Malaysian Indians Sudheendra Kulkarni My first surprise discovery about Malaysia many years ago was that its

national language Bahasa, a derivative of bhasha, is full of Sanskrit words. The second was a recent visit to a Hindu temple at the Batu caves, just 13 km out of Kuala Lumpur, which is indeed one of the wonders of the world. Dedicated to Lord Murugan (son of Shiva), it is located in a cavern atop a 400 million-year- old limestone mountain. The exhaustion due to the 272-step climb was offset by the sight of marvellous carvings from Hindu mythology, depicting scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the lives of revered Tamil poets. “You should come here at the time of the annual Thaipusam (puja of Murugan’s mother) festival,” my Tamil guide told me. “A million devotees gather here, many of them, like those in north India, coming on foot as kavadias, from far corners of Malaysia.” Malaysia, as its fabulously successful tourism promotion campaign advertises, is in many ways ‘truly Asia’. Its 2.7 crore population has Malays (60 per cent), ethnic Chinese (24 per cent), ethnic Indians (10 per cent) and indigenous tribes (6 per cent). Like neighbouring Indonesia, Malaysia too has until now displayed remarkable tolerance of religious pluralism, which is rare for a Muslim-majority country. Sadly, a different and unflattering reality of Malaysia has come to light in recent years: how its government has been subjecting the People of Indian Origin (PIOs) in general, and Hindus in particular, to discrimination, injustice and persecution. Islam is Malaysia’s official religion. All Malays are, by the constitution, Muslim. The law bars their conversion out of Islam, but permits proselytisation of non-Muslims. There was the famous case in 2005 of M. Moorthy, an Everest climber who became a national hero. After death, he was buried according to Islamic rites. Reason: the Sharia court upheld the Muslim claim that Moorthy had converted to Islam just before his death, a contention that his widow stoutly refuted. The high court rejected her appeal, saying that since she was not Muslim, she could not testify in a matter pertaining to Islam. On November 26, for the first time in Malaysia’s history, some 30,000 ethnic Indians held a protest rally in Kuala Lumpur, with posters of Mahatma Gandhi and banners that read, “We want equal right”. It faced a severe police crackdown. Last week, I met P. Waythamoorthy, chairman of the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF), which had organised the rally. Currently in India to mobilise support for the ‘forgotten’ and ‘persecuted’ Malaysian Hindu community, what he said was indeed worrisome. “Thousands of Hindu temples have been demolished in Malaysia in the last 50 years. Most of these were clan temples built more than 150 year ago by people from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala, who had been brought here by the British to work in rubber plantations. Hindus are stripped of their dignity and self-respect by this vindictive act. There has been a systematic campaign to Islamise the Malaysian state, which has alarmed not only the Hindus, but also Buddhists, Christians and Taoists,” he said.

Moorthy said: “A majority of ethnic Indians are pushed to the lowest rung of the economic-educationa l-employment ladder. We have the lowest per capita income, highest number of beggars and squatters, highest suicide rate, and lowest intake in government jobs and universities. Indians are treated as third-class citizens.” Moorthy, however, was quick to add: “Hindus in Malaysia have always been loyal, lawabiding and peaceful citizens.” Three of his colleagues have been charged with sedition — “for speaking the truth” — and 31 others face murder charges, under a law that denies them bail. The developments in Malaysia — the condition of Hindus in Bangladesh is far worse — pose an important question before India’s political and intellectual class: should India care for ethnic Indians in other countries? Or should our government simply sit quiet on the plea that this is an internal matter of a foreign country, in which it cannot interfere? Since the issue concerns primarily the Hindus, our ‘secularists’ will most likely advise the UPA government to ‘lay off’, which is exactly what Malaysian authorities have told our government leaders. The advice must not be heeded. India has a moral duty to act whenever ethnic Indians anywhere in the world suffer racial or religious persecution. But will Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi speak out in this matter? And will leading representatives of the Muslim community in India condemn the ill treatment of Hindus in Malaysia? I believe that in matters like this one, Malaysia and the rest of the world must hear the enlightened voice of Indian Islam.