Thursday, July 16, 2009

Discrimination at the DBP?

This year I am celebrating my tenth anniversary of this so-called war. ... It all began when I submitted a collection of short stories to DBP for publication. The collection comprised stories from ten Malaysian Indian writers including myself. In the foreword I wrote, an editor in DBP wanted to change the word "Bahasa Malaysia" to "Bahasa Melayu". When I still wanted to use the term "Bahasa Malaysia", he started to lecture me that the term doesn’t exist. The matter was even taken up to (prime minister) Datuk Seri Najib Razak who was then the education minister. He made a statement to the press that it was all right to use the term "Bahasa Malaysia". But DBP said it’d only publish the book if I used the term "Bahasa Melayu". In the end, I did not allow the book to be published by DBP.
Uthaya Sankar SB talks to Bissme S in The Sun about non-malay authors writing in Bahasa Malaysia and his run-ins with Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. He puts his finger very nicely on just what is wrong with the organisation :
DBP works at a snail’s pace. Once it does get a manuscript, it can take years to publish it. It’s also an open secret that it does not have a good marketing strategy. DBP should learn from Alaf 21 (a publication house owned by Kumpulan Karangkraf Sdn Bhd). Alaf 21 starts its marketing and publicity drive long before the books hit the market. Publishing books per se is not good enough anymore. You need to promote the books vigorously so readers will pick up the books. You need to make sure the books are available everywhere. But this is not happening in DBP because most of the time, the books are merely available in the Dawama (the marketing and distribution department of DBP) storerooms. Therefore, it is not surprising that (national laureate) Datuk A. Samad Said has taken back the rights to most of his books from DBP and wants to publish under his own publishing house, Wira Bukit Sdn Bhd. Haslina Usman has also done something similar with her father (national laureate) Datuk Usman Awang’s works by taking back all the copyright from DBP and publishing under UA Enterprises Sdn Bhd. DBP is given the task and responsibility to look after our national laureates but it appears it is not doing a good job. The fact that these national laureates do not want to be under DBP’s umbrella doesn’t paint a good picture of DBP. I submitted a letter to DBP recently to officially take back the rights to my books under it. I have no other choice. In 2007, I gave DBP a letter to reprint my books under their publication since there was a demand for my books. But it has not done anything to date. It’s a sad fact that DBP is not proactive. ... Every year, DBP is getting funding from the government to publish a certain number of good quality books. It does not have to generate profit since it relies on the government funding. It feels as long as it publishes books, it has done its job.
Privatisation is not the answer. It is the mentality of the people involved that should change.
and one hope the right people are reading and will take the comments to heart. Despite the criticisms, he describes his relationship with DBP like that of a father and son.

Another point he makes quite nicely is that* :
So far no non-Malays have made it as sasterawan negara (national laureate) and this proves discrimination exists.*
and he cites the example of poet Dr Lim Swee Tin whom he says is really deserving of the honour ...

Postscript :

(*Apologies - I attributed these words wrongly to Utthaya when these were the words used by the interviewer, Bissme S.)


Fadz said...

"Another point he makes quite nicely is that :

So far no non-Malays have made it as sasterawan negara (national laureate) and this proves discrimination exists.

and he cites the example of poet Dr Lim Swee Tin whom he says is really deserving of the honour ..."

This is sad. Not because of what DBP does or not. Not because of its abysmal publication efforts. I'm sure a follow-up by DBP will come soon.

This is sad because people will keep on raising racial issues. Yes, the terms Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Melayu keep on changing back and forth even I can't keep up. So I use BM. Issue resolved.

I make it a point to pass by the Malaysian Literature shelf when I stop by Kinokuniya. I see Indian names. I see Chinese names. I see Caucasian names. One or two Malay names. So where are Malay writers? Most choose to write in BM, as it is their (our, in the event I include myself) mother tongue.

But does this mean there is no room for non-Malay writers to write in BM? Hell no. I think plenty of established journalists will attest to this. If DBP gives a hard time to publish something, you either comply with their request or you look for other publishers. Same goes with the rest of the world. If every publisher you go to rejects your work, you can either face the fact that your manuscript is crap, or you can proceed with self-publication. It's the in thing these days, or so I heard.

Non-Malays having a hard time? Blame the discrimination, the special rights that Malays have (Article 153, Constitution). Malays having a hard time? Blame non-Malays for taking up their education slots, their work slots.

When will people stop and look at themselves? How to better themselves? What is missing? How can they improve? It is sad that people will always bring up racial issues. They themselves are causing dissent and disquiet, and they don't care. Bring the flames. You're burning your own home. But who cares?

There is one funny thing, though. People make noise about Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Melayu term usage. In English articles, we sometimes term BM as Malay Language, and no one gives a hoot.

Anonymous said...

my library is full of books in USA language and some are UK language. a few are Australian language.

and some are translation of southern and nothern indian languages and ....

Kama said...

Well-said, Fadz!!

LJ said...

That's MALAYsia for you. One cannot expect too much from a country named after a single ethnicity.

Fadz said...

I'm sorry. I don't want to start a political debate here. Nor a racial debate. Especially not a racial debate.

But I abhor people talking about racism, about racial discrimination, about racial prejudice. This land was originally populated with Malay sub-races (Gagasan Kepulauan Melayu), and the Chinese and Indian were brought in by the Brits to work the land, to help with security and administration. The Malays wanted independence long before other races came. But they couldn't do it alone, and with the help with Chinese and Indian representatives, we reached an agreement. Everyone has equal rights as a citizen. But the Malays are given an allocated percentage to be filled in education, in commerce. Even now Malays cannot fill the percentage in commerce even with the special right.

