Bersih and Hindraf gatherings: An awakening of the marginalised


Two huge protest gatherings – or attempted gatherings – in the space of 15 days in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Amazing! But what does this tell us? A few things, actually:

More and more Malaysians are casting off their fear of the repressive powers of the state. That was abundantly clear in the Bersih gathering calling for electoral reforms on 10 Nov, when 50,000 Malaysians converged in the heart of KL despite the warnings, the intimidation, the riot police and their water cannons…. and now 20,000-30,000 at the Hindraf demonstration.

In both gatherings, it appears that the majority of those who were determined to show up were the disempowered and the disenfranchised and the marginalised. In other words, those left out from the development process.

Positive GDP growth every year has not resulted in equitable development for all – rather, the wealth generated from economic growth has been concentrated in the hands of the upper class. To make matters worse, the system is now mired in corruption while affirmative action policies have not reached many of those who most need them.

Many appear to be retreating to a fundamentalist worldview of religion out of disillusionment with the oppressive state, a sense of loss of identity due to the pervasive, homogenising effect of global corporate culture, and dissatisfaction that the fruit of economic growth has not been equitably distributed. Real participatory democracy has not been tried and found to be wanting. It has not been tried at all!

Sadly, many Malaysians are still shackled by a communal world-view – largely due to years of being indoctrinated by a system of racial politics. They are still unable to extend their hands in solidarity with all those who are suffering, irrespective of ethnicity and religion. This was less evident in the Bersih gathering, which probably had a greater multi-ethnic representation (though the majority were Muslim-Malays). But in the Hindraf gathering, it appears that nearly all of those turning up were ethnic Indians/Hindus.

The marginalised Indians, Malays, the Penan, the Orang Asli, and the exploited migrant workers still find it difficult to find common cause with one another. We need to break free from the barriers that divide the oppressed in our country.

It is largely the poorer Indians who were likely to have been at the Hindraf gathering, just as it was largely Malays from the lower-income group that took part in the Bersih demonstration. Those at the Hindraf gathering may be unable to trace the roots of their own disillusionment and could be putting on the cloak of Hindu rights, finding solace in the security of their religion. In the same way, many poorer Malays, rebelling against a corrupt and exploitative system, are probably finding comfort in the embrace of conservative Islam.

Maybe a common ethnicity and a sense of being discriminated against – and now a shared experience of a perceived sense of persecution (the result of temple demolitions and controversial sharia-related cases) – has been more successful in rallying the Indians together. In a sense, this is a pity because it suggests we are still trapped in a world-view that perceives suffering and marginalisation through ethnic or religious lenses.

There are shortcomings in such a world-view. It ignores the exploitative nature of our economic system, in which a few (of all ethnic groups) with access to capital and connections lord it over the masses. For instance, why have richer Malays, Chinese, and Indians not showed up at these rallies? It is really because they have benefited from the system and they do not want to revamp something that has served them with wealth and position, titles and status, and the comforts of life.

The exploitative dimension of corporate-led globalisation, which has concentrated wealth in the hands of this small group, has driven many ordinary Malaysians to despair. The introduction of neo-liberal policies, the slashing of taxes for the rich along with the removal of subsidies for basic goods and services – education, health care, fuel, higher education – have all made life more stressful, not only for the lower-income group but increasingly the middle-class.

The suppression of local wages through a policy of importing migrant workers, the lack of a minimum wage, a weak trade union movement (only now coming to life), and racial and religious divisions have all meant that workers (of all ethnic groups) have been unable to achieve the critical mass needed to cast off the chains of exploitation that tie them down.

I believe what we are witnessing now is the awakening of the economically marginalised and disempowered who are rebelling against the system, which has seen Big Business profiting at the expense of the people. I doubt there were many wealthy Hindus/ethnic Indians from the posh neighbourhoods of, for instance, Damansara and Bangsar at the Hindraf protest today… just as you didn’t see the wealthy bumiputera elite at the Bersih gathering on 10 Nov.

Although it is heartening that the marginalised are stirring, it is important that we realise that their suffering cuts across ethnic barriers and has some common roots. Many have simply been pushed to the periphery by our model of development, which is relentlessly driven by Big Business tied closely to the vested interests of the political elite.

More Malaysians must wake up from their slumber – and join hands with one another!

