By Kalimullah Hassan
June 10, 2011 | The Malaysian Insider
JUNE 10 – Funny, isn’t it?
It’s not easy to be categorised as anak Malaysia in Malaysia. Fact is, it’s impossible to have your official documents state that you are a Malaysian.
I admire Hannah Yeoh and her husband Ramachandran Muniandy’s attempt to list their child as anak Malaysia. Perhaps they have started the national debate that may one day see the change in policy that many of us anak Malaysia have wanted all these years.
When my eldest child was born in 1984 in Muar, Johore, I faced that dilemma. My birth certificate says I am a Pathan as are both my parents. But my wife is Malay, although she comes from a mixed background, tracing her roots to Sri Lanka and China as well. She is Singhalese, Chinese and Malay.
And so there was this weird conversation I had with the clerk at the district office in Muar. He asked what a Pathan was. I said it was an ethnic group dominant in the North West frontier, in Afghanistan mainly, but also well spread over the sub-continent in Pakistan and India.
“Agama Islam ke, Encik?” he asked. Yes, I said, it’s so stated in my birth certificate.
Then he says my daughter’s race should follow the father, so, she was listed as Pakistani. Hang on a minute, I argued. A Pakistani is someone who is a national of Pakistan. My daughter is a citizen of Malaysia and should be Malaysian. Or, if he insisted on following the father’s ethnicity, she should be a Pathan.
But the clerk, who held the power of determining what ethnic group or nationality my daughter belonged to, insisted there was no category for Pathans in the official list. So, after a while, I gave up arguing. What’s in a name? A rose, by any other……
My wife was not happy. She insisted that the children should grow up with one identity and it was not going to be Pakistani, a country we had till then never been to and where we had no roots at all. But despite her arguments and tantrums at the district office when she was out of confinement, the only compromise she achieved was that instead of putting —— daughter of (d/o) Kalimullah, they removed the daughter of (d/o) and left just the name we gave her.
My second and youngest daughters were registered as Malays. That, I suppose, was because both my wife and I are Muslims. But my son, the third in the family, who was also born in Muar and was probably registered by the same clerk in the district office, was listed as Indian.
When the children started going to school, we had to explain to them why all these happened; why, although they were of the same mother and father, they were categorised as Pakistani, Malays and Indian. But it had not ended.
A few years ago, I was cautioned by the Road Transport Department (RTD) that if I did not change my identity card from the old plastic version to the new MyKad, they would not renew my road tax for my car the following year. So, I proceeded to the National Registration Department (NRD) in Damansara and asked for a change.
The clerk looked at my birth certificate and asked what a Pathan was. I smiled and explained and then – this guy was a bit meeker and not assertive — he asked what race he should put me down in my IC. “Bangsa saya Malaysia,” I said.
He asked whether he could put me down as “India”.
Now, having been through this all my life, I decided to have a little fun with him. “No, you can’t,” I said. “I am Malaysian. I am not from India. I was born in Malaysia. I am a Malaysian citizen.”
I asked him a theoretical question. What if you were born in England? And what if they put down your bangsa as “British” or “English” in your IC? Would you accept?
“Of course not,” he replied. “Saya Melayu; saya rakyat Malaysia.”
Therefore, I said, I should be Malaysian in my IC, or if that was not possible, I was certainly a Pathan.
The problem was, he said, there is no category for Pathan in the NRD. I had to be either a Malay, Chinese, Indian or dan lain-lain (others). The clerk was perplexed and confused and I felt sorry for him. I had had enough fun but it was the policy makers who had to decide, not the employees who were only following instructions. Therefore, I told him that perhaps he should talk to his boss and decide.
The next week, when I came to collect the MyKad, I was happy to sign off and go away until he asked me whether I wanted a print out of the information on the imbedded chip. He gave me a copy and my bangsa was listed as “India.”
So there you are Hannah. My wife is Singhalese, Chinese, Malay and perhaps along the centuries of history, an Arab, Indian, Anglo-Saxon as well; I am Pathan and maybe something else. Our flesh and blood — our children — are Pakistani, Malays and Indian. And, according to Government records, I am now an Indian.
By the way, my brother is married to a Chinese, another to a South Indian Muslim, three of them to Malays (including a Bugis), and one to a Hindustani (probably a Pathan), and I have relatives who are Kadazan, Dusun and Iban; I have cousins who are married to Canadians, British and Americans. I guess they have the same issues as I do. Most of our relatives are Muslims but we also have Christians and Buddhists among them, and if we were to look carefully, probably a couple of animists and Hindus as well.
I don’t really care now what the records say though it often rankles my family and I. They can record what they want — we are Malaysians, first and last.