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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 invariably non-Malay.

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.

M.G.G. Pillai