Equal Rights

I recently met a non-Malaysian, who asked me a question that I found, difficult to answer.  This person was familiar with Malaysian politics, governance, the race-based affirmative action (NEP) and the fact that Malaysia is made up of 3 major races.

He started off by asking whether I was born in Malaysia – YES, whether my parents were born in Malaysia – YES and finally whether my grandparents were born in Malaysia – as far as I know, YES.  He then asked, why do the Chinese and Indians put up with the unequal rights?  Why not, fight to enjoy equal rights, since we (non-bumiputra) are born in Malaysia and have contributed to its success. 

I’ll admit that it took me a few mins to think of a good enough answer and the question itself, surprised me.  I’ll get to my answer in a little while, but first, I’d like to share a little about how I felt, when hearing that question.  Being in a foreign country, I’ve become increasingly aware that Malaysia is not as isolated as I used to believe.  In fact, news of our politics and sometimes, even social scandals are published in other countries and when I happen to read such editorials, I’m surprised at the unbiased nature of reporting.  I absolutely love explaining the Malaysia-way to non-Malaysians and often, such explanations are more on how things don’t work and its repercussions.  Although these stories are usually very funny but most of them have underlying frustrations, which others detect. 

During the fervour of the 2008 General Elections, I found myself questioning the inequality among the 3 races.  I often debated with myself, trying to convince myself that this inequality is unacceptable for the following reasons:

  • I love this country and am willing to defend it against its enemies
  • I was born in this country and don’t know any other country
  • I contributed to this country through the payment of taxes and spending most of my money in Malaysia
  • I can speak better Bahasa than any chinese dialect
  • Malaysia is where I am most comfortable, because I know its character, all its dirt and charms

And yet, Ive been reminded that my forefathers were immigrants to Malaysia and because of that, I am not “entitled” to equal rights.  On the other hand, I think of the fact that YES, i don’t enjoy equal rights but to be fair, I am not at a disadvantage for not enjoying those special privileges.  The country does not exploit my skills or threaten my freedom to enjoy the fruits of my labour.   If I’m honest, I will admit that I don’t need to be cared for by the Government, everyone I know does not need help from the Government because we are self-sufficient and hard working. 

A friend and I talked about this once and she reminded me that yes, I may not need the right to enter local university (entrance into certain courses (specifically) and university (generally) is currently restricted by race-based quota) because I could afford to pay for my own education.  But what about those that are not as well-off and cannot afford to pay for education.  Without the privilege of entering a local university, such children could end up working in menial jobs…. they could be deprived an opportunity for greatness.  

I am against the affirmative-action plan, BECAUSE it is race-based.  Maybe at the time it was first conceptualised, the bumiputras were the most disadvantaged (i.e. poor) and thus, such a plan was necessary to balance the huge disparity in income, which also had repercussions on the social stability of the country.  I believe that the plan’s initial intentions were noble but somehow, over time it was distorted and exploited by politicians to sow racial distrust, to meet their own agenda.  As my generation become more aware and vocal, it is time to re-think the intention of the plan, remove the basis of entitlement from race, to one that is based on NEED.  I’m sure not many people would oppose such a plan and anyway, why would anyone oppose it?  It is for the good of the country and we should be helping the less fortunate, among us.

My answer to his question was something like this : Firstly, not having those special rights has not hurt me much, so the need to fight for the perceived inequality, is not strong.  Secondly when I think of reasons for starting a fight for equal rights, i can’t think of any that is good enough to justify possible racial conflicts, which can easily lead to a full blown “battle” that would harm the country, its economy and ultimately affects each of us.  Should we get emotional by the statement that “I’m treated as 3rd class citizens in my country” and get all heated up, just to make and prove a point?  Or will we be matured and look rationally at the situation and know that we are not worst-off for the lack of such “rights”.

I do hope for a day when all race-based Government policies are removed and every Malaysian will identify him/herself as a Malaysian, instead of a Malaysian-Chinese/Indian/Malay.  That will be the day, when we will truly be “colour”-blind and united.

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