An ethnic Indian leader is urging India to impose a trade embargo against Malaysia, saying pressure from "our mother country" is the best hope for local Indians who complain of being marginalized in this Muslim-majority country.
P. Uthayakumar, a leader of a new movement championing the cause of Malaysia's ethnic Indian minority, said that they have exhausted all legal avenues to seek fair treatment and end "racism" by the Malay Muslim-dominated government.
"So we are left with no choice but to go international. Our first choice was our mother country," Uthayakumar said in an interview on Friday. "Where else do we go? What else do we do? We can't go to China. We can't go to Mongolia."
Uthayakumar, a human rights lawyer, is one of the founders of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) which jolted the country by organizing an unprecedented protest rally by ethnic Indians on Nov. 25. A government minister said 20,000 "thugs and ruffians" participated, and a court has charged 31 of them with attempted murder for injuring a policeman.
Hindraf says 100,000 people took part to highlight what it says is 50 years of marginalization and unfair treatment by the government.
Uthayakumar said: "Fifty years of oppression, suppression, racism and permanent colonization of Indians in Malaysia. I think the floodgates just broke."
Most ethnic Indians are descendants of indentured laborers who were brought to Malaysia by British colonialists in the 19th century to work in rubber plantations. They now comprise 8 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people, and are at the bottom rung of the society, working mostly as menial laborers.
Malays, who are 60 percent of the population, control the government, while ethnic Chinese, who are 25 percent, dominate business.
Indians say they are not given opportunities in business, jobs and education, citing an affirmative action program that gives extensive privileges to Malays. The Indians also complain that their Hindu temples are demolished regularly and that their grievances are ignored.
The government denies it discriminates against Indians, and has accused Hindraf leaders of trying to create ethnic trouble. It says Hindraf is being investigated for possible terrorist links, and has threatened to jail Uthayakumar and his colleagues under a law that allows indefinite detention without trial.
Uthayakumar's brother, P. Wayatha Moorthy, is currently in India, where he received a sympathetic ear from many politicians, especially in the Tamil-speaking state of Tamil Nadu where most Malaysian Indians trace their ancestry.
India's central government, which is deepening economic ties with Malaysia, has stayed out of the controversy, except to say it is concerned about problems faced by ethnic Indians all over the world.
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