To understand the Indian Community in Malaysia we have to reminise the history of this country. Between 100 BC-1400 AD, the Indians arrived in Malaysia and with their arrival, Malaysia’s culture changed dramatically. Indians initially
sought the Malaysian peninsula in search of the mystical “Land of Gold”. Although their discovery of this mystical land of gold proved to be elusive and futile, the Indians did not leave, but continued their search for gold, spice and aromatic wood. In addition to trade, the Indians introduced Hinduism and Buddhism to the peninsula, thus bringing temples and other cultural traditions from India. Semblances of some of the Indian cultural influences may be seen in certain aspects of a traditional Malay wedding ceremony for example.
Local kings in Malaysia also adopted and incorporated what they considered to be better aspects of Indian government practices into existing structures, resulting in “Indianised kingdoms” . The second wave of Indian immigrants to Malaysia came in the early 20th century when the British brought them to meet the demands of the labour force in the colonial public services and private plantation sectors. While the bulk of the South Indians comprised Tamils who were employed as labourers and rubber tappers in the plantations, the Sri Lankan Tamils and Malayalees held supervisory or clerical positions. Of the North Indians, the Punjabis mainly formed the police force, while the Gujaratis and Sindhis were involved in businesses (mostly textiles). Despite the exodus of South Indians back to India after independence and the racial riots of May 1969, the Tamils still constitute about 80% of the total Indian Community.
The Malaysian Indians, who number about 1.8 million or 7.5%, are not a homogenous group. They are divided on the basis of language, religion and place of origin. The overwhelming majority of Indians are Tamils 80%; followed by North Indians, mainly Sikhs, 7.7%; Malayalees 4.7%; Telugus 3.4%; Sri Lankan Tamils 2.7%; Pakistanis, including Bangladeshis, 1.1%, and the others 0.4%. As far as religion is concerned, Hindus number 81.2 %, Christians 8.4 %, Muslims 6.7 %, Sikhs 3.1 %, Buddhists 0.5 % and others 0.1 %. These cultural and religious differences, no doubt divide the Indian populace but it must be pointed out that over the years, they have developed an “Indian identity” over and above their primordial loyalties. The policy of the Malaysian Government to club them together as “Indians ” both for political and administrative purposes has further provided a flip to this process.
A notable feature of the Indian Community has been its waxing and waning socio-economic profile. In 1970, 47% of the Indians were engaged in agriculture of which 74% were in the plantation sector. With the country experiencing rapid
economic expansion and diversification of the economy in the last 30 years, many plantations were converted for other commercial uses, including that of the construction of luxury homes. As a result, these uprooted Indians migrated to urban areas and joined the squatter population.
ALIRAN, a local monthly journal, provides some statistical details of the correlation of these migratory patterns with the increase in the crime rate. For example, 40% of the serious crimes in Malaysia are committed by Indians; there
are 38 Indian- based gangs with 1,500 active members; during the last three years, there has been a 100% increase in the number of Indian gangsters; Indians also record the highest number of those detained under Emergency Regulations and banished to Simpang Renggam Prison. In Kuala Lumpur, 15% of the squatters are Indians; they claim the highest suicide rate; 41% of the beggars and vagrants are Indians; 20% of the child abusers are Indians and they also make up 14% of juvenile delinquents. ooking at the ownership of corporate wealth, in 1970, Indians held only 1% of the share capital in the limited companies, while the Chinese controlled 22.5 %; Malays 1.5 % and foreigners 60.7 %. At the turn of the century, Indians owned only 1.5 %, compared to 19.4 % for Malays and 38.5 % for Chinese.
The Indian Community is concentrated in the western states of Peninsular Malaysia namely Selangor (Kuala Lumpur separated to form the national Capital), Perak, Johor, Negeri Sembilan, Pulau Pinang and Kedah. The primary reason for this concentration is due to the fact that most plantations were developed in these states during colonial era and it remained the same until the early 1980’s. While composition of the state level population of Indians to a certain extent remains the same, there has been redistribution from rural to suburban and urban parts of the state as a result of these migratory patterns.
This geographic redistribution may have contributed to the problems faced by the Indian Generally, there was a major demographic change in Malaysia
and this has had a direct impact on the Indian Community. The 2000 Census show that the proportion of urban population had increased to 62.0% from 50.7% in 1991. In the case of Indians 79.7% are in urban Centers and only 20.3% in the rural areas. Although at the national level Indians comprise only 7.7% of the population or 1,736,700 people, there are five States with a higher density of
Indians. These are Selangor (14.6% – 604,400); Perak (13%- 274,100); KL (11.4% -153,400); Penang (10.6% – 142,000) & Negeri Sembilan (16% -138,200). Indians are the second most urbanized Community in Malaysia after the Chinese.
Due to the lack of affordable housing, a majority of them found houses in squatter areas and low-cost flats near industrial locations in the Klang Valley and other urban Centers in Peninsular Malaysia. The shift from rural to urban Centers has had a dramatic effect upon this section of the Indian Community. The new
environment poses many new challenges. Urban communities are more diverse in comparison with their rural counterparts. These changes caused the loss of authority and leadership in the Community to deal with the challenges faced in the new environment. here has resulted a major contrast between plantation and
urban life for these displaced communities. Work patterns have changed from normal routine plantation work with fixed working hours to shift work in factories. There is also a marked absence of extended families and neighborhood Community. All these have affected family and Community lives. In urban squatter areas, there is distinct lack of public facilities such as Community halls and childcare facilities.
Due to the nuclear nature of the family in the urban squatter areas, the growth of dysfunctional families is rampant resulting in poor parental supervision, domestic
violence and lack of conducive home environment for child development and growth. The new social squatter environment with its inadequate public facilities is not conducive for human development especially when compounded with social risks such as drugs, gangs and crime-related activities. The problems are further exacerbated by the poor academic achievements of children from these communities. Underachievement is the major issue and there is a high dropout rate at the secondary school levels.
Presently about 40% of Indian workers are production workers whereas only 15% remain as agricultural workers. Over the years significant portions of the Indian Community have been subject to such labour and social mobility.