The Status of Hindus in Malaysia: A Travelogue
Malaysian Hindus are fearful of speaking out against atrocities against them, frightened that the Muslim authorities may incriminate them and give them a hard time. The author and his wife at Kuan Yin Buddhist temple in Penang.
Image Courtesy: Dilip Amin
Hindus in Malaysia are treated as second class citizens even though many of them have been there for at least four generations. This is not merely a subjective or biased opinion but there are statistical data to corroborate it:
- About 90% of public college admission quotas are reserved for country’s 64% Malay and Muslims majority,
- More than 90% of well-paying government jobs are taken up by the Malays,
- by law, a Muslim can proselytize Hindus and the non-Muslim population but not the other way around, and
- for a Hindu-Muslim marriage, the Hindu must convert to Islam as per the country’s laws.
What makes it worse is the fact that the Malaysian-Hindus are afraid to speak out against the injustices perpetrated on them in their own country.
The author has attended a symposium in the US where, based on some fabricated stories, an ongoing genocide of minority Muslims in India was highlighted. In this travelogue, the author aims to remind those Muslim leaders how the majority Muslim government is treating their minorities in Malaysia.
Malaysia is a Peaceful Nation
Malaysia is a great country to visit as a tourist considering it is safe. English is widely spoken and there are many beautiful places to visit. Food and hotels are very cheap especially when compared to Western standards.
Malaysians are peace loving people. The country is prospering with a recent 7-14% growth rate and locals are benefiting from the economic development. There is no major conflict between people of different faiths. All minority faiths have full liberty to practice their faith. There are beautiful Muslim, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist religious institutions and people are professing their faith without any restrictions.
Picture: Batu Caves. All people are allowed to practise their faith freely in Malaysia
Above are some of the impressions tourists in Malaysia may likely walk away with unless they scratch the surface and look deeper.
The People of Malaysia
Fifty-one percent of the people in Malaysia are Malay, the biggest ethnic group in the country. They call themselves Bumiputra, sons of the earth. By Malaysia’s constitution, an ethnic Malay must be a Muslim, but not all Muslims are Malay. Malays and other Muslims make up about 64% of the country’s population. There is a large affluent Chinese (predominantly Buddhist) population (about 23%). The poorest segment of the society comprises 6% of Hindus/Indians; at one point they were 12% of the population.
Women can easily be identified by their dress code. Muslim women wear a hijab, not by laws but by choice and social pressure. Hindu women always have a bindi on their forehead and most Chinese wear western clothes.
Hindus will say they are Happy
The author spoke to more than 300 random people during his nine days of stay in Malaysia. Almost all Hindus the author talked to, who are here for 3-5 generations, will start by saying we are happy here. When the author questioned if they have equal rights here? Immediately they will clarify that only Malay Muslims are the First Class citizens of this country and now we Hindus have accepted that as a fact of life and learn to move on with our lives.
Urvashi was out feeding the hungry in Kuala Lumpur, when the author met her. She told the author that her uncle married a Muslim but said there is no problem. The author asked her as to why her uncle had reluctantly relinquished his right to follow Hinduism even when he knew he would not be allowed to give the final rites to his own Hindu parents. She replied that Malaysian Hindus have given up the activist mindset and learned to accept things “as is”, a price of dignity to pay for peace.
One young man explained to the author that when the Malaysian Hindus say they are happy it means they are better off here compared to the Hindus in Afghanistan and Pakistan. When the author questioned if those days could come one day in Malaysia too? With a grim face, he replied, “It could but let’s hope not.”
Unfortunately the author only knew English and Hindi and thus could talk only to the well-educated and financially better off Hindus. Majority of other Hindus, especially Tamils and others without education, are the worst off in Malaysia.
Invariably you will see Indians working only as laborers, either carrying out low-paid jobs or running a very small shop catered to other Indians. The author has seen many Indian beggars and homeless people sleeping on streets. In the Little India of Kuala Lumpur, the author saw an Indian man lying on a street and shivering, while hundreds passed by without noticing him.
Increasing Islamization is a Concern
Generally many Hindus summarized that the problem is not the local Muslims but foreigners-infused increasing Islamic radical ideologies (read Political Islam). The government gave permanent residency to Zakir Abdul Karim Naik. Rising Islamisation is a concern which is fuelling Institutionalised Hindu-hatred. This rise of radical Islamization is a fear not only of the non-Muslims but of even the majority moderate Muslims in Malaysia.
Judaism is not a recognized religion in Malaysia. In fact, Malaysia has no diplomatic relations with Israel and Israeli nationals are not allowed into the country.
Federal and state governments have the power to mandate doctrine for Muslims and promote Sunni Islam above all other religious groups. Other forms of Islam are illegal: see the US Department of State report. Shia and Ahmadi are being discriminated here.
