Saturday, May 2, 2009

Why Hindraf Deserves our Support

Written in response to Bukit Selambau: Lets unite on the issues by Vijay Kumar Murugavell:

Dear Vijay,

I agree with a lot of what you have said, but would like to highlight some points from your letter for discussion. I have organized them as follows:

A. The nature of Hindraf & its constituents

You have mentioned or alluded to many of the behaviours & attitudes that Hindraf & its members exhibit, & indeed a lot of the criticism being sent their way is based on general perceptions of their mindset & actions, which tend to evoke emotional responses ranging from mild annoyance to outright disgust. Let us look at the causes. Where do these silly, regressive, self-defeating behaviours arise from? There are so many theories out there, ranging from poor upbringing, low intelligence, inferior culture, no “X” factor (ala LKY), to even too much parpukari. Others might even blame defective genes (as Mahathir partly did for Malaysian Malays’ economic backwardness in his Malay Dilemma).

IMHO, these behaviours strongly correspond to the “distress pattern” behaviours of people who have been oppressed. I have not come across a more accurate or useful explanation of Hindraf’s behaviours than the one afforded by class analysis & socio-political development theory. Take a look at this page, and in the second section under the heading “Ways Oppressed People Suck”, you will find the most uncanny, true-to-life portrait of Hindraf, down to its most annoying quirks. You will even find a thumbnail sketch of some of Hindraf’s detractors, especially those who have internalized their oppression. However, what knocked me off my chair was seeing, in paragraph 20 of the same section, our friend Kalaivanar, complete with 70's style sideburns, eyeliner and shaved eyebrows, peeking out from between the lines, in the company of some other crooks.

As a comparison, we will also find similar behaviours & attitudes in oppressed groups all over the world; poor African-Americans, Australian Aborigines, Palestinians and the Roma (Gypsies) in Europe, and often this will be recycled into stereotypes that will be used to further oppress them.

Coming back to Hindraf, it truly vexes my superior, English speaking intellect that I cannot swoop down from my perch in the heavens & save them. How I would just love to grab them by their collective shoulders & shake some sense into them, or tell them to buck up, get back to work, get their s--t together, wake up & smell the Starbucks, or so on and so forth ad nauseam. Sadly for me, telling them what to do for their own good simply won’t work. Only they can save themselves, beginning with critical consciousness, and they need to be in the driver’s seat of their liberation.

Seen in this light, what can we do? Well, we can support them while they do it. And we can start by engaging them & listening proactively as they find their voice. What might this look like? Practically, this could have meant that, when they brought us a tainted sandwich before the elections (Kalaivanar & his ilk between slices of pertinent issues), we could have taken it apart, gingerly removed & discarded Kalaivanar while showing everyone what a rotten piece of baloney he was, then carefully chewed & ingested the pertinent issues (tough, I know, but very nutritious for PR).

One more way we could support them is by remembering that their oppression makes it easier for us to hate them and by consciously ending the oppression, subtle or not, that manifests itself in so many forms.

And no, it’s not going to disappear miraculously the day Anwar Ibrahim steps into Seri Perdana as PM.

One last thing about Hindraf that we should take note of: for all their race based pleading & posturing, they have not once crossed the red line; that of claiming supremacy, requiring special rights over that of others or requiring that the rights of others be curtailed. This makes it patently unfair to lump them in with those who do. They will in all probability happily fight for those same rights for all Malaysians, provided we can build a compelling enough vision for them to share in. This makes them a natural potential ally for any group who fights for equal rights for all. But we must realize that, if our end in mind is to support Hindraf & their members & to gain their support for our cause, all our vitriol & indignation, however well understood or righteous, will not take us one step closer to it.

B. Malaysian Democracy, where is it going?

This second part is not about Hindraf anymore, but about Pakatan Rakyat & our role in forming a “more perfect union” in Malaysia. At the root of it is this question: How would we define the Malaysia that we desire for ourselves?

My own “model” looks something like this:

  • A fully functional democracy & civic society.

  • Government and national leaders as servants of the people in its truest sense of the word.

  • Individual rights & freedoms respected, diversity in all forms valued & welcomed

  • Citizens, either individually or collectively, politically engaged.

  • Malaysians free from race bound thinking

  • People’s agenda & needs come first

  • Balanced development, social justice

  • Sound leadership at all levels – national, state, local govt.

