ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Ethnic Protests in Malaysia

Malaysia’s democracy has to demonstrate that it can be more inclusive and tolerant of dissent.

Malaysia’s claims to be a multiethnic democracy have come under some strain after the manner in which the state responded to protests in late November by Malaysians of Indian origin against discrimination. The government cracked down on peaceful protests by some 20,000 plus ethnic Indians and initially charged 30 demonstrators with attempt to murder. Although that absurd charge was later dropped, five of the leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) remain under the draconian Internal Security Act that allows imprisonment without trial. That this was a government unused to and intolerant of citizens expressing dissent peacefully was obvious when a couple of its ministers were quick to hurl the absurd allegation that the ethnic Indians had active links with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam of Sri Lanka.

The protests were sparked by a series of seeming discriminatory steps taken by the government, including plans to enhance affirmative action in favour of the country’s Malay majority. There has also been growing resentment that civic authorities have been destroying temples built decades ago on the ground of violation of local laws or in the name of urban renewal. The protests in November were somewhat unusual in that they culminated in a demonstration before the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, seeking the former colonial master’s intervention in the United Nations at the alleged discrimination against the Indian minority in Malaysia.

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