Sunday, May 13, 2007

Of JJ (not the DJ of and Zam (not Alakazam)

Aiyah, RPK, same old story lah. Takde cerita baru ke? You sound like an old, stuck record. Nothing new. No surprise lah. This is Malaysia, what do you expect? More of the same thing. Boring lah. You think what you write here will change anything?

Of late, those appear to be the typical responses from Malaysia Today’s readers. Malaysians are already immune to stories of corruption, abuse of power, power struggles, political intrigue, etc. Malaysians are no longer shocked, surprised or interested in stories about the transgressions of those who walk through the corridors of power. That’s fine with me of course. That makes my life easier, not to mention less dangerous. Today, though it is 13 May 2007 and the anniversary of that most infamous black mark in Malaysia’s history, we shall not talk about matters that are important. Instead, we shall focus on stories about the impending marriage of the Regent of Perak and what colour bridal gown the bride would be wearing. We shall discuss what the Perak consort-to-be’s favourite food is and whether she likes cats. We shall delve into Siti Nurhaliza’s favourite magazine and what she does in her free time. Hopefully, Malaysia Today’s readers will again find our stories interesting.

Anyway, in the meantime, while our reporters and investigators scour the country searching for stories concerning the lifestyles of the rich and famous who have absolutely no political inclinations whatsoever, let us look at one issue that seems to have attracted the attention of all and sundry. This story is about how a Malaysian minister was alleged to have insulted a Malaysian of Indian ethnicity during a recent meet-the-students session in the United States.

There is presently a storm brewing in a teacup. It seems the Malaysian minister in question insulted an Indian student during a meet-the-students session in the United States. Of course, the minister in question was actually attempting a feeble joke. However, the joke backfired when the student concerned took offence to it. This shows that Malaysian ministers are a joke but ministers should never attempt to tell a joke. What the student took offence to was the fact that the minister asked her whether she personally knew the MIC President, who is also Malaysia’s Minister of Works. Not many Indians personally know this Indian leader who is regarded as almost a God by his supporters, though of course they have all heard of him. In fact, many Indians do not even like him and would violently resent it if you try to associate them with this MIC President. They treat it as a great insult.

I mean, this does not only apply to Samy Vellu. Many Malays too feel the same way about Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Then, there are other Malays who feel the same about Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi or even Anwar Ibrahim. If you were to suggest to these Malays that Mahathir, Abdullah or Anwar is their leader, they would most likely punch you in the nose. They would feel grossly insulted and they would demonstrate their antagonism by resorting to physical retaliation. That was exactly how this Indian student felt when the minister asked her whether she personally knew the MIC leader. She regarded it as an insult of the highest degree.

This minister we are talking about, Jamaluddin Jarjis, should know by now that one must never insult Indians, in particular Malaysian Indians. Well, at least Malays should not insult Indians. It is alright if Indians insult Indians. But Malays should never insult Indians. And it is also okay for Malays, Chinese and Indians to insult Malays. Insulting Malays is not a crime. I mean, just read the comments in Malaysia Today’s Blogs to see how everybody; Malays, Chinese as well as Indians; insult not only Malays but Islam as well. And while this alleged insult of the Malaysian Indian student in the US is splashed all over the newspapers and websites plus raised in Parliament, do you see even a minute squeak from anyone when Malays and Islam are insulted? Of course not! This is a democracy? Malaysia practices freedom of expression. So it is okay to insult Malays and Islam. But heaven forbid that you insult Indians even if you were just joking and did not mean it.

In this particular incident, Jamaluddin Jarjis was meeting about 40 Malaysian students and he discovered that most of them were in the US without the benefit of government financial aid. Amongst the 40 were two Indian students. Jamaluddin Jarjis then said he would speak to MARA to discuss how the government could assist the Malay students financially. As for the two Indian students, he would have to speak to the MIC President. He then asked them whether they personally knew the MIC President, something many Indians would take offence to -- and I shall explain why later. Nevertheless, explained Jamaluddin Jarjis, the government would only be able to extend financial help to the Indian students if they are not from the privileged or ‘higher’ class. If they are from the elite group, then the government would not be prepared to extend any financial assistance because they would be regarded as absolutely capable of surviving without government aid. Well, that makes sense. Not all Indians such as Ananda Krishnan are estate workers -- if you know what I mean.