The Chinese and Indians were given a choice, whether to return to their motherland or to stay here and agree with the terms. Almost all chose to stay.

Sorry for the history lesson. I've never paid much attention myself. I've looked at my friends as friends. Never as an Indian friend, a Chinese friend, a Punjabi friend. None of that. A lot of people my generation and the younger ones feel the same. So it hurts when people come up with all these racial issues.

If you want to say this country is named based on a single race, why not question the names China, India, Japan, Korea, Africa, Arab, and such? Aren't they named based on the major race(s)? Please, think before spewing forth nonsense.

We look up to America. But think of this: All Caucasians, whether of Irish, Russian, Norwegian (and others) descent, are Americans. Black people are African-Americans. Asians are...well...Asians, regardless whether they are mixed, or third generation Americans.

Take a look at our neighbor, Indonesia. There are no races regardless of descent. Only Indonesians. One language, one celebration, one everything.

We are diverse. We are multi-cultural. We are neighbors. We even call each other brothers and sisters. We are different, but we celebrate each other's differences.

This country, this government is not perfect. No government is. Utopia is a dream. But our country works. It has worked for over 50 years, and by golly, it will work for more years to come.

But only if we accept each other, we accept what was set for us when we reached Independence, and not invoke discrimination or racial issues.

And don't get me wrong. I give the same grief to my Malay counterparts whenever they raise such an issue.

Rise up to great potentials because who we are, as individuals. Don't use racial issues as a crutch just because you face an obstacle.

PS: my word verification is 'histerv' could be reminiscent of history, could also be histeria. Oh well. Auspicious, I tell you.

Eli James said...

Fadz, bravo!

Anonymous said...

LJ, what kind of comment is that?

Fadz, you're right. And in my experience, in Malaysia, whatever grief we carry, the victim is as much a racist as the aggressor. Given our history, the lines between who is who are blurred and interchangeable. Guess we just have to get on what we have, climb all the mountains and commit to reaching out, regardless. After hiding for a while to lick the wounds, of course!


LJ said...

I'll offer a point-by-point response.

Firstly, I was only acknowledging the obvious. This is indeed a Malay-majority country built upon Malay values and Malay history. Non-Malays have never fit the narrative and never will. Truly, the Malays have conceded a lot by offering non-Malays citizenship when they could just as easily offered nothing. Non-Malays can scream racism and discrimination all they want, but ultimately, this is an iron-clad social contract. It is what it is. Accept it.

Secondly, countries like China and India are not named after a single race or a majority race. China has more than 50 distinct ethnic groups, and India has more than 1000. In addition, Africa is a continent, not a country. Africa is not named after Africans; the reverse is true.

Thirdly, mono-cultural countries such as Japan and Korea do indeed exhibit racist tendencies. Despite its declining birth rate and soaring aging population, Japan for one is still reluctant to take in migrants for fear of diluting the country.

Fourthly, you are obviously unfamiliar with the history of Indonesia. Suharto cracked down heavily on Chinese dissent. Blood was spilled, Chinese culture was marginalised, and the Chinese were forced to adopt Indonesian names.

Fifthly, and most importantly, your Indonesian utopia will never ever occur in Malaysia. The non-Malays may enjoy kicking up a fuss about racism, but deep down, they are too selfish to integrate. They want to huddle in their own schools and speak their own language.

I rest my case.

LJ said...

Select excerpts from

President Suharto became a strong advocate for Chinese assimilation rather than integration. As part of 1967's 'Basic Policy for the Solution of the Chinese Problem' and other measures, all but one Chinese-language papers were closed, all Chinese religious expressions had to be confined to their homes, Chinese-language schools were phased out, Chinese script in public places was banned, and Chinese were encouraged to take on Indonesian-sounding names.

Various government policies banned Chinese language teaching, speaking, and publication. Established schools and colleges run by Chinese Indonesian foundations were nationalized and their facilities seized without compensation. They were converted to state or pribumi-run schools such as Universitas Res Publica, which became Universitas Trisakti. A presidential directive forced Chinese Indonesians to abandon their Chinese names and adopt Indonesian names. Anti-Chinese sentiments increased among the pribumi Indonesians and anti-Chinese pogroms were frequent. In identity cards, all Chinese Indonesians were designated as "WNI" (Warga Negara Indonesia, or 'Citizen of Indonesia'), a euphemism for "ethnic Chinese" as opposed to just "Indonesian" for the pribumi Indonesians. This made it easy for government officials to extract bribes, and has been compared to Jews under Hitler being required to wear the Star of David badge. Ethnic Chinese must also hold certificates that say they have rejected Chinese citizenship, despite being native-born and/or descended from a line that had lived in Indonesia for generations.

These highly discriminatory laws are believed by some as a concerted government effort at cultural genocide.

Fadz said...

I like where this is going. Sharon, sorry for taking up your space for this discussion, which, I think, has veered off from your original point. Imagine, this post is about a group of writers unhappy with DBP's steadfast requirement of using the name Bahasa Melayu instead of bahasa Malaysia.


LJ, I'm not flaming you for anything. Just that your 'generalized' comment was steeped with racism. It seems so, anyway.

