian)s remain in denial about drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, child
trafficking and the sex trade (just to name a few), the socio-economic
crisis we all fear is unavoidable .

“The nation may just well witness a decline in economic productivity,
and less confidence in themselves as a race.

“The failure to acknowledge this will mean that although a part of the
solution, a revision of the NEP and the implementation of new
affirmative action policies will not be enough to stem a
socio-economic crisis.”

“It has been said that poverty and lack of education are the reasons
behind the Malay marginalised communities. It is important to note
that the two factors also affect the Chinese, Indian and other
non-Malay communities.

“However many of the issues are dominated by ethnic Malays. The
assumption is that as the majority race, the composition of Malays
involved in social issues are bigger in number.”

Hence, it’s not a numbers game or the fact that the marginalised
Malays are heathen Muslims. It would be too simplistic to say that
because there are more Malays in the country, ergo more are involved
in social problems.

The Government has social development policies and support programmes
to help the poor and socially fractured. Still it is an uphill task to
gain the confidence and support from potential funders and political
activists because they “… do not want to bersubahat with sinners.”

There has been too much emphasis on the economic and intellectual
decline of the Malays. This is an important point, but what is more
urgently needed is a response to marginalised communities.

This is a problem which is not confined within the geographical reach
of Kuala Lumpur; it is also experienced in many households outside of
the city.

A quick foray into books examining the Malay state discovers a trend
of concentrating only on the history, make-up and economic status of
the Malays. Tun Dr Mahathir’s The Malay Dilemma, Bakri Musa’s The
Malay Dilemma Revisited and the recent Suflan Shamlan’s Reset, as well
as Syed Husin Ali’s The Malays: Their Problems and Their Future reason
and conclude on, if not provide solutions to, the advancement of the
Malay intellect and economic progress. Are these books the solution to
our woes?

There have been many heated debates on how religion and the
re-embracement of the Malay culture will eradicate social problems.
Granted, there have been very open-hearted ulama who have come forth
to work with rehabilitated sex workers, street-children, but they are
few and far in-between.

Corporate donors have been very helpful, but sometimes their CSR goals
are not aligned with what these communities need.

A number of public initiatives to help marginalised Malays who live in
rural areas have been initiated. The results have been mixed: there
have been stellar Malays who have succeeded against all odds, but
reports of rampant drug abuse, promiscuity and school drop-outs are

The reader may argue that the problems (we) face are not Malay
problems. “The Indians may be fewer than the Malays, but the
percentage of Indians involved in substance abuse and alcoholism, for
example, is high,” as was once observed by a sociologist.

Truth is, this is not a Malay issue; it is about a human being’s right
to live a productive and healthy life. You can have a Malay or
non-Malay Prime Minister, but if left unchecked this will always be a
Malay problem.

The writer can be contacted at