Indian Malaysians: The View from the Plantation

Ethnological and socio-economic study of the Indian population living on a rubber plantation in West Malaysia, based on

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Special Foreign Currency Program,






INDIAN MALAYSIANS The View from the Plantation

Paul D. Wiebe and TF S. Mariappen


© Paul D. Wiebe 1978 First Published 1978 Published by

Ramesh Jain for Manohar Publications,

2, Ansari Road, Darya Ganj,

New Delhi-110002 Printed at

Dhawan Printing Works, 26-A, Mayapuri, Phase I,

New Delhi-110064


Most of the data that

underline this study were collected by

both of us between September 1973 and September 1974, most concentratedly between March and July of 1974. The data also

come out of the long-term association that Mariappen has had with the estate that focuses our attention. He was born and

reared there and still today retains many of the intimate asso-

ciations earlier developed with the setting and its peoples. Readers will certainly draw their own

conclusions concern-

ing the way of life of the people studied and their living accommodations. To enable a better appreciation of some of the adjectives used and comparative generalizations made, however, it might be useful if the reader bears in mind that Wiebe, the principal author of this report, has so far done most of his own

research in South India, the context out of which the overwhel-

ming majority of the Indian Malaysians originally came. In the interests of abbreviation and unless otherwise. specified, the names Indians, Malays and Chinese are used in this study in place of the more appropriate Indian Malaysians, Malay Malaysians and Chinese Malaysians. We shall see that citizenship questions remain problematic for many Indians and Chinese, but we shall also see that increasingly commonly, the

orientations and national

identifications of the majority of the

people of all groups in Malaysia are focused here alone. Finally, we use pseudonyms for the estate, its principal dential area and the people about whom we report.

people have nothing to hide.

But they need as far as








of their

Getah’ means



in a study





as this.


‘Pudthukuchi’ means ‘new lines’ in Tamil. The housing quarters of estate labourers in Malaysia are commonly called ‘lines’. These they resemble in ways for two or more housing units are often joined together in a row. The

choice of Pudthukuchi to refer



Getah’s principal

residential area, however, has proven particularly appropriate. Since the completion of our research, many of the Pudthu-

kuchi people have been provided with




quarters in a ‘duplex’ (or ‘semi-detached’) arrangement. And if plans proceed apace, most of the older lines will eventually be demolished and Pudthukuchi will provide attractive housing indeed for its inhabitants. While our study does not deal with the impact of these very

recent changes, we cannot but be happy for the improvements the Pudthukuchi people realize. They have taught us much

about ourselves while teaching us of themselves and we acknow-

ledge sincerely our general

debt to them.


also formally

acknowledge here the very generous assistance of Ladang Getah’s manager in allowing us access to estate records and facilities, the assistance of officials in the area who responded

congenially to our many questions, the partial financial assistance of the Lee Foundation (Kuala Lumpur) in facilitating our

efforts, and the travel allowances permitted us by Universiti Sains Malaysia (Penang) during the period of research. Donna Wiebe helped throughout in ways too numerous to mention, and she edited and typed the various drafts of this manuscript as it was prepared for publication. Paut D. WIEBE





Setting Ethnic Insularity Social Organization Political Processes Economic Considerations Beliefs and Practices


Factions and Disputes Education and Family Planning

10. Conclusion

21 41 69 91 109 127 150 161 179






This is a study of social life among Indian Malaysians living on arubber plantation in West Malaysia.’ In one sense, its general purposes are to describe and analyze the patterns of life that occur among these people and to see how the people are tied into their local and regional, social and cultural environments. In another, the study’s objectives are to provide for a particular

perspective of social life in Malaysia—the perspective possible

from the vantage point of people who live within the rubber estate context. Finally, comparative and theoretical issues are

involved. Such









First we will delineate some of the general charac-

teristics of the Malaysian setting.

Historical Notes MALAYSIA The Federation of Malaya was granted Independence in 1957. The British first formally established themselves in the area when they founded Penang in 1786. The Portuguese, the Dutch ‘Reference procedures are simplified in dealing with West Malaysia alone. The differences between the two parts of the country are numerous, and many of the statistics kept in Malaysia are kept for West and East Malaysia separately.



and others had been here earlier and the history of the rivalries that developed and the processes according to which the British finally gained colonial ascendancy are absorbing (see Parkinson, 1960; Swettenham, 1942; Kennedy, 1962). But these cannot concern us here. For our purposes, it is enough to note that the affairs of the ‘Malay States’, as defined in 1874, in that

year came under

of the British


Singapore were linked with the Federation of Malaya,


Office and area. The War years, In 1963,

the new

the administration

that since then, only exception 1942-45, Japan the two Borneo

upto 1957, Britain administered the was that during the Second World held control. territories, Sabah and Sarawak, and

Federation of Malaysia.

to become an independent

Singapore broke off in 1965


Federation remains as Malaysia. The country is today comprised



of thirteen

rest of the


Sabah and Sarawak, in East Malaysia, the remainder


in West

Malaysia), together with the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur.