With your first point, this country wasn't built only upon Malay history and values. Yes, the Malays appear prominently in history text books. Only because the Malays have been here since the first recorded history, the founding of Malacca. The other major races come in play once they established their roots in this country. When we gained our independence, it was with the agreement of all three races. Was everyone happy? Hell no. But it was a desperate time. Everyone agreed, and with it they bound future generations as well. Was it fair? Maybe yes, maybe not. As I said earlier, it's been working fine so far.

I still hold this opinion true: those who scream racism are racists themselves. They are the ones to whom race issue is most apparent, and they blame every grievance on racial discrimination.

Second point. India and China are made of multiple sub-races, who are in general Indian and Chinese respectively. Use wordplay all you want. The scientific names are the same. The Malays also consist of multiple sub-races (and I'm not talking about Kelantanese, or Johorian). My siblings call ourselves Minjagis, from Minang, Jawa and Bugis. But in our IC it's still written Malay. Go figure. But I stand corrected with what you said about Africa. Bad example. Doh!

Third and fourth. This is what I've been trying to point out from early on! Our country is unique to outsiders. I look at us as a marshland. Green, full of life. The water is calm, disturbed only by the tiny ripples of dragonflies skimming the surface, or fish surfacing. But underneath that calm lie undercurrents so wild they can drown you if you're not careful. But point is, we have multiple ethnicity, and not just sub-races. And we're doing all right. Why create ripples with the undercurrent?

Fadz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fadz said...


"Fifthly, and most importantly, your Indonesian utopia will never ever occur in Malaysia. The non-Malays may enjoy kicking up a fuss about racism, but deep down, they are too selfish to integrate. They want to huddle in their own schools and speak their own language."

Why are there Chinese schools, and Tamil schools, and no Malay schools, indeed? Sekolah Kebangsaan is never a Malay school, but opened to all. But this is the beauty of our country. The Chinese and Indian do not want their language, their culture, and maybe the elder generation's sense of belonging in a land not theirs, to disappear with time. America took a long time to get used to integration, especially in the education system (oh I sense flames coming my way). Even now some elitist look upon it with distaste. Look at children in our schools. They all play soccer with each other. They all sit side by side in canteens, sometimes sharing lunch (I know I did). For a young country, We're doing more than fine. Do not see the groups of Malay kids, or Indian kids, or Chinese kids in their own groups. Train your eyes to see those who play together as friends. Those are the ones who will make this country glorious. You can't say non-Malays are too selfish. This is their way of ensuring their traditions, the memories of their motherland, stay intact, and will be passed on to later generations. They don't want to be like their counterparts in Indonesia. Did our government put a stop to this? Hell no.

Oh crap. I turned into a patriot without my realizing it. God help me.

Whenever I go out to have lunch on my own, I like eating Sushi. When going out with my colleagues, we go to various curry or banana leaf restaurants. I like an occasional Yam Chow (I'm sure I got the spelling wrong) and Dim Sum. One of my best friends Kean Khang used to work together doing Flash projects back in uni. I did the creative side, and he the technical side. Lita still calls me to wish me Happy Birthday, or just to chat. I attended her wedding (food was extra spicy though).

Did I mention what ethnicity, what race? That is how I view my world. Why? I was one of those kids running around with other friends without looking at their race(s).

We don't have to be highly educated to see all these. We need only open our eyes and look around us. Open our eyes without prejudice. As long as people are dissatisfied with racial issues, we cannot move forward. And I want us to move forward so I can get better pay, goddammit! (Point of interest: Doctors in Malaysia are paid equally or slightly higher than other professional posts, unlike other countries, where they get paid significantly higher)

Back to the original discussion. If Uthaya Sankar had just ranted about DBP's rigid requirements (which I think, for a publication house, is fair. Each house has its own rules and requirement, or so I think), it'd be fine. But to use racial discrimination as an issue? That's a low blow. Approach a different house, and be done with it.

PS: I was talking about Utopia (by Thomas More). Never associated it with Indonesia.

*Aiyoh. Didn't know I wrote so long! Had to separate into 2 parts!

** check this out:

LJ said...

Point taken. Malaysia is fine as it is, and Malaysians should not rock the boat with discourse about racial discrimination.

However, you suggested that authors unhappy with a publisher should move elsewhere with minimal complaint.

If so, why don't you move elsewhere if you are unhappy with your pay? Why bring it up and complain about it?

The answer, I suspect, lies in the fact that you love your country deeply. This is why you discuss it rather than walk out on it.

The opposite of love is indifference, after all.

So apply that, if you will, to Uthaya Sankar, and you might just see why he decided to voice out his thoughts instead of keeping silent.

But then again, I am an outsider, so what do I know? I concede that it is your country. Do with it what you will.

Fadz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fadz said...

LJ. There is a big difference with being a doctor and being a writer. My friends and I complain usually in the middle of the month, when our pockets are almost empty. By the 25th, we stop complaining. For those of us who stay on, money isn't the driving factor to keep on working. Because you see, we are at a high risk of being exposed to HIV, Hepatitis, pandemics, epidemics. We work long hours, sometimes for more than 36 hours at a stretch.

So what drives us on? The need to heal people. To help them ease their pain, to help them ease their passing. To help them get better.

Lately we've gotten more complaints than ever. We mumble, we grumble. But we go on doing what we do. And we still go on having lunch at fancy restaurants outside the hospital. We still read newspapers in between seeing patients.

Why not go elsewhere? Why not go private? Those who really need help usually can't afford private hospital bills.

When it comes to fiction writing, writers do it for the passion. It is Art. Some people write only for themselves. Some write to pay the bills. Some to get fame. One publisher rejects you? You can approach over 100 publishers with the same manuscript.

