Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tamil Schools and marginalisation of Indians

With the advent of indentured labour from what is today known as Tamil Nadu in India by the British came the Tamil Schools in the plantations.
The schools were nothing more than nursery facilities to look after the children of the labourers.
Even in the seventies when I had a brief spell working in an estate I noticed that children of up to three classes were all placed in a single classroom, and the the next three classes in another classroom, there was effectively no learning the teacher just kept the children in the class to ensure they did not go out and run about unsupervised. That environment in itself was a breeding ground for a dull mindset.
The teachers were ill equipped, and the children hardly got anywhere with their studies, and this was not for want of trying the whole system was ill equipped, it was a vicious circle in which they were all trapped.
A cycle perpetrated by the British to ensure a continuous supply of Indian labour. Although these days the schools are more impressive, with better buildings, the teachers more qualified, the quality of teaching and learning is still backward when compared with other National and national type schools.
Today more and more Indian and Malay parents are sending their children to Chinese Schools, however hardly any child of other races go to these Tamil schools, that alone speaks about the quality of these schools.

During the time I spent working in Bangalore I noticed that there is a sizable number of Tamils in Karnataka and this is especially so in Bangalore, but I also noticed that there were no Tamil schools in Bangalore, and I asked myself this question, "why is it here in India the Tamil is not seeking to send his children to a Tamil schools, and why is it so important in Malaysia?"
I think we will all have to sit up and ask ourselves this same question.
I am of the opinion this continuation of Tamil education amongst the Tamil community here in Malaysia has similar objectives, albeit on different platforms, and this time it is not perpetrated by the British Government but by the Malaysian Government, on the insistence of the Malaysian Indian politicians.
If Tamil schools are really that important, why is it that the Indian elite shy away from these schools when it comes to educating their children?
Yes! some children in Tamil schools make the cut, most of these, are children of Tamil School teachers, and others the very few who make it, come from the middle class, but the great majority fail to make the cut,and this continues.
It will be good if we could have the statistics about the dropout rate of Tamil school children during their secondary education in national schools, the breakdown of the background of those who succeed in making it to the Universities, and the outcome as whole of Tamil education in Malaysia, for it is here that the issue of marginalization actually takes root.
The Tamil schools create Tamil students who are only comfortable in the surroundings of Tamils, they do not mix freely with people of other races, assimilation is a huge problem, the, "I Tamalan, you Tamalan" attitude is a huge hindrance to their own progress.
Any community that is inward looking will not benefit from the progress taking place around them and this is the case with the Tamil school educated Tamil communities, those that make it are in traditional Indian businesses.
In the early nineties I was plant manager of a Company producing chocolate enrobed Candy Bars. One of the directors of that company was a Trinidadian, one *Errol Edward Mahabhir, a man of Indian origin.
One day Errol came up to me asked me this question, "hear, tell me, why is it that at every turn I make I find the cleaner is an Indian, I land in your blasted airport, (Subang at that time) and your cleaner is an Indian, in the hotel, the cleaner is an Indian, in the shopping malls the cleaners are mainly Indian, and now I come to this plant, run by an Indian plant manager, and the cleaner is an Indian, why?"

I replied, "well Errol in Malaysia it is very different, the Indians are not given to much opportunity," he cut me short immediately, he said, "s**t you maan (man) in Trinidad Tobago, we went there as indentured labour, today we are part of running that country, many of the big businesses are run by us many of the professionals Indian, no one gave a damn for us, we did it ourselves.
Take a look at Fiji, take a look at East and South Africa, take a look at England all have Indians there and they are thriving communities, so don't give me this silly excuses."
He was right, he was very right, Errol and the Trinidadians of Indian origin do not know their roots in India, they are Trinidadians first and they are very much less Indians. They eat Indian food they'll make the best parathas, they will make tandoori chicken, they cook good dhall and dhall purees, they have Hindu Temples in Trinidad but they are more Trinidadian and less Indian.

My immediate superior in the Company Rudy Bowman who is still here in Malaysia once looked at me and asked me what nonsense I was speaking when I told him I am a Malaysian Indian, he really thought I was stupid to tell him that, and I know he still feels that way and I am beginning to see his point of view. He'd ask, "hey tell me how can you be Malaysian and Indian at the same time, you are one or the other, that's how it is period, no such stupid thing as 'Malaysian Indian' - huh."
Our ability to assimilate is nurtured from the time we are young, we are trained into our adulthood and if we are trained right from childhood to remain and be comfortable with only a certain group that is actually how we turn out in the end.
In plural societies like ours, and in the modern world where integration, assimilation and networking is what determines our ability to mix with others and move ahead, the children of Tamil Schools will find it hard to assimilate, will eventually be marginalised and that is not anyone's doing but a result of their inability to assimilate.

These children always feel left out in non vernacular schools where they go to for their secondary education, where the drop out rates among them are especially high, and eventually they get sidelined and as a result marginalised.
Who benefits from such ignorant masses? Politicians of course, they can tell these people all kinds of tales, they can twist and turn issues, they make these poor folk believe that they must stay united as Tamils or they will loose their language, their culture and their identity, and that the only people who can give it to them are these glorified politicians, who even if they send their children to Tamil schools have the financial means to fortify this with home tuition and later send them to elite schools for further education.
Tamil schools keep these politicians in place, ensure their survival, and to really get rid of Tamil schools is a "sensitive issue" to them and it is time we know why.
To all if not most Indian political parties it is their backbone, it is their never ending platform for continuous supply of supporters, to the Barisan it will keep intact racial politics, so why not?
To the Indians who send their children to these schools unwittingly, it is the scourge that causes marginalisation.

If the Tamils are really keen on culture and language they should take a lesson form the Sikh community.


*Errol Edward Mahabhir was at various times, Minister of Labour, Minister of finance and Minster of Industry and commerce of Trinidad and Tobago and he told me they did not have or go to any Indian medium school in that country, I forgot to ask him if there were any.

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