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MGG: Racial discrimination: Now you see, now you don't ...
By M.G.G. Pillai

25/3/2002 3:18 pm Mon

The deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, now says it: The National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) must apologise for alleging racial discrimination in primary schools. A government-appointed committee of retired worthies in education found none, but suggested, in its quick-fix report, how to prevent it. If there is none, why? As usual, the government looks for someone to damn for raising an embarrassing reality. Would an NUTP apology end this insiduous and inherent racism in schools, when it officially exists at every level of administration and community life.

Non-Malays in every facet of Malaysian life experiences it: to buy a house, he pays 12 per cent more than a Malay; if he joins the civil service, he faces a glass ceiling, where a quota decides how high he would go; even then, there are small groups in each department who act to cut them down even further. One highly regarded non-Malay civil servant had to wait until his retirement before he was appointed a dato': the quote for his race was used up when his turn came. Do you, a non-Malay, want a scholarship to study? A quote applies, no matter how qualified you are.

When institutionalised racism is hijacked, as now, by a small group of Malays to reduce what is allowed even further, and no one in government, Dato' Seri Abdullah Badawi and deputy education minister Dato' Aziz Shamsuddin included, raises a whimper, it is a sign from top to bottom that it is allowed. So, one is not surprised at what led this committee to affirm there is no racial discrimination in schools. Every non-Malay parent knows the allegations to be true. What they expected from this committee was to accept it and suggest ways to ameliorate it. Instead, they are told there is none, and the NUTP is ordered to apologise for what is a way of life in Malaysian schools. What this means is that the racial discriminators have won. They are now, in fact, told officially to do their worst.

It is not only in schools. The Royal Customs Academy of malaysia (Akmal) in Malacca, after writing to the former finance minister, Tun Tan Siew Sin's widow of its intention to remove his name from its hall because he is no longer alive, wriggles out of it. The letter should not have been sent, a spokesman avers. How did she get it? Who sent it? Perhaps she is mistaken. The name had been removed once when the hall was being repainted. It may be to that she is upset? Whether the letter was sent is not what we question. How and why was it sent if what happened was in the course of an administrative chore? This is but one more incident in a continuing move to reduce the impact and importance of the non-Malays in public life. The Ipoh city council recently removed a road name for a Malaysian hero because he was a non-Malay. In the furore that followed, it was renamed.

This now reaches the schools. The six-year-old non-Malay pupil is shown by example that he is a lesser animal, that he must accept that he be treated with the contempt he deserves, that his place in an institution where Islam and Malayness are the only acceptable worldview is honour enough, and he should not mistake, like hired help, his irrelevant place in the society he lives in. The Malaysian Formula One racing driver Alex Yoong got Malaysian sponsorship only after his father became a Muslim; now it is on him to turn Muslim to continue. One of Malaysia's best motor rally drivers, a Sikh driving for Proton, was forced to sell cars for a living until BMW and a few other motor companies wanted him to drive for them.

I know of several senior officers, retired and in service, who were bluntly told to convert to Islam if they wanted more promotions. One highly qualified medical specialist chose to return to Malaysia than accept an offer as associate professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School. What he was promised was never met, despite the intervention of the minister, and it has been made quite clear to him it is because he is not Malay. It is not policy, of course, but the civil servants find creative ways to delay. He has been here for more than two years, and he is an acknowledged medical specialist in his field. He is not alone. Often they lose out. And after a decent interval return to pick up their lives from whence they came.

So, it is not, as the deputy prime minister avers, that there is no racial discrimination. There is. The non-Malays accept it as a way of life, the price for being in a minority. Now they face a battering: what few rights they have is further reduced by informal but well-organised Malay Ku Klux Klanners. When they start in primary schools, is it any wonder that many non-Malays seriously look to migrate, and those who leave are those Malaysia cannot afford to lose. I asked a few who left why. Yes, we know there is a glass ceiling beyond which they could not aspire to. But you could rise as high as you want to on your merit, while enjoying all the benefits of citizenship. That is, however you look at it, not available here. Their rights are circumscribed that they end up with less than they should. When this begins in the primary schools, the rot is complete.

M.G.G. Pillai