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Hindraf’s record in fighting for the stateless and disenfranchised

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malaysia-indiansThe Human Rights Party in a 2010 meeting with the National Registration Department had informed the officers that HRP estimated stateless Indians to number 450,000 nationwide. The problem of exclusion is one universally acknowledged to be the source of various social ills in any given society. This reduced Indian participation in Malaysian democracy that arose from the self-serving and myopic policy of the Malaysian elite has far-reaching consequences.

The ruling elite within the Umno-dominant government have been systematically using ‘citizenship’ as one of their ways of means to continue their autocratic rule over Malaysia.

It has always been a ‘numbers’ game. There have been allegations that it appears to be a tacit Umno government policy to reduce the number of non-Muslim voters and at the same time increase Muslim voters in critical areas where Umno’s dominance is seen to be weak.

In Sabah particularly, several Kadazan, Dusun and Murut (KDM) leaders have alleged that ‘project M’ was implemented to ensure foreign Muslims were granted citizenships in large numbers to dilute the KDM majority of Sabah.

Sabahan Dr Chong Eng Leong in his book Lest We Forget estimates that around 600,000 citizenships were issued in 1986 to Filipino and Indonesian Muslims. In west Malaysia, Indonesians are seen to enjoy the privilege of obtaining citizenship with relative ease as compared to many other races that still hold red identity cards even though being born in the country before Independence.

The new ‘soft’ Muslim vote bank who forever will be dependent on Umno provides the ruling elite within the BN government a perfect counterbalance against not only the non Muslims but also against the growing number of Muslims. The latter have increasingly become more politically enlightened of the gross abuses and corruption that is so widespread under the BN.

Another method employed by Umno is the act of omission and commission to deny citizenships to the softest target within the Malaysian community – the Malaysian Indians, some of whom are into their sixth generation born in this land.

The Human Rights Party of Malaysia (HRP) estimates that there are currently 450,000 Indians in Malaysia that do not possess Malaysian citizenship. Though this number appears to raise some eyebrows on disbelief amongst some, the following facts may prove that this indeed could be shockingly true.

[Ed: A counter view is presented in another CPI article ‘The Numbers Game: Stateless Indians in Malaysia’]

MIC sat on their hands

In 1976, the MIC formed a bureau to register Indians in this country who had issues concerning citizenship. Within a mere five years or so there were more than 40,000 Indians who registered themselves as being stateless.

The numbers were staggering and MIC did nothing more than just getting them registered as applicants. Alarm bells rang and eventually in 1981 MIC was ordered to close down that bureau and along with it the more than 40,000 Indian stateless applicants were swept under the carpet.

From whom the orders came from to close down that bureau is anyone’s guess but coincidentally it was about the time that Dr Mahathir Mohamad came into power. In 1981 the numbers at the very least stood at more than 40k stateless Indians, today that figure definitely would have risen significantly.

Malaysia’s population stood at 13,430,000 in 1981. Today the population is around 29 million. Just on that account only one could estimate today that there may be more than 100,000 stateless Indians.

However it must be noted that MIC conducted the registrations during those years in an extremely quiet manner and as such there may have been many thousands more who would not have known about it back then to have come forward to register.

On 21 January 2008, the then Chief Minister of Selangor, Mohd Khir Toyo, had advised the Home Ministry to set up a body to look into the plight of 40,000 Indian children in his state who did not have birth certificates.

Subsequently no one ever heard anything about it ever again. If there were 40,000 stateless Indian children just in Selangor, what about their parents and grandparents as well as elder siblings that are above 18 years of age ? This could possibly mean, just in the state of Selangor there may be more than 100,000 stateless Indians today.

On 13 Aug 2010, HRP met with the Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara (JPN) top brass in Putrajaya. The HRP representatives informed the national registration department officers that the party currently estimates the stateless Indians to number 450,000 nationwide.

HRP made its conclusion based on detailed investigation and attributing this huge problem to multi-factorial reasons.

