Pongal Reflections : Plight of Indians
Indians all over Malaysia, celebrated Pongal this year with the usual highly colorful traditions and culture. Pongal used to be a very low key celebration before but is now becoming a rather elaborate one with the expenditure of a large amount of money, time and energy which makes one wonder whether we are losing our priorities. Today it is not only Pongal but more and more cultural and religious events too are being given more importance than we should. In an attempt to preserve our culture and traditions, are we being misguided in our focus to develop our community?
It may be therefore relevant for us to look at the challenges we face in Malaysia today. From the statsitics available,we must admit that we are in a very pathetic socio-economical state. We constitute 8% of the population but account for 14% of the nation’s juvenile delinquency, make up less than 5% of successful university applicants and share less than 1.5% of Malaysia's wealth. The crime rate among Indians is the highest in the country. The Suhakam report in 2006 stated that 60% of prisoners are Indians, something not to be proud of when considering we constitute less than 8% of the population.
The following facts indicate that we have drastically declined socio-economically since Independence 54 years ago. This drastic slide in our sanding has resulted in us being looked down by the other communities, which are far ahead of us.
Indians feature highest in all of the negative statistics.
1. The lowest life expectancy rates- 67.3 years compared to national average of 71.2.
2. The highest school dropout rates. Only 5.0 percent of Indians reach the tertiary level compared to the national average of 7.5 percent.
3.The highest incidence of alcoholism, that cuts across all classes.
4. The highest incidence of drug addiction in proportion to population.
5.The highest number of prisoners in proportion to population.
6.High crime rate. The largest number of gangs is now Indian gang and that 60 percent of serious crimes are committed by Indians.
Even politically we are not a force to reckon with today as we are terribly divided into numerous splinter parties. Our political power too has declined with so many parties representing so few people. We used to have a significant force in the MIC before but today there is no single party to truly represent the Indian community that has become inflicted with so many problems.
Something has seriously gone wrong. We organize conferences and mammoth motivation courses but refuse to admit that something is seriously wrong with us, our attitude to work and life.
We spend all our time, energy and money on elaborate cultural and religious activities but depend on the government and others for improving our socio-economic standing. We blame the government for our impoverished state for denying us the lavish affirmative action programmes that are reserved solely for the Malays. We blame the racist and creeping Islamisation policies of the government for our downfall. We blamed the BN before and now the PR too for not doing enough to uplift our community. In fact we blame everyone else except ourselves. It is time for us to ask ourselves what we really want and how we are going to move forward.
I admit that the government has neglected us, denied us of our constitutional rights, abused us and treated us rather rudely but we cannot give these as excuses for our failures. In fact this inhumane treatment by the authorities is the result not the cause of our deplorable and impoverished state. The Chinese community too have subjected to such treatment like us but they did not allow that to stop their progress. In fact the Chinese community, by hard and diligent work has more or less become indispensable to the economic development on the country. We have a lot to learn from these fellow citizens who continue to thrive well even under harsh conditions.
Being a minority group is always a difficult situation all over the world, as we tend to be marginalized and discriminated even in countries that severely condemn racism and have laws to protect the minorities. Instead of ranting and raving we have to work harder to be accepted as a significant force. In this respect, struggling to hold onto our cultural practices alone is not going to help but assimilating with the majority to be accepted as Malaysians will.
We have the wrong notion that holding to our culture by all means is the only way to preserve it. In fact it is in uplifting ourselves socioeconomically and earning the respect of the others will our culture attain recognition and respect and become entrenched to be remembered by future generations. History has shown that no great civilization remains great forever. It is the greatness at that time in history that is remembered by the generations that come later.
It is good that we are God-fearing but we depend too much on the Almighty and other forms supernatural powers to lift us up. We have the mistaken notions that by pleasing God by elaborate rituals, He will come down to help us out of our woes. We fail to realize that God only helps those who help themselves. He has given us the power both physical and intellect to improve ourselves and if we refuse to use them but prefer to remain idle and just perform some rituals to please Him, there is no way He will save us.
I am afraid we have got all our priorities wrong. We are spending all our time, energy and money on celebrating our cultural and religious festivals instead of working. I am told by non-Indian employers that Indian youngsters leave their jobs if their leave for celebration of some festival is denied. There are those who take a month off to perform pilgrimages. Who in the right mind would want to employ someone who adopts such a casual attitude to work? There are many even in the lower income groups who are willing to pay hefty sums to go on pilgrimages, celebrate festivals and even go for favorite movies but are not willing to spend a smaller amount for the children’s education, food and housing. We expect these to be given free.
Unemployment is highest among Indians. Our youths may not have money or education but insist on jobs that are highly paid but not so tough. Despite obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart problems being highest in Indians, they seem to be complacent about their health. Most of them cannot afford the high cost of medical treatment as they do not have any form of insurance cover at all.
The number of people without birth certificates or identity cards is highest among Indians. It just goes to show that they do not even want to help themselves with such basic requirements needed for education and employment. How to progress and compete with others who are far more hardworking and self-reliant?
Indian youths today don’t seem to be serious about their studies and career as they seem to be living in a world of fantasy as portrayed by the cinema world. Respect for elders and filial piety which was once the pride of our community is fast eluding us. Marital problems and divorce leading to breakup of families are on the rise. Go to any orphanage or old folks homes; you see the majority of the inmates are Indians.
Even in the temples and churches, Indians are fighting for power and influence in the name of God.
As an Indian who has successfully come out severely impoverished environment, I feel very sad with the deplorable state of our community. We have lost our self-pride and our dignity as a community. I feel ashamed at the way we are looked down by others, even by those who were at one time much worse off than us. The future looks bleak if our present attitude continues. Isn’t there a way out for us? The answer depends on each and every one of us. Our future is in our hands alone not in the hands of others, the government or any other party within or outside the country.
We need to change and change drastically. The most important thing for us to do now is to work and work really very hard, acquiring the latest skills and knowledge to progress. Our culture and religious practice should guide us to be righteous in our struggles for progress and not stand in the way of our progress. Instead of fighting a futile war with the majority for our rights, we should be directing our energy and resources to attain those rights by working for them.
There is an urgent need to uplift ourselves to be at par with the other communities. I do not know how we are going to achieve that but we must do it otherwise we will soon perish as a major community in the country. We will become a liability rather than an asset to the nation.
It is time for us to decide what we want to be in this country in the future. Time is running out and we have act now. Our future is in our hands. Let’s stop depending on others and rely more on our own talents and hard work. Let’s consider ourselves as Malaysians first entitled to all the rights as citizens. Being just a small community we are not going to go far if we keep to ourselves. We should be a little India in Malaysia but a proud Malaysian of Indian origin. We must break free and work with others to regain the past glory and admiration that we once commanded lot very long ago.