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Sunday, March 20, 2011

TO PALANIVEL: A NOTE ON THE INDIAN QUESTION

 
Throughout history there have been rump states.


A quick tour of modern rump states - Serbia after the breakup of Yugoslavia; Russia after the demise of the USSR and Pakistan after the creation of Bangladesh. 

Older historical examples are Poland and Cambodia, Poland , painfully sandwiched between a powerful Czarist Russia and an aggressively militaristic Prussia was repeatedly partitioned ( the Austro-Hungarian Empire was also complicit ) until it ceased to exist as a State by 1795. 

Closer home, the Khmer Empire, ascendant in Southeast Asia for half a millennium from about 800 CE was gobbled up from the east by an expansionist Vietnam and from the west from by a fast rising Siam, the Cambodia you see today in maps is a rump- a mere shadow of its once territorial and cultural might. 

All that is history. 

The question to ask now is whether you can have a rump people within a modern state ?

The Jews of Europe post  WW II come to mind, fifteen million or more were  wiped out in the period 1933 -1945, millions more fled or were dislocated, the  Nazi ‘Final Solution’ was preceded by the European ‘Jewish Question’. 

Now in Europe Jews are found in thriving or not so thriving pockets - 300 000 in UK and 500 000 in France are notable, surviving or existing or prospering they are never liked or loved except perhaps as individuals.

Greeks and Armenians living in Turkey today are also rump people.

In 1453, the Caliph having conquered Constantinople  invited the Armenians to stay and help in the development of an expansionist empire, the community brought skills that were unique- in finance, trading and services that helped build a vast empire straddling Asia and Europe, they numbered in the millions then and their churches were numerous. 

Modern Turkey is the successor state of a genocidal Caliphate, the Armenians were all but wiped out between 1890 and 1914, and  today they number some 50 000 with their own schools and newspapers and count for nothing in the national life of Turkey.

In Malaysia  a rump people exist. 

They are called Malaysian Indians. 

How these Malaysian Indians  ended up as ‘rumps’ can be debated endlessly, these people are themselves keenly aware of their ‘rumpness’ though they have not been able to apply a label to their predicament,  I am merely the label supplier. 

What more clear proof of their rumpness than when eminent persons of patently  Indian origin denounce their ethnicity for another, or when community leaders urge poorer sections of them to return to the impoverishing jobs of their grandfathers in the estates.

I will leave it to a Pole and a naturalised British citizen and a giant among twentieth century writers, Joseph Conrad to ‘speak’ on behalf of these people  but, before that, allow me to state that this rump people in Malaysia are sandwiched between two powerful peoples- one a political giant and the other an economic one.

In 1918,  Conrad very eloquently  addressed the pain, agony and deliverance of the once rump state, Poland in the same year by writing “A Note On The Polish Question”,  I am struck by the similarities and lessons it holds for the rump Indian people in Malaysia.

Here are selective excerpts from his note:

“....for at that time Poland was perfectly defenseless from a material point of view, and more than ever, perhaps, inclined to put its faith in humanitarian illusions...”

“ The strength arrayed against her was just overwhelming”

“Thus even a crime may become a moral agent by the lapse of time and the course of history. Progress leaves its dead by the way, for progress is only a great adventure. It is a march into an undiscovered country ; and in such an enterprise the victims do not count”

“....the claim of the spoliators who by a strange effect of an uneasy conscience, while strenously denying the moral guilt of the transaction were always trying to throw a veil of high rectitude over the crime”

“What was most annoying to their righteousness was the fact the nation, stabbed to the heart, refused to grow miserable and cold”

“Since that time we have come to be regarded simply as a nuisance. It’s very disagreeable”
“The spirit of aggressiveness was absolutely foreign to the Polish temperament”

“Given the wrong, and the apparent impossibility of righting it without running into risks of a serious nature, some moral alleviation may be found in the belief that the victim had brought its misfortunes upon its own head by its own sins”

“On simple matters of life and death a people is always better than its leaders because a people cannot argue itself as a whole into a sophisticated state of mind out of deference for a mere doctrine or from an exaggerated sense of its own cleverness”

“There is nothing on earth that turns faster on its pivot than political idealism when touched by the breadth of practical politics”

“It was the idea of delivering the victim with a kindly smile and the confident assurance that “it would be all right” to a perfectly unrepentant assassin”

“....and also the fact that for better or worse it was impossible to get rid of it again except by the unthinkable way of another carving, of another partition, of another crime”

“Therein lies the strength and the future of the thing so strictly forbidden.....of the Polish independence expressed in a Polish State. It comes into the world morally free, not in virtue of its sufferings but in virtue of its miraculous rebirth and of its ancient claims for services rendered to Europe. Not a single one of the combatants of all the fronts of the world had died consciously for Poland’s freedom...”

No Mr. Palanivel! No! A thousand times I say No! 

Neither going back to the estates nor migrating to the towns and cities of this prosperous land is the solution to the Indian Question if either is done without self respect and dignity.

They  must embark on a new journey of self reliance.

They  must once again function as individuals and not as a community holding a collective begging bowl called MIC, for the sake of the community throw away that begging bowl you hold in your hand, for on it is a plea carved in shame, “Please Help Us”. 

No one, no race, no government must redeem the Malaysian Indian, the Indians must be the instruments of their own redemption, then like Conrad, they  too can say with pride, “we have saved ourselves from our ‘rumpness’:”

“And its just as well! Providence in its inscrutable way has been merciful ; for had it been otherwise, the load of gratitude would be too great, the sense of obligation too crushing, the joy of deliverance too fearful for mortals....”

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