Friday, October 26, 2007


After 50 years of independence and more than 35 years after the formulation of the New Economic Policy, the Malaysian Indians remain as the most marginalised and underclass community. A large segment of the community remains mired in poverty.

Indians must face up to the fact that the government would continue to be fixated with raced based and affirmative action policies. In the premises, it is high time it dawned on the Indians that they cannot expect nor depend on the government to assist them and instead face up to the truth that only they can uplift themselves from the quagmire they are in.

There has to be a paradigm shift and it must start with education.

In America, the rise and the influence of the minority Jews in many ways came from the community’s emphasize on education. Blacks and the Jews suffered, albeit differently. Both were an underclass community. Unlike the Blacks, who blamed their predicaments on historical injustices and continued on with their lamentation, the Jews on the other hand recognized that the only hope for upward mobility is through education. The end results are clear for all to see. Jews have gone on to rule the world while much of the Blacks remained transfixed in ghettos.

In Malaysia, for inspiration we can look at the Chinese community and see how the community places utmost importance on education. The parents may have been poor and uneducated but not necessarily their children. Chinese parents have long recognized that however poor there are, education and educating their children remain their paramount consideration. That zeal extends to the community unselfishly financially supporting their children’s Chinese school. The Chinese say “ Zai Quiong Ye Bu Neng Quiong Jiao Yu” – Literaly and roughly translated to mean “however poor we are, we must not sacrifice our education’s financial need”. It rubs on the children, seeing the sacrifices the parents make, the children study hard. Haven’t we all seen the scene where the father will be busy frying kwai teow and in the far end of the shop his child is engrossed in his books. Education alleviates their life and the upward mobility continues with their own children.

Within two to three generations they have uplifted themselves to an educated middle class.

Upward mobility for Indians and particularly the Indian poor is possible. But that is only possible with sound education. Indians have to exploit education as an escape tool. Poverty and government alienation ought not to be an excuse.

I came from a poor family. My father, a non citizen could not find work however hard he tried. For almost 13 years he was unemployed. During those hardship years, my mother held on three jobs. She worked as a pre-school teacher, worked weekends at the turf-club and gave tuition. I even remember her working in a factory. Despite being poor, there was no compromise when it came to education. She woke us up at 5 am to make us study, after school she would send us for tuition classes and then more studying till late. Once when we grumbled, she pointed us to the dreary factory workers boarding the factory bus and for good measure also showed us the court house where we saw all those smart and rich looking lawyers gliding by. She showed us our options. We never grumbled ever again. She kept awake and watched us study. Within one week of school closing, she would take us to the bookshop and buy all the books for the following year. While other children went away on end of year holidays, we spent time studying and having a head start. She was prepared to buy any book that would give us that added mark in order to beat our nearest competitor in class. If our exam mark was 80, we were happy but not her. She conducted a post-mortem to see how the 20 marks were lost.

While our neighbours already had colour TV, my house had none. My mother grudgingly and reluctantly only bought a TV when I was in Form 4, and even then a second hand black and white TV. She was steadfast in her belief that having a TV will only be a distraction.

We studied, my mother encouraged us and also punished us when we did not do well. She expected us to be in the top three in the class. So coming out 4th meant getting a warning to buck up and coming out 5th meant getting a canning. It was simple as that. I still recollect coming out 1st in the class during the first term and dropping to 11th during the second term. The punishment I received was such that in the 3rd term I was 1st in the whole school!

My mother had long ago recognised that the value of education and a future with education. While parents were buying their dream house and splurging money on luxuries, my mother saved every possible cent. Finishing school, I did not get the course I desired - Law. When I told my parents that I wanted to study law and mentioned England, my father almost fell of the chair. For my mother, if England it was, then it shall be. I could go to England simply because of her foresight to save money for her children’s education. She must have long recognised luxuries could wait but children’s education could not be compromised. Maybe she had realised that one cannot rely on others or even the government for our future. My mother and later on my father after getting his citizenship and a job educated me, my brother and my sister and only after that they bought a house. We have done well thanks to our parents, particularly my mother who gave her today for our tomorrow. My parents had foresight and recognised very early on that the only way out of poverty was through education.

Pass by Chinese coffee shops in the evening and watch Indian men and the number of beer bottles on the table. Fathers deep in animated (and sometime violent) discussions and conversation which often veers on the state of affairs of the Indian community. Little does he realise that for every bottle downed he has actually drunk away a little his children future. RM20-RM40 a night may not make a dent but multiply that with the number of days, months and years. Imagine the money he could have saved for his children’s education. Instead the beneficiary is the coffee shop owners’ children who leaves overseas for further studies. In fact one beer company annually donates money to Chinese schools based on the number of bottles sold. The Tamil school regretfully gets no donation from the beer company notwithstanding Indians are also their consumers .

Go to Indian homes at night, more likely than not, mothers and their children who ought to be studying will be sitting together and shuffling channels watching Indian serials on ASTRO. Rightfully, the mother could have created a conducive studying environment by having the TV shut during studying hours or such a sacrifice is not possible ought to have made the children go the rooms and study. Instead, mother and children are discussing the story. I still remember when TV finally came to my house. My mother’s rules were very clear. We could only watch TV only on Friday nights and all day on Saturdays. That is all. The cane sat on the top of the TV. The message was clear. Now with the advent of ASTRO, some Indian children know more about sarees than theories.