So I'm sorry. Your comment was not justified. You cannot put them in the same boat.

As I said, had Uthaya voiced out his angst without touching racial discrimination, then all's fair. It's like saying, "I can't get work. Bloody racists!" or "I can't go to uni. Bloody racists!" You see, our people have plenty of choices here. It's a matter of putting an extra effort to help oneself.

Anonymous said...

Don't mean to point the obvious, but certain groups of ethnicities get to go into the local universities, doing their desired degrees, while there are some other ethnicities who have worked BLOODY hard, and I really meant BLOODY BLOODY hard, with straight As and an infallible record of extra curricular activities and yet they can't get into Medicine.

Instead, they are given some other choice of degrees that were not their first choices in the first places.

Can you tell me how will the non bumo STPM kid feel when he/ she was not offered a place in Medicine, but the bumiputera counterpart who scored less As was offered into Medicine straight away??

I'm not sure what level of a medical officer are you in the current public system, but do you know of instances where a bumiputera medical colleague was promoted instantly (without having to do much work) while some other non-bumiputera medical colleagues have to slog their way through it yet they are not promoted as fast as they should be???

It's not to say that doctors should not aim for promotion only, but at least some recognition of their hard work is well deserved.

But anyway, we should be honest about the issues that go on in Malaysia instead of continuing to console ourselves saying: we are better than the Indonesians, we are better than Africa etc.

You talk about places like in the US don't have chinese schools or schools that cater for specific ethnic groups.
Sure, they don't have a Chinese school per se, but they do have parents who send their kids to specialised language institutions.
However, at an institutional level, if a student does well and can get the grades to go into Princeton or other Ivy League Unis, they get in regardless of race.
Perfect examples are the Obamas, Sotomayor etc.
Yet in Malaysia, a non bumiputera has to go elsewhere to spread the wings. Some were lucky enough to have the opportunity to go abroad ( at the expense of their parents'), some had to slog for an overseas scholarship.
Others just have to be contented with what the government dishes out.

So unfortunately, in my opinion, we've got to be honest with ourselves. Not all citizens of Malaysia are treated equally.
It's still a very hierarchical society, whether the hierarchy is based on colour, social status, age etc.

It's time to be honest about things instead of trying to convince ourselves that Malaysia is such a great place.
People have got to stop being so complacent.

But then again, maybe this is exactly just what Malaysians want.
As long as they still have their mamak stalls to hang out, their Coffee Bean and Starbucks to lepak at in the weekend, then well, maybe in that sense this country is such a great place after all.

Fadz said...

Sigh. Now this comment thread has turned into a racism debate.

You seem to forget that government-funded local universities nowadays are based on meritocracy. And you're talking as if non-bumi students cannot get into medical schools at all. They do. They get to be sponsored by JPA should they choose to do so. Most don't, because a majority of non-Malay doctors do not plan to continue working for the government. That's why you don't see that many high-ranking officials.

But you forget who our Minister is, and was. I'm in Neurosurgery, and Penang, Ipoh, Sabah, Sarawak have non-Malay Heads of Department. KL and JB have Malay HoD. There are currently 65 Neurosurgeons in Malaysia, and less than 30 are in the Government. Most of those in private practice are non-Malays.

You say it's bloody hard for non-bumi to get into Medical schools. I have plenty of friends who are Malay, who went to private universities because they couldn't get into local unis. Do you know how many Malay students get rejected each year?

Yes, on the surface it seems unfair. But you have to look at the population distribution. If you count in percentage, it equates up. If you count in individual numbers...well, that's what complainers shout about.

And I did not say anything about the US not having any Chinese school. Please. I know I wrote long comments, but. Please.

You're not happy with how our country is run? No one is stopping anyone from emigrating.

I have to stress this again and again. Our government is not perfect. None are. But ours work. We are one of the only countries whose military budget and expenses are given a low priority. Be thankful for that.

That being said, I do not by any means defend our politicians. No, sir. They sometimes act no better than kindergarten children, and their priorities are to oust the other parties instead of developing what they already have.

This can go on and on. A lot of grievance can be surfaced. What most people refuse to see is the beauty of of our country, our diverse cultures. Just spend one hour sitting at your nearest coffee shop to people watch. Everyone, regardless of creed or color, share the same air, the same pavements, the same greetings, the same foods. All these, without being similar to one another.

But let me let you in on something. Back in uni, when I defended the non-Malays, I was labeled by certain government officials as a traitor of the Malays.

Interpret what you want with it. The last thing to describe me as is patriotic. But one of the perks about being a doctor AND a writer is to be able to look at things from multiple angles. The good and the bad. The ugly as well as the beautiful. Growth and decay. Trust me. We're doing fine in the racial integration department. Just concentrate on advancing our technology, as friends, as brothers.

LJ said...

I take it that your message is this: 'If you choose to remain in Malaysia, please be silent and refrain from discussing racism. But if you do not like Malaysia, get lost.'

You, sir, have the benefit of viewing things in rose-tinted glasses simply because you are not a minority.

You, sir, do not know the anguish non-Malays whisper about only in the company of non-Malays.

You, sir, do not know the humiliation of filling up a form and being forced to declare your ethnicity.

You, sir, do not know the fear of tip-toeing around Malay acquaintances, pretending to be contented with your lot in life.

You, sir, do not know the trauma of being forced to fill out a survey asking you if you are happy with Bumiputera policies.

