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 Jaya, Thursday): 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, (http://www.focusasia.startv.com/indepth.cfm?CLIP_DATE=20030928&CLIP_NO=2), 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:
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