Another Local Demonstration Gone Global

By Farish A. Noor

Let there be no mistake about it: We live in a globalised world. But then again, what’s new about that? Only someone totally ignorant of the history of greater Asia would be surprised to learn that our neatly-compartmentalised nation-states are, after all, bound together by a common shared history that overlaps across so many levels and interfaces. Long before the European ships arrived on our shores, Asians have been travelling all across the great land mass, making tracks from the furthest end of China, across Southeast Asia and the land of the mighty Indus, all the way to the scorching deserts of Arabia and the Gulf and down the West coast of Africa. What colonialism did, however, was to interrupt this movement of peoples, cultures and ideas in two distinct ways: Firstly by dividing the nations of Asia into distinct nation-states with fixed (and artificial) borders; and secondly by attempting to control the movement of people by commodifying human beings into human capital instead.

The net result has been the creation of the world map as we know it today, with intrusive lines rudely and crudely drawn between areas that once overlapped and communities that were once closer united to each other. The Indian Ocean, for instance, was once the corridor between South and Southeast Asia, and that is why so much of Southeast Asia (till today) bears the cultural imprint of India. It was from India that the religions, philosophies, aesthetics and norms of society and governance of Southeast
Asia were derived; and it was no mere coincidence that the Malay archipelago was once referred to as ‘Greater India’, testimony to how close the two regions were — both geographically and culturally.

Sadly today the division of Asia into neat compartments has managed to sever these long-established bonds, leaving the residents of both regions confused as to why they seem so similar yet different. Many a conservative nationalist in Southeast Asia is still loathe to admit that his or her culture shares so much in common with that of India’s, while many South Asians fail to realise that much of what they regard as familiar there is also present in Southeast Asia next door.

But perhaps the biggest tragedy of all is the fate of the millions of South Asians who have settled in Southeast Asia over the centuries, who were later categorised as colonial subjects and then systematically instrumentalised and exploited by the logic of colonial development and its divisive mode of racialised capitalism. Following the retreat of the colonial powers in the wake of the Second World War, millions of people of South Asian origin were left behind in countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore. Having been classified as migrants by the Western colonial powers and denied a place by the newly emerging nationalist forces of Southeast Asia, the Indians of Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries stood in that liminal space where they were neither local residents nor alien migrants, with their identity and citizenship put on a probationary basis.

The Indians of Malaysia — who are, by the way, Malaysian citizens — stand out as one community that has been triply blighted by the injustices of history, the accidents of geography and the failure of Malaysia’s divisive racialised politics for decades. This week a huge demonstration took place in the heart of Kuala Lumpur that was organised by the Malaysian Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) that aimed to highlight the inequalities that they have suffered under for so long. The HINDRAF demonstration that was 10,000 strong was met with the now-familiar response of tear gas and baton charges by the police, and the group’s leaders were accused of all things under the sun ranging from sedition to deliberately inflaming racial tension in the country. But while the Malaysian government predictably tries to dismiss this massive public outburst of anger and frustration, it remains a fact that Malaysians of South Asian origin still rank among the poorest in the country, are less represented in the local universities, and have largely been left to fend for themselves. Furthermore to add insult to injury over the past two years scores of Hindu temples have been demolished under the eyes of the same government that claimed to be sensitive to the voice of the Malaysian people. Needless to say, all of this has contributed only to worsening racial ties in Malaysia and has brought to the world’s attention the plight of one significant minority in multicultural Malaysia today.

Which brings us back to where it started, and the globalised world we live in today. Globalisation has merely developed upon the same communications and information technologies of the past, and accelerated the process of information gathering and dissemination as never before. While the Malaysian police were spraying the demonstrators with tear gas and water-cannons at lunchtime, by the afternoon of the same fateful Sunday images of the soaked and beaten demonstrators were already appearing on the internet via and other such sites. The reaction from Hindus worldwide has been quick, and now there is much speculation about how — or rather when — the Hindu lobby in India, Europe and the United States will react. As was the case of the concerted global reaction of the Chinese diaspora community to the anti-Chinese pogroms in Indonesia of 1998, the recent crackdown on Hindus of Indian origin in Malaysia may well lead to a wider-than-expected reaction from Hindus all over the world.