You, sir, do not know the pain of being forced out from the country of your birth because of discrimination.

You, sir, simply do not know.

Perhaps you should take it upon yourself to live a year or two in the life of a non-Malay. Impossible, I realise, but until you manage to do so, do not be so quick to judge men such as Uthaya Sankar.

Fadz said...

LJ, before things get out of hand.

"I take it that your message is this: 'If you choose to remain in Malaysia, please be silent and refrain from discussing racism. But if you do not like Malaysia, get lost.'"

I never said such a thing. If anyone wants to discuss about racism, go ahead. What I was talking about was do not use racial discrimination as an excuse. And what I said was any Malaysian is free to leave the country should they choose to do so. Malaysian students who are sponsored to study overseas. How many do you think come back? The government writes letters asking to return, but never forces anyone at gunpoint.

You, sir, forget that in forms, these are written down:

Race: Melay or Bumiputera/Chinese/Indian/Others

Religion: Islam/Bhuddist/Hindu/Christian/Others.

Others, such as Caucasians, Nepalese, Burmese and such, ARE the minorities. Not Malays, not Chinese, not Indian. Those are the three MAJOR races, but with a distribution of 50%, 30% and 15% respectively (more or less. It's inaccurate). We all have to declare our races. We all have our races stamped on our ICs.

You sir, forget that non-Malays are free to practice any religion that they choose. Should they convert into Islam, they can still revert to their original creed. You sir, do not know the definition of Malay in the Constitution: a person of Malay descent, practices Islam, and lives by Malay customs.

Sometimes Indian-Muslims are labeled as Malays for their creed (funnily enough, in Malaysia, Islam is Malay, Malay is Islam. Wrong concept, but what the hey). But they will almost always correct the label. They are proud to be Indians. Why? In Malaysia, you do not have to hide who you are (except, God forbid, a Malay practicing other religions).

"...the fear of tip-toeing around Malay acquaintances, pretending to be contented with your lot in life."
- This is political agenda crap. I treat patients of all creed and races. I see all of them waiting to be treated according to turn. I see them admitted in the same ward, operated on the same tables, based on priority of level of illness. Starting from 2003, university admission is based on merit. Now, a big company doesn't need to have Malays as shareholders.

Sure, certain housing areas and apartments are reserved for Malays and bumis. But the government builds low-cost houses for ALL Malaysians who can't afford better homes. How many Malays do you see living in high-end condominiums? Do you see any Malays in the top 3 richest people in Malaysia?

Someone is forced out of the country only if they bring harm to the country. This holds true with all countries of the world. Others, who want to find better lifestyle, better pay, CHOOSE to do so.

You, sir, have mistaken Malaysia for another country.

And you, sir, have not been called aside in the middle of the night for a personal brainwashing session, to remind you that you are a Malay, so do not question the special rights of the Malay. You sir, have not heard, hidden in the shadows at the backseat, yourself being branded a traitor of your race. I'm not talking nonsense. My uni friends can attest to this.

My only concern is this: using racial discrimination as an excuse for not getting something.

LJ said...

Please do not play the sanctimonious martyr card. You are heroic only in your own eyes.

I have had my own experiences with the authorities and brainwashing, which I will not repeat here because I remain uneasy about them.

I will, however, say that there is nothing heroic about such occurrences. It is humiliating and traumatic. This is why I doubt the veracity of your account. Even more so when you seem to wear it like a badge of honour.

But long-winded stories aside, I am afraid all this simply leads us back to square one: in order to end any argument, we have to turn a blind eye to faults in Malaysia. We even, dare I say, pave the way for it to perpetuate.

On one hand, you talk about the desire to advance science and technology in Malaysia. But on the other, you insinuate that it is acceptable for Malaysians who do not like the way the country is run to just leave.

Indeed, many brilliant minds have already departed. I know a few, and they do cite discrimination and bullying as a key factor in their decision to move overseas.

Yes, a better lifestyle and better pay is always desirable. But it is a terrible anguish to leave family and friends for an alien country, and it is a choice many would rather not make if only their country was fair and equal.

So do we just dismiss racial grievances as fantasy? Or do we open up and talk about it as much as we can?

I believe the latter is what we should strive for.

I am reminded of a fine country I had the pleasure of living in for a few years.

One morning, I flicked on the radio, and discovered two announcers of separate ethnicity locked in debate about the existence and extent of racial discrimination in the nation.

Yes, it got tremendously heated at times, but from what I gathered, it was a very wholesome and mature discussion. Neither tried to shut down the other, no matter how deep and profound the disagreement. Refreshingly, I can recall no sanctimonious martyr cards being played.

You imagine my surprise when I learned that the radio show was a weekly affair, broadcast nationally.

So you, sir, think far too highly of the current state of affairs in Malaysia. Malaysia is not the only multicultural country where people of different backgrounds *apparently* mix together and play together in harmony.

Sir, I dare say, there are other countries that execute it better and execute it with far more honesty.

No country is immune from problems and grievances, I will concede.

However, simply denying grievances, no matter how far-fetched and ridiculous, is the very antithesis of a free, open and progressive society.

That is my stand on this.

I may not agree with all Mr Uthaya Sankar proclaims. In fact, I have reason to doubt a great deal of it. But I do not doubt the need for him to pour out his grievances; the more, the better.