Maybe Jamaluddin Jarjis should be more careful in his choice of words. After all, he is a minister so he should know better. Words such as ‘privileged’ and ‘elite’ are okay to use on Malays. For example, since I am a member of the Selangor Royal Family and cousin to His Highness the Sultan of Selangor, I would be regarded as being from the elite or privileged class. This does not mean I am rich though. I know of many ‘pariah’ Malays -- like the now infamous satay-seller State Assemblyman from Port Kelang, or Mohd Said close-one-eye and loud-mouth Bung Mokhtar who talked about women Members of Parliament ‘leaking’ once a month -- who are filthy rich. And they got rich the filthy way as well -- that is why it is apt to say ‘filthy rich’. I, on the other hand, have many relatives living in that same Port Kelang locality, in particular at Kampong Raja Uda near the Fire Station, who are as poor as a church mouse.

Status and wealth are therefore two different things. You can be from the elite or privileged class and still require government assistance while you can be a country bumpkin with absolutely no class whatsoever yet be a millionaire. Take Siti Nurhaliza’s husband, Datuk K, as an example, or even Siti Nurhaliza herself. They are as cultured as the Beverley Hillbillies. But they are certainly very wealthy. So, can you now see that class and wealth do not necessarily come together?

Now, the Chinese who originally came to Malaysia were all from the poor working class so this problem does not apply to them; thank God. All Chinese are from one class; hard workers who toil with their hands to become rich -- okay, plus by using their heads as well, with some bribing of Malay politicians thrown in. The only elite Chinese were those from the court of the Emperor of China who followed Hang Li Poh to Malacca (now called Melaka) when she married the Melaka Sultan. I am not sure what happened to them after that; whether they all later went back to China or became Malays like the Indians who today form the backbone of Umno. Some, like Hang Toh Ah, Hang Jer Bhat, Hang Ler Kiu, Hang Ler Kay and Hang Kah Stoore (must be from Yunan), probably all became ‘Malays’ in time, though they never adopted names like Ahmad, Abdullah or Muhammad. As far as I can see, there are no longer any Chinese from the elite or privileged class so they would not be too offended if you were to say that all Chinese are from the ‘lower’ or working class.

With Malays, however, one must be more careful. First, we have the ‘lower’ class Malays such as the Felda settlers, farmers, fishermen, etc. Of course, some have migrated to the upper class and to refer to Datuk K and Siti Nurhaliza as ‘low class’ just because they originated from Felda settlements (and still go back there to have their wedding ceremony) would trigger another race riot on the streets of Malaysia; which this time would not be confined to just Kuala Lumpur. Then we have the higher class Malays who have a string of titles before their birth names -- for example, Yang Berbahagia Tan Sri, Datuk Paduka, Datuk Seri, Datuk, Haji so-and-so. You can recognise them easily by the two identity cards that they carry -- their names are too long to fit into one identity card.

With Indians too one must be very careful. By all means use terms such as ‘poor Indians’ and ‘rich Indians’. But never use terms such as ‘elite’, ‘privileged’, ‘high class’, etc., as this may give a whole different meaning to what you are trying to say.

Let me try explaining it with an example.

About ten years or so ago, our neighbourhood was suffering a serious problem of house break-ins. At first we organised an unofficial rukun tetangga. But with only slightly over 100 houses occupied, and four people on duty a night, this meant that the rotation was about two weeks once. This made it worse when many residents were reluctant or unable to walk the neighbourhood the whole night long, thereby missing work the next day. We decided therefore to employ four guards to do that job for us and every house was made to pay RM60 per month towards the cost of the guards’ salary.

Our neighbourhood was about 90% Chinese and 10% Malays and Indians (still is in fact). Most of the Chinese paid the monthly RM60 contribution but collecting from the Malays and Indians was quite a problem. Some of the Malays said that it is the Chinese houses that are being broken into. The Malays are too poor to rob so their houses do not face problems of break-ins. It is true of course. The robbers target the Chinese houses because their houses demonstrate the wealth of the owners. In fact, one Malay house is not even locked up and one night while patrolling the neighbourhood I found the front door wide open. It seems they never bother to lock the door. The Chinese houses, however, have triple locks, burglar alarms and dogs that bark when you are still five doors away. Yet they got broken into in spite of this tight security.

