Posted: 27 Jul 2013 02:28 PM PDT
"One Indian's response to Art and Zaid" was the title I gave my previous post about the Seri Pristina primary school.
Finding the right title is not easy.
Instead of "Indian", I could have said "Neighbour," because that is how I try to identify myself in every situation.
Instead of "Neighbour", I could have said "Christian," because my focus on being a good neighbour is rooted in my acceptance of the most fundamental Christian teaching: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself."
Instead of "Christian", I could have said "Engineer," because I am obsessed with meaningful work and efficiency: I am unable to accept waste, whether of money or space or time. [See for example my essay "When doctors walk with their patients."]
Instead of "Engineer", I could have said "Malaysian," because it's cool to talk about a new race, "Bangsa Malaysia," like a Phoenix risen from the ashes of racism.
However, I chose to say "Indian." Let me tell you why.
I chose to say "Indian" because I challenge the racist view that all people of the same ethnicity think the same way about everything.
People of the same ethnicity DO NOT think the same way.
That is why there are opposing views even in countries with superficially homogeneous populations, e.g. Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand: unlike Malaysia and Singapore, none of these countries have been ruled by the same party since "liberation."
Why shouldn't I say that I'm an Indian?
I grew up speaking Tamil, one of the dominant languages in India.
I grew up with many friends whose mothers didn't cook thosai and chicken curry.
I grew up in a neighbourhood where someone's radio was always blaring Indian songs.
I live in a country whose constitution was the result of bartering between groups who were at the table because they claimed to represent different races.
I live in a country whose natural resources were exploited through racial selection.
I live in a country which classifies me as an Indian and treats me like one.
Can I not be an Indian and a good neighbour? Can I not be an Indian and accept punishment at the hands of a Chinese teacher? Can I not be an Indian and accept that a Malay headmaster could have been acting in the best interests of his school?
I identified myself as an Indian because I wanted to focus on one of three elephants in the Seri Pristina changing room. This is how The Phrase Finder defines "elephant in the room":
"An important and obvious topic, which everyone present is aware of, but which isn't discussed, as such discussion is considered to be uncomfortable."
Elephant # 1: Sensitized Indian. Any Malaysian looking at photos of the Seri Pristina changing room recognizes an obvious and uncomfortable fact: it seems to involve only Indians. The issue was raised by an Indian; Indians rushed to condemn the school; Indian political parties and NGO's joined the fray. One of the elephants in the room is "Sensitized Indian."
Elephant # 2: Coercive Malay. Art Harun pointed out another obvious and uncomfortable fact: the assumption that every Muslim student will fast every day of Ramadan. Art reminded us that not long ago many Muslim students didn't fast until they were in year 5. Art didn't say it, but for Seri Pristina, this could mean up to 400 non-fasting Muslim students in each session. A second elephant in the room is "Coercive Malay."
[We also recall that some Muslim students and teachers may not be able to fast, e.g. for health reasons, ritual impurity, etc. and therefore need a place to eat quietly.]
Elephant # 3: Resigned Chinese. Art and Zaid pointed out yet another obvious and uncomfortable fact: many Chinese have abandoned public schools. Instead of challenging religiosity in public schools, they have reverted to Chinese schools which are devoid of religious elements. They thus avoid dialogue and avoid frequent public vilification by the likes of Perkasa. A third elephant in the room is "Resigned Chinese."
[I could not make out any Chinese students in the photos. To-date, I've not seen complaints from any parents about schools 'compelling' children to fast.]
When I looked at photos of those who came to the school to register their protests, I noticed most of them were Indians, members of my community. Therefore I chose to view the incident from the perspective of a good Indian neighbour.
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