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Dr. T

To my fellow malaysian, my sincere respect for those who stood up for the rally. Democracy requires sacrifices, and my brothers (those who take part) deserve my absolute respect for your bravery. If I am the present Agung, you will definitely be granted a title of “Datuk Keberanian”. I am wondering if anyone can tell me if the Memorandum did manage to deliver to the British High Commission. Well, if you guys fail to do that, I think perhaps I have a better idea. Why send it to the BHC in Malaysia when you can deliver that directly to the… Read more »


Hello Dr T,
The memorandum was not delivered during the rally. It was faxed directly to England later that evening. Let us be clear that this is not about just the memorandum. Its about making a statement. I heard the call from our Indian brothers and sisters and nothing could have stopped me from walking that day. I walked with my brothers and sisters last Sunday.


I hope when all this comes to a conclusion, that whatever the future unveils will be a positive step to giving back dignity to those hard hit by die hard government policies that segregate groups due to no fault of theirs like race or religion. It is sad to see some suffering while others enjoy wealth amassed for generations. Man is never satisfied with what or how much he has. I think it is human weakness to only feel for oneself more than for others. If we are able to overcome this weakness we should be able to help those… Read more »


Yes. Two attempted demonstrations, within the span of two weeks left Badawi, Najib and Nazri bewildered as to what to say and what to do. As usual their narrowly perceived, so called broadmindedness, political stupidity prevailed. While one demonstration called for electoral reformation, another called for establishment of rights of Malaysians of indian origins though its carried out under the pretext of Hindu religion (because the temple demolition was the beginning of the grudges and strength). As anticipated, the bosses of BN began to show their colors by calling the demonstration as being supported by the Oppositions. So, what if… Read more »


It is time for all Malaysians to sit down and think where we have gone wrong. I do not know if any of our BN big guys are reading what are mentioned here by the public. If they do probably they will learn a thing or two that we the public, the taxpayer who also pay their salaries have a choice of who will look after our welfare. Here the welfare of all rakyat is at stake. So we have the right to stand up for our RIGHTS irrespective of race or religion.


Who is Chandra Muzaffar? Is he the voice of BN, the blue-eyed boy of the local media out to defend the govt? (deleted)


We were more united when the British ruled us. With independence many if not all would have thought of a better life. When can human beings feel secure and safe if they cannot voice out their grievances to their leaders without fear or pressure from higher authorities? Is the democratic way? When are we going to mature and be responsible for actions which are negative? When are we going to remedy ills in society for the benefit of mankind? Where did our education system go wrong?


If the oppressed does not speak up they are equally at fault for an existing situation. The oppressors are the sufferers as well and need a cure. In the case of Hindraf, they have no other go except to gather support from the majority of Malaysians who have been marginalised. This marginalised group are the INDIANS. The Poor lot have not been properly represented. The elected member HIMSELF has proven to go against their rights to equal treatment in a country deemed their LAND OF BIRTH


A government that is fair, just and transparent ensures a harmonious and progressive society with less social problems like crime and delinquency among its rakyat. Why are there so many social ills today compared with yesteryears? Its because the rakyat is dissatisfied with the treatment they are given. The youngsters of today fall out of schools because they know they have no future in a corrupt society. BERSIH could have be a solution for a better political and social environment. This was followed by the Hindraf march. The Rakyat is crying out for help not within their sight.


I am crying for those who had bravely stood up and walked the walk that many fear to tread. They must have suffered immense humiliation and loss of faith in their representatives. Just look at the stooges on TV speaking against the rally. The very Indians who are supposed to support their cause are against them.


When I was in school, I remember reading a book titled ‘Animal farm’ by George O’Well. If I am not wrong, in this book, the pigs gathered the support of the whole lot of animals in the farm belonging to Farmer Jones to drive him from the farm by stating a human was a tyrant depriving the farm animals of a right to a peaceful coexistance. The pigs promised the others that all animals will be treated equal if the rest helped them to chase the human out. Well the animals went on a rampage and in no time Farmer… Read more »


zorro, what about tony fernandez then? he is a filthy rich indian!

“more malaysians must wake up from their slumber” – let’s start with the PM.


