Merdeka is a National celebration for all Malaysians. Malaysian Indians proudly celebrate this National Day in good spirit. Merdeka means independent or free in the Malay language. It is derived from the Sanskrit word Maharddhika meaning, rich, prosperous and powerful.
There is a need to have a better understanding of the contributions of Indians in Malaysia before and after independence of the country. The contribution of the Indians for the country’s social and economic growth in early Malaya beginning from 1786 Straits Settlement until World War II was very substantial.
Further, for the country’s independence from the colonial British government, Malaysian Indians played very important roles. The collaboration of the 3 race people, Malay, Chinese and Indians was pre-condition for the independence of the country. All were identified as important players for the growth and independence of the country. The Reid Commission that paved the way for independence was conditional with the 3 race signatories. The three race leaders were Tunku Abdul Rahman (President, UMNO), Tun Tan Cheng Lock (President, MCA) and Tun VT Sambanthan (President, MIC). These 3 leaders gave the collective 3 race leadership for the Reid Commission and the independence that followed. Merdeka or freedom of Malaya is the fruit of this 3 leaders’ collective leadership for the new country, Malaya.
Malaya and Pre Independence History
Malaysia was predominantly populated by the Malays since 4,000 years ago and by the Orang Asli before them.
Civilisation here can be traced back to 2,500 years ago, with profound influence from ancient Hindu/Buddhist India. Great Kingdoms like Kadaram, Langkasuka and Ganga Negara were in existence for several centuries. Bujang Valley civilisation, the Malay language and traditions stand as proof of this. The arrival of Islam transformed the Malay states into Sultanates, beginning with Kedah in the 12th century and later Malacca in the 15th century.
The Portuguese invaded and took control of the Sultanate of Malacca in 1511, followed by the Dutch in 1641. During this period, the Malacca Chittis from the then Chola Kingdom in Tamil Nadu formed an important commercial community in the growth of trade. The Malacca Chittis have conserved as a Community for the last 600 years. Their unique Community identity must be supported by the government and all Malaysians.
Meanwhile, the northern states of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu were under the suzerainty rule the Kingdom of Siam till the Bangkok Treaty was signed in 1909.
The Malaysia that we discern today was then colonized by the British (1786 – 1957) and that is when the foundation of this Nation was laid.
During these colonized years, Indians were brought in to develop the land and work in the plantation and administration sectors since 1786. The flow of free traders, Chettiars who financed the country’s commerce and businesses and professional doctors, engineers, lawyers and accountants came with the then establishment of the Straits Settlement in Penang beginning 1786. The Chinese too came in search of greener pastures.
The Indians played significant roles by clearing the forests for plantations and building roadways and railways connecting the new towns. Both the Indians and the Chinese immigrants toiled to earn a living by developing this land and they provided both capital and labour. The country’s commerce was developed by the Chinese mainly, followed by the Indians and Malays. The Indians also served in the British administration system. The then British administration system paved way for the Malays, Chinese and Indians to inter-mingle freely and it was not too long before the Indians and Chinese became naturalized citizens, living as One Community.
Living as One Community, the Malayans faced the Japanese invasion (1941-1945) and later the Communist insurgency (1948-1960), both took many lives and left deep effects in the minds of the People. It is during the Communist insurgency that the Identity Card was introduced, as a counter measure.
The thinking pattern then was, the People against the Japanese, the People against the Communist and the People against the British. We were then united as One Community.
Towards the formation of Malaysia
In due course Nationalist and labour movements were born, fueling patriotism and compelling the British to grant independence. The People prepared for independence from the British under Parti Perikatan comprising of UMNO, MCA and MIC, led by the revered Tunku Abdul Rahman with the support of Tun Tan Cheng Lok and Tun V.T. Sambanthan. Though politics was race-based to protect and champion the interest of all the races, Tunku, the Father of Independence was accepted as a leader for all Malayans for his liberal thinking.
Reid Commission was set up for drawing smooth transition of power. The Reid Commission was an independent commission responsible for drafting the Constitution of the Federation of Malaya prior to Malayan independence. The Constitution was drawn with universal principles that protect the interests of the 3 major races. In 1957, Peninsular Malaysia, then known as Malaya gained independence and 31st August came to be the National Day.
In 1963, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah, all part of the British colony, joined Malaya to form Malaysia. Large-scale amendments to the Constitution were made when Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak merged with the Federation of Malaya in 1963. It now became known as the Constitution of Malaysia. However this national map was short-lived as in 1965, owing to political differences, Singapore had to break away from Malaysia.
