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Malaysia - truly Asia, is it?

By Ritesh K Srivastava | Last Updated: Wednesday, September 16, 2009 - 13:46
Ritesh K Srivastava
The Observer

Though I have never been to Malaysia, the country has always fascinated me for the perfect blend of tradition and modernity, which it has achieved. There is hardly any doubt that its dense bio-diversity, exotic locales, bustling high-tech cities, tropical islands, colonial hill stations, pristine beaches, historical landmarks, museums and religious sites together make Malaysia one of the best tourist destinations of the world.

For decades, the world has known Malaysia as a progressive multi-racial nation that has Muslim population in majority. The country has carefully nurtured racial harmony among its three main ethnic groups - Malay Muslims, Chinese and Indians.

Despite Muslim Malays comprising 60% of Malaysia’s total 27 million populations, the country has provided the right grounds for peaceful co-existence of the Chinese as well as Indian minorities, who practise Buddhism and Hinduism respectively.

Perhaps this has been the sole reason why the Malaysian Tourism Ministry has promoted it as a nation representing the spirit of Asia.

But recently, a gruesome protest by a group of Muslim fanatics against the planned construction of a Hindu temple has raised serious questions over Malaysia’s claim of representing the true spirit of Asia.

According to reports, a group of 50 Muslim protestors severed a cow’s head and left it outside the entrance of the Selangor State Secretariat with a warning that bloodshed will follow if the provincial government does not put a stop to construction of a relocated Hindu temple.

The protestors under the leadership of a local leader, Ibrahim Haji Sabri, insisted that the Hindu Maha Mariamman temple would be too close to their homes and would cause excessive noise and traffic - this would disturb them during prayers!

The controversy began with the provincial government’s decision to relocate a 150-year-old Mariamman temple of Hindus in a plantation area in Section 19 neighbourhood.

In view of Section 19 being redeveloped as a residential area, the authorities later proposed that the temple should be relocated to Section 22. But since Section 22 was an industrial area, so the temple could not be constructed there. Hence, they decided to reconstruct the temple in Section 23.

But now, the incident has triggered a racial and religious uproar in the peace loving Islamic state.

However, this is not the first time that the reconstruction of a Hindu temple has been opposed in Malaysia. In the past too, several unregistered Hindu temples and religious sites have been demolished in the name of development and progress.

According to HINDRAF (Hindu Rights Action Force), local municipal councils have been demolishing Hindu temples at the rate of one a week.

After the country got independence in 1957, Malaysian government refused to recognize and register Hindu temples. They termed the lands on which mosques were situated as ‘reserved’ land in government gazettes, but they deliberately refused to ‘reserve’ those spots where temples stood for centuries.

The respective Malaysian governments seem to have deliberately violated the country’s Constitution, which guarantees equality before law (Article 8).

These temples and other religious sites built by ancient Indian Kings (Cholas, Pandyas etc) serve the spiritual interest of nearly 1.7 million Hindus residing in Malaysia.

What baffles is the reaction of world media, which preferred to maintain a stoic silence over the plight of Hindus in Malaysia and the ongoing state-orchestrated destruction of their religious sites.

All those who take pride in championing the causes of minority Muslims in India, have failed to express their anger and disgust over the incident.

Is it not surprising to see that a rich and an educated country, which portrays itself as a multi-racial nation, plays with Hindu sentiment while at the same time, attempts to woo Hindu tourists mostly from India.

It’s an irony that the Indian government too has failed to take up the issue seriously and did not pressurise the Malaysian government to ensure safety and religious freedom of Hindus residing there.

I still remember how the world was caught into a political storm when Pope Benedict landed in a soup for linking Islam with violence and how a derogatory caricature depicting Islam’s founder Prophet Mohammed in a bad light led to violent protests across the globe.

It’s a pity that the Indian media, which so enthusiastically takes up the issues such as exploitation of Muslims and minorities, Gujarat riots and SRK’s detention in US, often fails to highlight the harrowing plight of Hindus in Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and more recently in Nepal (where the priests of Pashupatinath temple were assaulted by Moist rebels).

The fate of Indians, who preferred to live in Pakistan and Bangladesh after partition, is known to every one. They were tagged as infidels, and were humiliated, raped, tortured and forced to flee. Now, in some parts of Pakistan, they have to pay Jizya, or tax to practice their religion. They hardly ever get government jobs and have no say in the political affairs of these countries.

At present, there is no leader, who can spearhead a campaign for protecting the rights of Hindus and any organisation or an individual attempting to do so is branded as a religious fundamentalist.

It is mainly due to the Muslim-appeasement policy of our governments that Hindus today find it difficult to garner support to highlight their woes. It is easy to get attention if you are a Muslim. And frankly, I think only Hindus are to be blamed for their condition.

Look at this example…a 2008 report on Hindu human rights abuse prepared by the Hindu American Foundation showed how the size of the population of Hindus has shrunk in varying degrees since 1947 in Bangladesh. The Hindus constituted nearly 30% of Bangladesh’s total population in 1947. Nearly 20 million Hindus were reported to be “missing” from Bangladesh in 1990. Today, Hindus make up for only 10% of Bangladesh’s population.

The deplorable condition of Hindus in Malaysia and elsewhere is an indication of diminishing Hindu power and lack of powerful lobbying by the Indian government. It is high time that the Indian diaspora and the government jointly come together to protect the interests of the community.

First Published: Wednesday, September 16, 2009 - 13:46

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