Pitiful plight

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The early Indian Malaysian working class’ plight – severe financial difficulties, intense suffering in silence, sad tear-filled eyes – was deliberately ignored by heartless employers. Letchmanan Naidu reviews a book by Janakey Raman Manickam.

The Malaysian Indian Dilemma: The struggles and agony of the Indian community in Malaysia
Author: Janakey Raman Manickam
Human Development and Research Centre, Klang
430 pages
Price: RM29.90 (soft cover); RM39.90 (hard cover)

In this fabulously written monograph, the author lucidly presents the chronology of events, taking place about two centuries ago till today. He describes the mass arrival, distribution and settlement of Indian immigrant manual workers in Malayan rubber plantations and estates. He explains the allocation of various types of difficult manual “bone-breaking” tiresome jobs, to the indentured immigrant workers in rubber estates. The initial arrival of the Indian working class, comprised mainly of the illiterate, penniless, malnourished, poverty-stricken indentured workers of various ethnic races. There were also a very small minority of professional Ceylonese and tertiary educated Indians of other ethnic origins seeking professional employment in pre-independence Malayan rubber estates and government agencies.

The indentured Indian workers were recruited to work on a temporary work permit basis in the large number of Malayan rubber plantations, clearing vast acres of jungles, bushes and undergrowth to pave the way for the cultivation of rubber seedlings, which eventually matured into rubber trees yielding latex. Latex, used for the manufacture of rubber tyres, had a huge promising market in the western world during the industrial revolution in particular, servicing the automobile industry and later the airline industry.

The forefathers of the present Indian Malaysians contributed immensely to the development of Malaya. In particular, their magnificent contribution in various agricultural sectors, the construction industry and the transport industry (the building of roads, the laying of railway lines, and the construction of railway bridges and tunnels). They cleared vast stretches of uninhabitable virgin jungle, infested with mosquitoes, tigers and snakes, for housing and land cultivation and generated huge wealth for the country’s economic progress. The small number of professional and graduate Indian immigrants served the government administrative sectors, taught in schools and worked as physicians at hospitals. Thus the Indian Malaysian forefathers’ noble services to our country’s progress ought not be forgotten but genuinely appreciated and cherished.

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The early Indian Malaysian working class’ nostalgic plight – severe financial difficulties, intense suffering in silence, sad tear-filled eyes – was deliberately ignored by heartless employers. Their tears and choked voices were inaudible to the deaf ears of estate management personnel. The extensive exploitation of their manual services with insufficient daily remuneration was inhuman. Inadequate health care facilities, poor health, deplorable housing facilities, lack of proper electricity supply, inadequate clean water supply, non-availability of clean sanitary facilities and severely inadequate and unreliable reliable transport services brought immense suffering to them.

Inadequate school infrastructure and teaching facilities for estate children to pursue a decent primary and secondary level education added to their misery.

rubber factory

This pitiable harsh treatment experienced by the Indian Malaysian estate descendants included overcrowded, miniscule and squalid living quarters. They were liable to be furnished with notice, for their quarters to be immediately vacated when estates were fragmented (upon sale, transfer of ownership or use for new housing development, industrial establishment or for modern government infrastructure projects). The social ills that prevailed in these poor and overcrowded shanty settlements areas plagued by low daily wage capitalist exploitation and deception by ruthless and heartless estate owners have been well explained, illustrated and factually verifiable, with appropriate statistical data by the author. This is a salient feature of the monograph.

The author has systematically carried out research to analyse the socioeconomic status of this community, experienced in the post independence era from 1957 to 2009, incorporating the present generation of descendants of the Indian Malaysian working class. He expounds with relevant supporting evidence, recent photographic images and statistics to show the descendants’ current socio-economic status.

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These explore the degree of their purchasing power in buying adequate houses in rural and well developed urban areas, including the availability of proper public utilities at residential rural or urban sites. He envisages the Indian Malaysian descendants’ preference for white collar professions (academics, researchers, scientists, doctors, engineers, lawyers, chief executive officers, bank managers, managing directors and chairmen of corporate institutions) and their blue-collar employment careers.

The author analyses the availability of suitable educational opportunities and proper Indian school infrastructure (well furnished classrooms, well equipped libraries, excellent computer laboratories and impeccable teaching staffs) at residential sites in the estates, rural and urban areas. He further highlights the admission of qualified Indian applicants into private colleges (including matriculation colleges) and other tertiary institutions of higher learning (for medical, engineering, mathematics, science, law, and economics courses) to be based solely upon meritocracy rather than racial quota. He envisages the availability of government scholarships, for undergraduate/postgraduate students pursuing courses at local and foreign tertiary institutions. The author finds very minimal assistance in terms of financial aid, employment opportunities, tertiary courses admission and infrastructure facilities allocated to the Indian descendant communities as compared to the other two dominant races in Malaysia.

indian share

The author investigates the Indian Malaysian ownership of or participation in business ventures, including multinational sectors, ownership of manufacturing industries (small and medium scale), ownership of private financial institutions and business investment in foreign countries. He explores the invitation, participation and contribution of Indian Malaysians in the government’s political administration and their envisioned equal political rights, liberty and privileges. He examines their contribution to government policy formulation as well as their deemed allocation of their financial share in share market equity and the economic wealth of the country. The author finds that the results of the above analysis appears doomed. He stresses that the Indian Malaysian community has been disproportionately placed and marginalised in business ventures and corporate establishments. Their professed ownership of share market equity is extremely small (insignificant) compared to the ownership of the other main races in Malaysia.

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I sincerely thank the author for writing a fascinating and remarkable monograph. It is the prized fruit of his intense research and experience over three decades. This monograph will be a worthy purchase. It has a wealth of information about the socioeconomic life of Indian immigrants and their descendants in Malaysian rubber and oil palm Estates.

I hope the author will several more books in his lifetime and provide more valuable knowledge to eager readers on other topics closely related to the theme of this monograph.

Dr Letchmanan Naidu was a former senior post-doctoral research fellow and academic at Cambridge University and former visiting professor at the Mathematics University of Missouri, USA.

For enquiries about the book, contact the Human Development and Research Centre in Klang at tel: 03-3323 8037 ext 10 or fax: 03-3323 8036

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