EarLy Contacts WITH INDIA AND CHINA The history of Malaysia was strongly channeled by the British. Lying strategically along the trade routes between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, it also knew the comings and goings of traders, explorers and settlers of many varieties other than the British and other European, and its history and contemporary character basically reflect these as well. Most strikingly, Malaysia’s social features have been moulded from the outside by the influences of its two giant neighbours, India and China. Indian influences began to penetrate the region in very early


Eventually, these matured and here, as elsewhere in the

general region, ‘Indianized’ kingdoms flourished either as some-

what autonomous city-states or as subject to the control


certain, more inclusive ‘Indianized’ powers (Sandhu, 1969: 2; Arasaratnam, 1970). An ‘Indian era of Malayan history’ (Sandhu, 1969: 2) existed until about A.D. 1511, the date of

Malacca’s fall to the



of the



migrated to Malaysia during the early years came in connection with trade and commercial activities. Many came themselves



Trenganu Nee


Straits of Malacca


SINGAPORE Figure 1 West Malaysia

4 from



traditional trading communities within

Indian civili-

Chinese penetrations into the Malaysian region also stretch far back into history (Purcell, 1951). China’s early political and economic influences were not as thorough as were the Indian. Yet the contacts between the Malays and the Chinese that did emerge—like those between the Malays and the Indians—were often elaborately developed. For a considerable period of time

after the establishment of Malacca, for example, Malacca placed themselves under the protection defence against the Thais (Ryan, 1971: 17).



rulers of



CHINESE IMMIGRATIONS The first contacts between the Malays and the Chinese occurred fairly early. But it was not until nineteenth century that the major immigrations of Chinese took place. The Straits Settlements of Singapore—at that time ports with very few trade

Indians and well into the Indians and Penang and restrictions—

first proved to be attractive to large numbers of Chinese.


ing better life opportunities, the Chinese who came here, like those who went into many other sectors of Southeast Asia about this time, found in and near their new places of settlement many opportunities in trade and the crafts, and as labourers. The main influx of Chinese settlers occurred just around and after the middle years of the nineteenth century, occurring together with the rapid expansion of the tin industry and the need for adequate labour therein. Like their countrymen who had earlier immigrated to the Straits Settlements, most of these immigrants considered their stay in Malaya to be temporary, expecting to return to their homelands when their fortunes were made or at least when the debt arrangements under which many of them had come had been reasonably satisfied. Many. Chinese did return to China. But with the large numbers who came and eventually remained (Malaysia today houses the largest Chinese immigrant community in the world), Chinese manners, customs, languages, beliefs and ceremonies

also entered. With the minimal assimilation that occurred between the Chinese and the Malays in turn (Ratnam, 1965:



1-24), the Chinese community came to independently of the indigenous peoples.

By 1931 most of the Chinese




in Malaya


This change in occupational profile paralleled,


employed as traders and shopkeepers rather than in mining and agriculture (Smith, 1964: 176), their earlier principal occu-


at the same time it was in part a consequence of, the development of the tin mining settlements (populated largely by Chinese) into towns and cities. Another factor that encouraged the development of more urban orientations among the Chinese was the Depression of the 1930’s. During this period,

many rural Chinese



Finally, the Communist-related




search which

of work.

1948 and was largely associated with Chinese elements





Malayan population, saw the creation of ‘New Villages’. In the course of time these grew into urban settlements (Hamzah, 1962), again allowing for more urban occupational developments among the Chinese. Today in Malaysia the Chinese are found in all sectors of the economy, their range of occupations being wider than that of any other ethnic community (Puthucheary, 1960: 123). In fact, however, there has been a certain ‘isolation’ (Said, 1974:

44) of the Chinese


commercial activities. INDIAN





trade and


Kernial Singh Sandhu, in his analysis of the immigration and settlement of Indians in Malaya (1969: 297), shows how the Indians who came early began to represent ‘. . .a powerful and Tespected commercial, economic and political force’, while those who flocked into Malaya during the years when the plantation systems in the country were emerging, in relation to the dramatic need for ‘cheap, docile’ labour that this entailed, ‘were chiefly illiterate labourers’, Among other things (see Sandhu, 1969: 31-74), the large-scale immigration of Indians for work on plantations was related: (i) to the conditions of hardship most of the people had known in the South Indian states from which they hailed,(ii) to the fact that the British—then simultaneously in control in India, Ceylon and Malaysia—and with considerable




experience in the running of plantations with the help of Tamil

labourers in Ceylon, liked what they knew as the easy subservience of the lower caste Indian labourers and encouraged their coming, (iii) to the ways in which, historically and contemporaneously, the Malays had come to be involved primarily in subsistence farming and agriculture while the Chinese were becoming more and more clearly identified with urban life and

trade and commercial activities, the combination

of affiliations

‘leaving over’ relatively few labourers for the work force necessary on Malaysia’s developing plantations (Said, 1974: 49-50), and (iv) the continuously developing British paramountcy in Southeast Asia which enabled them to encourage the transfer of labour as they saw fit. In general, the immigration of Indian labourers to Malaya was not only welcomed, but often also openly solicited by British colonial governments so long as the Indians remained a labouring and subordinate class not conceivably in a position to ‘... upset or undermine the Raj’

(Sandhu 1969: 45-46).

