As citizens of Malaysia, Indians have the right to enjoy equal opportunities and must not be treated like third-class citizens.
This was the crux of Malaysian Indian Business Association (Miba) president P Sivakumar's hard-hitting speech during the special meeting between Indian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi last Friday.
"In the past, only the educated and middle-class Indians were unhappy about the difference in treatment. But over the last three years, every Indian in the country is unhappy and angry over the way we are treated," he said.
Sivakumar told Malaysiakini yesterday that at the onset of his speech, he sought permission from Abdullah to speak without fear or favour and to tell him the truth.
To this, he said, the premier replied: "Yes, please tell me the truth."
Following this, Sivakumar continued: "As you (Abdullah) are aware, the communities in Malaysia are affluent and very much matured after 50 years of Independence."
"The term bumiputera and non-bumiputera literally means 'son of the soil' and 'not son of the soil' (respectively). That means the Indian community was born where - in the sky?" he said, telling Malaysiakini that Abdullah tittered at this remark.
Sivakumar said in the past, the New Economic Policy (NEP) won the support of all three communities because it was initiated to address the socio-economic position of all races.
"So what is happening?" he asked the premier.
"What (is) 40,000 Indians? You should have given the (police) permit, there would have been more than 300,000 Indians on that day," he added in reference to the Nov 25 rally organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf).
The urban poor
Citing the agriculture sector, Sivakumar said there more than 70 percent Indians were involved in this sector.
"When the policies changed, what measures did the government take to address the thousands of Indians chased and driven out of the estates, with nowhere to go, and no housing left," he added.
The Miba president said this led to the emergence of urban poor, resulting in serious social problems like gangsterism.
"Indians killing each other for a living, who is to be blamed?" he asked.
"If only a Felda-type (scheme) had been extended to these Indians, with proper nurturing and with land given to develop small holdings and animal husbandry, they would have contributed well to the economy and even cut down our import bill, especially on dairy products. We need not depend so much on foreign workers," he said.
On the issue of funding, Sivakumar pointed out that MIC recently held seminars by calling Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister Muhyiddin Yassin who promised the Indian community help and support.
"But what happened? Let's take Johor for example, I personally followed up with the (state) Agriculture Department after Muhyiddin reminded the director to help the Indians.
"Nothing, not a single ringgit was given to the Indians," said the Johor-based businessman.
"Let's take other funding agencies, like MIDF, SMIDEC and SME. Yes, all (of them) like to hold seminars, (produce) good paper work. But nothing for the Indians," he added.
No help extended
As for privatisation, Sivakumar once again cited the situation in Johor.
He said the state government identified 43 projects. "The community was offered only one project, only to be retracted after two weeks. Why?"
Apart from this, the Miba president also reminded the premier that the latter had pumped RM100 million into a fund to help single mothers embark on business ventures.
"I checked with them (the fund), nothing was extended to Indian single mothers in Johor," he said.
Turning to the construction sector, Sivakumar said: "You (Abdullah) had offered 30,000 jobs, (but) when a group of Indians went to apply for tender, they were told to leave because it was only for bumiputeras.
"They had to leave the place with shame and tears. Is this fair? Aren't they citizens (too)?" he added.
Moving to the civil service, Sivakumar quoted Abdullah as saying that Indians make up five percent of the civil service.
"But our population is nine percent, what about the balance four percent? At least, place Indians where help is needed. For example, EPF in JB (Johor Baru), only one Indian, Socso none, post office none," he said.
The Miba president also highlighted that the scrap metal business, which involves many Indian businessman, is now under threat of licences not being renewed.
"Who will take care of their families and children if they cannot perform?" he asked.
On the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP), Sivakumar noted that it has been three years since Abdullah announced the three percent equity target for Indians.
"What are the steps and measures that you have initiated, please tell us. Even now, it is not too late, we have initiated an independent co-op for the community without any political group’s control. PM can help by funding this.
"I have even given (MIC president) S Samy Vellu a project paper on where Indians can go into - bio-tech business as a self-help programme. Why not help us because the Indians need the government's help. The Indians need opportunities," he said.
Sivakumar also highlighted the issue of temple demolitions and asked for temples constructed before Merdeka not to be demolished.
On that note, he also urged Abdullah to review the detention of five Hindraf leaders under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and called for them to be charged in court.
He also called for the release of the 31 people charged for the attempted murder of a policeman in connection with the Hindraf rally. Yesterday, Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail withdrew the charge.
Sivakumar told Malaysiakini that he wrapped up his speech by apologising to Abdullah if he had offended the latter with his remarks.
According to him, the premier replied: "Not at all, Thank you for telling me the truth."
The special meeting between the NGos and the prime minister was called following widespread debates on the allegation raised by Hindraf that Indians in Malaysia are being marginalised.