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Tamil diaspora in Malaysia proud of their heritage

Tamil diaspora in Malaysia proud of their heritage
PTI Mar 4, 2013, 12.06PM IST

MALACCA: Mahendiran is a fourth-generation Indian in Malacca, whose forebears had come to Malaysia from Tamil Nadu over a century back for work.

Neither he nor his parents have ever visited Tamil Nadu. Still, they speak only Tamil at home, celebrate festivals like ‘thaipusam’ with traditional fervour and are ardent fans of Tamil movie icons like Rajanikant and Kamal Hassan.

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The 28-year-old government employee is one of the thousands of Tamils in the multi-religious Malaysia, who take pride on retaining their culture and heritage and practising their mothertounge over the generations.

In most cases their forefathers had been brought to Malaysia to work in plantations. Now, they thank the policy of inter-faith harmony, being pro-actively promoted by Malaysia as a state policy since its independence from colonial rule over five decades back.

Step into his home, in the calm sea-side Kampung Pinang village, near the historic city of Malaacca, the ambience is hardly different from being at a home in any village of Tamil Nadu. The front yard is decorated with the ‘Kolam’ drawings.

The entrance hall has several mounted pictures of Hindu deities, including one of Lord Murugan. And, a vintage song of T M Soundararajan wafts in the air. Mahendiran’s mother welcomed us — a group of journalists from Kerala on invitation from the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) — saying “vango vango..vanakkam” in Tamil.

She offered us steaming cups of coffee and crispy ‘murukku’ and other typical South Indian home-made delicacies.

“One wonderful thing about Malaysia is that we have never been under pressure to abandon our cultural traditions. This is not the case with Tamils alone, but even with the Chinese and other ethnic groups. Among the Tamils, there are also Christians and Muslims. Similarly, Chinese are not all Buddhists,” Rajammal said.

Malaysia has slightly over 61 per cent Muslims, 19.8 per cent Buddhists, 9.2 per cent Christians and 6.3 per cent Hindus, who are mostly of Tamil origin.

Though Islam has been declared the religion of the federation, people of other faiths are totally free to practise their religion.

Mahendiran, who has studied at a Chinese school, said he did not find it difficult to get a job as a clerk in a college after his studies, as no one discriminated against him due to his ethnicity or religious affiliation.

“I am not as fluent in Tamil as my mother or dad. I mostly speak in English or Chinese. But at home, my parents speak to me only in Tamil. They are proud of their ethnic culture and language,” he said.

“Inter-faith harmony and tolerance has been a state policy in Malaysia which has helped the country’s social and economic progress over the decades,” said Azman Amin bin Hassan, director general of the Department of National Unity and Integration.

Making a presentation of his department’s activities at the Federal Administrative headquarters at Putra Jaya, Hassan said recently the department has launched a series of initiatives to encourage inter-faith dialogue and harmony, which has been welcomed by leaders of all communities.

For example, councils comprising of religious leaders have been formed at villages and towns. They not only promote inter-religious dialogues, tolerance and moderation but also step in to defuse tensions at the community level whenever strains surface, said Hassan.

According to Dr Kamar Oniah Kamaruzaman, associate professor of Comparative Religion, “harmony and peaceful co-existence with one and all,” is a concern for entire humanity, locally and globally.
Speaking at a seminar on inter-faith harmony at the IIUM recently, she said the responsibility of creating an atmosphere of harmony is not the responsibility of the state alone, but the moral duty of every person in any place in the world.

Before stepping out of her house, one of us asked Rajammal when she would visit Tamil Nadu. “I don’t know. It has always been my prayer to God to give me a chance to visit the home of my forefathers, to worship at the great temples there,” she said.