Kuala Lumpur, Jan 8: Malaysia has suspended the recruitment of workers from India amid growing domestic ethnic tensions. An official said that the ban came into effect a fortnight ago and applied to all categories of workers, including professionals. Indian workers already in Malaysia will not have their work visas renewed, the official said.
Ethnic Indians held a series of protests late last year over alleged social and economic discrimination. In an article in the website littleindia.com, Zafar Anjum writes that Malaysia's 1.8 million Indian population, represents almost eight percent of the country's total population of 22 million.
Until it was displaced by Indian Americans a few years ago, the Malaysian Indian community was the largest Indian community in the world. Nearly 90 percent of Malaysian Indians are of South Indian origin, principally Tamilians, Malayalis and Telugus.
Today, the Indian community in Malaysia, once largely a community of plantation workers, has become diversified with a sprinkling of entrepreneurs, intellectuals and technical professionals. Though the vast majority of Indians in Malaysia still lag behind Malays and Chinese in socio-economic terms, the new immigrants are slowly affecting change.
The new Indian immigrants, mostly technology professionals, and the strides made by the tiny Malaysian Indian middle class have given Indians in Malaysia, a facelift.
The migration of Indians, mainly Tamils and Telugus, to Malaysia started in the second half of the 19th century, primarily as indentured laborers, who were brought by the British to work on plantations, roads, railway lines and ports.
The second wave of Indians came as auxiliaries, mostly from North India, as part of the police force and security services. About the same time also came Indians from Kerala and Sri Lankan Tamils from Jaffna to work as clerks and subordinate civil servants. The third stream of immigrants came as traders, most predominant among these were the Chettiars, a South Indian moneylending caste.
The latest wave of Indian immigration started toward the end of the last century when Malaysia, like its neighbour Singapore, began looking at India as a source for knowledge economy professionals. Some of the poorest labourers in Malaysia are Indians, living a hand to mouth existence.
In 2000, TimeAsia reported that Indians have the lowest share of the nation's corporate wealth: 1.5 percent compared to 19.4 percent for the Malays and 38.5 percent for the Chinese. The highest rate of suicide of any community is among Indians.
Gangsterism and violent crime is largely associated with Indians. In 1994, 128 of the 377 murders committed in Malaysia were by Indians. Some 15 percent of the Indians in the capital are squatters.