Are we marginalised?
Some time ago, the Minister Mentor of Singapore,Lee Kuan Yew, accused the Malaysian government to have systematically marginalized the citizens of Chinese origin. This was vehemently denied by the Malaysian government including its own Chinese Ministers in the cabinet. The accusation created considerable debate on this issue of marginalization of the minorities in the country.
What is marginalization? Is it true that certain communities in the country are being marginalized?The Oxford Dictionary defines marginalization as 1.relating to or a situation at or in a margin. 2. of minor importance. Therefore when we say a community is marginalized it means it is pushed to the periphery and given minor importance.
In accordance with this definition we can safely say marginalization is a universal practice of the majority against the minority. In a truly democratic state the minorities are protected by law against blatant abuses and discrimination against them. The ruling majority is entrusted to ensure that the rights of the minorities are genuinely protected.The political system, the judiciary, police and armed forces are in place to ensure that the rights of the minorities are protected in accordance with the laws of the country. This is practiced more satisfactorily in most developed democratic nations of the West as compared to developing and under-developed nations.
In Malaysia too the Federal Constitution, enacted by the founding fathers of the nation, clearly spelt out these provisions. Do we as the minority non-Malay and non-Muslim communities enjoy this protection from the government agencies? Are our legitimate rights for equal participation in the various institutions and economic activities granted freely without fuss?
The present unprofessional handling of inter-ethnic conflicts by our politicians, police, judiciary and the civil service in general has cast serious doubts in our minds as to the willingness of the majority to protect not only our rights but our security as well.This was clearly demonstrated in a number of incidence lately such as violent disruption of the peaceful Article 11 forum in Penang, the false SMS fiasco in Ipoh, seditious speeches and kris waving at the last UMNO General Assembly, the warnings by UMNO youth leaders and so on.After fifty years of independence instead of getting more united we are on the contrary becoming more polarized along ethnic and religious lines.
At the brink of our 50th.year of independence,when the whole nation is in festive mood,preparing to celebrate our national day,let’s ponder what is taking place in our own multiracial and multi-religious country which our leaders acclaim to be a model for others to emulate.
The early years
The first act after a child is born is the registration of its birth which requires one to state the ethnicity and religion of the newborn. So even at birth Malaysians are categorized as Malays, Chinese, Indians or others. Why can’t we do away with just stating we are Malaysian instead of classifying according our ethnic origin?
In school the child is again repeatedly asked to state his race and religion in all registration forms.Even streamlining of classes is based on race. It is not uncommon to group all Malays into one class and non-Malays into others. The reason given for this is to facilitate religious instruction for Muslims and moral for non-Muslims.
Religious instruction for children should be encouraged but it should be for all, regardless of religion. Moral classes, emphasizing universal values, should also be common for all, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.Why are Malaysians at such a tender and innocent age exposed to separate moral and value systems? Prayer sessions in schools, before important functions and examinations are held only for Muslims. The non-Muslims are left to idle away during these sessions. Isn’t this segregation of our children in schools for religious purposes amounts to discrimination?
Selection of students for posts as prefects, heads of clubs and sports are again based on race. Non-Malay students unless possess extra-ordinary skills, which not many do, are not selected to represent the school or state.
Teachers, who are predominantly Malays, these days don’t even know much about the background of their pupils of other races. Then there is different dress code for Muslims and non-Muslims which further segregate the kids even at primary level.
At university level
Entry into public universities which is based on two totally different examinations, Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia(STPM) and Matriculation, is profoundly unfair. There is widespread perception that the selection process for university entrance favors the matriculation over the STPM students. Less than 10% of the matriculation seats are offered to non-Malays.
As STPM carries less weight for entry into public universities, many of the non-Malay students, even those from poor background, are forced to shun away from this once popular local examination in favor of A-levels. The latter, apart from being a foreign examination is also very costly, tuition fees alone coming up to more than RM15,000.By this unfair practice, slowly but surely the eligibility of non-Malays for entrance into public universities is systematically eliminated. It is a fact that the number of students opting for STPM is declining every year. Why can’t all races sit for a common entrance examination?
