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A Youth Speaks

A Youth Speaks
Dr Shahreen Murray

I am a bumiputera. Yet I struggle to understand what that word really means. This magical ‘status’ has allowed me certain ‘privileges’ that, growing up, I saw denied to many of my equally deserving, non-bumi friends. I could not (and still cannot) grasp the concept of legalised discrimination in a country that prides itself on multiracial diversity. Slogans like 1 Malaysia get thrown around yet none truly appreciate its meaning. In my mind, we are ALL Malaysians so shouldn’t we ALL receive the exact same treatment in our own beloved country, irrespective of race? Apparently not.

My father is Chinese-Pakistani and my mother Malay-Arabic. I am thus categorised as a Malay due to my maternal heritage, and therefore bumiputera (eventhough my father’s family too, have been Malaysian citizens for generations). I am married to a British national. My kids, only being less than a quarter Malay, are classed too, as bumiputeras due to my ancestry. I have a close friend who is a Malaysian Chinese Muslim convert and married to a Dane. Despite being as Malaysian as my own children, their adorable 1 year old son will never see the same opportunities mine do.

Coming back to KL after almost 10 years abroad gave me a rude awakening. I have been slapped in the face with cringe worthy headlines such as ‘Hidup Melayu’ and ‘Cina tak tahu berterima kasih’. I have had many discussions (and some heated debates) over the years about the dire situation in our country. The points that I hear over and over again are essentially the same:

1) I am a disgrace to my race for being ungrateful (our honourable government has afterall, handed me my lifes opportunities on a silver platter). I should just be ‘thankful’ for being born a bumi and shut up. Anak zaman sekarang memang tak bersyukur. Diberi sikit nak mintak lagi.
First of all, I AM grateful. To my supportive family who has pushed me to achieve my dreams of becoming a medical doctor. To myself, for studying my arse off my entire life, getting the grades and graduating. To the Almighty, for giving me the opportunities and the strength to never give up, even when at times it felt like the only option.

I am NOT however grateful to my government. For it is their DUTY afterall, to serve the people, such as myself, to ensure the future generation have qualifications so we can continue to flourish the country. They are not doing it as an act of selfless altruism. They do it out of moral obligation. To fulfill their constitutional responsibility. They are elected (I use that term loosely) for the sole purpose of serving the rakyat. So no, I should not be made to feel grateful for what is expected of them to do.

I am also NOT grateful for their open thievery of our hard earned money. Too many people buy into their manipulations and hypocrisy. Malaysia is a blessed country indeed. Bright young minds, beautiful weather, good food, friendly people, abundance of natural resources. And yet, here we are. Despite all that we have going for us, we are way behind in the game.

Just take a look at our neighbours-Singapore. They have much less than we do-manpower, resources, years since independence-and yet are much more advanced in every way.

Our education system is failing (qualifications attained here unrecognised internationally), the health sector is so overloaded that many are forced to resort to public donations for life saving treatments, foreign investors are fleeing due to our economical and political instability, the rate of inflation is on a rapid ascend, the general income of a ‘moderate’ family is below meagre, housing and property costs are unrealistically high due to shady deals behind each tender, car prices are extortionately steep due to the 300% taxes implemented to support personal individuals’ AP incomes, we have one of the highest number of ‘tolls per km of highway’ in the world, zero accountability in relation to corruption/murder charges amongst the upper echelons, biased judiciary and policing..the list is endless.

Malaysia has taken a lot of beating and yet here we are, still standing. This is NOT a testament to our so called leaders but to the people. We are still standing not because of them, but rather in spite of them. Our very own ‘protectors’ steal 90% of what is rightfully ours and we should be GRATEFUL for being fed that measely 10% worth of scraps and accept it graciously as charity? It just does not add up.

2) The superheroes of UMNO and BN are using their roles as our leaders to PROTECT the Malays. Without bumi rights we will be oppressed in our own country.
Lets get one fact clear: the powers that be do not care for anyone but themselves. Not even Malays. If they did, our country will not be riddled with billions in debt (hello 1MDB), the ringgit would not be so weak, poverty rates would be lower than what it is and we would see our taxes be given back to society in the form of better education, higher salaries, improved health and reliable public transportation.

If they cared, they would not be using this whole bumi spin to create a racial divide between an otherwise peaceful nation. If they cared, they would strive to permanently improve living conditions in rural areas instead of just giving out a few hundred ringgit to families before elections to secure votes. If they cared they would listen to us, the people, and let our votes matter, instead of engineering the gerrymandering to unfairly win them the election.

If they cared they would eradicate the word bumiputera. Because this heinous word is NOT about helping Malays. It is about helping themselves. Its about divide and conquer; keep the races apart to avoid unity and hence avoiding mutiny. Which explains why the same corrupt party has ruled, iron fisted, for decades. This tactic has been used countless of times throughout history and has worked its dark magic well. The Malays are tricked into a false sense of security; that they are well looked after. The non Malays breed a much justified resentment against the Malays and the cycle continues. We are all too busy bickering amongst ourselves to see the bigger picture. And in the meantime, a small minority of Malays are laughing all the way to the bank.