  • True separation of powers

    • Judiciary above reproach

    • Truly independent Parliament, not mere rubber stamp

  • Government transparency, accountability & responsiveness

How might this look like in practice? Governance will not be left to government alone. Citizens will not only seek, but demand that they be consulted on major decisions. Individuals & groups will demand accountability from their government. Politics is no longer a dirty word or the exclusive domain of politicians only. To politicize something will no longer mean to use an issue for personal gain, but to raise an issue for full enlightened discussion before collective decision making, not behind closed doors, but in the bright light of day.

Yes, it will be noisy, raucous even. Diverse groups will bandy about their own manifestos for the common good & they will jostle with other groups for influence & mindshare. But this noise of the marketplace is infinitely more desirable to the dead silence of the temple, where only high priests may enter. It will also be necessary, since to know what the rakyat’s agenda is, leaders will need to be in constant engagement & dialogue. Leaders do not get a blank cheque once every 5 years, and the only decision that is the sole discretion or prerogative of a single leader is when to resign.

No blind loyalty to any party or leader. No cult of personality and no unrealistic belief that leaders are angels who know better what’s good for the rakyat. No political party would ever dare presume to demand loyalty or obeisance from the rakyat, and if there is to be any vitriol at all to be had, it will be from citizens towards the government and not the other way around.

Finally, no more trips to Disneyland, and the PM rides the bus to work :-).

Wouldn’t this make the jobs of our leaders more difficult? Wouldn’t this make government’s plate full? You betcha, but that’s the price of leadership.

The next question is, How ready is Pakatan Rakyat to deliver this? Some issues:

Firstly let’s consider DSAI himself. True, he has been the unifying factor in getting PAS, PKR & DAP as well as the other groups to work together. His image and political persona as well as the sympathy he gets for having been the target of Mahathir’s frame-up gives him a store of political capital. Indeed, he was the only one who could have so brilliantly enunciated the concept of “Ketuanan Rakyat”. However, this is no substitute for substance, and his penchant for political grandstanding can seriously damage the credibility of PR, especially when the hype exceeds the delivery. Malaysians instinctively distrust the big-headed, the over ambitious, the arrogant & the boastful show-offs. It would be a disaster if he turned out to be too much of a politician to be a good leader. My thoughts: DSAI needs to work on delivering substance, building a compelling vision and avoiding errors; his political skills impress but he is not the Second Coming.

Secondly, let’s look at PR’s mandate from PRU-12. PRU-12 was indeed a perfect tsunami, but it would be a mistake to assume that we will automatically see a repeat performance for PRU-13. True, more voted for PR out of opposition to BN’s policies & practices, but large numbers also voted in protest of higher prices, deteriorating living standards and other bread & butter issues, not to mention the internal disunity in BN component parties. There is nothing to stop these voters from returning to BN if they manage to stabilise the economy & create some semblance of unity within BN; unless PR creates a true alternative vision for Malaysia that all Malaysians can unite behind. This PR has not done convincingly yet. BN may still use our tactical errors to begin rolling back the gains of PRU-12. Serious potential gaps in the ideologies of PR parties exist and we cannot rely on DSAI’s personality alone or a string of by-election victories to keep things together. My thoughts: From now until PRU-13, creating & sharing this vision & how it will be realised for all is job no. 1 for PR.

I can appreciate that given the current state of affairs, our leaders are pre-occupied with various issues. However, when PR finally forms the next government, the problems that the rakyat face will still be there, and BN is not going to disappear into thin air. Our plates will still be full, even fuller than they are now. So if we really believe in participatory democracy, if we really believe in “Ketuanan Rakyat”, then perhaps we had better begin practicing it from today, instead of waiting for the day after PRU-13. Is this crossing the bridge too early? I don’t think so – develop good habits now, show the rakyat we practice what we preach & prepare ourselves for victory in PRU-13.


Malaysian Heart


  1. Hi Malaysian Heart, I am Malaysian in New York,would like to touch base with you. You can email me at

  2. Hindraf is just another extreme racist group. They incite racial clash and those leaders deserved to be detained under ISA forever till they apologise to Malaysian especially Malay for ethnic cleansing of Indian. Indian can fight for their rights but to accuse others for ethnic cleansing them and ask for foreign help to destroy Malaysia is an act of extremists. I support PR for change for better governance but nor hindraf whose agenda is only for Indian. We don't need another 513 between malay and Indian. If they are not happy, they can always go back to Indian as they demanded in their memorandum.

