Astro’s  last-minute pullout of “Indian Underclass?” news programme  on Sunday should be a final  wake-up call to all  Malaysians of the new time-bomb ticking  in the country  if Indian Malaysians continue as an  underclass in our society without an urgent national remedial blueprint

Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling JayaThursday): Fair-minded Malaysians have been outraged by Astro’s last-minute pull-out of the  Star News Focus Asia news programme  “Indian Underclass” last Sunday which portrayed Indian Malaysians as a minority group that lags behind other major races in the rush for economic parity in the country.

In the furore over   Astro’s  last-minute pullout of the  “Indian Underclass?” news programme,  and whether it should be telecast, one  important dimension risks being ignored -  that it should be a final wake-up call to all Malaysians of the new time-bomb ticking in the country if Indian Malaysians continue to be  an underclass in our society without an urgent national remedial blueprint. 

An Astro spokesman had told Malaysiakini that “viewer sensitivities” was the reason for the last-minute cancellation of the programme, and that the  last-minute pullout was not because of any government directive but the decision of the internal censors of Astro. 

This should cause  even greater alarm, for if the media, whether printed or electronic, are imposing self-censorship to prevent the people from knowing the truth to set in motion measures and solutions to redress and rectify injustices in our society, the rot in our country has become quite deep-rooted. 

As the  controversial clip of the news programme, “Indian Underclass”  is available  on the Focus Asia’s website,  (, Malaysians can access it to pass their judgement on  the Astro’s decision.

In the clip, Hong-Kong based journalist Jennifer Lee observed that the Indian community appears to have been left behind by their Malay and Chinese counterparts in getting a fair share of the country’s wealth and success.

She said: "Malaysia seems to have left behind its third - the Indians, a group that represents less than 10 percent of the country’s population yet makes up nearly 15 percent of its juvenile delinquents, more than 20 percent of its domestic violence cases and more than 40 percent of its beggars." 

Had Jennifer Lee distorted the situation in Malaysia.  What she said is  nothing new, and had been the  perennial subject of  local  concerns and discussions for a very long time.  It was the sole preoccupation of the conference of “The Malaysian Indian in the New Millennium”  in Kuala Lumpur in June last year, where some 500 Indian middle class and professionals congregated  for the first time over the plight of the Indians in Malaysia, reflected by the Indians  having the highest school dropout rate, the lowest life expectancy rate (67.3  years as compared to the national average of 71.2 years) and the highest number of prisoners in proportion to the population.

There were a lot of high hopes after the conference, and one newspaper columnist wrote an article entitled “The death of indifference?”, but surveying the total failure of the Conference in the past 15 months to make any impact to resolve the plight of the Malaysian Indians, it might have been more appropriate to give the article the title “The indifference of death”.

I can still remember that 11 years ago, during the Royal Address debate in Parliament in April 1992, I had made a special plea on the government to “hear the cry of despair and hopelessness of the Malaysian Indians” as a result of the increasing sense of alienation because  political marginalization,  socio-economic discrimination and educational/cultural neglect. 

In August 2000, TIME  magazine carried an article about the Malaysian Indians, describing them as a “disgruntled underclass” with many of them feeling like “third-class citizens” in the country and the “real losers” since the introduction of the New Economic Policy 30 years ago.

As the TIME article pointed out: Indians claim the highest rate of suicide of any community. Violent crime is becoming Indian turf.  In 1994, 128 of the 377 murders committed in Malaysia were by Indians.  The 1.8 million Indians, representing eight per cent of the 22 million Malaysian population, have the lowest share of the nation’s corporate wealth: 1.5%, compared to 19.4% for the Malays and 38.5% for the Chinese.

In the same year, an internal MIC document made the shocking admission about the marginalised position of the Malaysian Indians after more than two decades of  Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu as MIC President and said:

"Presently, Indians have neither the political nor economic leverage to  break out of their vicious circle of  poverty, and they also lack the  necessary human resources, which in turn feed each other. They also have no financial, commercial or industrialized structure, besides lacking the necessary managerial  and entrepreneurial skills. Further,  their ownership of the share capital of limited companies has not shown much improvement over the last two decades. In fact, if their problems  are not arrested and reversed in a  timely and proper manner, then, in  all likelihood, it is almost certain that  Malaysian Indians will emerge as an  underclass in Malaysia."

Today, the MIC internal document’s prediction has come to pass, as with  continued political marginalization, socio-economic discrimination, educational and cultural neglect,  Malaysian Indians have become  an underclass – the theme  of the Star News programme which Astro had pulled out in the last minute.

Astro has done the Malaysian Indians and the nation a great disservice as it is by broadcasting the programme and creating greater awareness among Malaysians, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation, that Malaysian Indians have become a new underclass and that there is a  timebomb ticking away that the national resolve could be summoned to defuse this grave problem to integrate the Malaysians Indians into  the mainstream of national development.

The controversy over the Astro cancellation of the “Indian Underclass?” programme  should serve as a final wake-up call to all  Malaysians of the new time-bomb ticking  in the country  if Indian Malaysians continue as an  underclass in our society without an urgent national remedial blueprint, and for the government and the civil society to bravely face up to the challenges of resolving this new national dilemma.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman