Malaysian Indian Blueprint?

Many were excited to learn that a blueprint for Malaysians of Indian descent was unveiled recently. The coverage as an action plan seems extensive. What falls short perhaps is the title of the document. Why?

While some reported the document as a Malaysian Action Plan for the Indian community, others called it by its alleged "official" title – Malaysian Indian Blueprint (MIB). Of the two, the former is considered more reflective of the content and aspiration of the document.

In contrast, the latter raised a number of implications notably because of the term "Malaysian Indian". It should have been "Indian Malaysian" Blueprint (IMB) if at all. The difference is subtle but to discerning Malaysians it makes a world of difference.

In the US, an American of Indian descent is referred to as Indian-American just as Americans of African descent are African-Americans. The previous US president is not an American-African despite one part of his family coming from Kenya. And that was his ticket to be the first "black" American (not African) president.

In general, all US citizens are simply called Americans, their descent is less significant. In the same light, we are all Malaysians. And that says it all. The rest is secondary.

Why we are still stuck with the term "Malaysian Indian" is difficult to comprehend. There is of course a political party for Malaysian Indians but I do sincerely believe that the blueprint is beyond any political party membership even though prominently on stage during the launch was the president of the party. This unfortunately reinforces as to why the report was (mis)titled causing unwarranted confusion. It was further amplified when the word "Indian" was disproportionately enlarged relative to the word "Malaysian" as part of the launch backdrop. The message was deafening as it served an unnecessary distraction from the ultimate aim of the report: to help all Malaysians of Indian descent regardless of their political affiliation or creed.

It is embarrassing to highlight this issue. It not only sounds petty but more so because we seem to promote a stereotype that is divisive. I have always thought that the use of "Malaysian Indian" is an unfortunate part of Malaysia's parochial realpolitik but subconsciously it reads more than that. Admittedly there is now a "national" document that is also aligned with the same narrow parochialism. Worse when the last national blueprint – Wawasan 2020 – has as its first challenge the call to nurture "Bangsa Malaysia", to which the Indian Malaysians fit neatly into. To insist on a "Malaysian Indian" stereotype is a colonial construct of bangsa India pointing to some locale in the Indian subcontinent. This is counterproductive to the making of Bangsa Malaysia, and indeed 1Malaysia, turning them into mere slogans.

Taken to its logical end every state in Malaysia may want to create its own "bangsa" too.

What is sadder is that in contemplating the blueprint we are not even conscious (less still courageous) to change the stereotyping so that the blueprint is understood in the truly Malaysian context as intended. This mental lacuna automatically invites scepticism as to how much of stereotype thinking went into developing the document.

Personally, I am inclined to argue that Indian Malaysians are the "next" bumiputras who need to be closely attended to with a set of affirmative actions to see them through to be on par with other Malaysians. Like the (Malay) bumiputras they have suffered historical justices that have been working against their interest and dignity. Their problems are different and that calls for different solutions and approaches. Hence a blueprint for the entire Indian community is what we want and not aligned to any political party unintended or otherwise. The (mis)title has just done the reverse.

This Malaysian perspective came to me early during the days of the May 13 riot when a group of Indians led by a neighbour named Raman asked for shelter from my late father. To my amazement my father welcomed them to stay in our small house for "protection". As a young teenager I was confused and confronted him for justification. His answer was swift and firm: Raman is family! Period. I had to figure this out myself. Indeed, Raman is family – a family among Malaysians. Together with his community they are Malaysians who deserved the same "protection".

Later on, I came across a letter to the editor from a foreigner who proudly announced that he had married a pretty Malaysian lass while studying in the UK. Only to find out on settling down in Malaysia that she suddenly "became" an Indian! A Malaysian Indian that is. Why is indeed baffling making us look like a nation of schizophrenics.

This issue has been glossed over for too long. It must be urgently clarified and rectified so that not only the confusion stops, but also not to further threaten social cohesion both inter- and intra-ethnically too. The latter has been worsening lately across the board. Hence, the time to take the bull by the horns is now as we approach the 60th anniversary of Merdeka.

If we choose to remain ignorant (and arrogant) hoping that it will go away, it will not thanks to the "MIB" acting as the latest reminder as argued above. The only way to aptly resolve the "oversight" is by retitling the report IMB. This is one "must-do" item under the NegaraKu campaign to "genuinely" bolster again the Malaysianness in all of us by getting rid of all parochial stereotypes from Aug 31, 2017 so that NegaraKu is more than just a song to sing along!

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that "another world is possible". Comments: letters@thesundaily.com