What protests can achieve

Singapore Democrats
04 Dec 07

Ethnic Indian protesters in Malaysia hold posters of Mahatma Gandhi. Estimates put the crowd at Sunday's rally at more than 5,000.The recent protest in Kuala Lumpur by Malaysian Indians has led to the government there sitting up and paying attention to the plight of the group.

The huge rally was aimed at protesting against unfair treatment of ethnic Indians in the country.

As a result, the government of Abdullah Badawi has announced that it will set up a complaint hotline for the Indian community to air its grievances.

The protesters held pictures of the Mahatma Gandhi to signify their peaceful approach to the demonstration. It has been reported that the ensuing violence was caused by the riot police who shot teargas and fired water cannons at the peaceful demonstrators.

And even though activists criticise the hotline as a political ploy to distract the people, it is not a comment that the protest has been ineffective.

If anything the activists are vowing to keep up the pressure through such open and peaceful show of strength by the people.

Whatever the analysis the plight of the ethnic Indians in Malaysia have, while previously been ignored and neglected, been brought to the fore.

Together with the Bersih protest where opposition parties and NGOs came together in another massive peaceful demonstration to demand free and fair elections in Malaysia the weekend before, the Indian protest is the most effective way yet of making the government responsive to the needs and desires of the people.

This is the power of political and civil rights; this is the how democracy can make our own Government more sensitive and responsive to our needs.

Malaysia to set up hot line for ethnic Indians after mass rally

The Associated Press
04 Dec 07

Malaysian protesters march to the National Palace during a banned opposition rally in Kuala Lumpur, demanding changes to the electoral system.The Malaysian government will set up a telephone complaint hot line for ethnic Indians following a massive rally by the minority group to demand equality and fair treatment in Muslim-majority Malaysia, an official said Friday.

A leader of the rally, which exposed the fragility of the country’s tenuous racial unity, dismissed the hot line plan as a “political ploy.”

The hot line will be connected to the Malaysian Indian Congress, or MIC, an ethnic Indian party in the ruling coalition, said a senior party official, who declined to be named, citing protocol. He said Indians will be able to call and complain about any grievances they may have.

He said Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has also instructed MIC to set up a committee to study the Indians’ grievances.

The moves are apparently to provide an outlet for the growing discontent among ethnic Indians, a largely impoverished community descended from 19th century indentured laborers from India.

Indians complain they are discriminated against in jobs, education and business because of an affirmative action policy favoring Muslim Malays, who form 60 percent of the 27-million population. Many nongovernment groups agree that Indians, who make up 8 percent of the population, have been left behind in the country’s economic progress.

The Indian anger has also been fueled in recent years over the destruction by authorities of several Hindu temples, which the government says were built illegally on state land.

Abdullah’s Malay-dominated government denies Indians are discriminated against in Malaysia and says they are much better off than Indians in India.

However, the bitterness among the Indian community was tapped by a new group called Hindu Rights Action Force, or Hindraf, which organized a rare protest rally on Sunday in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Law Minister Nazri Aziz said 20,000 Indian “gangsters” attended the rally. Diplomats at the scene put the number of demonstrators at 40,000.

A total of 94 people have been charged in court with taking part in an illegal gathering.

Hindraf leader P. Uthayakumar dismissed the plans to set up a committee and hot line as a “political ploy to confuse and continue misleading the Indians.”

He said Hindraf wants to deal with Abdullah directly and not with the Indian party, which many Indians feel has no power to influence the Malays.

“We have had hundreds of committees like this, which never worked and will never work,” he told The Associated Press. “We have also had hundreds of hot lines. But MIC has got no powers … The prime minister is again playing racial politics by pushing the buck back to MIC.

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