Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Towards Creating Better Battlefields

A letter from an overseas based Malaysian which I'm putting in relation to the fairness quoted by the Malaysian Prime Minister:-
I have been worked up, for a very long time, over the many things wrong in Malaysia. When I was a boy growing up in Klang, I lived on a street with about half Chinese homes and half Indian ones. In school, however, my classroom was probably reflective of the racial distribution of the country, which was approximately 60% Malays, 30% Chinese and just under 10% Indians with the odd boy out who was English. I also remember an American who was of Italian descent.

For a long time, the idea of racial differences was non-existent as I played the games boys played then, with boys of all races. In the classroom, there would be the usual competition to top the class and such competition came from all races. I have my usual suspects who were my competitors for ‘First Boy’ and these came from all races.

Sure, the Malay guy gunning for first spot would leverage against his superiority in the Malay language and the Chinese boy would have to pull his strength from the other subjects, usually mathematics. The Indian boy usually does well in English but everyone had a fair shot to top the class.

Racial differences simply did not register then, at least not in any significant or bigoted way.

Then, very slowly, we were made to feel and experience the differences. The Malay boy could get into a select school (usually in the capital) a lot more easily than the rest of us, even though we all did equally well. There were schools only Malays could get into. There were also scholarships only Malays could apply for. Yet, there was no ill feeling. The only sentiment was one of slight unease but I was happy to just move along and do my thing.

When I was in university in Sydney however, I started to slog really hard for my keeps. I had to work several jobs at any one time, to make sure I could pay the rent and not go hungry, as well as contribute as much as I could towards my university fees. By the time I finished my degrees five years later, I had made my family poorer by about RM20,000. I had from my earnings, saved almost that same amount, which I used for my airfare back to Malaysia and to start my new life back there. Soon however, I realised I had to battle again.

Getting a job, buying a home, investing, applying for anything from local, state or federal government, all these major areas of day-to-day life showed up the preferential treatments that the bumiputeras received. It was still okay, because I had my job, earned my promotions, made my investments, and established my network of friends and professional relationships. I generally lived life and enjoyed it.

I could not, however, eliminate the effect of being a victim of discrimination. It built up over time. Initially it was just a sense of annoyance and occasional snide remark by me or someone else against it. As it became more and more in your face, the effect escalated.

Many things change when you have a child. As a parent you start to think ahead a lot more. You start to think not just about the battles you have to wage, but also how to equip your child for the battles she has to wage as she grows up and goes through life.

As a parent, I no longer just get annoyed or even angry at injustices and inequitable policies. I start to think about how these injustices and inequitable policies would handicap my child’s battles. Life can be hard enough without these issues. If the energy spent on dealing with these matters could be channeled elsewhere, how much more productive, beneficial and therefore edifying our efforts and work would be.

How then do I minimise the incidence of having my child battle these fronts, and how do I create better battlefields for her? By exercising my voting rights? I voted in two elections. Both saw the BN win huge victories. In one of them, I worked for an opposition party. Starting from Lim Guan Eng’s arrest in 1996, I started being active in engaging in social and political causes.

All along, I worked in the corporate financial sector. I saw how government officials used racial discriminatory policies to enrich themselves and their friends and relatives. I saw how political and business leaders ‘worked together’.

I knew then where my child’s battlefield lies. It wasn’t in the country I grew up in. Not when the racist policies would continue. Not when the religious bigotry has started to take on very dangerous proportions. We left Malaysia three years ago.

It was a difficult rebuilding process. Our wealth here is only worth one third of what it was in Malaysia. Factor that into the higher standards of living here and we are no where near where we were in Malaysia. Professionally, my wife and I had to start again as well. From head of departments hiring and firing, we are now minnows seeking to be hired and avoid being fired.

We worked and struggled all over again to re-establish our lives. We have had to move house twice in three years in search of equilibrium in terms of commuting, schools and neighbourhoods.

After so many years of anger however, I now think perhaps Malaysia needs prayers more than angry dissent. The present leadership has not demonstrated a willingness to listen, be reasonable and work things out. They have chosen to be belligerent and defensive, even lie. Against this, the ordinary Malaysian’s approach cannot be more speeches and articles and calls for public meetings. These would only fall on deaf ears.

You cannot reason with people with such a stance. The ordinary Malaysian would think the cost of a confrontational approach too costly and dangerous and would therefore let things fester a lot longer before acting. I have decided therefore to pray a lot harder for Malaysia. I hope some of you will join me.

Related reading: I Bade My Son Farewell Today
Tags: Fairness, Malaysia, Politics, Racial Differences

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