Admissions in Government Colleges
90% of seats in public universities are reserved exclusively for the 51-64% majority Malay and Muslim population. This means there is a fierce competition amongst the remaining one third of the population for the paltry 10% seats. Those minority students who cannot get admission here have to resort to very expensive private universities. For poor, mediocre Hindu students, they will have to settle for some trade schools instead of the high paying university education.
Islamic studies are offered in all public universities and Islamic civilisation courses are compulsory for all university students. The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) introduced compulsory radical teaching of Islamic theology in all government schools in 1990. The teaching espouses a theology derived from the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, and rather than teaching inclusiveness and tolerance of other faiths, the curriculum promotes an exclusivist view of Islam.
A Hindu man told the author that he witnessed the slaughtering of a cow in his own secondary school in Kuala Lumpur; where cow entrails and blood was splashed all over the place and was made into a joke. He witnessed this only as a young child and it left a mark of fear and racism on his soul.
Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia’s (Isma) Deputy President justified cow killing in front of the innocent children with, “We want to slaughter cows, who cares? What is the percentage of the Indian community in Malaysia? Only 1% or 2%.” And he added, “Why should we bow to the pressure from them (Hindus)? It is as if we do not have our own identity. This is our country and it is an Islamic country.”
The author is wondering how 1-2% Muslims in America will feel to hear such justifications from American White Supremacist groups?
For the author, who is coming from America where massive efforts are being made to help minorities and poor students, it was startling to see exactly the opposite and discriminatory laws being implemented by the majority Muslims in Malaysia.
Government Jobs only for Muslims
Talking to Laxmi, a Hindu mother with 4 children at Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang, she accepted the fact that any kind of government jobs are not for her children in Malaysia. Most governmental and military well-paying jobs go only to Malay Muslims. Indians’ participation in the civil services declined from about 30-40 percent in 1957 to about 2 percent in 2007. About 90 percent of the armed forces personnel are from the majority Malay Muslims.
The author has written extensively on marriage laws in Malaysia and has guided some 150 youths in love from here. By law a non-Muslim cannot marry a Muslim and register their marriage in the country. The only way possible for the marriage to be legal is for the non-Muslim to convert to Islam and register the wedlock as a within-faith marriage. The children by law are Muslims from these mixed marriages. (read Indira Gandhi).
The national identification card, called MyKad, have “Islam” on it for Malay and Muslims. Once converted, the new Muslim or his/her future generations cannot convert out of Islam or marry any non-Muslim ever as long he/she stays under the flag of Malaysia (view Unfair Muslim Majority).
The author learned of a Malay woman getting pregnant with a Bengali Hindu guy. Because of the urgency of the situation, the Hindu family arranged for him to convert to Islam so that the Nikah could be conducted. Moving out of Malaysia to avert the conversion was not an option for that young couple. Had the man not married the woman immediately, the two of them would have undergone severe punishment in accordance with the Shariah based laws. In some provinces, under the khalwat (close proximity or zina) laws, the couple can be punishable by public caning.
Many Hindus told the author stories of their family members converting to Islam due to their love relationship with a local Muslim. Other than losing one’s religion, converting to Islam means the former Hindu and his/her offspring can reap many financial benefits from the government for being a Muslim and Bumiputra.
Laxmi, a religious Hindu mother at Penang, told the author she is not concerned with unfair Malaysian Marriage laws. She proudly told the author that her two daughters can marry whoever they want since all religions are the same. She carried this noble and progressive pluralist view. When the author questioned her whether she would be okay if her own daughter, after a marriage with a Muslim, could not be a part of any Hindu festivals, festivities, and rituals (including the final rites of her parents) in her own home because the laws of the country forbade her to do so? Immediately the mother realized her mistake and promised to educate her children appropriately.
Only Muslims can Proselytize
At Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang’s Buddhist temple, the author observed that there were 1000s of visitors but none Muslim; not even as a tourist. Once in a while you will see a hijabi at Baku Cave Hindu temple tourist area in Kuala Lumpur, but not close to the Hindu temple.
There is no restriction for a Muslim entering non-Muslim shrines but if he/she starts inquiring more about Hinduism or Buddhism, the local temple management would request the Muslim to learn more from other sources, not here.
Picture: The author was given a tour at the Federal Territory Mosque and and given much Islamic literature.
A Hindu temple manager explained to the author that they do not want trouble from the government with potential charges about proselytizing a Muslim, since that is against the law.
Also if a Muslim wants to convert to Hinduism it is not allowed by laws. For example, in August 2010, a Malaysian woman named Siti Hasnah Banggarma was denied the right to convert to Hinduism by a Malaysian court. Banggarma, who was born a Hindu, but was forcibly converted to Islam at age 7, desired to reconvert back to Hinduism and appealed to the courts to recognise her reconversion. The appeal was denied. (Also read Revathi Massosai’s religious conversion case.)