I was a MARA scholar. So imagine my shock and disgust when I found out about the Dudley House scandal in Australia. Now it made sense why there has been such a massive cutback on scholarships over the years. Rich influencial Malay government officials, stealing from a fund set up to help educate less fortunate Malays? This is just ONE example of how twisted the whole ‘protection of bumi rights’ is. No one is being protected; we are all being exploited in one way or another. And we are sadly lapping the propaganda up.

3) Bumi rights are there to protect Islam and its teachings.
This is a dangerous area. Please let us not confuse race and religion. In all my understanding of Islam, not once does it mention discriminating against another. Many verses in the Quran stress upon the fact that we are all equal in God’s eyes. The only thing that sets us apart is our piety and devotion to Him. Not the colour of our skin, not our race. If anything, this open racism is anything BUT Islamic.

My religion has taught me to respect others’ beliefs and to live in harmony. So even if the word bumi never existed, Islam in this country will still be Islam as it is stands today-a faith protected by the people practising it. Not protected by BN or UMNO.

And what about that Chinese convert friend of mine and many others like her? Shes a Muslim but isn’t entitled to receive bumi rights? Yes. Because bumi does NOT equal Islam. Malay does NOT equal Islam.

*Let me just add that there are MANY so called Islamic practises here that are UNislamic in nature, so much so that a renowned international Islamic Scholar once said that he was baffled at the ‘different Islam that exists here in Malaysia’…but let’s save that can of worms for another day.

4) The Chinese and Indians are more hardworking and successful. Without bumi rights, nanti apa nak jadi kat Melayu?
So they should be. If, from the day you were born, you were told that the only way up is through good ol fashioned hard work..wouldn’t that be exactly what you’d do? There is no magic DNA that exists in the blood of non Malays. They are not smarter neither are they better. They are however, pushed into a corner, resulting in them being more hardworking and resilient (I am generalising here). I have a lot of respect for my non Malay friends. They have been so patient and loyal to the country that has chewed em up and spat them out. If the shoe was on the other foot..I doubt I would be as forgiving.

We are all born with similar(ish) intellect and capabilities. Its how much effort we put in that counts. Those not being given handouts will inherently strive to perform better than those who are happy to settle with mediocrity due to a lifetime of being spoonfed. Its only natural. Einstein was dyslexic and a school drop out. Stephen Hawking has a debilitating motor neurone disease. John Nash was schizophrenic. Donald Trump was born into poverty by his immigrant mother. What do they all have in common? Adversity. And the drive to prove their worth, to carve their names in an otherwise unrelenting world.

It is human nature to want more when you have nought.

So if anything, the bumi status is creating a huge injustice for Malays. It is not so subtly implying that we need the help, because without it, we are incapable of helping ourselves. It is dumbing us down. It is undermining the efforts of those of us who actually work tirelessly to get to where we are.

I have lost count the number of times I get given a raised brow when I tell someone that I was a sponsored student. I know what they are thinking. They think that I merely got it due to my race and not the fact that I locked myself in my room for months before my International Baccalaureate finals to study. That I prepared for weeks before my University interview with foreign tutors to ensure that I excelled. And I don’t blame them. The word bumi has made Malays lose our credibility. And what frustrates me is, it should not have been this way. Malays are just as capable as everyone else in reaching for the stars. We just haven’t been given the opportunity to shine in our own light.

I’ve had the honour of meeting many successful hardworking Malays in my lifetime. In London where I worked, I knew 2 British born Malays (none of whom were remotely aware of what bumi even meant). One of them was a head professor in a reputable teaching hospital and the other a PhD holder who was soon to be the head of his specialist team. They are both Malays, born into a system where the only way to success is through hard graft and nothing else. Malays are just as capable as anyone else. Just give us a fair and equal platform to perform on. And may the best man win (Malay or otherwise). How else will Malaysia realise Her true potential if its not through the abilities of us, the future generation. Strip away the double standards and watch our countrymen rise to the occasion. Malays, Chinese, Indians, Sikhs, Kadazans, Dusuns and everyone else in between.
My rant is long and tiring. But so is our journey forward. Looking around me now, I see less and less of what’s left of the Malaysia that I knew (and loved) growing up. I watch my father, beaten from years of trying, and failing, to change the already damaged system in every little way he could.

Let us not give up hope. Let us continue to carry the torch that our parents held and strive for change. Let us, the new generation, keep our voices heard and never succumb to being bullied into silence. Let us not be lulled into a false sense of ignorance. Let us not allow recent events to doubt our respect and love for one another. We are all in this together. Let us unite once and for all, for ourselves, for 1 Malaysia. This is when we need each other the most.