Globalisation has therefore proved to be a boon for minorities worldwide, who no longer feel that they are isolated and vulnerable before the onslaught of the majority around them. Thanks to the internet and improved media communication services today, even the plight of the smallest minority group anywhere may soon become a matter of international concern and debate. The Malaysian government, typically, has reacted to these developments with its own Jurassic brand of institutional inertia and denial syndrome, decrying any attempt to highlight the situation of the minorities in the country as yet another episode in the ongoing devilish plot to tarnish the country’s image by the ever-present ‘neo-colonial’ forces of the West. But it has to be remembered that those Malaysian Hindus were not being bashed and gassed by the police of a Western country, but rather by the Malaysian police themselves. And the Malaysian Hindu temples have likewise been levelled to the ground not by some multinational corporate hegemon but rather by the corporations and corporate interests of Malaysia, mostly homegrown. No, the plight of Malaysia’s Hindu minority is a singular Malaysian problem and the responsibility for it falls on the Malaysian government itself. In the meantime, while the government wrestles with yet another instance of people’s power taking to the streets, another local demonstration has gone global.

  1. #1 by Libra2 on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 8:08 am

    Farish in one Malay who is “a full fledged Malaysian” in every sense of the word. If only the government listens to you.
    Is the government keep on dismissing and denying the plight of this dispossessed and disenfranchised Indians?
    And worse, the government is now projecting this very people as trouble makers and a nuisance.
    The Indians wrath, instead of being smothered, has been escalated and allowed to smoulder.
    If only the government had allowed them to assemble peacefully and deliver the note to the British Embassy, the incident would not have been repeated on Al Jazeera every hour of the day.

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 8:14 am

    No doubt the internet has changed things but have they done enough? This is not a big enough issue for the rest of the world to bother. Did the world bother that much about Korean women victimized by Japanese soldiers? Have the world acted enough against Burma? No.

    Without widespread broadband locally, the internet is not going to play that big a role in this issue.

    Abdullah is a weak leader, his reaction to this at best is not to further pander to the reliable conservative base of UMNO led by his SIL. I would not bet on him being that weak. If you ask me, the smart thing to do would have been to pander even more to the conservative base for the next election.

    The best the opposition can hope for is his hesistancy and PAS should pick up on it and that is the best that can be hoped for.

  3. #3 by k1980 on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 8:18 am

    Photos from the carnage of Nov 25 available at:

  4. #4 by Jefus on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 8:23 am

    This is Pak Lah’s reply:

    A section of the population is looking for a place to address their grouses, the door to seek redress is closed – that is the signal given out.

    A sad day.

  5. #5 by oknyua on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 9:13 am

    Farish A Noor,

    I am waiting for the honourable Information Minister to put your comment into the government’s RTM official website. So far, even his threat to place YB Lim’s “racist” comments there hasn’t materialised. I hope he hasn’t forgotten.

  6. #6 by k1980 on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 9:26 am

    “Dear, I have sent my personal jet to take them to London to petition the Queen”

  7. #7 by dawsheng on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 9:47 am

    “The reaction from Hindus worldwide has been quick, and now there is much speculation about how – or rather when – the Hindu lobby in India, Europe and the United States will react.”

    Wait a minute! Yesterday I just heard Malaysia and India will begin talks on FTA between the two countries early next year. Some kind of reaction this is!

  8. #8 by DarkHorse on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 9:57 am

    If India were to interfere in the domestic affairs of Malaysia and champion the cause of Malaysian Indians ( a role meant for the MIC) would that not be against the interest of Malaysian Indians? Their loyalty would then be made to appear by UMNO leaders as suspect.

    I do not think Indian leaders are that stupid as to want to interfere in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state.