The reasons, mainly, are:

(1) Tacit Umno government policy of ignoring this problem

(2) Lack of political will to resolve these issues both in Barisan Nasional as well as Pakatan Rakyat elected representatives,


(3) Application processes too complicated for the illiterate and semi-literate Indian poor

(4) Racial-religious bias

(5) Insensitive and hostile over-the-counter JPN staff

(6) Sheer ignorance of the magnitude of the problem among these officers

Umno sitting on their hands

It is not as if the Umno government is totally ignorant of the gravity of the problem as well as the causes of it.

On 23 Jan 2011, the deputy secretary-general (Registration and Immigration) Raja Azhar Raja Abdul Manap was quoted to have said, “We do not know how many of these people are without the documents”. (Source: Star Online)

On 19 Feb 2011, the Special Implementation Task Force (SITF) on the Indian community in collaboration with the Home Ministry established a campaign to register, process and eventually provide fast-track birth certificates and MyKads to stateless Indians. That was the officially stated purpose but given what has transpired since, it looks like it is just another wayang kulit.

The campaign was run for only eight days in nine states through the 61 JPN branches. Even though in reality the MyDaftar team only registered each application and gave them a reference number but the propaganda that went about nationwide through the mainstream media gave an impression that citizenship and birth certificate woes were resolved for as many numbers who turned up in response.

Interestingly within a mere 52 hours of work, there were in total 14,882 applicants. This would roughly translate to five applications were made to register every one minute or rather one stateless Indian registering every 12 seconds.

It was also stated that another 10,000 forms were collected for their friends or relatives but these forms have not been returned.

The MyDaftar team which is under SITF the prime minister himself as the chairman of the cabinet committee then chose to extend the campaign for another mere five days even though the numbers that had come up to register were so high. The 5-day extension however was in without much media fanfare, probably keeping in mind a fear that it may attract further larger numbers of Indians to turn up.

On 19 Feb 2011, A. Chandrakumaran – the Federal Territories chairman of PPP, a BN component party – reported that eight days were not sufficient and PPP (an Indian-majority party) had received “never ending visits” of stateless Indians. (Source: Sinar Harian)

On 20 Feb 2011, Johor MIC state chairman K.S Balakrishnan said that there are more than 5,000 Indians in Johor that still do not have proper identification documents. (Source: Star Online)

As the methodology used in the collation of national population statistics is not transparent and remains a closely guarded state secret, one only can use the various data available and read between the lines to look for the correct information that reflects the reality on the ground.

There is a saying that to look for bees, one has to trace the honey trail.

The dire Indian condition

Considering that stateless people are deprived of the ultimate social security net which is citizenship and hence excluded in virtually every sector i.e. health services, education, employment, security and housing, it should come as no surprise that Indians have the lowest development index in the country.

  • Indians have among the lowest life expectancy rate – 67.3 years compared to the national average of 71.2

  • They have the second highest infant mortality rate
  • They have the highest school dropout rate, i.e. less than 5 percent of Indians reach tertiary-level education
  • They have the highest incidence of alcoholism
  • They have the highest incidence of drug addiction
  • They have the highest number of prisoners in proportion to the national population.

Indians are involved in 45 percent of the country’s crime and they record the highest percentage of deaths whilst under police custody, that is more than 95 percent. Around 40 percent of male Indian youth are in the grips of crime and 14 percent of juvenile delinquents in this country are Indians. More than 60 percent of the inmates at the Simpang Renggam detention centre are Indians.

Indians constitute the highest rate of suicides of any Malaysian community at 21.1 suicides per 100,000 population as compared to Malays 2.6 suicides per 100,000 population and Chinese 8.6 suicides per 100,000 population.

Some 40 percent of the beggars in Malaysia are Indians and more than 30 percent of Indians do not own a home.

Only a miniscule 1.5 percent of the nation’s corporate wealth is in the hands of Indians, and if Tan Sri Ananthakrishnan and Tan Sri Tony Fernandes are taken out of the equation, it may even be less than half of that value.

Beneath all these depressing statistics is probably where lies hidden the estimated 450,000 stateless Indians of Malaysia.

Trapped in vicious circle

The stateless in this country are generally trapped in poverty. They feel marginalized and ostracised in virtually every sector – healthcare, education, institutional access, dealing with enforcement agencies as well as in government and corporate participation.

