MGG: Racial Discrimination: The knives are out
By M.G.G. Pillai
28/3/2002 11:04 pm Thu
A government-appointed committee headed by a friend of the
education minister decides, in a quick-fix, there is no racial
discrimination in Malaysian schools. The deputy prime minister
is convinced the report has said enough, and the National Union
of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general, Dato' N.
Siva Subramaniam, must apologise for the intemperate remarks that
led to the committee's report. Everyone on the committee is a
retired worthy. No parent or teacher was on it. Why? But the
UMNO youth leader and federal cabinet minister says the charges
are a sinistral move to devalue national schools.
In other words, the government decides that if there is
racial discrimination, it is the fault of the non-Malay parents,
and any body that supports them would be severely handled. The
NUTP claimed 261 schools had this problem. The committee could
not have visited all, nor seen even a cross section of parents
who complain of discrimination of their children. One now
wonders if it would have been allowed, given what happened since,
to come with any that did not exonerate the government.
The government thrives on crises like these, not to right
the wrongs but to tell its critics it cannot be proved wrong,
those who put it through the paces face extreme sanctions. So,
two headmasters in Johore sues Dato' Siva Subramaniam, for RM1
million for suggesting their schools racially discriminated its
non-Malay pupils. When it is government policy to racially
discriminate citizens it comes in contact with, why is it
surprised it has caught hold in every facet of life in Malaysia.
That it should happen in schools is the most logical. It should
not, but it is what happens here for decades.
A non-Malay automatically assumes he is a lesser animal,
disallowed in group activities except in extreme circumstances,
to only survive as individuals not as from the community he hails
from. If they work on their own, they can be as brilliant as
anyone. He is at risk the moment he joins a partnership or a
formal organisation. It does not matter who they are: cardiac
surgeons, civil engineers, architects, mathematicians. Many give
up the ghost and migrate. For they face an officially sanctioned
handicap which penalises them for being good. Unless he is
accepted as a crony of the establishment.
Then he is discarded when his use is over, in K. Nilakanta
Sastri's evocative phrase, 'like sucked oranges'. He was
referring to the Indian estate worker in Malaysia in the 1930s;
but refers equally to the non-Malay in modern Malaysia. A Malay
buying a house gets it cheaper, by fiat, than a non-Malay. He
gets a head start in universities: he needs only poorer marks
for disciplines which demands the highest for a non-Malay whose
entry is further hobbled by a quota. You want to join the civil
service? You must be lucky to be one of the 20 per cent
non-Malays. Why is one surprised that in primary schools, the
non-Malay child is so treated.
The more it defends the indefensible, the more frayed its
arguments become. When Dato' Hishamuddin Hussein argues
non-Malay parents and NUTP are jealous of the national schools
system and work to destroy it with allegations like these. He is
cabinet minister and UMNO youth leader. He speaks with
authority. When he comes out with stupid defences like these, it
devalues the debate to one in which the government has much to
hide. Besides, what better way than destroy the credentials of a
man the UMNO establishment believes has risen too high in trade
unions who must be brought down a peg or two. It is one field in
which UMNO could not allow its nominees to dominate. The MTUC
and Malaysian trade unions are sidelined because its leaders are
There is a senate seat for a trade unionists. It was not
filled for years because it could not get a Malay who could be
appointed. In the end, one Indian trade union leader became a
Muslim and he was appointed. When the late Mr P.P. Narayanan was
offered it in the halcyon days of the first prime minister,
Tengku Abdul Rahman, he insisted that the MTUC nominate him. He
mistook the mood, and never got to be. The May 1969 racial riots
and the Malay-first laws that resulted put paid to any semblance
of the better man in trade unions. To not put a fine point to
it, if the better man is not Malay, then he is not qualified.
The government handles this storm in a teacup such of its
customary finesse that it portends not just a typhoon but a
hurricane which would smash the cup to bits. It acts such for
its equanimity is challenged by its constituency, the Malays, and
it cannot survive if a few non-Malays can force it to eat crow.
It is the same dilemma the Singapore government faces over its
ban of the tudung for its pupils. When the three girls stood
firm, the PAP government lost face. It believes the trio are
strengthened by Malaysian support from across the causeway.
There is none. But does that matter? So, in this. It is
important Dato' N. Siva Subramaniam, and his NUTP, must be put in
its place. It hopes that the overriding crisis it creates would
make Malaysians ignore the hatchet work planned.