  9. #9 by budak on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 10:29 am

    MIC no better tahn selling their soul and body to UMNO…
    see how Semi Bulu behaves… no far from back street boy… :-)

  10. #10 by azk on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 10:50 am

    The Hindraf rally and how the police reacted was all over the globe when BBC carried them side by side Pakistan stories.

    Probably Pak Lah is too busy to watch TV or read internet.

    To him and his dinasours, the whole world watch RTM and surf RTM’s website only.

  11. #11 by Short-sleeve on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 10:55 am

    I am so proud that Malaysia made headlines again yesterday.

    I am so proud that our government showed the world our Malaysian hospitality.

    Welcome to Malaysia, the Police State.

  12. #12 by undergrad2 on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 10:57 am

    Burying your head in the sand like an ostrich does help after all!

  13. #13 by k1980 on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 1:16 pm

    Me oso wanna US$1 million!
    …for each Malaysian Indian of Hindu faith — US$1 million — was enticement enough to bring thousands of Indians who felt they had been marginalised to the heart of Kuala Lumpur yesterday. … Hindraf was victorious in luring people to turn out by promising them riches beyond their imagination — an impossible dream.

  14. #14 by oknyua on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 2:37 pm

    YB Lim,

    Before parliament rest, can you remind the Hon Information Minister to post your comment inside RTM official website? He could have forgotten.

    On the other hand, it could be a waste of time too. NOBODY is turning to that useless website.. except the few dozens paid to do the posting. For that matter, I read HINDRAF comments in KPMU too, but too bad it attracted only one (1) comment.

  15. #15 by max2811 on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 3:07 pm

    Mr. Lim.

    I hope you can sit and talk to Mr. Anwar about the selection of candidates between DAP and PKR. Please do not split the votes again. Even if it means tossing the coin to decide if you cannot come to an agreement.

    Priority and preference should be given to incumbents. Please choose only those that have a First Class Honours Degree or MBA. Don’t put people with IQs as low as those from MCA. Let them do the MENSA test.

    I feel it is alright to sit with PAS. I feel it is the lesser of the two Devils. In politics, an enemy of my enemy, is my friend. But then again, PAS is not an enemy. Just different ideology.

    Do something about the electoral rolls in Ipoh Timur, Ipoh Barat and Batu Gajah. Something fishy going on.

  16. #16 by patriotic1994 on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 6:55 pm

    What history? It is erased by BN Government. They erased the achievement by non-Malay (eg. demolish Bok-House, etc). They erase their sins upon rakyat (eg. billions of tax money wasted, demolish Hindu temples, blown up Mongalian, etc). They are going to do more harms to Malaysia by erasing more of our heritages, lessons of the past. If they can fix up the Judge, they can also fix up election commission. If anything get exposed, cover it up. Rewrite history until the story of Hang Tuah (Han Tu Ya) become a myth whether he was a chinese!

    What history? Malaysia gain Independence without a bloody fight! Malaysians constitute of 3 races and we lived in harmony – something the United State should learn from us how to handle races integration. Malaysia Truly Asia. That’s what BN Government told us.

    Is it human nature to lie oneself in order to feel good?

    The fact is, it is already too late for the BN Government to change. 50 years of ruling has corrupted them too much. There will not be an extremely hurtful event to overthrown BN Government and create a new Malaysia. Just hope it is not a bloody one.

  17. #17 by cancan on Monday, 26 November 2007 - 8:06 pm

    Mr.Farish,sir,a good article on globalisation.
    We are going glocal !

    The globalised world is moving at a very pace.
    How can the Malays catch up whey they are running on crutches ?
    When they can’t succeed,they will blamed the others.

    Mr.Farish,sir,please help open the eyes of the Malays.
    The Umnoputras with the NEP are destroying the Malays.

    The Malays,like any other race,can be successful if they are willing to accept failures as there are no short -cuts in life.


  18. #18 by ktteokt on Tuesday, 4 December 2007 - 8:15 am

    It has always been the wish of all our PM’s to make Malaysia world-famous and I am sure this time around they have succeeded in their objectives. Malaysia has now become globally famous for being such an “undemocratic” democratic country.

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