Let's agree to disagree on this.

bibliobibuli said...

i must say i would like to see more and more open debate - this i think because i come from a country where such debate is commonplace and healthy. i think the tides are changing though, and people are claiming the space to express their opinions anyway. let's hope it leads to greater understanding on all sides. malaysia is a very special country whose diversity is also a source of great strength.

i also think Uttaya has a very valid point (this seems to have been overshadowed by other concerns in the comments) - why has there been no non-malay sasaterawan? let's hope the door actually is open for this to happen some time in the future.

Fadz said...

Sharon, I have no experience in the literary world. These past few months have been an awakening. So I can only cite the medical world. That being said, if Shahrukh Khan could get a Datukship here, it's ridiculous not to have non-Malays as national laureates (two worlds apart to be used as an example, but you get my picture).

LJ, I'm not one of those idiots who scream, "If you don't like this country, shut up or get the hell out!" I actually love open discussions (that's what got me into trouble in the first place).

Yes, you do have valid points. There's always room for improvement. That's what's happening with meritocracy in universities, and others I've mentioned. Small steps. We're talking about Malaysia here. We still prefer P. Ramlee movies over the newer ones, Alley Cats and other oldies over newer music. We are a people who don't take change lightly.

With three major races, there's bound to be dissension when the balance is shifted. We are right now at an equilibrium. Tilt it one way, we would topple. That's what happened during 13th May back then. Unfortunately, we can't discuss that, as it is a highly sensitive issue (a pity. Much can be learned from that black day). We have limited freedom of speech in order to maintain that delicate balance. But politicians play dirty. They twist this particular Constitution to suit their interests.

You say that declaring your ethnicity is a source of humiliation. It is sad, if that be the case. Be proud of who we are. We can't change what we're born into, anyway. But that's what I've been trying to say. Be proud of who you are. Don't be trapped by stereotypes, of the general mindset. Rise, as an individual.

I am not voicing out as a representative of Malays. I'm voicing out to represent me, Fadzlishah Johanabas bin Rosli, KL born and raised. I've been lucky to have mixed with multi-racial friends since kindergarten. I've been lucky my mom encourages me to read, since I could pick up a book. I am lucky to be able to think, to discuss, to relate in English, backed with education. I'm sure there are plenty of silent readers out there who can say the same, and they're not even Malay.

But what happens is this: when a person screams racial discrimination, another side will be offended, and find points to scream back. In the midst of all the screaming, no one will do the listening. In the end, everyone loses because when we're busy squabbling from within, we're an easy pick.

Yes, some aspects are less fair than others. If we keep picking on a wound, it will never heal, and it may fester. Patch it up (not with silence, but with understanding and cooperation) and it will eventually heal.

Should we aspire to emulate those countries you talk about, who do it better? By all means, yes. Should we look at the more unfortunate countries and be complacent? Hell no. But we do that to learn from them, and be thankful that we are who we are. Malaysians.

Do I wear my brainwashing session as a badge of honor? Of course not. But I'm not embarrassed to talk about it. Because the brainwashing had no effect on me. I can be thick-skinned when I choose to, and I don't let people knock me down. I dare to be different because I have my family to pick me up after everyone else beats me good.

I am not a martyr. Far from it. But I've been a willing bridge since Primary school. And I encourage more bridges to be built from all sides.

We fear the unknown. So shed light and make it known.

Fadz said...

LJ, cheers, mate. I haven't had such a refreshing debate since I left uni! Arguing with patients' families is a depressing business, and none too productive.

I've been branded a non-Malay hero and a Malay traitor both at the same time, and vice versa.

Did I ask for it? Do I want it? Hell no. I'm just a guy who can't keep his mouth shut.

In a course I went to recently, racial unity was drilled into our heads. At the end of the session, I voiced out that what they're doing is obsolete. In my generation (under 30), and in the younger ones, there is no such word as integration, but colleagues and friends. We have a long way to go, but more and more of us are emerging. Unfortunately, some older generations try to poison the younger ones using racial discrimination as fuel. We see university students, schoolchildren, joining riots not to fight for a cause, but simply to join in. But little by little, they too get poisoned. And this is sad indeed.

Why are there small groups of single ethnicity seen in a large group of people? I believe that not everyone is comfortable conversing in Malay or in English. Some prefer their natural tongues, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tamil, Telugu, or even Dusun. That's why they gravitate toward one another. When a group talk in Mandarin, they're not dissing those who can't understand them. I refuse to believe that. Because paranoia is the seed of chaos.

I don't know how one becomes a national laureate. I don't know how one wins the Pulitzer. But you may agree with this: Art could sometimes be an elitist world. And in Malaysia, you bear weight if you're someone important. Or if you know someone important.

LJ, I've been responding long and wide. But do my words carry weight? I'm a nobody. Just a concerned citizen. Best I can get is someone messaging me saying, "Good on ya, mate!".

I hope this is clear. Malaysia does need fixing. We're young, and we have a lot of catching up to do. Instead of squabbling over who gets what territory, or screaming murder at each other in Parliament, or disagreeing a notion simply because it's from another party, concentrate on what is there, and build it, in hopes that next time people will vote for who best develops the land, who cares about the general populace more. But racial discrimination is a festering wound. We can choose to pick at it to make it worse, or we can heal it. The government is healing it, bit by bit. We too have to do our part.

Anonymous said...


I truly do believe that you are not one of those UMNO-putra's who say "If you don't like this place, go home" rethorics, and perhaps you might be one of the more liberal young ones that I've come across.

And all the above comments are not directed at your personally, of course, so don't take it to heart...