We formed a residents’ committee and the committee decided to issue car stickers so that the guards would know who are those ‘authorised’ to come into our neighbourhood, especially after midnight. Cars without stickers would be stopped but allowed in if they are residents of this neighbourhood. This became more necessary when one day in broad daylight a car drove in without being stopped and four Chinese beat up a neighbour who was washing his car (don’t know why until today).

One night, a car without a car sticker zoomed in without stopping and one of the Indian guards shouted at the driver to stop. The car stopped, reversed, and the diver, who happened to be one of our neighbours by the name of Kumar, verbally abused the guard. The guard was so upset he came to my house to lodge a report. I had instructed him to inform me immediately, whatever the time may be, of any incident in our neighbourhood. It was about 1.00am but I thought this matter should be resolved immediately. So I walked over to Kumar’s house accompanied by the Indian guard. On seeing us, Kumar, his brother and son grabbed pipes and chains and beat up the guard. The guard was bleeding profusely from a gash on his head and we had to rush him to the doctor where they sewed him up with more than a dozen stitches.

The guard subsequently made a police report and the next day the police summoned me to the Petaling Jaya Police Station for my statement to be recorded. I was informed that no charges would be initiated against Kumar. According to the police, Kumar had told them that the guard was from the Pariah class so he had no business addressing someone of a higher class. And he not only addressed but shouted at Kumar to stop. A Pariah, according to what Kumar told the police, is worse than a dog. They are untouchables and can only find work in the estates or graveyards. The police added that Kumar told them they can touch dogs but they can’t touch a Pariah.

And with this explanation no case was made against Kumar and the guard had to suffer not only humiliation but a cracked skull on top of that. The guard is still working for us until today and is one of our longest serving guards. You will probably see him if you come to visit me at home. Kumar, however, has since died and that is all I am going to say about that issue out of respect for the dead.

Another neighbour of ours, an Indian as well, could not understand why Kumar would tell the police such a thing. Kumar is not a high class Indian, this neighbour told me. He is of my same caste and we are not high caste Indians, argued this neighbour. So, it seems there is another class or group, not high and not low, so it must be somewhere in between.

I related this incident to the late Mr. M.G.G. Pillai and he was very upset. Pariahs are not low class, Mr. Pillai argued. In fact, Pariahs would refuse to marry outside their caste because they would not want to be ‘contaminated’ through a mixed marriage. Pariahs’, explained Mr. Pillai, are proud of their caste. I suppose I too, who am not ‘pure’ Malay but a ‘low class’ mixed-breed Bugis, would appreciate Mr Pillai’s sentiments.

I was once debating politics at the Selangor Club Long Bar with some Indian lawyers and, after hearing them grumble and bitch at length, I asked them why they do not join MIC and fight from within. Why complain and complain about the state of affairs but do nothing about the situation? They replied that they would never be accepted into MIC. And, even if they were, they would not want to join MIC. MIC is for the lower caste Indians, they explained. We higher caste Indians would never get anywhere in MIC. You have to be from the Pariah caste if not it would be a total waste of time. They will make sure you don’t go up unless you are also from the lower caste. In fact, they will make you feel most unwelcome and will try to push you out. That is why higher caste Indians cannot make it in Malaysian politics, especially in MIC, they reiterated.

Now, what is the point of this story of mine? Simple! I find this all very confusing. The Indians seem to put a lot of importance on which caste you are from. Imagine Kumar justifying to the police that the Indian guard had no right to come to his house and because he did then Kumar had every right to break his head with pipes and chains. And, since this was an Indian cultural thing, the police agreed that this matter is between Indians and the police should stay out of it.

The lawyers at the Selangor Club Long Bar reinforced this with their story about the MIC; that it is only for Pariahs and that ‘higher class’ Indians would never go near the party. If this is how Indians treat each other, how do you expect Malays to treat Indians? The Malays are already very feudalistic as it is. The Malays already believe in the class system and ‘lower class’ Malays would pay RM250,000 just to get a datukship so that they can migrate to a higher class. (Titled ‘commoner’ Malays receive more respect and are addressed in the proper manner compared to royalty like me who are actually despised because we were born a Raja or Tengku).

If at all Malays are confused as to how to treat or address Indians, and sometimes booboo by making off-colour jokes about high class/low class Indians, this is because the Indians themselves ‘teach’ the Malays that there is such a thing. In fact, Malays do not really know how to differentiate between the different castes or class of Indians. An Indian is an Indian as far as Malays are concerned. But Malays are constantly reminded by Indians themselves that the MIC Indians are lower class Indians while those who are of the higher caste do not join MIC.