  3. Dear Malaysian Heart,

    Thank you very much to take the time to pen your thoughts.
    You are correct to note that oppressed or marginalized people are likely to lash out in ways society at large considers unacceptable.
    Stereotypes exist in any society and ours is no exception, they are a general perception of how a certain group of people behave
    and oftentimes even the Pollyanna's among us get irritated that there is some truth in them while the Cassandra's shrug it off as a predisposed condition.
    While such behavior is just a symptom of an underlying cause I believe that it sometimes becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, motivational guru's like Zig Ziglar
    will tell you that if you survey the prison population, a large percentage of inmates have at some time or other in their lives been told "boy, you will one day end up in jail.
    Others like Bob Proctor use the phrase "Think you can , think you can't - either way you would be right".

    I also understand that if we endeavor to change mindsets we must first empathize and understand the root cause of these attitudes.
    Having said that people will listen to constructive critique if they know your intentions are in their best interest.
    I most certainly agree with you that

    Quote "for all their race based pleading & posturing, they have not once crossed the red line; that of claiming supremacy, requiring special rights over that of others or requiring that the rights of others be curtailed"

    but they are only playing into the hands of UMNO who will react disproportionately
    who will goad them and test their patience and before you know it there will be mayhem and blurred lines.
    These are actions of people who have lost hope, we must give them hope, while its true that one cannot live on hope alone but without hope we will live life
    in a regressive and some times self destructive manner- as they say when they is hope for the future there is power in the present.

    I have written before hoping to appeal to the peacemakers and highlighted the pitfalls of race based politics- it was published in the Sun,
    We need more peacemakers

    I agree with you that as you put it " they need to be in the driver’s seat of their liberation" but first they must be taught how to drive otherwise they will crash.
    I have interacted with some of them at ground level, even campaigned alongside them in GE12.
    I also have interacted with quite a few Hindraf members who send me email, some of them very heartfelt, some Pro-Hindraf blogs even carry my articles,
    yet others chastise me for being too general and to write more on issues that ail the community, I patiently and politely explained that I am Malaysian first and foremost,
    my ethnicity being only incidental.My thoughts on Hindraf is at this link

    60% of my friends think I am Hindraf activist
    50% of my freethinking friends think I am a PAS sympathizer
    40% of my non Malay friends think that I am a Malay apologist
    30% of my Malay friends are surprised that I have a better command of the national language than them.
    20% of foreigners ask me if I am a local the first time we meet
    10% of my Indian friends think that I should write more on what ails the Indian community.

    I of course do not agree with any of above perceptions, but people will always see others through their own biased prisms. I cringe everytime my countrymen bicker over racial issues. Sometimes I go and check the calendar to make sure its 2009 and not 1969.

    I agree wholeheartedly with you that citizens should be consulted on major policy decisions but for that you will need a large pool of citizens who are well
    informed on the structure of those policies and their repercussions, at the moment we even have elected representatives who have scant knowledge with regards
    to the spirit and intent of the Federal Constitution, what more ordinary citizens, cases in point the two articles below :-

    1) According to the constitution
    2) Nothing in constitution about road names

    First we must allow freedom of speech to proliferate to open up creativity and learning before we can have meaningful citizens referendum on policy matters.
    Just go to any online socio political blog and you will notice that many of the commentators miss the point by a mile, and these mind you are those
    who are exposed to alternative media and information.
    This is not suprising in a system where critical thinking has been suppressed.
    Referendums are done when the democratic system is not responding effectively to the needs and desires of the people, ours is a quasi democracy,
    so in my opinion we need the system to be changed, liberalized and assessed before considering referendums as a tool.

    Another key issue is education :
    For their primary education
    94% of Chinese attend a Chinese vernacular school .
    About 75% of Indians attend a Tamil vernacular school
    99% of Malays attend a national school.

    At a tender age they are already segregated, then we wonder why there is racial polarization. To those who cling to vernacular schools - they do not understand that this madness was borne out of the May 1969 Riots, an act of parliament in 1970 even declared it a sensitive subject.

    I am not surprised that MCA , MIC and even UMNO will make a big hue and cry , because as race based parties their survival is tied to these.
    The demise of vernacular schools will be the demise of race based parties- and they know it hence the uproar about abolishing vernacular schools.
    Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore once said "To build a nation, you must first build a school".

    I have no delusions whatsoever that Anwar Ibrahim has a magic wand to all our predicaments that he can wave from Putrajaya, even now I critisize some of his actions,
    my friend Bong sums up our petty politicians succinctly in this post you will see that neither Bong nor me
    are Anwarista's. Its about issues not personalities.
    It would however be unfair to hold an opposition leader to the same standards we hold a ruling government who have all the federal resources at their disposal.
    I also have no delusions that corruption will disappear the day Pakatan forms the federal government, the important thing is how will they deal with it ?
    Punish those who are guilty ? Or protect cronies and sweep things under the carpet as currently practiced ?
    Would they dare do the latter after peoples power toppled the mighty BN ? not likely.
    They will have their work cut out for them cleaning up more than five decades of dirt and grime.

