The Human Rights Party, a political group representing disaffected Malaysian Indians, posted a message to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on its website to remind that their community faces “state-sponsored racial and religious segregation” in Malaysia from “womb to tomb.”
According to the 2002 High-Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora, Malaysia had the world’s second-largest Indian diaspora, numbering nearly 1.7 million. Though they are disproportionately represented in fields like medicine and law, they are the poorest of the three main ethnic groups of Malaysia.
The HRP is the new avatar of the Hindu Rights Action Forum, a political rights groups that accused the Malaysian government of discrimination against Indian Malaysians. The forum was banned in 2007 and their founder, P. Uthayakumar, was jailed for 17 months.
The HRP had requested but did not receive an audience with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Asked about Malaysia’s discriminatory policies, Singh diplomatically said he had faith that Malaysia, “a multicultural, multireligious democracy,” had the “flexibility” to handle such issues.
Singh and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak on Wednesday inaugurated an urban renewal project for an Indian area of Kuala Lumpur, Brickfield, that was renamed Little India. Some 3,000 Malaysian Indians waited for as long as three hours to see the inauguration ceremony, but they were kept at a distance by barricades and their view of the official dias blocked by stands and equipment. Indian officials admitted they weren’t certain if Singh even knew the audience was there.
Indian media people who asked local about the political climate in Malaysia were repeatedly told “no comment.” The few who were brave enough to be slightly critical of the government, hastily withdrew their comments.
The HRP was critical, calling Little India of being “propaganda” and the area designed to “camouflage the real ground reality” of the Malaysian Indian.
Political disaffection among the community has been evident in Malaysia. Following the Hindu Rights Action Forum campaign, the government – allied Malaysian Indian Congress, was badly defeated in August 2008 elections, winning only three out of nine seats they contested. The array of local Indian leaders, including the head of the Malaysian Indian Congress, who welcomed Singh received no applause from the Little India crowd when their names were read out.
A key HRP demand has been that the present preferential treatment for Malays for university student slots be abolished. It requested that Singh consider providing them seats in Indian higher education institutes.