But like I said before, it's time that people want and affect change in the country. Too many times we are too complacent. The whole attitude of "If it's not broken don't fix it" is going to slowly drag this country into a hell hole.
Not now, not in 10 years, but if it keeps going on like this, it'll be there a few decades later.

Too many people don't even want to vote in elections. Yes, the last election seemed to have higher number of voters, but by and large a lot of people don't really care about the politics of things.

To them, as long as they still have their mamak stalls, their coffee joints and their shopping in the weekend to go out to, Malaysia as far as they're concerned is a great and wonderful place.

Sweeping under the carpet won't save things. Part of the healing process is to talk about it and wanting to move forwards, coming to a consensus on how to move forwards together.
If we don't keep talking about it for fear of "May 13" and other racial riots then we will never heal as a nation.

People have to slowly mature on how to deal with politics.
Sure, this last election there seems to have more Pakatan Rakyat support and the PR even took over a few states. But few months down the road, already the citizens are grumbling that they're bloody ineffective and in fact made things worse than before.
What people didn't realise was this was definitely what they have voted for. They've GOT to be patient about things.
And to make matters worse, the PR politicians are starting to sound more and more like the BN people.

Little adversities and people want to go back to the old BN conglomerate.
Politics in Malaysia is driven by the "rice bowl". They vote the party that would assure them the safest way to have their "rice bowl" everyday.

When Mahathir was in power, people loved him, never mind that his leadership was dictatorial and a lot of corruption was happening (I might even say started getting worse from his era).
Even until this day, people say Dr M was great. You ask them why they say because he made Malaysia "developed" and prosper.
What about integrity? What about ethics?
People tend to forget that the power of the country is in the rakyat's hands.
If the politicians are not kept in check, then the rakyat is to blame for letting the country get into a hell hole.

Fadz said...


Nah. I don't take it personally. If I did, I'd have blogged about it :).

Dr M is great because he was willing to dirty his hands. He raised Malaysia at a breakneck speed, and we are where we are today mostly because of his vision. He didn't care what people say. He went on ahead. In this harsh reality, you don't get far by playing nice. That's why I don't ever want to dabble in politics.

Similarly, I'm not interested in the feud between BN and PR. They keep on showing their childishness, their immaturity, that it's embarrassing.

Integrity and ethics sound wonderful, but it belongs to Utopia. Not to say I condone corruption. I have friends whose parents could not get contracts because of cronyism and corruption. But sometimes one cannot avoid getting one's hands stained. The trick is to scrub it clean so that no dirt stays underneath the nails afterward.

If I was free to write whatever I want, I've always been tempted to write a reflection of our government and its peoples, but as Fantasy. Say, humans, elves, and dwarves, like in most High Fantasy. Or maybe some other made-up races. And their democratic government, and political games. Don't say politics don't belong in Fantasy. Melanie Rawn, Raymond E Feist $ Janny Wurts did a marvelous job doing so.

I would also like to write a novel, a love story, about a Malay woman and a Chinese man, set in the days of 13th May.

But, knowing how our government works, I'd get my ass stamped "Property of ISA".

Thanks, Sharon, for letting us clog up your cyberspace!

yessiree said...


love the "you,sir" motif, quite hilarious.

maybe these guys should be in seksan for more verbal jousting.

all in good spirit guys!

keep it up, sirs.

Anonymous said...

hmmmm all the time i've lived in Malaysia (basically since i was born), i've seen, experienced and been party to racism... whether openly or in my mind (when it comes to racism at my end)... and when i've lived out of malaysia, guess what: no change, though the forms for racism might be different...

i'm wondering if racial discrimination will ever end anywhere in this world cause humans can be very animalistic and territorial that way, unless a completely different species turns up for us all to unite against... *drum roll*... aliens, anyone?:) I'm convinced they exist. And have stolen Michael Jackson's body, thinking he's one of their own:) sorry, sorry, i'm a big MJ fan myself and sad to know he's gone...

anyway, i've tried my best to call ppl on discrimination in all its forms: race, religion, gender, appearance... which may be what uthaya sankar is trying to do... except that it's really hard to bring up race as a reason for not giving someone an award when the award is for something as subjective as good writing... yeah, there may be racism there or there may not be (think of the few Oscar nods to black actors)... good on him to speak his mind if he thought there was... me, i'm waiting for the aliens...and continuing to write in the meanwhile... oh, and i'm not gonna spend my life being a colour.


LJ said...

Perhaps it is only proper that we give Sharon's comment box a rest. So I will make this my final thought on the subject.

I believe Uthaya Sankar has invested enough blood, sweat and tears into his craft. I believe he has walked the walk, paid his dues and endured the unendurable. I believe his body-of-work speaks for itself and his contributions are priceless.

All that, in my view, entitles him to speak his mind, no matter how uncomfortable the effect is.

I will concede that is difficult for those of us who have never worked in the publishing world to understand how tough it is for writers to survive in there, let alone thrive.

The least any of us can do is respectfully listen to what writers like Uthaya Sankar have to say and digest his words appropriately.

This is free wisdom he is offering. To dismiss it would be folly. And follies tend to snowball.

Thank you, and I'll just stop here.

Fadz said...

[Smiles and shakes hands]

Uthaya Sankar SB said...

Dear Sharon & everyone,

For the record:

"So far no non-Malays have made it as sasterawan negara (national laureate) and this proves discrimination exists."

That was the question asked to me; not my answer.

Fadz said...

Ah. Sorry for flaming you, mate.

Anonymous said...

