The Third Class Citizenry

Malaysians of Chinese and Indian heritage often view themselves as second class citizens because of their marginalization where it concerns government economic, educational and societal policies as compared to those of Malay heritage. But they don’t know that a certain category of Malays form the third class citizens of Malaysia.

As a Malaysian of mixed heritage and being fairly close to my Chinese relatives (that interestingly possess an array of religious beliefs – Buddhism, Christian, Muslim, free thinker), I have been acutely aware of the non-Malay heritage mindset for a large part of my life.

All those grouses I hear so often about – lack of educational opportunities from the State (two brilliant all-rounder cousins who could not even score a scholarship between them locally), the necessity of using bumiputera front companies that cheat them (if not forget about getting the project) of their hard earned money, the hurt they feel when their Malay ‘friends’ or colleagues don’t accept their food when they go to great extent to ensure it is all halal, how they are always hit up for a bribe during police road blocks, the lack of any State support or encouragement for their religious and social activities – to name a few of the many, I know by heart. Hell, I saw and continue to see most of it with my own eyes.

I hear this also from my friends and acquaintances that whenever they claim to be the second class citizenry of Malaysia, I cannot contradict them. I could reply that they can still earn a living, seek a loved one, raise a family and eat their favourite food without the immediate fear of death. But I know that sounds more mocking that consolatory. So I nod my head and hear them out. What can I say when our fellow countrymen – Malaysians of Malay heritage – constantly berate their heritage by calling them foreigners and telling them to get out of their own country and go to some foreign land? I always wonder how those sort of Malays would feel if they were told go back to Indon which our own history books tell us they came from.

However, I confess that I do get annoyed when they start going on about how they are the most deprived citizens in this country. Because they are not. There are the illegal migrants, the cheated migrants (by their agents), the refugees, the really marginalized classes – so damn poor and dispossessed you don’t even see them, unless you waded into places you don’t dare or care to – right at the bottom.

And because just beneath them are those in my category of citizenry – the third class.

Who comprise the third class citizenry of Malaysia?

It is those Malaysians of Malay heritage that do not fit or are unable to masquerade the definition of a Constitutional Malay as defined in Article 160 of the Federal Constitution. Under the constitution a Malay “means a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom and … (b) is the issue of such a person“. As can be seen, a ‘Malay’ is not a biological phenomena but a constitutional and so a political one. A Malay who meets or pretends/postures to meet these four elements are those taken to be in the ‘First Class’ citizenry (in form, never mind spirit). Those in the third class citizenry will usually lack one element, or a combination if not all of the first three elements.

I mentioned that I was part of this class. I feel this because I do not habitually speak the Malay language (my first language is English as is my second and third; and if you want irony get this, I spoke in English to my Malay grandmother and Malay to my Chinese grandmother) and I do not conform to Malay custom as I understand it to be. Those that make up this class tend to be seen as ‘Western’ thinking if not cultured, liberal in political and personal outlook and conduct, tend to be more critical minded and seen as second class Muslims by the Islamists. Others that do not fit any mainstream categorization also tend to fall into this class like the homosexual, transsexual of Malay heritage, or Malays who cannot posture themselves as a Constitutional Malay.

Why do I consider this class below that of our Chinese and Indian countrymen?

Because this class has the potential to be even more marginalized and persecuted than they are. They possess all the disadvantages of their Chinese and Indian countrymen (because they lack the necessary family and political connections to utilize; although they do get to invest in Amanah Saham Bumiputera – woohoo) and are unable to take advantage of any of the opportunities generally accorded to their race (because they are not Melayu Malay they are marginalized from those opportunities) or do not want to.

Worst of all, we have no right to privacy. This, notwithstanding the recent Federal Court decision of Sivarasa Rasiah v Majlis Peguam Malaysia & 1 Or (Federal Court Civil Appeal No. W – 01 – 8 – 2006) opining the following:

It is patently clear from a review of the authorities that “personal liberty” in Article 5(1) includes within its compass other rights such as the right to privacy (see, Govind v. State of Madhya Pradesh AIR [1975] SC 1378).

