The challenges faced by the Malaysian Indian community, particularly those in the bottom 40% (B40), are multi-dimensional and inter-related. Three key dimensions: economic challenges which covers earnings and wealth, educational challenges which spans primary to tertiary education, and social challenges which encompasses the distinct issue faced by the Indian community within a multi-racial Malaysia.
Income distribution is heavily concentrated amongst Indians who belong in the top 20% (T20) and middle 40% (M40) income segments of Malaysia; together, Indians in these two income segments earn approximately 83% of the ethnic group’s total income. The remaining 17% of the community’s total income is earned by Indians in the B40 income segment.
9% of Indians in the 20-24 age group have low educational attainment (i.e. only up to lower secondary), compared to 6% of Malays and 5% of Chinese.
It is estimated that Indian pupils make up 13%, or around 1,000 children, of the total number of dropouts from primary school. For secondary school, the rate is somewhat more proportionate at 8% i.e. around 4,300 students.
Indians make up only 4.5% of the total number of applicants to public institutions of tertiary education; Bumiputera comprise 74% while Chinese comprise 13% of applicants.
The Malaysian Indian Community faces a plethora of social challenges caused by three major intertwining factors.
The first factor is the historical legacy of Indian migration into pre-Independence Malaya as estate workers who were fairly selfcontained and isolated from outside society. This segregation often resulted in a lack of citizenship documentation that has continued over generations, rendering the household ‘stateless’. Currently, there are an estimated 25,000 Indians that are either stateless or have documentation issues. Another challenge directly stemming from historical legacy is the resettlement of displaced and/or aging estate workers. Today there are still an estimated 36% of estate workers, i.e. around 16,000 households, who are Indian.
The second factor is pressures of modern society, intensified by socioeconomic status, which produces challenges for the most basic social unit: the family. It has been estimated that over 100,000 Malaysian Indians are in distressed families i.e. families with issues of domestic violence, divorce and marriage breakdown, alcohol or drug abuse, criminal activities and suicide.
The third factor is being a minority; the challenge is related to religious and cultural observance. The use of public halls for Hindu or other religion’s ceremonies is often opposed or barred, creating feelings of marginalisation. The establishment of temples and shrines, particularly unregistered ones, can produce conflict when the land is eventually claimed for occupation or development. At the same time, Indian religious institutions such as temples need to increase their contribution to their communities in areas such as education, values and welfare.