Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Malaysian Indian

Malaysian Indians are a group of Malaysians largely descended from those who migrated from southern India during the British colonization of Malaya. Prior to British colonization, Tamils had been conspicuous in the archipelago much earlier, especially since the period of the powerful South India kingdom of the Cholas in the 11th century. By that time, Tamils were among the most important trading peoples of maritime Asia.

Historical Indianized Kingdoms
There is evidence of the existence of Indianized kingdoms such as Gangga Negara, Old Kedah, Srivijaya since approximately 1500 years ago. Early contact between the kingdoms of Tamilakkam and the Malay peninsula had been very close during the regimes of the Pallava Kings (from the 4th to the 9th Century C.E.) and Chola kings (from the 9th to the 13th Century C.E.). The trade relations the Tamil merchants had with the ports of Malaya led to the emergence of Indianized kingdoms like Kadaram (Old Kedah) and Langkasugam. Furthermore, Chola king Rajendra Chola I sent an expedition to Kadaram (Sri Vijaya) during the 11th century conquering that country on behalf of one of its rulers who sought his protection and to have established him on the throne. The Cholas had a powerful merchant and naval fleet in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Three kinds of craft are distinguished by the author of the Periplus – light coasting boats for local traffic, larger vessels of a more complicated structure and greater carrying capacity, and lastly the big ocean-going vessels that made the voyages to Malaya, Sumatra, and the Ganges.

Large scale migration
British acquisition of Penang, Melaka and Singapore - the Straits Settlements from 1786 to 1824 started a steady inflow of Indian labourers, traders, sepoys and convicts engaged in construction, commercial agriculture, defence and commerce. But large scale migration of Indians from the subcontinent to Malaysia followed the extension of British formal rule to the West coast Malay states from the 1870s onwards as British brought the Indians as workers to work in the rubber plantations. The Indian population in pre-independent Malaya and Singapore was predominantly adult males who were single with family back in India and Sri Lanka. Hence the population fluctuated frequently with the immigration and exodus of people. As early as 1901 the Indian population in the Straits Settlements and the Federated Malay States was approximately 120,000. By 1931 there were 640,000 Indians in Malaya and Singapore and interestingly they even outnumbered the native Malays in the state of Selangor that year. The population was virtually stagnant until 1947 due to many leaving for Burma during the Japanese occupation as recruits for the Indian National Army and "Indentured Japanese labors" for the Death Railway.' At the time of Independence in 1957 it stood at a little over 820,000. In this last year Indians accounted for approximately 8 to 12 per cent of the total population of Malaysia (in the range 1.8 to 2.5 million) and 8 per cent in Singapore (250,000). There has also been a significant influx of Indian nationals into Singapore and Malaysia in recent years to work in construction, engineering, restaurants, IT and finance with many taking up permanent residence in Singapore where they account for nearly a quarter of the Singapore population.

Geographical divisions
The overwhelming majority of migrants from India were ethnic Tamil and from British Presidency of Madras. In 1947 they represented approximately 85 per cent of the total Indian population in Malaya and Singapore. Other South Indians, mainly Telugus and Malayalees, formed a further 14 per cent in 1947, and the remainder of the Indian community was accounted for by North Indians, principally Punjabis, Bengalis, Gujaratis, and Sindhis

(i) Tamils
(ii) Other South Indian - Telugus, Malayalees
(iii) North Indians, Punjabis, Bengalis, Gujaratis, Sindhis
(iv) Sri Langka or Ceylonese
(v) Pakistanis

Religion divisions
(i)Islam is the religion of roughly 10% of Malaysian Indians with a population of roughly 200,000. They are Indian Muslim, are called Mamak, Keling or Jawi Peranakan. As reported by Wikipedia, Mamak is a term used in Malaysia to describe the Tamil Muslim community and culture. Most Indian Muslims consider this term to be pejorative. Some of Indian Muslim where one of the parent is a Malay or have comply with the Article 160 of the Federal Constitution, they may have been legally under the Malaysian constitution to be considered as a Malay.
(ii)Sikhism is practiced amongst the Punjabis. (The majority of Punjabis are Muslims in South Asia with significant Sikh and Hindu populations.). They are called Sikh in Malaysia.
(iii) Majority of Indian, especially Tamil are Hindu
(iv) There are some Indian Catholic and various Protestant denominations. In Malaysia, most of the Christians are Methodist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Brethren, and Catholic. Amongst the Malayalee community Catholicism is strong.
(v) Some Ceylonese are Buddhists

Occupation divisions

A vast majority of people from the Indian sub-continent brought over were the Tamils. They were predominantly estate workers, the majority being employed on rubber estates, though a significant minority worked in Government public works departments. The North Indians, with the exception of the Sikhs, were mainly merchants and businessmen. For example, the Gujaratis and Sindhis owned some of the most important textile firms in Malaya and Singapore while the Bengalis were became professional. The Sikhs were either in the police or employed as watchmen.

Related articles:

1. Malaysian Indian, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaysian_Indian
2. Ethnicity and aboriginality: case studies in ethnonationalism(1993) pg 105-108, by Michael D. Levin, published by University of Toronto Press, Canada

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