    Pakatan has already shown some good progress notably eradication of hardcore poverty in Penang and Selangor office bearers publicly declaring their assets, and
    in states ruled by this coalition they have changed some things that the ruling BN did not have the political will to do for decades albeit within limitations.
    We must support them as long as there is steady progress and not fall for BN's propoganda of comparing a five decade old government to one that
    is "setahun jagung". In my opinion BN has not changed that much, we get the perception that it has worsened because for the first time we have
    a powerful opposition in parliament who are constantly exposing their follies.BN's propoganda machine was not prepared for such an onslaught
    more so aided by the internet which is virtually impossible to censor.
    We do not know how many scandals were actually hidden from the public in the past when these two elements were not present.

    All the points in your "model" wish list is what most of us want, except for the UMNOputra's of course who have an entitlement mentality
    that they should get all the choice cuts even at the expense of the Malays that they pretend to protect, what more others who they term as "pendatang".
    Many like me see DSAI and the Pakatan coalition as a viable catalyst to dislodge the root cause - The BN government.

    This country has been on a divide and rule model that was successfully used by our colonial masters and adopted by BN to this day, the root cause has
    to be removed , but as you say miracles will not happen overnight - soothing balm needs to be applied to the wounds or symptoms, the root cause removed and
    the nation allowed to heal (just as a patient cannot jump out of the hospital the very next day after major surgery) only then can the Zaid Ibrahim's , Tengku Razaleighs and countless others with the sincere intent of forging a truly unified Malaysia can be empowered.All of us need to play a role including concerned and informed citizens like yourself.

    Makkal Sakhti !

    Vijay Kumar Murugavell

  4. To Anonymous 09:23,

    Thanks for dropping by & for your comments. I'd like to question some of the statements you made and share my point of view, hope you don't mind:

    1) Why do you say that Hindraf is extremist? By definition an extremist is "One who advocates or resorts to measures beyond the norm, especially in politics." Hindraf has held peaceful demonstrations to call attention to their grievancess. Have any of their actions gone beyond the norm? Which ones?

    2) Why do you say that Hindraf is racist? By definition racism is:
    a. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
    b. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
    c. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

    Has Hindraf ever subscribed to or promoted any of the above? If you believe so, what is your belief based on?

    3) Did Hindraf incite racial clashes? I agree that they did hold demonstrations, which were broken up by the Police. Is there any evidence that they caused any clashes to occur between any races in Malaysia? What caused you to believe this? Why should a peaceful demonstration incite racial clashes?

    4) Why do they deserve to be detained under ISA? If they have committed any crime, they should be charged, tried in court & punished if found guilty. Why ISA, which is unjust?

    In my view, their letters to Queen Elizabeth & India, & their claim of ethnic cleansing were very silly & counterproductive. It was never serious & was merely a publicity stunt designed to get attention for their issues. Such stunts are common in politics, especially by marginalised groups who do not have any other way to generate awareness. You can find examples from all over the world. If you read their statements carefully, you will see that their anger was directed solely at the government, never at Malays or Malaysians. The mainstream media however worked very hard to sell the idea that Hindraf hates Malays & wants to destroy Malaysia with foreign help. By doing this the MSM's masters hoped to incite racial feelings & turn back the tide of Malays rejecting UMNO. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    True, for now their agenda seems to be only for Indians, but it is changing & they have never called for others' rights to be taken away. There is no inherent incompatibility with PR's agenda for change, & the smart thing for PR to do is to work with them & bring them onboard.

    As for going back to India, I appreciate them for having the courage to stay & stand up for what they believe in. It's very hard to face our FRU, their batons & their chemical cannons but it's even more difficult to try & make our country a better place for all.

    May I suggest that you take a look at Helen Ang's comments to Haris Ibrahim's post here for a very clear & balanced view of Hindraf. The other comments are worth a read too.

    I regret that you find Hindraf's methods offensive. If you can find it in your heart to see past their methods, you will find that they are just like you & me (perhaps a little poorer), Malaysians trying to build a better future for our children without taking anyone else's happiness away.

    Malaysian Heart

  5. I totally agree with you except few points:

    "In my view, their letters to Queen Elizabeth & India, & their claim of ethnic cleansing were very silly & counterproductive. It was never serious & was merely a publicity stunt designed to get attention for their issues."