Compared to that, the author found all Mosques had a marketing area with lots of flyers about Islam. The author was given a personal and royal tour at The Federal Territory Mosque, Kuala Lumpur.
If anyone wishes to convert to Islam, the process is made very easy.
Pastor Raymond Koh Keng Joo, once charged with converting local Muslims, was abducted by the Royal Malaysia Police on 13 February, 2017. Since that time there is no information about his whereabouts. There are many other cases of enforced disappearance by the state due to religion.
Read detailed full summary of torture and other inhuman treatments in Malaysia in the US State Department report.
A total of RM1.5 billion (US $0.34 billion) will be allocated for the management and development of Islamic religious affairs under the 2023 budget in Malaysia from taxpayers’ revenue. There is no report available on the amount of funds, if any, allocated towards the Hindu mandirs or for education on Hinduism. A Sai Baba temple in Melaka was closed down due to unavailable funds to pay rent during the Covid period. (Read destruction of Hindu temples in Malaysia.)
The author was told about 30,000 Hindus convert to Islam ever year in Malaysia but there is no official confirmation on this figure. It is possible many of these cases are due to the marriage laws.
Hindus Live in a State of Fear
Malaysian-Hindu are fearful of speaking out against the atrocities perpetrated on them in their own country.
Hindus were too scared to talk in any public space about their situation there. They will be looking around fearfully while talking with the author. No one was willing to give a video, nor even an audio, interview. They were too scared to get repercussions from the government.
Even those Indians who are very wealthy and holding prestigious government awards, like Dato’s Seri (equivalent of Lords), will not want to make any statement that can be documented.
The author did not find any Hindu website where Hindus can register their grievances or any Hindu leader ready to speak out boldly for other Hindus in Malaysia. Recently some Hindu NGOs made these demands to improve the situations of Hindus (also read Hindu American Foundation).
Photo: Material prepared for non-Muslims by the Islamic Propagation Society International
Once in Melaka, two Indians were trying to cross the street when the car traffic came to a sudden halt. The aggressive local driver on the road started honking and racing his car towards the two pedestrians. They got scared and walked away. The author was also told an Indian could be beaten up by the locals on making a mistake.
If one is caught talking against Islam, the punishment is 3-5-6 (3 years of jail, 5000 fine and 6 strokes of the rotan). Only Islamic courts make decisions in such cases, the civil courts do not have the jurisdiction over such matters. If the government does not prosecute those who are perceived as speaking against Islam, the society takes law in their hands. The Islamic community is working as its own policemen.
An outspoken Chinese Malaysian leader told the author he has received many death threats.
It is a dangerous precedent when locals take laws into their own hands and start educating\threatening a certain deprived segment of the society. It reminds author of atrocities by the KKK supremacist group on African Americans in the 1950s.
It is very sad that many generations of these Indians never tasted the flavour of independence. First they lived in gulami under the British-Raj and now the Malay-Raj.
Current Situation of Hindus in Malaysia
(Source: IndiaFacts Report)
- Indians (6% of total population) make up 41% of the total beggars in Malaysia
- 70% of the two million Indians are very poor or poor
- Indians rank lowest in the national elementary-school examinations
- Indians share less than 1.6% of the country’s wealth, reflecting a hardcore poverty
- As per one estimation, some 300,000 Malaysian-born Indians are stateless in Malaysia
- Public sector tenders, contracts and business licenses are virtually beyond the reach of ordinary Indians. Even licenses for garbage collection and disposal are denied to the Indians on the grounds of their ethnicity
- 99 percent of eligible Indian students are denied a place in the 847,485 public universities. Indians are excluded completely from the 120,000 university (UITM) places which have a campus in every state
- Indians in the civil service today have been reduced to 1 percent from over 40 percent in 1960s
- More than 90 percent of the judiciary is filled with Malay-Muslim Judges.
Malaysia has institutional racism combined with Islamic bigotry.
Photo: The author observed Indians doing low-paying jobs as street sweepers
“Malaysia is fond of presenting itself as a beacon of multiculturalism, but intolerance and division are increasingly the hallmarks of this Southeast Asian nation of just over 29 million,” Time magazine article 2013.
A Hindu summarized their condition in Malaysia as far worse than African-Americans today in America.
Malaysia is an unfortunate example from recent history where the faith of the majority succeeded in changing the national constitution to undermine the minorities. Will this be repeated in other countries too? Instead of silently supporting it, the author wishes Malay moderates to speak out against such supremacist ideologies.
- To Malays: Hindus consider you a friendly and peace loving people. Do not let the foreign Islamists infuse poison into your country. Every Malay should feel responsible for the ongoing injustice on minorities and for not raising your voice enough.
- To Hindus: Remain peaceful but certainly be assertive in speaking out against injustices. Being submissive is an invitation to more trouble later.
- To Muslim leaders claiming genocide of Muslim minorities: Before complaining about injustices as a minority, always speak out against excesses on minorities where Muslims are the majority.