The Malaysian government will set up a telephone complaint hotline for ethnic Indians following a massive rally by the minority group to demand equality and fair treatment in Muslim-majority Malaysia, an official said yesterday.
A leader of the rally, which exposed the fragility of the country's tenuous racial unity, dismissed the hotline plan as a "political ploy."
The hotline will be connected to the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), an ethnic Indian party in the ruling coalition, said a senior party official. He said Indians will be able to call and complain about any grievances they may have.
He said Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has also instructed MIC to set up a committee to study the Indians' grievances.
The moves are apparently to provide an outlet for the growing discontent among ethnic Indians, a largely impoverished community descended from 19th century indentured laborers from India.
Indians complain they are discriminated against in jobs, education and business because of an affirmative action policy favoring Muslim Malays, who form 60 percent of the population of 27 million. Many nongovernment groups agree that Indians, who make up 8 percent of the population, have been left behind in the country's economic progress.
The Indian anger has also been fueled in recent years over the destruction of several Hindu temples, which the government says were built illegally on state land.
Abdullah's Malay-dominated government denies Indians are discriminated against in Malaysia and says they are much better off than Indians in India.
However, the bitterness among the Indian community was tapped by a group called Hindu Rights Action Force, which organized a rare protest rally on Sunday in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Law Minister Nazri Aziz said 20,000 Indian "gangsters" attended the rally. Diplomats at the scene put the number of demonstrators at 40,000.
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