    Even this is a political stunt but as experience lawyers when they document these statements, they really MEAN it and you just can't say they never serious about it. It is like telling us that the UMNO youth waving the keris and never serious about it.

    In the same way of main stream media, the hindraf is trying to incite the hatred response toward the gov specificly and the MALAY generally. This can be reflected in so many comments from the hindraf supporters in various blogs where some of them even insulted the Malay as a whole. This may be emotional response but if you get enough people with this emotion, you get big trouble.

    You may say that the main stream media is trying to sell the idea that the hindraf is against the Malay. But hindraf NEVER drop their racial agenda and even up to the point of Bt Selambau election where they insist that the candidate MUST be Indian and from hindraf.

    You may not agree with me that I believe if these hindraf leaders were to be free till today, they would have stage multiple demonstrations which may become ugly or even into racial clash (which may not be started by them but provoked by them).

    Indeed I do find that the hindraf methods are aggresive and offensive. I cannot agree that I should finght on their platform even though I disagree with BN. Unless they change their race based agenda, I will not support them as I believe that we should not fight race based politic with another race based political entity.

  6. A very interesting Blog, Keep the fire burning comrade!


  7. Hi again Anon 09:23,

    You have chosen the best example to compare with Hindraf's memoranda. The keris waving at the Umno youth assembly is exactly like the Hindraf memoranda - a political stunt, i.e. "Something done to attract attention or publicity" for a political cause. Did you believe that they were going come out of PWTC & start slaughtering people? Neither did Hindraf (or anyone else for that matter) expect that QE2 was going to come to Malaysia & save the Indians. It's interesting to note that in both cases the stunt backfired. A failed stunt certainly gives the cause a bad image & may raise questions about the organizers' ability & intelligence, but the merits or demerits of the cause itself needs to be evaluated objectively by us.

    We have both used the word incite to describe what the MSM and Hindraf were doing respectively. Let's analyse it further. To cause Malaysians to be angry against the government, Hindraf claimed that they have been unjustly treated by them. I don't think that anyone will deny that the Indian underclass have been treated unfairly.

    To cause Malaysians (especially Malays) to be angry with Hindraf, the MSM claimed that Hindraf were racist & violent. But were Hindraf violent & racist? Look at these reports: I said earlier, Hindraf expressed anger towards the government, and in many ways it helped mobilize Malaysians to vote in
    PRU-12. I have never seen them express hatred towards Malays. Would you care to share any references of where their leaders have insulted the Malays? I strongly believe that racist statements, however emotional, are wrong. If you examine Hindraf leaders' statements carefully you will not find any that are. However, you will find lots of media reports that claim exactly that.

    Yes, if the Hindraf leaders were free, they would be leading demonstrations. There have been demonstrations even without them around. I don't think that is a bad thing, because the right to assemble peacefully is a basic human right. On the issue of provoking others, let's use an analogy: You have the right to profess the religion of our choice. Suppose a group came to you & said, "you practicing this religion provokes us, we may become ugly & clash with you", would you give up your religion? If you continue to believe in your religion, & they become ugly & clash with you, is it your fault?

    Similarly, Hindraf has the right to peaceful assembly & association. By exercising their right they did not affect the right of others. Blaming them for any "provocation" is blame the victims. The people who claim to be provoked by others exercising their rights should be the ones we condemn, because they are using fear & intimidation to stop people from free & democratic expression.

    Why do you call Hindraf aggressive? By definition aggression means:
    1. The act of initiating hostilities or invasion.
    2. The practice or habit of launching attacks.
    3. Hostile or destructive behavior or actions.

    Did Hindraf do any of the above? If so, what & where? As far as I am aware, they peacefully marched, carrying not weapons but pictures of Mahatma Gandhi, until they were attacked by our Police. This report by an eyewitness is quite clear: the Bukit Selambau elections, again you have got your facts wrong. Look at this statement by their leader here: No mention of race or party at all. They were unhappy at first about Manikumar not because of race, but because of doubts about his integrity, which were later sorted out.

    We all find different things offensive, for various reasons. Sometimes we need to think deeply to realize what is it that really causes the offence: have we made false assumptions, or accepted propaganda as the truth. To do this we need to question our assumptions & reexamine the data that is presented in the media. We need to do this objectively.

    Of course, we all pick the battles we want to join. However, since there is no fundamental ideological contradiction between Hindraf & PR, I think it would be shortsighted to disavow & cut off ties with a potential ally.

    Thanks for dropping by & keep the comments coming,
    Malaysian Heart


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