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Indians in Malaysia should use three canons: Indian scholar


by Rama Ramanathan

Malaysia: I’ve lost count of the number of Tamil newspapers in Malaysia. Occasionally I buy a Tamil paper. I seldom buy the same masthead twice in a row. This allows me to get a sense of what each masthead reports, the tone it uses, and its depth of coverage.

They cover socio-economic developments in Tamil Nadu, and in the rest of India. They also report news about Indian movie stars and singers.

The Tamil papers are valued by many Indian businessmen in Malaysia, both Hindus and Muslims. The death notices are also valued by readers.

Since there are so many Tamil papers, each one has limited circulation and, therefore, limited resources. Their reporters are concentrated in the big cities; they depend on stringers, so there is little first-hand Malaysia news.

When I’m in India, I often read the newspapers. Every day there is some mention of caste. On my last trip to New Delhi, I read about the Jat caste in Haryana state – they rioted and destroyed property to press their claims for more seats in institutions of higher learning and in government – called “reservations” in Indian English.

In Malaysian Tamil papers, I do not recall reading reports or discussions of caste. It seems Malaysian Tamils have overcome a still-common feature of society in India.

Professor R K Jain – whom I mentioned in my previous article – says Malaysian Tamils offer “a message for India: in [the] caste war the tables are turned through socio-economic and political mobility of the traditionally downtrodden without . . . caste enhancing . . . political bait of Reservations for the Dalits [the ‘untouchables’].”

After seeing my previous article, Jain sent me his most recent analysis of the Malaysian Indian over-representation in the catalogues of misery. His analysis is structured around three key words: ascription, aspiration and achievement.

Ascription” means attributing something to a cause.

Jain draws on social and anthropological studies of Indians in Malaysia, including his own work. He says the evidence says the cause of income and wealth inequality amongst Hindu Indians in Malaysia is not the Hindu caste system (as in India with its riots and reservations), but in class. Kudos to Malaysian Indians!

Aspiration” means ambition, the hope of achieving something.

The aspiration of Malaysian Indians is to reduce the incidence of gangsterism, chronic disease, slum-dwelling, etc. Jain warns Malaysian Indians not to think like a persecuted ethnic group or minority (often based on gossip and perceptions). He urges them instead to look for and latch onto chances for betterment, for instance in the 11th Malaysia Plan.

Achievement” doesn’t need definition.

Jain notes that Malaysian Indians have contributed beyond their numerical strength to Malaysia’s present success. He adds that though they have succeeded in defining themselves as “Malaysian,” they are still Indian. He urges them to network inter-ethnically with Malaysia-based and India-based businessmen to conduct business.

Jain, ever the scholar and sociologist, suggests a framework for analysis.

After noting that Malaysian Indians have “creatively destroyed” the stifling caste features inherited from their Hindu ancestry, he urges them to use “the canons of social scientific comparison and contextualization” to chart the way forward.

He recommends a three-component framework of analysis attributed to Max Weber (1864-1920), a renowned sociologist and political economist:

Market forces (for life chances or opportunities in the economy).
Status considerations (the choices of life-styles, in other words, consumption and culture), and
The play of power (as in the negotiations of political processes).
I find the framework attractive because it is neither overtly religious nor political.

It takes account of market forces, just as business and government policies do. It acknowledges personal responsibility for life-style choices which may hamper or hurry the process of rising from the ashes. It recognizes the need to leverage power.

Those who are active in working to reduce income inequality in Malaysia can learn from Jain: are you using the cannons of provocation? If yes, Stop! Are you using canons of sociology? If no, Begin!

The next time I read a Tamil newspaper, I’ll evaluate it using the Weberian canons.

(The article was first published in

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Sri Lankan Muslims speak of tragedies back home

Sri Lankan Muslims and supporters protested outside the UN against the recent violence targeting their community

Sri Lankan Muslims and supporters protested outside the UN. IANS
Sri Lankan Muslims and supporters protested outside the UN. IANS

Sri Lankan Muslims and supporters protested outside the UN against the recent violence targeting their community, and for some of them it had been an intimate family tragedy.

While participating in the demonstration of about 250 people, on Wednesday, they narrated to IANS the harrowing moments they went through as they helplessly shared the trauma in real time over the phone with their families as the relatives were besieged by mobs during the riots.

Munir Salim’s parent’s home was destroyed and car set ablaze by a rampaging mob in Welekada Ambalateena near Kandy on March 7, and his elderly parents and his sister with her five children barely managed to survive only because the rioters could not break the main door.

Protest against violence and injustice. (VOA)

But they set fire to the second floor of the house, where his sister lived, said Salim, who is the president of the Sri Lanka Muslim Association of New Jersey. His sister fled downstairs with her children and survived with her parents, he added.

“I was feeling helpless talking to my parents when they first told me how they were throwing stones at our house and setting fire to the mosque and the shops in the area,” he said.

The rioters then moved away for a while seeking other targets, then returned to set the fire to the house and the properties as he was calling them back, he said.

The houses of two of his aunts nearby were also attacked and his cousin had to carry his paralysed mother as they fled for their lives, he said.

There were two deaths, injuries to dozens of people, hundreds of houses and businesses destroyed and several mosques damaged during the riots that started on February 26 and continued till March 10. Sri Lanka imposed a State of Emergency and deployed troops to quell the violence.

For Shihana Mohamed it was a heartbreak, listening over the phone as her family’s history of living harmoniously in the Kandy area for more than a thousand years, unraveled on March 6, she said.

She told IANS that her sister-in-law fractured her leg while fleeing the fury of the mob that attacked her brother’s house, destroying it and burning his car in Kengalla, also near Kandy.

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Her 83-year-old bedridden uncle’s house was also attacked, she said, and his family had to carry him to safety. As she was hearing about the attacks on her phone, she said that she wept and then desperately called diplomats asking for help. While the attacks were taking place, the security personnel stationed nearby did not intervene, she said.

Mohamed said that while the attackers were Sinhala extremists, there were other Sinhalas who came to the aid of Muslims at risk to themselves.

The Sinhala family next to her brother’s house tried to intervene, but the mob over-ran them, while a Sinhala neighbour stopped the rioters from burning down her house, even though they managed to break the windows, she said. Her uncle was protected initially by a Sinhala, she said. In another instance of communal amity, she said a Tamil family sheltered her sister-in-law, who had broken her leg.

For her family this was the second setback. During riots in 1989, which were not overtly communal but more political, her family’s properties were destroyed and they had to rebuild home and business.

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The Association of Sri Lankan Muslims in North America (Tasmina), which organised the protest, demanded that the UN intervene and hold the Sri Lankan government responsible for bringing the rioters to justice and protect minorities.

Ghazzali Wadood, who was one of the protesters, said, “It is the ultra-nationalists who are responsible for the attacks. The government should take action against the politicians behind the attacks.” IANS