Racism, Bigotry and the Indian Diaspora in Malaysia


Warning: This post might make you heave your lunch/breakfast/anything you gorged on the past hour or so, if you have gastrointestinal issues, please go look at cat pictures or something.

OK here we go. As you probably guessed, this post has something to do with the antics of that misguided  person hitherto known as Presana Narayanan. Whether she still dares to come out as herself after this is a moot point considering how she has deactivated her Facebook and deleted most of her pictures online.

For the uninitiated, Presana Narayanan, who will from this point on will be referred to as Tart With Attitude (TWaT), was engaged this past week in a vituperative tirade against Tamils in her Internet communications. Details of which was generously chronicled by machas here and here.

For me to further continue a rant against her would be like flogging a dead horse, so I took a step back and looked at the issue in a bigger way.

I’m a Malaysian girl of Indian ancestry, specifically, Tamil. My grandpa came here from Tanjavur, Tamil Nadu more than a 100 years and like most of my Tamil brethren here, I grew up with similar growing pains that a child of the diaspora would.

Being a minority, I was faced with all kinds of different setbacks, and doesn’t help that I’m a female. The good part is that minorities in a big world generally assimilate and adopt new ways to thrive. In my case, my melting pot surroundings made my languages stronger.

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Throughout my growing and adult years, I noticed something. There is that casual racism that comes with one dark person in a sea of fair-skinned folks. So I was used to refrains of “anak keling” and “kiling kia”. No probs. I grew a thick skin and at some point started getting respect for my other accomplishments.

But while these refrains faded somewhat, the subtler racism/bigotry practiced within the diaspora continued unabated. I thank my parents for raising me without the poison that is caste/race awareness. I found my roots through my own reading, as a young adult and while I am comfortable being who I am, I can’t help but be appalled that the continued intra-racism that exists.

Firstly there is the Dravidian/Aryan divide. I first encountered it (very subtle though) at the Lakshmi Narayan Temple in Kampung Kasipilay (off Jalan Ipoh). This temple was built and run by Malaysians of the Northern Indian (probably Hindi/Urdu/Punjabi/Bengali/Gujerati-speaking folks). There was a language divide there so I can understand if most of the Southern Indian diaspora folks don’t go there. It was just looks…but those looks were not very welcoming.

Part 2 is among the Southern Indians and the Sri Lanka-originated Tamils. By this I mean the Malayalees,  Telugus, Tamils and you guessed it, the Ceylonese Tamils.I won’t include the Tulu-speaking Karnataka folks…cos I’ve yet to meet one.

Again the subtle divisions. Some Pillais, Raos, Reddys, Menons, Nairs as well as the Ratnams/Lingams/Singams and the Iyer/Iyengars will take pains to distinguish themselves from the great unwashed they consider us. This can be experienced at certain temples and cultural centres in the urban centres (KL, Penang and major towns). If you do not have a certain look/distinguishing trait that confuses them (I’m saying this cos I confuse them all the bloody time), you may find doors closed to you.

I had a friend being refused by the temple committee when she asked to rent a hall at a major temple in KL. She was asking rates on her soon-to-be married friend’s behalf and upon hearing both her name and her friend’s, she was told “you can have your function here but not your friend.”

Yes, when I first heard it …this was what i wanted to do.
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Luckily, dark thoughts rarely escape my cranial fortress. Otherwise I’d be famous today as a serial arsonist. V could not hold a dynamite to me….hehehe.

But I digress.
The third layer of racists/bigots lie within the Tamil community. The caste/sub caste differentiation, the trade classes and the socio-economic classes (this one is simpler – the haves and the have nots). This antara dua darjat divide is universal la…so I would not discuss it.
The ones I find more irritating are the “I am a Mudaliar/Chetti/Kaunder/Pedayachi/ Vellalar” badges. Dei…we speak the same bloody language la. At least the TWAT was right when she said she doesn’t need to speak Tamil, cos she ain’t Tamil. She’s technically correct, even if she’s a virulent racist.

At the end of the day macha/machi…the Perkasa/Umno types still lump you under that glorious “keling” title la…remember that.

Like Martin Luther King, I also have a dream…that one day our children can play together without such derogatory words like keling and all making it into their vocabulary. But if we Yindians can’t even get our acts together, how do we take that bigger step towards unity?

Why can’t we celebrate our differences as something that enriches the Malaysian experience, instead of using it as a wedge to divide us further from our fellows?

Like this

Many many Tamils are dark. So? Seal is dark, I think he’s hot. Idris Elba is dark…he bloody awesome. If you readers chose to examine history, you might know that recent humans have one mother and she came from Africa. Check it out here. 

But that’s taking the higher view. On a more pragmatic level, let me tell you this. The Indian community in Malaysia is barely more than 7% of the national population, and birth rates are falling. In short, we are a shrinking community.

Can we afford to be divided by ultimately petty concerns, or should we cast it aside and help our less fortunate brothers and sisters into self-sufficiency and out of the socio-economic boondocks they are trapped in?

You pray? Ask your God which way to go.
You don’t pray? Ask your Conscience.

You will get one answer whoever you ask. Provided your head is screwed on right.

So what’s it gonna be macha?

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Wanna wake up or persist in your delusion of superiority?