There is a candlelight vigil on Saturday (27 Sept) at Dataran Merdeka for the Hindraf Five.
Everyone is welcome.
In my school grounds – I remember vividly – how a nine year old me struggled with the polarised environment in school. It was a fixation with me, to stay away from something purely Indian.
It was not to deny my Dravidian roots, but it was to make sure that people did not see me as an Indian only.
I come from a purely Tamil family. My parents are, and so are all their relatives. There was one second cousin of my mom who married in Sarawak, but we never see them. By large everything was Tamil.
The movies, the culture, the values system and the gaslight in my grandparents home in Kampung Pandan.
To a much simpler child – as I was – it was more important to seem multicultural and to look at things in absolutes.
When my time came for university – I was not sure university, at least the way it is here in Malaysia, was ready for me.
In the first month, the Indian students had a broad consensus that I felt I was too good for them. By end of my first year, it was gospel truth. By the start of my second year, I got on with people more – everyone really – and they started to understand I was not anti-anyone. I just was not pro-some.
That brings me to think diversity in Malaysia. The often unseparated concepts of political rights and political representation.
The former when considered in the ethnic minority consideration, was about winning it. To get what others have. Not more, just as much.
Minorities are not measured by the numbers.
Women in America whilst many yet disenfranchised were and are still a minority. Blacks, juveniles, single mothers.
But they are minorities in some context, and not so in others.
A black man was a severely under-represented in the former slave states in the US, however he was not as under-represented in his community when it came to women – who were disenfranchised further by the prevailing parochial think.
So minorities and disenfranchisement are dynamic constructs.
Any group of people – even before you set eyes on them – have a multitude of minorities, however the emphasis only grows or exists when particular losses or lack of opportunities are shared by any part sub-group.
All the slaves in America would be from various tribes and stretches of the African west coast. In Africa, there are various and diverse races of people. Not all Africans are from the same race, let alone same tribe. There would have been distinctions, however their commonality of being Africans and slaves eroded those other differences.
Yet now, with almost 150 years after slavery lapsed, the non-emphasis of absolute discrimination – blacks like many minorities experience levels of oppression – gave increase to other subgroup emphasis. Like music ( West coast and East Coast music), education and income groups.
Mega-rich black personalities can access everything any white contemporary may or want to. There are no scenes of a desolate and upset Muhammad Ali chucking his gold medal into the river in Kentucky because fame and money does not get you to dine in restaurant in the 1960s south.
So the debate always shifts when distortions in the initial group manifest.
Political rights versus Political representation
So when political rights are undermined, the aggrieved minority group pursues remedy, together.
The Malayan Union protest was a minority group perceiving the competition of rights by an indeterminate group. Right or wrong. Same goes with MIC and MCA trying to procure citizenship for a large group of British sponsored individuals a political stake in the forming country.
Those are fights for rights. However what do you do when just rights are yours? Where does right fringe and then coalesce with power?
Rights are about equal minimums, not domination. They are making sure you are not losing out because you belong to a minority group, not that you get more than others as a right.
A slave seeks to be free, not to be a slaver-owner.
The country is governed by a group of parties built on pursuing political rights for their constituents. But you can only go that far with that notion. It has a finishing line.
The continuing role of politicians is political representation. That is not dictated by a political rights agenda.
Political parties in Malaysia are now asked by its population general to represent them. Political remedies are not rights issues. Getting a bus to service a low density area, making sure there are no high-voltage aerial cables and improving school conditions are policy issues – not necessarily in the domain of a rights debate.
However since the ruling parties are imbued in a rights debate perpetually, the rights elements will somehow emerge.
The bus is serving other areas because there are Malays there, and the buses in this area are run by Chinese. Same goes for cables, and schools are a hot-bed of rights issues, and rarely education issues.
So while the rest of the progressive world is trying to get their children to read, write and count better, we are mired in making sure they are reading, writing and counting in a language tied to political rights, and compromise the quality bit.
The whole, we are ok if the child can count only to 10 as long as he counts in __________.
The hindraf vigil
Circumnavigating back to the opening bit, the vigil is about rights – which is fine. But once accrued, the discussion must move to political representation, and that is a policy debate.
That is why all the civil rights protestors did not form a political party. The correcting of rights was the issue of a lobby, the issue of representation was for the examination and debate of a political party.
So being a member of the Southern Baptist Conference or the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People did not preclude you from being a member of the Democratic Party.
You can speak as a black man for black issues inside the Democratic Party, however the political issues related to representation stretch beyond just to race only.
As so is the women’s caucus in the major parties in America.
So speaking for Indian issues is not an impediment for me, but for people to think that those are the only issues I can speak on, or that they as non-Indian cannot speak about them is flawed.
That would also explain why I defended the rights of Muslims in my country drinking in bars, when someone told me it was a Muslim issue. I said no. They are Muslims but they are also citizens. And their interests are mine to protect too.
No one has the right to think issues are the exclusive domains of those who claim them by a demographic connection.
The fight for a right is always dynamic, and political representation provides the umbrella for those rights.