Malaysian Indian Identity Crisis

We, Malaysians, aspire to be Malaysians in Malaysia. Currently, we only recognize each other as Malaysian overseas – inside Malaysia, we are still “Saya Melayu, kamu Cina dan dia India.”

And, we accuse other races that is, our compatriots are racists and colourists when we are subtly racist and sometimes colourist ourselves.

We are already a minority and a marginalized community here and yet some of us like to break us down to sub race and caste.

identity crisis

I can’t help but notice how some us make it a point to further divide ourselves into sub races like Telugu, Malayalam, Ceylonese, Punjabi and so forth. Some like to even distinguish themselves along the lines of castes like Chettiar, Gounder, Naidu, Menon, Pillai, Mookulithu Devar and whatnot.

The majority of Indians here are Tamil and most of our Indian entertainment comes from Tamil Nadu. Our mannin mainthargal try to emulate movies from India, specifically from the Tamil movie industry, Kollywood. And, our local Tamil artistes are invited to work with big names of musicians from Kollywood. Again, taking the majority under account, we have Tamil primary schools; we don’t have Malayalam or Telugu schools simply because the number of the people of the Indian sub-races here is insignificant.

Yes, we recognize our sub races through festivals like Ugadhi, Onam, Tamil New Year, etc. We also have Malaysia Malayalee Sangam, Malaysia Telugu Sangam and so forth. It is, by all means good to acknowledge our diversity but it is not good to have fanaticism over this.

Some Telugu organization has proposed to mainstream media to air Telugu programmes on Deepavali and this was met by outrage from some Tamil fanatics who went on to say that Tamil is the official language of Indians here since they form the majority of the Indian community and that only Tamil programmes should be aired on Deepavali. This behaviour is no different than the behaviour of those goons in PERKASA. Ellam orey kutteiyile oorene mattai poleh.

And then, those who go out of their way to detach themselves from the Tamil majority. It’s okay if they can’t speak or understand Tamil as it is not their mother tongue. But, going the extra mile to draw the distinction that they are not Tamil, when they can speak and understand Tamil well rubs off as a distorted form of subtle racism given the demographic scale of Indians here which is quite small.

I hate to say that there are caste fanatics here, in Malaysia. Yes, hard to believe but it is the bitter truth – I have seen Indians discriminate fellow Indians by caste, using the adage ‘oil doesn’t mix with water.’ Enna bang, goreng ah? Where does caste show on you la? You have any birth mark on your body that denotes your caste classification? Say you need an emergency blood tranfusion. Will you be checking on the caste of the blood donor? Now, use the ‘oil doesn’t mix with water’ adage by all means.

Another identity crisis that I have a bone to pick with is the confusion between race and religion. Mention Indian here and automatically his/her religion would be associated with Hinduism, kovil and prasadham. We get completely oblivious of our Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters. We tend to get exclusive instead of inclusive.

How do we refer to other races here? We call the Malays ‘naatukaren or naatan’ and the Chinese, ‘sadayan.’ But, the moment other races call us ‘keling’ or ‘pariah’, we are quick to point our forefinger to them as ‘racist’. Please look at the your four fingers that are pointing back at you. What do ‘naatukaren’ or ‘naatan’ mean? Sons of soil. Forget about the Bumiputera status; it’s politics. I’m talking about racial integration here. Are we not born on this blessed land? Didn’t we sing the lyric ‘Negaraku, tanah tumpahnya darahku’ out loud every day in school assembly? By calling the Malays ‘naatukaren’ we defile our own nationality! We are all born here and that makes all of us naatukaren! Please don’t say that we are racially discriminated by Malays when we are no better ourselves. And, ‘sadayan.’ It was the ancient Chinese culture to have a long single plait on the back their heads, ‘sadai’, hence the name ‘sadayan.’ But, that culture was given wholesale to the past and it is not very helpful for us to refer to the Chinese like that in present days.

I know, many of you readers will think, we are grossly being victimized on the account of our race but let us be the change. It won’t happen overnight but we can make it happen! Gua bukan Melayu, Cina atau India. Gua Malaysian lah macha!!


One comment

  1. Blame MIC. Non-Tamils were prevented from joining it by Samy Vellu and his ilk. They did not even bother cloak their exclusionary policy. Those people were told outright that they were not “Indians” because they were not Tamil.

    Tamils are also largely ignorant about other “Indians”. They are different from Tamils in food, dress, language, culture, religion etc.

    Many Tamils have tried to impose imperialistic requirements on non-Tamils. Why should non-Tamils speak or even like the Tamil language? Even in India, the dominant languages are English and Hindi. So what do you expect? It is better to be “Malaysian” so we can forget origins, caste, class, etc.


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