"I would also like to write a novel, a love story, about a Malay woman and a Chinese man, set in the days of 13th May. But, knowing how our government works, I'd get my ass stamped "Property of ISA". "

Didn't a director make a movie about a Malay girl, a Chinese guy, and a relationship?

Fadz said...

That would be Sepet. Yup. But I'm thinking about a relationship during the days of racial unrest. Think Titanic. The sinking of the ship serves as a setting. But what's focused is the relationship between rose n jack.

"i want you to draw me wearing this, Jack. Wearing only this."

problem is, may 13 1969 was a black day for malaysia. And by the power of greyskull, we cannot talk about it. Nor discuss it. It is only mentioned in passing. A pity, because the newer generation has grown complacent and incite racial unrest without caring its consequence. Yes, i did say race isn't an issue for a lot of us. But not all. Racism still exists.

Hmm...i'm writing down an idea for a novel in a writers' perch. Oh well. Whoever ends up writing it, don't forget to send a copy my way.

Anonymous said...

"A pity, because the newer generation has grown complacent and incite racial unrest without caring its consequence."


Fadz said...

Hmm...Sharon, feel free to delete this comment if it's too controversial. I do not know where the boundary is with this one.

On May 13, 1969, there was a nationwide civil unrest, a riot between the Malays and the Chinese. People went out beating and hacking each other up.

Preceding this black day was the General Elections. BN won, but with simple majority (over 50% but not enough to secure 2/3 seats, as what happened with the last election). Unfortunately, one of the winning opposition parties celebrated by going to the streets announcing their racial superiority and that Malays were an inferior race (it got uglier than this, actually). So not only die-hard UMNO people were enraged; the Malay populace in general rose up.

My aunt was mistaken for a Chinese lady and almost got beaten up to a pulp. That's how ugly things got.

The government had to declare a state of emergency. The existing government was suspended, and MAGERAN was formed.

Later on, sobered by this event, other parties cooperated with BN.

It took 1 ethnic group, and not all of them involved, to disrupt the country.

This is what the government is afraid of with the last General Elections. Another racial riot.

I think that's why they are desperate to promote racial unity, now more than ever.

That, my friend, is the consequence I'm talking about.

Unfortunately, the mindset of our people in general is if we don't talk about bad things, we we aren't exposed to them, bad things won't happen. Ignorance is bliss. Cliched, but true.

1. I am not an UMNO Youth, nor do I intend to be one.
2. I may have gotten the facts jumbled up. Correct me if I'm wrong.
3. I wanted to add something else, but it seems to have slipped my mind. Sigh.

bibliobibuli said...

sorry for misquoting you, Utthaya. will correct.

John Ling said...

Fadz, it is inaccurate to pin the blame on the Chinese and the Opposition for starting the 1969 riots. That line of reasoning is both simplistic and flimsy.

When you get the chance to travel overseas, I suggest you take the time to visit a Commonwealth public archive. Pay special attention to declassified intelligence reports released by Britain's SIS.

The common academic consensus today is that the riot was engineered by Malay ultras with the help of pro-UMNO Chinese who had infiltrated the Opposition parade.

Britain was plainly aware of this and silently condone it. The Cold War meant that a right-wing fascist government firmly in control of Malaysia was preferable to a left-wing one. And that is precisely what occurred after May 13th.

Fadz, I certainly hope you are joking when you say that the Government is 'afraid' of racial riots. If you buy into that propaganda, you will buy into anything. Surely you are not that ignorant?

Fadz said...

Holy crap. I thought this discussion is long resolved.

John, I'm really sorry to say this, but you've been away from Malaysia quite some time, and your source of information is either from Wikipedia (free-for-all to add and edit), or 'declassified' external source.

Of course the government is afraid of a racial riot. Which government isn't? With ethnically diverse countries like ours, such a thing can break that country. For a while now, civil servants are required to undergo a 5-day 'nationality' course, to remind us of where we came from, and how we got here. Sure, I'll admit some of the issues are not-so-subtle propaganda, but one of the things they stress is racial unity. They could have done it with more finesse and grace, but that's the main concern. I told them that for our generation, it's not that big of a deal. People don't look at one another's race as they used to.

And frankly, you're not the only Chinese who complains you don't get opportunities in Malaysia. A majority of those who move out of the country sing the same song. And I don't quite get why. We get equal education opportunities and rights.

Before you say anything else, lemme share a truth with you. My uncle is in the Education Ministry, managing overseas student. He just came back from the UK. While he was there, his daughter was in school, and she took O-Levels.

When their family came back here, she cannot apply to government universities because she didn't take SPM/STPM. She she has to take A Levels at a private college, and will pursue Dentistry overseas, funded by the parents, who are both high-ranking Education Ministry officials.

I personally think a leeway should have been given, but rules are rules.

Our government system isn't perfect, but it's working so far.

My cousins live in Perth, and they say that they had a difficult time growing up, because Asians are treated as second-rate citizens. In the UK, Asian doctors can no longer apply to work there because they claim there are too many Asian doctors there already. And Asians are minorities there, treated as second-rate citizens as well in certain places. Not speculation, but fact.

Fadz said...

"The common academic consensus today is that the riot was engineered by Malay ultras with the help of pro-UMNO Chinese who had infiltrated the Opposition parade."

Sounds more like a conspiracy theory to me. If you follow the political scene today, you'll notice that most of our politicians act like children, regardless of parties; they don't have the subtlety to do what you're implying.

You're a journalist. Please, get your facts right. As I said, Wikipedia isn't a reliable source.