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Op-Ed: Tamil Issues Are Wider Than The Borders of Sri Lanka

By Hans Smedbol     May 4, 2010 in World
Andrew Moran's recent moving coverage of the worldwide Tamil election appears to suggest that this government will represent all Tamils, but a large number of Tamils live in India and Malaysia, too, and their issues are not addressed by this election.
As seen recently, Andrew Moran's latest story on the worldwide Tamil elections to form a representative government of exiles from Sri Lanka was the latest in a well-prepared, moving, continuing coverage of worldwide Tamil issues, as pertaining to Sri Lanka's recent war and accompanying atrocities by both sides. This election should offer the worldwide Lankan Tamil community of exiles, and refugees a united voice and an official representation in any negotiations with the world governmental bodies, such as the U.N. and with the Sri Lankan government. This a positive step forward for these people.
It should be made clear, however, that these Tamils do not represent all the Tamils in the world, since most of the Tamils in the world come from Tamil Nadu, (60,793,814 (2001)according to Wikipedia) rather than Sri Lanka (3,092,676 (2001)(Wikipedia)). In Malaysia, in 2007,there were some 2,100,000 Tamils. We don't hear about these other Tamils so much, because they have mostly remained in Tamil Nadu (in South India), or Malaysia, with some exceptions. So this governmental body would only represent the Tamil diaspora from Sri Lanka, not those who are from Tamil Nadu, or Malaysia, the U.K., or the U.S., if they migrated there from Tamil Nadu, rather than Lanka.
Many Tamils migrated to Malaysia (including Sri Lankan Tamils (civil servant types)) when the British were in charge there as well, and they too suffer from discrimination and lack of economic opportunities. There is a quota system in place in Malaysia, such that Malays (the main group of folks in Malaya when the British arrived at the end of the 18th century) are preferred in all spheres of life, from education to jobs, to almost any kind of opportunity. If you are Tamil in Malaysia, you don't get an opportunity to choose which kind of course you will take in University, if you have the good luck to get in through the quota system; 9% of the university population is Tamil, because they only allow 9% to be Tamils. The Chinese have the same problem when wanting to attend university in Malaysia.
Even if you are a rich Tamil in Malaysia, still you can't pick and choose which courses you might like to attend, unless you want to study overseas. If you stay in Malaysia, and were lucky enough to get selected by the quota system (which doesn't care how bright you are!!) you will study what the government decided you will study. Only Malays have that kind of choice. Malays are favoured in every little issue that comes up.They get most of the university placements, with generous scholarships, even if well off, and they get most of the jobs, due to the quota limitations again. Malays also have preference for Government positions, ownership of certain companies and so on.
These quota limitations were put into place by the government, after the 1969 riots, when the Malays had grown increasingly alarmed that the Indians and Chinese appeared to be "taking over" the country. Malays saw themselves losing status, wealth and land to the Chinese and Indian (mostly Tamil) "invaders" as they saw them.The disparity appeared to grow until that time, due to an apparent lack of ambition in the Malay people, who were a simple farming, easy going people, as their Prime Minister, Mahathir bin Mohamed reported in a book he wrote about the problem ("The Malay Dilemma".)
The Chinese and Tamils, (especially the Chinese) however, due to their strong family conditioning inclining them towards ambitious undertakings, starting businesses, getting well educated, entering into politics and so on, were prospering at the time, at the apparent (apparent to the Malays themselves) expense of the Malay people, the "bhumi puteras" as they are called. The Chinese and Indians were just necessarily (because they didn't have the land to fall back on) more ambitious than the Malays appeared to be at the time. so after the brutal riots in 1969, in which many Indians and Chinese lost everything and quite a few were killed, the government installed the quota system to promote the rise of Malays in their own country, despite themselves. It was not intended to be a permanent set up, but was intended to address the apparent inequalities of the time.
Some forty years later, the quota system is mostly still in place, despite statements by the Chinese and Indians (mostly Tamils) that it is not appropriate any longer. They insist it is depressing the economy to artificially promote one group of people against another, when so many people with lots of talent and possibilities are not allowed to exercise their full potential. This inequality persists until they leave the country and settle elsewhere, where their talents and ambitious natures are better appreciated. Reportedly, the quota system has been some what rolled back in the education system with more of a "meritocracy" system substituted.
So while Tamils everywhere sympathise with the aspirations and longings of the Sri Lankan exiles, the Tamil diaspora, which has settled all over the world after leaving that hell that was and still is Sri Lanka, many of them would also like the world to know that they too have their issues, which may be equally deserving of the world's sympathy and support, especially the Tamils of Malaysia, many of whom are poverty stricken and feel that they have no opportunities in their own country, as well as feeling oppressed and repressed by the Malaysian Government, which does not appear to truly represent their interests, a complaint that even we in Canada can sympathise with from our own governmental experiences.
Unfortunately, things are not looking up in the future for Malaysian Tamils as the Malays look ever more deeply inward, into their newly radicalising Islamic identity, as was exemplified by the more recent riots in 2010, in Malaysia.
In early January of this year, there was a fire bombing of a Christian Church in Malaysia by Islamic Malays, who seriously objected to the use of the Arabic word "Allah" by the Christians in their teachings, who custmarily referred to their "God" as "Allah" in the local Malay language, because it was the only word apparently, used in Malay to represent the Deity. The Islamists believed that one should only apply the name "Allah" to the "God" of the Q'uran, and not to the "God" of the Christians. This disturbance ripened into a riot of Islamic inspired Malays, which was only put down with great difficulties. The conflict continues to this day, even if apparently put on a back burner for a while. As Malaysia steadily Islamises more and more fundamentally oriented, the future plight of the Tamils and the Chinese in Malaysia remains in doubt, and whether they will be ever fully accepted into Malaysia as full partners in the nation remains to be seen as well. At present, however, optimism does not appear to be the view of the day.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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