Continuing to generate awareness of the human rights violations faced by Hindus, Christians, and other ethnic minority groups in Malaysia, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) sponsored a Congressional briefing, Institutionalized Racism and Religious Discrimination in Malaysia, yesterday, featuring exiled Malaysian Hindu civil rights leader, Waytha Moorthy, and Dr. Ramesh Rao, HAF’s Human Rights Coordinator. The briefing, held in the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building, was attended by congressional staffers, think tank and human rights activists, and embassy officials.
Mr. Moorthy began by describing Malaysia’s Bumiputra (Sons of the Soil) policies, enshrined in Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, which provide economic and social benefits to ethnic Muslim Malay citizens, while explicitly discriminating against minorities. He continued by pointing out that despite a parallel secular judicial system, religious minorities are increasingly subjected to Islamic law through the Sharia (Islamic law) courts. Moorthy also touched on the countless ethnic Indian Malaysians that have been denied citizenship and legal documents by the government, in spite of having longstanding roots in Malaysia dating back several generations. As a consequence, they have been unable to obtain driver’s licenses or passports, acquire property, attend school, and seek medical care, rendering them virtually stateless.
“Article 153 is a deep-rooted racist provision in the Constitution which sanctions implementation of all racist policies in Malaysia to the disadvantage of the minority non-Malay population,” said Moorthy. “The Government has on many occasions threatened the use of the draconian Internal Security Act to detain anyone who questions Article 153. The current Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers on previous occasions openly threatened non-Malays with violence should this provision be questioned.”
Moorthy is the founder of the the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF), a human rights group that organized a peaceful rally of more than 50,000 in 2007, protesting the country’s persecution of ethnic Indians and Hindus. The Malaysian security forces responded brutally, and Moorthy was jailed, along with hundreds of other protesters. His passport was subsequently revoked by the Malaysian government and he has since been living in exile in London, where he continues to build awareness about the dire situation in Malaysia.
In addition to the briefing, Moorthy, accompanied by HAF’s Associate Director, Jay Kansara, met with staffers from ten House and Senate offices, which included key subcommittees, the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights, as well as the State Department. They also met with senior staffers at the American Jewish Committee. Following his meetings, Moorthy addressed a group of students, professors, and the general public in a presentation hosted by the Sanatana Satsang at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“I thank HAF for organizing the Congressional briefing and arranging meetings with staff members of strategic offices. Malaysia has the hallmark of a racist state and this has been virtually ignored by the international community,” said Moorthy. “The state control of government administration, educational institutions, and economic programs are designed to favor and enrich the majority Malay Muslim community. Indians and other minorities, who have been living in Malaysia for generations before independence, should be treated as equals and be enabled to participate in mainstream Malaysian society.”
The Foundation’s annual human rights report highlights the discrimination faced by Malaysian Hindus in a number of arenas, from the education system to limited economic and social advancement opportunities. The Malay government has also sanctioned the destruction of temples and monuments and tolerated acts of intimidation and violence towards minority communities.
“If Malaysia wishes to be a part of today’s global economy they must amend policies that leave their citizens economically disadvantaged due to race and religion,” said Rao, “We urge the State Department and Congress to engage their Malaysian counterparts to uphold democratic values. This is imperative if the United States’ stance on freedom of religion and human rights for all is not to be jeopardized in Southeast Asia, and to ensure that the seeds of religious extremism are not planted in Malaysia.”
For more information on the institutionalized racism and religious discrimination affecting Hindus and other minorities in Malaysia, please refer to HAF’s annual human rights report.