The Mahathir Factor
It was during this time that the radical thinking Tun Mahathir, whose father is of Indian descendant, released a book called the Malay Dilemma. On May 13th 1969, the Country saw a bloody racial clash amongst its People caused by political tensions. A state of emergency was declared for some time. This led to the implementation of the New Economic Policy in 1970. The NEP was initially planned for 20 years only, but it was renewed and the NEP went on to reengineer the Nation for a total of 40 years, remnants of which dominate the society till today.
The New Economic Policy and the new education policy revolutionized the administration system and the cultural norms of the People. The interests of the politically dominant Malays were further emphasized, protected and expanded. The Malay language became the medium replacing English. By the 1970s most government departments were filled by the Malays forming a strong bureaucracy and gradually the Malay language was used in all National schools, universities and government agencies.
Post 1980’s, the People were further divided by race and religion. The One Community phenomenon which existed during Merdeka deteriorated. On the other hand, the period between 1981 and 2003 brought about significant physical development to the Nation under the premiership of Tun Mahathir. During this time, the position of Islam, as the official religion was further strengthened with the implementation of Islamic values and policies.
Race Based Politics
Since the first general election in 1955, politics has always been a race based affair. It should have found its way out of the racial clutches. Even Onn Jaafar, the founder of UMNO wanted it to become a party for all Malayans. He left UMNO because his idea was rejected. Although there is alliance between the race-based political parties, the divide will exist as long as the format remains.
Between 1970 and 2009, Communities were divided and some neglected. Prime Minister Najib Razak, realizing the damage done by his predecessors, has acknowledged the slip and implemented various socio-economic development programmes for the affected Communities.
What happened to the Indians?
For decades the fate of the Indians was left in the hands of the Prime Ministers, who relied heavily on the MIC to look into the affairs of the Indian Community. Low economic equity of around 1%, drop in public tertiary institutions enrolment, significant drop in employment in public sector, increase in vice activities, high percentage in prisons (estimated to be 70%) plague the Community.
The majority of Indians living in estates were soon stranded when plantations either closed down and the ownership changed. Inconsiderate and unplanned displacement of the plantation workers is seen as the melting pot for various social issues. The current status is a far cry from that of Merdeka in 1957.
Extremism has slowly crept into Malaysian minds. Some of us prefer the polarization, regardless of the huge divide it creates. Are we willing to sacrifice the One Community consciousness passed down by our forefathers? We have to think Universal and take the challenge to strengthen National Brotherhood for A BETTER MALAYSIA.
Development or Demolition
In the name of development, we have cleared vast forests and hills, damaging precious flora and fauna. Real development must be inclusive of the preservation of nature and the ecosystem. Children today don’t know the cool mornings’ dews that we used to experience, due to the heat caused by deforestation and the creation of concrete jungles. Mindful development planning and revival of the natural environment is required. Development has to be synchronized in harmony with nature.
Preservation of Malaysian Heritage
Rapid development and modernization, individualistic attitude, mixed with political and religious polarisation instigated by fundamentalists, have taken a heavy toll on the beautiful traditions and strong values of the ethnic groups. It has been highlighted by many that the Malays are losing their traditional values and culture. It has to be agreed that the same is happening to the Chinese, Indians, Sabahans and Sarawakians. Where are we heading?
Adapting with Globalisation
Globalisation is the process by which businesses or other organizations develop international influence or start operating on an international scale. Malaysians can adapt to globalisation and yet find ways to preserve the multi-race traditions that are rich and diverse. It is a feature unique to Malaysia and her People.
Patriotism, Nationalism and 1Malaysia
Patriotism, Nationalism and 1Malaysia are not merely slogans for politically correct statements in public. It is more than a politically correct statement and is a part of the Malaysian spirit. Malaysians must move from mindset of tolerance to that of respect and acceptance.
The state of being equal is especially in status, rights and opportunities. One effective way to achieve this is by promoting Patriotism and by increasing the understanding of Unity in Diversity. Assurance to preserve this unique diversity will provide for equality and eliminate supremacy by any one race or People.
The social problems faced by Malaysians today can be trounced with appropriate implementation of apt policies that are justified to reflect a mature multi-cultural Society in a globalised Nation. Every form of extremism has to be carefully rejected. We must think ahead and move together as a Nation by restraining ourselves from doubts and suspicions of being majority and minority. We must believe in coexistence and progress forward as One Community by sharing the economic cake. We must vow to coexist and prevail as a unique multi-cultural Nation.
GOPIO Information Bureau.