NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Malaysia should launch an affirmative action plan for its ethnic Indians and the international community needs to pressure Kuala Lumpur for this with trade sanctions, an ethnic Indian leader said on Thursday.
But P. Waytha Moorthy said the community was unlikely to organise more protests like the one in Kuala Lumpur last week, when 10,000 ethnic Indians demonstrated against racial discrimination before they were baton-charged and tear-gassed by police.
Moorthy, a lawyer who has taken up the cause of Malaysia’s ethnic Indians through his Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), said India’s Hindu nationalist opposition leaders had promised to lobby the government in New Delhi to push Kuala Lumpur.
“We want an affirmative action plan specifically drawn for us, we want a quota,” Moorthy told Reuters.
“We have no choice but to go international. The Malaysian judiciary is not independent, we know we won’t get justice there,” the diminutive lawyer said in an interview, his first to the international media since the Nov. 25 protest rally.
“We will bang the doors of the United Nations, maybe they can appoint a special rapporteur for Malaysia,” he said, adding that India and other countries should impose trade sanctions.
Around 7 percent of Malaysia’s 26 million people are ethnic Indians, whose forefathers were brought to the southeast Asian country as indentured labourers by British colonial rulers.
Many in the community complain that a decades-old affirmative action plan for the country’s Malay Muslim majority has deprived them of opportunities, and the government has done little to improve living standards.
They also accuse the government of “ethnic cleansing” by imposing Islamic laws and demolishing Hindu temples.
Multi-racial Malaysia has denied claims it mistreats ethnic Indians, saying they are better off than those in India. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has lashed out at Hindraf, saying it had wrongly accused the government of racism.
A large proportion of Malaysia’s ethnic Indians are Tamils with their roots in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the treatment of protesters across the Indian Ocean has triggered outrage among Indian Tamils.
Tamil politicians have raised the issue in New Delhi, forcing a cagey Indian government to express concern and promise that it would take the matter up with Kuala Lumpur, while at the same time saying it is Malaysia’s internal issue.
Although India and Malaysia have traditionally had friendly relations, trade differences over the import of Malaysian palm oil have cropped up as irritants and Indian analysts say New Delhi would prefer to avoid a new diplomatic row.
Moorthy, who has been in India for a week and in New Delhi since Wednesday, said he could not get to meet Indian government representatives or leaders of the ruling Congress party.
Moorthy said he was urging Indian human rights groups and lawyers to send a “fact-finding mission” to Malaysia, and accused the government there of prosecuting ethnic Indians after last week’s protests.
“It is an attempt to instil fear in the ethnic Indian community to never go against them and kill our struggle by arresting us and denying bail,” said Moorthy, who was himself arrested before the protests.
Asked if he was not undermining the identity of Malaysian Indians by seeking India’s intervention, he replied: “No, it won’t. I am also seeking the help of other countries. It is coincidental that I came to India first.
“As far as we are concerned, India is an economic giant and Malaysia fears India. Maybe India doesn’t realise its power.”