Loh Seng Kok

Parlimen Malaysia

Barisan Nasional MCA

Loh Seng Kok 卢诚国
Member of Parliament for Kelana Jaya
雪州格拉那再也区国会议员
(2004 - Feb 2008)

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One nation shared among many people

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2009/04/11
One nation shared among many people

This 1956 photo is of  a Tamil couple who were among thousands brought in by European planters as  cheap labour force who often toiling in miserable conditions for pitiful sums.
This 1956 photo is of a Tamil couple who were among thousands brought in by European planters as cheap labour force who often toiling in miserable conditions for pitiful sums.


 

YEARS ago, when lawyer G.A. David Dass taught at Universiti Institut Teknologi Mara, he would be approached by students who would evince surprise that he was genuinely interested in teaching them and had no motives other than ensuring they understood the material.

He ventures that this was because they had been "conditioned into believing that non-Malays were not to be trusted and that our presence in Malaysia meant that they were taking something away from the Malays".

Dass believes that most non-Malay lecturers at UiTM have had similar experiences, in an example of how Malaysian history and how it is taught in schools -- and how it can be manipulated by politicians -- can graft lasting impressions on young minds that determine how they relate to others of a different community.

For years, Dass says, the non-Malay history in Malaysia had been framed by an ethnocentric elite as a story of how the Malays had "lost out", "been dispossessed" and "subjugated" by "bangsa asing" or "foreign races".

This narrative presumes that Malaya was "conquered" (dijajah) by Europeans eager to exploit its natural riches.
 

Control over who came into the land was out of Malay hands, and the penjajah allowed bangsa asing to enter and build their tin mines and rubber estates, while the Malays watched by the wayside in their villages.

Such a telling of history is warped, erroneous and, when it comes to the Indian experience in pre-independence Malaya, disingenuous.

It overlooks the contribution of Indians to local customs, culture, arts and governance. It ignores the fact that for 80 per cent of the Indians who came to Malaya in the 19th and early 20th centuries, their lives were shackled in deprivation and hard labour.

"How did thousands of mostly Tamil indentured labourers, who were paid pitiful wages and who toiled under the most back-breaking circumstances to open up plantations and build roads, dispossess the Malays?" asks Dass, who co-authored the book Malaysian Indians: Looking Forward.

Though the history of Indian contact with the peoples of Peninsular Malaysia between the 1st and 11th centuries is mentioned in school textbooks, its influence on Malay culture has been played down.

It is almost as if it is an embarrassment, says U.K. Menon, deputy vice-chancellor of Wawasan Open University, to acknowledge the extensive traces Indians left on local pre-Islamic culture which can still be seen.

In The Malaysian Indians: History, Problems and Future, the late Muzafar Desmond Tate wrote of how Brahmin priests and Buddhist missionaries gave Malay chieftains the organisational system that would transform them into the kings of today.

But, Muzafar stressed, the early Indians' influence was not manifested in force of arms or large-scale migration.

When it comes to the later migration of Tamils, Telugus, Malayalees, Sikhs and Bengalis, there is a begrudging acceptance of their presence, notes Dass.

"They were not a colonising force to subjugate or rob the Malays. Many lives were lost in opening up these plantations and towns, and these Indians were indentured to the Europeans who brought them in. The point is to recognise each community's sacrifices that went into this great nation.

"Our founding fathers knew this was integral to nation-building."

His co-author, Jayanath Appudurai, says that the problem with how history is taught today is that it is seen through the lens of only one community.

"But the record shows that the peninsula was in a strategic position that attracted everyone from different regions of the world to converge and set up their own settlements here."

To acknowledge the various influences that went into creating what is now Malaysia is not to prop up one race or culture over another, Jayanath says. "It is not about the Indians being superior to the Malays or the Chinese being better than everyone else. It is about recognising the multi-ethnicity that has always been and continues to be present in the peninsula.

"It is about seeing Malaysia as a nation, not of a single ethnicity, but one of shared membership among many." -- SM

 

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