Every year we see numerous non-Malay students with maximum results in the STPM examination being blatantly denied places in public universities for critical courses like Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Law and Engineering. Many of these students are from extremely poor financial background and cannot afford the exorbitant fees charged by the private colleges. Scholarships are not awarded to them based on merit as claimed. What do we expect them to do? Can we blame them if they resort to criminal activities to earn a living?
The vast majority on non-Malay students, including the brilliant ones from poor families, are forced to further their education in private institutions, some with questionable credentials, at costs far beyond their means,often amounting to hundreds of thousands of ringgit. Many poor parents have to mortgage their houses and properties to finance them. Highly precious EPF savings are utilized leaving the parents at the mercy of their children at the twilight of their lives.
After completion of their studies job opportunities are also hardly available to non-Malay Malaysians. The posts in civil service, police, armed forces and even government linked companies (GLC) are “reserved” for bumiputras leaving the private sector highly competitive for the non-bumiputras.Forty percent of the population are given less the 10% of jobs in the government sector. If this isn’t discrimination what is it?
For those few, who are lucky to be employed in the public sector, promotions by true merit are difficult to come by. Post for heads of departments, state directors of the various departments, director generals, state secretaries and chief secretaries of ministries are all exclusively for bumiputras.
In the years following independence Malaysians of all races mixed freely, playing, eating and even praying together. They celebrate all the festivals together in the true spirit of muhibbah.Today each community celebrates its respective festivals among the members of its own community. In fact these days our Muslim friends are reluctant to dine in the homes of non- Muslim friends.
Although Malaysia is a secular country where the federal constitution guarantees freedom to practice ones own religion, this freedom of religious worship, in actual fact, is greatly impeded.Local authorities are reluctant to approve the building of churches and temples let alone providing funds for such projects. Civil laws are being replaced by Syariah laws that are slowly becoming the supreme law of the land. There seems to be 2 sets of laws in the country, Syariah for Muslims and civil for non-Muslims.
Of late there have been attempts to impose syariah laws on non-Muslims as well. This has caused great deal of anxiety among them.Inter-faith problems are sensationalized and dialogues to solve them are denied. The reluctance of the government to establish the Inter-faith Commission is a serious setback to solving such disputes in a civil manner.
Lee Kuan Yew said the Chinese are marginalized in Malaysia and in return the Malaysian government claims that the Malays in Singapore are marginalized. Both these may be true but what is also true is that the indigenous groups and Indians in both countries have been pushed out of the margins, a situation we call elimination, which is more extreme than marginalization.Even the poorer bumiputras are marginalized from the mainstream of development.
We claim that Malaysia is a multi-racial and multi-religious country, and truly it is. Our leaders claim we are a model nation for the world to emulate as far as ethnic relations are concerned, sure enough it should be.We have all the great religions in our country, Islam, Christianity, Hinduisms and Buddhism. All of them are unanimous in their teachings - to share what you have, however scanty it may be, with those who are less fortunate regardless of race or creed.
Malaysia is blessed with abundant natural resources and there is plenty of wealth for all its citizens. All we need is to be true followers of our respective religions and share what we have with fellow countrymen, regardless of color or creed.
At the end of the first fifty years of independence, we are beginning to get a sense of helplessness and despair. We have definitely succeeded in this half a century in creating two classes of citizens – Malays and non-Malays. As though this division was not enough, we have further subdivided them into Muslims and non-Muslims.
Occasionally we see a ray of hope in some moderate statements of the Prime Minister but it is quickly subdued by racist remarks of some young ambitious politicians. We are encouraged by the recent calls for racial unity by the Regent of Perak, Raja Nazrin Shah but will his sole voice have any lasting impact on the system of governance?
Our patriotism to the nation which was unshakable before is being severely tested. If this discrimination and marginalization continues, our future in the country we loved and toiled to develop appears to be doomed. Let us all implore divine help to get rid of our selfishness in accordance of our religious teachings, as only the Almighty will be able to deliver our country from the clutches of racists and fanatics.