To survive they turn to a defence mechanism to these challenges – they either have to beg or to turn to crime as there is no other alternative in a government that is devoid of caring and sharing.

P. Uthayakumar, the HRP pro-tem secretary-general, estimates that the majority of the 450,000 stateless Indians are in Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, the Federal Territories, Negri Sembilan and Johor. Coincidentally these states also represent the highest distribution of thug gangs that mainly consist of Indians.

HRP has come out with several proposals to address the statelessness problem among the Indians.

In their meeting with JPN, representatives from HRP had proposed:

(1) The government should set up a special transparent unit within the department. This unit should be adequately resourced all the way from field workers to director. Their charter should be to:

(a) Identify all Indian Malaysians who do not have a birth certificate, MyKad or citizenship

(b) Create a database of these people and establish appropriate programmes to clear their cases one by one

c) Simplify the procedure for applying for delayed birth certificates and MyKads. Make the process friendly to the poor who are the applicants. Do not require them to fill out so many forms and to provide so much of documentary evidence, which most often is redundant.

Do not require them to visit the JPN offices so many times and sending them on a wild goose chase. Do not reject their applications because they did not cross the 't's or dot the 'i's. Treat them with more respect and support them throughout the process.

(d) Authorize senior and respected members of the community to certify births and parentage where a hospital is unable to do it.

(2) Religion, race and marriage should not be made non-constitutional barriers to birth registration.

(3) Parents must be empowered to decide the religion of their children on the basis of equality of all religions.

(4) The JPN or other state religious agencies should not impose the syariah law on non-Muslims. Mixed marriages are one of the major reasons for the stateless Indian problem.

(5) Empower this special unit to address the problem without interference from any religious body.

(6) The JPN should discard procedures that were set up a long time ago using outdated technology like photographs to establish familial resemblances in appearance. Instead newer methods like DNA profiling should be used where necessary.

(7) All that is required is for the hospital where the child is born to be made responsible for the registration of the birth.


(8) In the case of birth at home or for abandoned children, a similar and simple enough alternative procedure needs to be established.

(9) The e-Govt system should be extended to cover this crucial need and a mechanism set up to monitor and report on this effort in the JPN website.

(10) This special unit in the JPN must be authorized to work with the Health Ministry, the Education Ministry, the Human Resources Ministry, etc to resolve any associated problems.

Why you should care

First and foremost, there shouldn't be a reason. Just based on empathy and on compassionate grounds, each one of us must take on this responsibility to put pressure on all our political leaders to make serious efforts on solving this ever growing constituency.

Politicians that just give mere lip service and ignore this issue need to be exposed and censured.

Secondly, crime is on the rise in this country and it could in some way be symbiotically linked to the rise in the number of people who have fallen through the cracks.

It will be pointless to build higher fortified walls around our house and put up expensive elaborate security systems as well as live in ‘gated communities’ and  guarded homes but continue to choose to remain blind to the fundamental root causes of this problem.

If left unaddressed, trust that Mother Nature has her own unique way of ‘correcting’ these imbalances.

Thirdly, the problem of exclusion is one universally acknowledged to be the source of various social ills in any given society. The statelessness of the Indian poor, reduced Indian participation in Malaysian democracy and the short-sighted and self-serving view of Umno has far-reaching consequences.

If you were to connect the dots, you will see that the thinking that generates this short-sighted position on statelessness is what is perennially keeping us mediocre among the community of nations. Those of you who have been fortunate enough to step out of the country and see what is happening around the world will recognize the true folly of this kind of myopic policy of the Malaysian elite.

Due to our selfish, self-centred lifestyles, we could get ‘bitten’ (become victims of crime and kidnapping) for not exercising our civic duty in helping these poor and vulnerable stateless people.

Albert Einstein once said that the world is a dangerous place not because of people who do evil but because good people who just look on and do nothing about it.

We are run by diversity. We become divided because we think that we are many. This feeling of diversity, the psychology of plurality and the sentiments of multiplicity leads to conflict, confusion, and chaos whereas the feeling of unity and harmony, the sentiment of synthesis and the experience of oneness is unity.

Let us all be united in bringing the state of the stateless in Malaysia to its valid and justified attention.

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