The marginalized Indians have had it too long. It is sad to see so many in the estate are still living in deplorable condition without an inch of help from the government. To illustrate to my children, I took them to an estate and showed them how they could help. We talked to a number of the workers and found out that many of the children have only two meals a day and stopped schooling at the age of 10. What happened to the financial help that were promised to these people? I guess they all gone into the pockets… Read more »

Huang Siew Hock

The two recent events led by BERSIH and HINDRAH are marches of dignity and the agonised CRIES for HELP. These cries have been held back for a long time and the downtrodden are now bravely coming out in droves, inspiteofthe bans on gatherings, to show the Government and the World that they are tired of the various promises made in the past; they want ACTIONS, not words, NOW. They are telling the power-that-be that they will not be fooled by pleasant words to sway and soothe their tattered frustrated nerves. They DEMAND DEEDS; otherwise they are willing to risk lives… Read more »


lesart : why ? cause of the poorer management by the GOV ….


Lesart, I dont think it is fair to put Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam in the same niche with the super rich like Ananda Krishnan. Tan Sri is influentialand a technocrat, but definitely not rich. I stand corrected.


Mr Anil Netto, I lauded the fact that you manage to put your perspective above and beyond racial line. It is absolutely correct to say that the gathering gain momentum among the lower class because they have been marginilized, deprived and generally left out from the economic boom enjoyed by other races in Malaysia. The Malays were sparred from the fate of the Indian because of the affirmative policy that protect their interest. Malaysian Indian on the othe hand, were left out in the “wild” to survive. I found it ironic that Indian in Malaysia occupy the two most extreme… Read more »

Shaun Palanieappan

The police response is not new… (deleted) This is not the first time …

Unfortunately we have a leader who purpotely represents the Indians but just represents himself. All they wantede was to submit a memorandum.

Its time the world woke up to see the plight of these Indians.


“divide and rule” of Colonial British doctorine has been drawback in Indian comunity. Shameful heritance has been the weapon for some rulers to marginilized Indian. But Nov25, marked Indian ability to show that they can be united as chinese or malay to fight for their rights. The fundamental issue is corruption which affected all races in general. Malaysian made a first step and let be the foundation to fight against corruption.

Poor Girl Next Door

God, Please Listen Tou Our Prayers..Amen


The rich CHinese are all prepared to move out at a moment’s notice. The houses have been bought in the comfortable suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne, Christchurch, Surrey, Oxford etc. Bank accounts have been set up. The poor Chinese are being led by the running **** of UMNO i.e the MCA. They are confused and since there are still scraps left to be picked up they will tolerate it. YOu will have to wait till UMNO start demanding 50% then 70% then 90% before the Chinese start to march. I looked at the rubbish site I passed daily and I see… Read more »

J.D. Lovrenciear

Malaysia is facing a leadership crisis. Period. Whichever way one looks at it, it is very clear that the leaership route the nation has been forced to walk these past over two decades is leaving trenches along the ‘developed nation status’ vision being pursued. With the impending fuel price hike and the toll increase which will also see another round of escalating price hikes, will only push the working-class rakyat over to the edge. We will need a miracle after that to change course. In a nutshell, no matter how unpleasant it can be, the perception generally held on the… Read more »


Looking back at history of Malaya, Indians were brought by the British as labourers to work the rubber plantations and build the roads and the railways. At that time rubber and tin were the major exports of Malaya and Malaya was the largest exporter of tin and rubber. If not for the Indians laying the way for a better transport system, even the Chinese would not have prospered. Economic Geography emphasises the need of a good and efficient transport system for industries to prosper and flourish. So why has it been a bad deal for Indians in this country!


It is plain & simple – These guys have played along with the Tamilian chauvinism that has been promoted by those in power. They only wish to highlight their grouses, separate from those of others. They have segregated themselves, even before they were segregated by any oppressor. You can sense it the moment you walk into any Tamil dominated residency. They now cry foul, when the “others” don’t stand with them. Whatever said and done, their grouses today are very much valid (even if they have brought it upon themselves), and I empathize with their sentiments – though I cannot… Read more »

John Lennon

I was at the gathering this morning along Jalan P Ramlee. I was stunned as well as well as proud to see Malaysians of Indian origin finally standing up and speaking out openly their long held frustrations and anger at the prolonged suppression and oppression of their fundamental rights. This only means that the main stream political coalition and its indian partner. the MIC, have to search thei soul if they want the support of the Indian community in the coming elections. From this protest on the streets and the latent feelings held by many at home watching Aljazeera, the… Read more »