FOR the week of 30 March to 5 April 2009, the stories that dominated the Tamil press were not unlike what the other publications focused on: Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s appointment as the nation’s sixth prime minister (PM).
However, one issue that really got the Indian Malaysian community riled up was the controversial conversion of an 11-month-old Hindu baby to Islam after she was forcibly taken away from the mother by the father.
Additionally, the Tamil press also looked at the upcoming by-elections in Bukit Selambau.
The Hindu baby’s conversion into Islam without her mother’s consent is brewing into a potentially explosive situation in Ipoh.
(Pic by Doreen Dotto / Wikimedia commons)In a press conference, M Indira Gandhi revealed that her husband used to beat her and tried to force her to convert to Islam, but the mother of three refused. One day, she said, her husband came into the house, beat her up and then took away their baby daughter.
Tamil Nesan first reported the story on 4 March. The story was buried on page 6 and headlined Husband beat and tortured me. Wife Indira Gandhi lodges police report. The story focused more on the husband’s abuse, and there was no mention of the baby’s conversion.
But the next day, Makkal Osai and Malaysia Nanban carried the story on its front page. Eleven-month-old baby converted to Islam, read Makkal Osai‘s headline; while Malaysia Nanban‘s report was titled Conversion of child: mother’s worst fears come true. Tamil Nesan reported the story on page two as Husband converts baby. It was puzzling why the paper, which first broke the story, did not highlight this fact when it had a chance to.
Makkal Osai reported that the incident has shocked and angered Hindus in Ipoh. “I have lodged three police reports about my husband’s beatings and how he is forcing us to convert to Islam. Nothing was done,” said Indira.
Accompanying Indira to the press conference were Sungkai state assemblyperson A Sivanesan and Ipoh Barat Member of Parliament M Kulasegaran. The two described the father’s act of forcefully taking away the child from the mother and converting her to Islam (without the mother’s consent) as “cruel”.
They demanded for the father to be arrested immediately, and for the police to launch an investigation into the affair.
A new PM
By far the most insightful editorial about the nation’s new PM, which showcased the concerns of Indian Malaysians, was carried by Makkal Osai on 5 March. It was an open letter to Najib written by its editor-in-chief M Rajen, titled Dear Prime Minister Najib.
Rajen listed out the reasons why the Indian Malaysian community had grown distrustful of the BN and had rallied behind the opposition during the last general election. “What saddens us is that none of the prime ministers since independence have bothered to investigate whether the help and subsidies given to the Indian [Malaysian] population actually reached them, especially those in need of them.”
The new PM (File pic) He lamented that the BN leadership felt smug that help had been given to the Indian Malaysians, but did not bother to take the necessary steps to listen to the grouses of Indian Malaysians on the street.
Rajen also called for the PM to be more proactive in the goings on of the BN component parties. “For the past 50-over years, the Indian [Malaysians] have been represented by one party in the BN. Just because it was the sole representative of the community, the government turned a blind eye to the goings-on in the party without questioning whether the party leadership was doing the right thing.
“This non-interference by the government was in keeping with the general non-interference policy practised within the component parties of the BN. But this silence on the government’s part was the wrong thing to do, and this was reflected in the anger of the community during the last general election.”
Rajen went on to give 10 suggestions to the new PM on how to win back the confidence of Indian Malaysian voters. Among the suggestions he put forth was to advise the PM to not only listen to one party that represents the community. “Invite Indian [Malaysian] organisations and NGOs that work with Indian [Malaysians] at least once every three months and take into consideration their different viewpoints,” he said.
“Change the unwritten rule that the parties in the BN will not interfere in each other’s party affairs,” he continued. “Be courageous like your father and stand up and tell them this is not right, especially when there are blatant wrongs that are being done.”
He also called on the new PM to look into the transition of power in the MIC. “The services rendered to the party by Datuk Seri (S) Samy Vellu and Datuk Subra (S Subramaniam) cannot be forgotten. But with the changing of the times, the leadership has to change … please don’t hesitate to speak your mind about the leadership change and help them to make that change.”
Rajen suggested ways for Najib to keep his pulse on the goings-on in the Indian Malaysian community. “Please ensure that there is a translation department in your office so that the views and suggestions in the Tamil media are brought to your attention.”
Rajen ended with a plea to Najib to “go to the ground” and find out for himself why Indian Malaysian youths are turning to a life of crime. He also called on Najib to release the remaining three Hindraf members — P Uthayakumar, M Manohoran and T Vasanthakumar — who are still detained without trial under the Internal Security Act.
Malaysia Nanban‘s editorial on 3 March titled Warm welcome and best wishes to Datuk Seri Najib’s administration was full of hope. It anticipated that the new prime minister would be able to bring much-needed reforms to Umno and the nation.
Bkt Selambau by-elections
The Bukit Selambau by-elections where 15 candidates are contesting garnered a lot of press coverage in the Tamil papers. All three papers also ran editorials on it on 31 March.
Malaysia Nanban‘s editorial, titled 15 candidates to contest in the Bukit Selambau by elections?, expressed puzzlement at the large number of candidates for this by-election. “Is this a ploy to split the votes? … (O)r does it show the candidates’ greed?
“Have the candidates correctly assessed the voters’ mood or have they misjudged it? Or has the present political climate given birth to this situation? Or are there any other hidden reasons?”
Tamil Nesan‘s editorial titled Ensure respectability during political rallies took the opposition parties to task for spreading rumours and slanderous comments about BN leaders.
“The opposition parties should only talk about what they will do for the people in the constituency should they win, and not criticise or slander government leaders or individuals. They should stop doing this immediately,” the paper reprimanded.
“All parties concerned should bear in mind that Malaysia is a multiracial country; therefore they must be careful not to stir ill-feelings among the races during the election campaign,” it added.