Book Review of “Malaysia Indiya Tamizharlin Avala Nilai – The Sorry Plight of Malaysian Indians” by V. Suryanarayan

by C. S. Kuppuswamy

(July 19, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) During my stay in Malaysia for over three years (1988-1991), I had the opportunity to interact with the Indian Community in Malaysia. With an intimate knowledge of the state of Indians in that country I read this book by Prof. V. Suryanarayan with great interest. There are quite a few books in English on the plight of the Malaysian Tamils written during the 70s and 80s, but there are hardly any in the Tamil language, when more than 80% of the Indian population in Malaysia is Tamils. This void has been made up to a certain extent by this well researched book by Dr. Suryanarayan.

The third largest ethnic group in Malaysia after the Chinese and the Malays are the Malaysian Indians. Despite the fact that the Indians constitute about 8% of the country’s population of 22 million (in 2003) they own less than 2% of its national wealth. According to The Economist (22nd Feb 2003), “they make up 14% of its juvenile delinquents, 20% of its wife and child beaters and 41% of its beggars. They make up less than 5% of the successful university applicants.” The story of the Indians has been a case of progressive deterioration from the time Malaysia became independent in 1957.

The Indians themselves are to some extent responsible for their present unenviable and ignominious status, and the policies of the Malaysian Government since independence had not been helpful either. The Malaysian Indian Congress, a constituent of the coalition government at the centre since independence does not have much political clout and has not been able to do anything substantial to improve the lot of the Indians. The party is also ridden with caste politics and its President Samy Vellu is running it like his fiefdom. The plight of the Malaysian Indians can be attributed in part to a dependency mindset nurtured on the plantations and this has to be overcome.

As of now the problems faced by the Malaysian Indians are not being attended to by the Malaysian Government nor does the community have the economic or political clout to demand their redress.

Now on the book -

The book has been divided into three parts – Part I --giving the historical background, Part II-- the current status and the difficulties faced by the Indians and Part III-- on what the Tamil Nadu and the Indian Government can do for these people.

Part I

The explanations given for the terms such as the “Overseas Indian”, “Diaspora” and “non-resident Indians” are very educative and the confusion caused by the free usage of all these terms is brought out.

The point that the universities (especially in Tamil Nadu) should initiate research on the Overseas Indians (Tamils) and allocate adequate funds for the study of diaspora as part of the curriculum is valid and worthy of consideration.

The fact that the developments in the political, social and cultural spheres (such as the self-respect movement of Periyar) had a direct impact on the Malaysian Indians have been amply explained in this part.

The hope that India will formulate a principled policy for its Overseas Indians after its independence has not been fulfilled even after sixty years, laments the author.

The difficulties experienced by the Malaysian Indians to become citizens of that country after Independence because of the conditions and qualifications laid down by the government have been brought out lucidly with facts and figures pertaining to the Indian stateless citizens at that time.

The political developments in the country and the affirmative policy favouring the Malays has been elaborated at length in this part. The impact of these developments on the Indian community perhaps need more elaboration.

Part II

The switching over from Rubber to Palm oil and Tin in 60s & 70s by the plantations in the country affected the Indians most by pushing them further down in their living standards. 40% of the heinous crimes in the country are attributed to Indians. This has been amply covered in this part.

The author laments on the fact that Indians did not integrate with the Malaysian Society and made no efforts to secure Malaysian citizenship at the early stages after Independence. This has been their biggest draw back. The Indian leaders (political, social and industrial) have failed miserably to educate the Indians in this regard. The result was that a sizeable population become stateless over a period of time. The fault therefore lies primarily with the Indian leaders themselves.

Suryanarayan has dealt at length on the insistence of the Indians to study in Tamil Schools and in the Tamil language at the elementary level. Most of them dropped out at the middle school as they could not switch over to English or Malay and compete with the others. Lack of proper education and educational opportunities has been the biggest bane of the Indians in Malaysia. The Malaysia Indian Congress has to be blamed totally for this sorry state of affairs.

Malaysia does not recognise a big number of educational institutions for higher studies in Tamil Nadu where Malaysian Indians do come and study. The Tamil Nadu and the Central Government has made no serious efforts with the Malaysian Government for recognition of these institutions.

The author has commended the efforts of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) for highlighting the woes of the Indian Community and hoping that they will grow in strength to achieve some concessions for the Indians from the government. Though the Hindraf created history by going to the streets in November 2007 and caused some anxious moments for the government, it is now plagued with internal factions and has been weakened considerably perhaps by the shrewd manipulation of Malay politicians.

Suryanarayan has also traced the history of the Malaysian Indian Congress in great detail. However he has not been emphatic in saying that this party has been a total failure for the last three decades in looking after the interests of Indian Community and its president Samy Vellu has been the biggest liability for the Indian Community.

Part III

In this part the author has made a comparative study of the Overseas Indians with the Overseas Chinese in South East Asia on their economic clout, their leanings towards the parent state and the circumstances under which their migration had taken place over the years. The differences in the policy of India and China towards their overseas citizens over the years have also been highlighted. The interest taken by the Tamil Nadu Government in the spread of Tamil and the welfare of Tamilians in overseas is not commensurate with the efforts taken to mitigate their problems. The Tamil Nadu Government has also not exerted enough pressure on the Central Government.


The author has rightly pointed out that primarily the differences between the communities in the Indians have to be sorted out. The Ministry for Overseas Indians at the Centre can do much more for the Malaysian Indians in consultation with the Tamil Nadu Government, which at present is only showing some lip sympathy for this cause.