Nov 22, 2006

Many Indians in Malaysia remain poor even as economy improves

Part III

(Channel News Asia) KUALA LUMPUR : Since the implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1970, the Malaysian government says it has managed to slash poverty from 40% to today's 5%.

But not everyone is better off.

Muniandi and his family - 10 children and 16 grandchildren - all live under one roof outside Kuala Lumpur, in a oil palm estate that was once used for rubber.

Muniandi has been working here for three generations.

On the estate, everything is paid for, says Muniandi's supervisor.

That's why Muniandi, who earns 600 ringgit (US$165), would not be able to afford a house anywhere else.

"The reason is because these people are earning less, and they cannot afford to have their own house out there," says rubber estate supervisor Villalagan Neelamagam.

Mr Villalagan who goes by the name Villy says it's a matter of time before Muniandi and his family are told to leave, and they are replaced by cheaper foreign workers from Indonesia.

Prominent lawyer Karpal Singh, who is also an opposition leader, blames the government's pro-bumiputra policies under the NEP for this, saying that other races have been neglected.

"The Indian community do not get what they deserve. They continue to be left out, there's no doubt about it," says opposition leader Karpal Singh.

There are 1.8 million Indians in Malaysia, representing less than 10% of the country's 26 million population.

Compared to the more affluent Chinese community and politically supreme Malays, the Indians are now the poorest among Malaysia's races.

"The Indians are poorer than the Malays, that's true. There are many dropouts in the Indian community; those who didn't drop out depended on parents who can afford or who are willing to go the distance to borrow money to pay for their children's education. Otherwise they'll also left out," says M Kayveas, president of People Progressive Party.

Mr Kayveas who's a self-made man laments the inability of the Indians to break away from the shackles of poverty.

"I feel very sad because I come from the estate, where my grandparents are rubber tappers and my mother is also a rubber tapper. My father is just a driver. The people who were there in the estate during my time are still there and they are worse off then what we used to be 20 to 30 years ago," says M Kayveas.

While he admits that Indians are unfairly treated and denied equal opportunities under the affirmative action policies, those that remain poor, he says, have themselves to blame.

"First they have to unite. They have to understand that they have their shortcomings, they have to admit they need to improve themselves, that they are backwards and behind time," says M Kayveas.

With the country's newly set target to eliminate poverty by 2010, critics say there is a lot more to be done. - CNA /ls

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