I can imagine Jamaluddin Jarjis suggesting to the Indian students in the US that he would speak to MARA about helping the Malay students and to the MIC about the two Indian students. But, as the Indian lawyers at the Selangor Club Long Bar told me, if you are not a Pariah Indian then forget about the MIC. The MIC is not the place for the higher caste Indians. Therefore, if the two Indian students that Jamaluddin Jarjis spoke to are from the higher caste, would the MIC President want to do anything for them? This was Jamaluddin Jarjis’ big booboo. He insinuated that they have to be from the lower caste to get help from the MIC. Hey, I too would be offended if Jamaluddin Jarjis told my children that they must be ‘lower class’ Malays to get MARA help even if he did not mean that as an insult. (By the way, MARA is not helping my three kids in College, two who are in the UK, because I am a ‘higher class’ Malay).

Yes, that is the reality of the situation. But Jamaluddin Jarjis is a minister and ministers have to comply with higher standards. As a minister, Jamaluddin Jarjis should steer clear of such controversies as the Indian caste system. Suffice that he volunteered to assist the two Indian students by speaking to the MIC President. If they are too ‘high class’ for MIC’s purposes and the President would not lift a finger to help them, then let that be a matter between Indians and not something that Malays should get involved in. It is alright if the Indians call each other Pariahs and break the head of a guard who comes to the house of a higher caste Indian. But Malays should stay out of it. Hell, even the police don’t get involved as the Kumar case has proven. Anyway, Jamaluddin Jarjis has since apologised for his error in front of 500 Malaysians in a gathering attended by the Deputy Prime Minister so maybe the matter should now be considered resolved.

While on this subject, I too can be regarded as a ‘Pariah’ Malay. I am what they call ‘Melayu celup’ or mixed breed. Officially, we are what the government calls Pan-Asians and our faces are banned from advertisements. But I don’t mind. I am not as sensitive about it as the Indians are. Even though my face is banned from billboards and advertisements I don’t care. I know I am going to get my revenge on the government soon enough.

The Regent of Perak is soon going to marry a Pan-Asian. Soon, her face is going to be donning the walls of the government departments all over Perak. In the event the Sultan of Perak dies and the Regent goes on to become the new Sultan, and eventually the Agong or King as well, the Regent’s consort’s face will be all over Malaysia.

Yes, the revenge of the Pan-Asians. The Malay Pariahs strike back. Poetic justice I must say. Is the government still going to ban Pan-Asian faces after this?

-RPK's No Holds Barred


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Anonymous said...

"Pariah Malays strike back"

wahahhahaha..was laughing till my stomach hurt when i read the article last week on MT

RPK is right, despite leaving India for 3 or 4 generations already, caste mentality runs thick in the veins of Malaysian Indians...

Social stratas or caste or similar systems exists in all societies...a rich man will think twice before allowing the daughter to marry a fisherman's son...Prince Charles marrying Camilla Parker, a commoner, didnt go down well with many ppl
But the extent to which some Malaysian Indians are clinging to this tribal sysmtem is just embarassing
The Indians were a great civilization that practiced caste system for many reasons, social order for a organized and efficent society, to protect family honour, protect the sanctity of religion and places of workship, train soldiers to protect the nation, etc.

But are the Indian in Malaysia today in the same situation?

Being labelled as the new underclass in the society, what honour is that to protect? At a time when they are completely powerless againts their places of workships being torn down, it is really that important protecting so-called honour or dignity? What honour is there to protect in the first place when you are an underclass? At time when the authorities could detain you and tear your families apart without trial on grounds that you a member of a certain religion, what honour is there??

Ok, i'm getting carried away, what i wanted to say is that the Indians deserve to be insulted for being so stuborn in clinging on to traditional caste sysmtems when it no longer serves any practical sense...on the other hand, it only weakens whatever little and feeble strengths that they have left as a society

That being said however, as a leader of a multiracial country, what MInister JJ said was totally unacceptable and offensive, and he did the right thing in making an apology soon after

Johnny Ong said...

how wld he feel if those remarks were made by someone else on him instead? maybe he wont feel anything at all cuz he doesnt hav a heart for people

Anonymous said...

please..Ananda krishnan is a srilankan tamil not an indian