Indian Muslims fear Bumi status will only cause division

Asila Jalil Ravin Palanisamy Looi Sue-Chern

Stall owner Raziq Ahmed says the Bumiputera status should be granted to all Indian Muslims, not selectively. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Seth Akmal, July 31, 2017.

REPORTS that Putrajaya is mulling giving Bumiputera status to some category of Indian Muslims are not going down well with the community.

Some Indian Muslims told The Malaysian Insight the move will divide the community and stoke anger among Malays who may feel that their rights are being “supressed”, leading to “unnecessary tension” between the races.

The Malaysian Indian Muslim Congress (Kimma) recently announced that Putrajaya was considering making fifth- and sixth-generation Indian Muslims born in Malaysia Bumiputera.

Kimma president Senator Syed Ibrahim Kader was reported to have advised against conferring Bumiputera status on all Indian-Muslims, as that would be unfair to those born and raised in Malaysia.

Prime Minister Najib Razak previously said the government would consider the Indian-Muslim community’s request to be recognised as Bumiputera. He said the status could be applied to the group “administratively or by gazette”. 

Be fair or don’t bother

Indian Muslims traders whom The Malaysian Insight spoke to, however, are worried that it would be divisive to grant Bumiputera status to some and withhold it from others.

Most of us are only third-generation Indian Muslims and will not be eligible for Bumiputera status. 

“Either you give it to everyone or you do not give it at all,” said stall owner Raziq Ahmed.

Mohamed Sultan, 54, who runs a stall in Jalan Masjid India, wondered if the Bumiputera status for Indian Muslims would be of a different grade.

“Definitely Malays are the original Bumiputera. If we come in (as Bumiputera), we might be classified as ‘Bumi 2.0’, for example, that we would have to declare on our official documents.

“If that were to be the case, it would not matter whether or not I am granted the status. Most of the Indian Muslims are running their own business, they are not in the government sector so they don’t have to worry about their Bumiputera status,” he said.

Mohamed Sultan, 54, who runs a stall in Jalan Masjid India, says many Indian Muslims run their own businesses with the communal, not government, help. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Seth Akmal, July 31, 2017.

Status not important

For Abdul Razique, Bumiputera status was unnecessary as it would not make a significant difference to their lives.

How will the Bumiputera status help us anyway? The Indian Muslims have been doing business all these years using their own funds. 

“Just leave things as they are, as we do not need any unnecessary change. We are not dependent on anything because we mostly run our businesses ourselves,” he added.

Syed Ibrahim said he would reserve his comments until he knew more.

“I want to wait until I hear more from Putrajaya on the matter,” he said.

Penang Muslim League president Najmudeen Kader said Indian Muslims, together with other ethnic groups, such as Malabari, Pakistanis, Arabs, Javanese and Bugis, were already classified as Bumiputeras because they met the requirements stated in the federal constitution.

“The Indian Muslims, either through assimilation or their own ethnicity, are counted among the 67% Bumiputera recognised by the Malaysian government. 

“Although the recognition is accorded, there are misinterpretations that cause administrative issues to arise,” he said.

Najmudeen said his organisation, together with other Indian-Muslim groups like the Malaysian Indian Muslim Association (Permim) and Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma), would work with the government to iron out the issues affecting Indian Muslims.

A thriving community

Malaysia is home to about a million Indian Muslims, who arrived in the 18th century, even before the British. Many landed in the northern peninsula states, like Kedah and Penang.

Today, many are merchants and businessmen, such as moneychangers, jewellers and restauranteurs, with the latter introducing the popular nasi kandar to Malaysians. 

Some carved a name for themselves with their products. Abu Backer Mohd Hussain and his Barkath Group gave the country Hacks cough drops and Sunquick, while Habib Mohamed Abdul Latif and Habib Jewels have adorned many a Malaysian bride.

Many Indian Muslims are also professionals, well-known politicians and government officials. 

Notable Indian-Muslim personalities include the sixth Bank Negara Malaysia governor, the late Ali Abul Hassan; Penang Muslim League founding president A.M. Abu Bakar, who was awarded the officer of the most excellent order of the British Empire (OBE); former finance minister II Nor Mohamed Yakcop; government chief secretary Ali Hamsa; Think City chairman Dr Anwar Fazal; and Consumers Association of Penang president S.M. Mohamed Idris.

Perks and privileges

The Statistics Department estimates there are 19.78 million Bumiputeras in Malaysia.

The Bumiputera ethnic group concept recognises the special position of Malays and Sabah and Sarawak indigenous peoples. The name was coined by second prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein. 

The use of the term varies among the different government institutions, organisations, departments, and agencies, but those with Bumiputera status generally benefit from the government’s affirmative action policies and enjoy perks denied to other ethnic groups in the country, such as the Chinese and Indians.

The perks include scholarships, educational privileges, civil service jobs and positions, and permits or licences for trade and business activities.

The new Bumiputera Economic Transformation Road map (BETR) proposes to improve the lot of the Bumiputeras in education, income levels, property ownership and even health.

Bumiputeras also get to invest in Amanah Saham Nasional (ASNB) mutual funds, which are not available to the Chinese and Indians, who make up the larger minorities of the population.

Other minorities, however, are also allowed to invest in the Bumiputera-only ASNB unit trust scheme. They are the Siamese or Thai, Portuguese, Eurasian or Serani, Muslim converts, Indian Muslims and Muslims without Bumiputera status.

Dr Anthony Sibert, a retired Universiti Sains Malaysia lecturer, said the Penang Serani people were not Bumiputera, even though they were now eighth generation Malaysians.

“All we have been granted is the opportunity is to invest in ASN. We just need to provide proof that your grandparents are of Eurasian or Portuguese heritage. They look at the names on the birth certificate. It is not very hard to do,” he said.

Eurasians are not entitled to other Bumiputera perks, such as the 5% discount for homes, he said.

However, the Serani community in Penang has not pressed the government for Bumiputera status, feeling there was no need for it, he said.

The Peranakan Chinese and Chitty communities in Malacca were reported to be also lobbying to be recognised as Bumiputeras. 

Except for religion, the Peranakan Chinese and the Indian Chitty communities practise a Malay lifestyle because of centuries of assimilation with local Malays.

The Portuguese-Eurasians or Kristangs in Malacca also do not enjoy full Bumiputera status, with their privileges limited to the right to invest in ASN. – July 31, 2017.

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