Malaysian Indians cannot continue to blame their predicaments on their past. To continue to do so would make Indians no different from the American Blacks. Granted many had a life of hardship growing up in the estates. Perhaps their parents were uneducated and their parents left the estates with very little savings, which meant they missed out on good education. Should their own children now also suffer the same fate? Rightfully they should be like the Chinese, their past spurs them to ensure that their own children do not suffer the same fate as them or their grandparents. Upward mobility for the Indians is not impossibility. The Chinese has done it and it was education which did it.

Education is an investment and a prerequisite for investment is money. Indians must make it a priority to save money in order to be able to invest in their children’s education. Actually, there are so many ways to save for children’s education ranging from education insurance to education fund to simply depositing money in saving accounts. In short save religiously. Instead of that many splurge on unnecessary and luxuries. Many Indian parents baulk at the thought of buying a computer for their children because of the price but ensure their home has ASTRO. There is hardly an Indian home without ASTRO. How they get the priorities all mixed up.

In Malaysia, the ideal and cheapest educational option is to be able to enter public universities. However the reality is that places for Indians are limited and sometimes the course offered is not even their choice. Tamil Nesan August 23, 2007 at pg.6 reported in 37 years 117,075 students had graduated from University Kebangsaan and out of which only 247 or 0.07% students were Indians! In previous years, the much derided quota system provided some hope for Indians to enter public universities. Even then the numbers of places offered were very low and particularly for the critical and professional courses which is coverted by all. Now there is the added hurdle of meritocracy. Indian students would need to compete for places. Affirmative policies and now meritocracy makes it very hard for Indian children to enter local institutions and even worst getting the course of their choice. So the only viable option for Indians is private institutions and that naturally requires money.

The Chinese have become less dependent on public universities. Not because of the university’s standards but because of the limited places available. The have long recognised that their realistic option for educating the children is private institutions. The parents don’t place their hopes on scholarship, grants or loans to educate their children. Instead Chinese parents religiously save money for their children’s education.

Fees at private institutions are much higher and it is not always easy to obtain loans, grants and scholarships. Even the fees at the M.I.C initiated AIMST is expensive and beyond the reach of many Indian parents. However, had Indian parents put aside some money and saved through the years, they could have financed their children’s studies at private institutions. Scan the newspapers and see private institutions graduation day roll calls. See how many Indian students graduate in contrast to the Chinese. It is also an indication of the number of Indians studying in private institutions. Many claim that Chinese can afford private institutions because they are rich. My experience has shown otherwise. Chinese parents make tremendous sacrifices for the children’s education.

The lack of foresight to save and to make saving money for children’s education as top-most priority has meant many Indians could not afford to educate their children. The financial constraints meant their children’s education came to a halt. With the lack of qualifications, Indians find it even more difficult to get a job. Thus, the upward mobility becomes a distant dream and their own children’s future even more bleak. They remain in the cycle of poverty. Another wasted generation.

Many Indian parents also fail to realise that with a proper education there is also an opportunity to find jobs elsewhere. With qualification, the children need not remain unemployed in Malaysia. In a globalised economy the world is your opportunity. By fate you were born in Malaysia, by destiny your future could be elsewhere. In America, some 38% of doctors are Indians, 12% of scientist are Indians, 36% of NASA scientist are Indians, 34% of Microsoft employees are Indians, 28% of IBM employees are Indians, 17% of INTEL scientist are Indians and 13% of XEROX employees are Indians. Pepsi-Cola’s CEO is an Indian woman from Madras. See what education has provided. Opportunities and upward mobility.

Instead today, we see jobless, uneducated Indians whose option is to turn to a life of crime. Malaysian Indians have no one to blame but themselves. Malaysian Indians are to some extent responsible for their present unenviable and ignominious situation.

In recent months, some segments in the Indian community have begun to assert themselves. There has been a couple of marches to Putrajaya to handover memorandums demanding action from the Prime Minister and even a law suit has even been filed against the British government for failing to protect and neglecting the interest of the Indians. These protest march and filing of lawsuits would at most only have the result highlighting the community’s plight. It will not bring results.

Indians should stop placing their hope for a better life for them and their children on their community leaders and government. Instead Indians must realise that only they can change their destiny and their children’ and must recognise that education is the main avenue of upward mobility particularly for the Indian poor. Unless that is recognised and there is a paradigm shift the Malaysian Indians would go down as the African Americans in US, if not even worse.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


In between the hoopla and the moolah of our angkasawan, Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor’s trip to space and back, spare a thought for S. Krishnamoorthy. Krishnamoorthy who? Yes, for many this name would not ring a bell. That’s not suprising since the man of the hour and hero of the nation is Dr Sheikh Muszaphar.

Now for those who do not know S. Krishnamoorthy, he was the 19 year old Malaysian Indian who helped save passengers from the Seagull Express 2, which caught fire on-route Tioman Island on October 13,2007.

One survivor, Ng Soon Tiong, 41 recounted how he saw Krisnamoorthy selflessly handing out life jackets to other passengers and helping children off the burning ferry. He also said that Krishnamoorthy repeatedly dived into the water to pull others to safety. Ng went on praised him by saying “many of the passengers are alive today because of him. We are greatly indebted to him”.

I can understand the nation leaders are over the moon with Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor’s history making and it is only natural to expect that accolades and honorifics would soon follow suit. In the meantime and once the euphoria and the cooing over Dr Sheikh Muszaphar historic space vovage is over, would the national leaders also do the decent thing by equally recognising the selfless heroism of S.Krishnamoorthy who is truly a towering Malaysian we all can be proud of. I watched Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi having a video conference with Dr Sheikh Muszaphar. I am sure Krishnamoothy would be pleased to get a terima kasih phone call from the Prime Minister.