We of the third class citizenry are constantly vulnerable to persecution under Islamic law for things that our Chinese and Indian countrymen can never be arrested and punished for such as drinking alcoholic beverages flagrantly, engaging in pre-marital sex, preaching about their religion without a permit or just going out on a date. Though we are all still equally vulnerable to section 377B of the Penal Code that outlaws anal and oral sex.

In short, our privacy can be violated anywhere and anytime by religious authorities on the flimsiest anonymous tip off.

Recall the Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno case. She went down to a club for a beer one night with her husband. The next day she was a worldwide sensation because of the maximum sentence passed against on her, including whipping, for the grave though bubbly offence of drinking beer. Or you could be at work serving some Muslim destined for hell and then suddenly get arrested along with them (even though you weren’t drinking). Or out on an innocent almost religious date in Terengganu and then – khalwatammokantoi beb (translation: Busted dude!). And if you want to see how sensitively, respectfully and honourably our religious department carries out its duties go to YouTube and search ‘Khalwat Raid’ or ‘Tangkap Basah’ (note how these clips should not be even uploaded to a massive public file sharing website). These are the worse case scenarios for a third class citizen. The twilight zone factor can visit us just about anytime. And just so you know how zealously efficient our religious authorities can be, you could even be raided if you were an American Christian.

(‘Tangkap Basah‘)

A non-Malay Malaysian is spared of such violations, humiliations and inconveniences. They can get wasted with impunity and vomit to their stomach’s content without any fear of arrest. They can sit with their lovers in public or discreet places whilst displaying some affection so long as it does not involve holding hands, kissing or hugging. They can book a hotel room with their lover without having to worry that the religious authorities bearing down on their door and ruin their creatively choreographed footage. They don’t have to be constantly fearful that religious authorities with handheld cams will sneak up on them and then upload the videos on to YouTube.

Its for these reasons I say that the liberal bent Malay comprise the third class citizenry – we can be more intensely persecuted, marginalized and humiliated than a Malaysian of Chinese or Indian heritage in addition to being similarly deprived politically and socially.

The saddest part about our national development is that some of our Malay founding fathers would these days probably fall into the third class citizenry. After all – some had pre-marital sex, many could appreciate a good drink (and by that I mean alcoholic beverage not sirap bandung), enjoyed going to the horse races and out for joget nights. Tan Sri P. Ramlee would never get any of his movies made these days and Salomah would never be as sensual and sexy today as she was then. All of them could do all this without danger of this country dangerously careening off into sex orgies, goat worship, unrestrained gambling and pre-Cabinet meeting drinking binges. None of that happened. I’m not saying everything was great back then but I do feel there was a greater sense of maturity, balance and humour about the Malays of old as typified by Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Dr. Ismail, and the like.

They may not have been the perfect Muslim or even the representative Malay, but that was because they were better than that – they were first and foremost, mature human beings possessed of a holistic sense of fairness.

(Editor’s Note: OK, so we didn’t exactly fix the glitch but we have embedded the videos previously linked directly on this page for the delectation of your all consuming eyes. Thank you for your patience.)

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Fahri Azzat practices the dark arts of the law. Although he enjoys writing and reading, he doesn't enjoy writing his own little biographies of himself. Like this one. He wished somebody else would do it for him. He has little taste in writing about himself in third person. He feels weird doing it. But the part he finds most tedious is having to pad up the lack of his accomplishments, or share some interesting facts about his rather uneventful life, as if there were some who found that oh-so-interesting; as if he were some famous person, like Michael Jackson. When he writes these biographies, the thought, 'Wei, Jangan Perasaan- ah!' lights up in his head. So he usually just lists what he got involved with, positions he held and blah, blah. But this time. Right here. Right this very moment. Uhuh. This one. This one right here. He's finally telling it like it is.

Posted on 24 February 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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