Whatever the reasons, South Indians came to Malaya in great numbers during the latter half of the nineteenth century. And they came under many different practical arrangements (Sandhu, 1969: 75-140; Arasaratnam, 1970: 10-48). Close to half came

under a kangani pattern of recruitment where selected Indian

employees of estates (kanganis) travelled back and forth to India, signing on labour for Malaya’s plantations. Most of the others were assisted on the basis of some type of indenture contract, were so-called ‘free’ or ‘independent’ labourers or were nonrecruited but financially assisted in their immigration. The largest average annual flow of Indians into Malaya occurred during the period 1911-30 when more than 90,000 persons were landing a year (Sandhu, 1969: 158). In 1938, in response to numerous abuses of the system and very much criticism both in Malaya and India, the Indian government banned assisted labour emigration from India. Now, the movement of labourers of Indian backgrounds between Malaysia and India is limited almost exclusively to Indian Malaysians with domicile in Malaysia.

Most of the Indians came only with short-term expectations.

Going by language and background region in India, 98.4 per cent between 1844 and 1941 were South Indian (85.2 per cent being

Tamilian, 6.8 per cent Telugu, 6.4 per cent Malayalee, 0.8 per cent



North Indian); by occupation, between 1786 and 1957, 65.3 per cent were ‘labourers’ (Sandhu, 1969: 159). The overwhelming majority throughout the periods of mass immigrations was Hindu and the majority—but a decreasing majority over time— was male. The numbers of females per 1,000 males among the

Indian population in given in Table 1.1. TABLE 1.1:


for selected years are





1891 1901 1911 1921 1931 1947

18** 171** 308 406 482 637

1957 1965

*Source: Sandhu (1969; 186). **Exclusive of the Unfederated Malay States for which

tion is available.

692 750



Malaysia Today Malaysia remains an ethnically plural society, its population comprising primarily of the members of the three ethnic communities historically important, the Malay, the Chinese and the Indian. By numbers and percentages, the figures for each of these communities in the population of West Malaysia were as given in Table 1.2 for the years identified. On the one hand, the plural ethnic character of Malaysia gives it a diversity in customs, languages, historical relations, beliefs and behaviours of a colourful and fascinating variety. On the other, this diversity has proven problematic. Disparities by ethnicity in ownership and access to economic and social resources are wide. Latent rivalries between the various groups have at times (most noticeably in recent years, in the 13 May ‘incident’ of 1969) resulted in open confrontations.





Malays Chinese Indians Others

1911 1370 693 239 37



Population in Thousands

1921 1569 856 439 43

1931 1864 1285 571 68

1947 2428 1884 531 65

1957 3126 2334 707 112

1970 4686 3122 932 70








Percentage Distribution 1911




Malays Chinese Indians Others

58.6 29.6 10.2 1.6

54.0 29.4 15.1 1.5

49.2 33.9 15.1 1.8

49.5 38.4 10.8 1.3

49.8 37.2 11,3 1.8

53.2 35.4 10.6 08








*Source: Said (1974: 48). The ethnic categories identified are broadly defined. Malays include natives of Java. Indians include Pakistanis for appropriate years.

Planning in Malaysia recognizes clearly the potential problems of the ethnic diversities it knows

and the New



of the Second Malaysia Plan (1971-75) identifies as the government’s two major objectives: (i) the reduction and eventual eradication of poverty through the raising of income levels and the increase of employment opportunities among all Malaysians, and (ii) the acceleration of the process of restructuring Malaysian society to the correction of economic imbalances, the reduction

and eventual elimination of the identification of race with econo-

mic function (Government of Malaysia, 1971: 6). Such objectives are basically defined in relation to the repeatedly expressed concern of the government for ‘national identity and unity’, given a situation which is potentially both ‘socially and politically volatile’ (Government of Malaysia, 1971:2). They are generally lauded. Nevertheless, considerations of the possible consequences ot

the implementation of these objectives have questioning.


the preferential


in much

treatment guaranteed the

Malays both in the Constitution of Malaysia and in the country’s

plans, members of other ethnic groups are

bluntly sceptical of



the government’s claims that in the implementation of its policies it ‘. .. will ensure that no particular group-will experience any loss or feel any sense of deprivation’. Their suspicion is that whatever the assumptions concerning a ‘... context of an expanding economy’ (Government of Malaysia, 1971:1), in the long run, some groups will have to sacrifice far more than others. Second, the suspicion among certain groups is that whatever the expressed purposes of the government, in fact these are benefiting only particular groups, hardly reaching the majority in any of the country’s major communities. Such people acknowledge that advantages aplenty are available in Malaysia. But they claim also that these are flowing primarily into emerging capitalistic sub-communities, not into the community at large. Their claim is that the poorest levels of the society are being left behind despite the very considerable economic development in the country. Negative perspectives of the kind identified obviously have a certain validity. Differences that began to emerge in the colonial period of Malaysian history persist. So do their consequences. Then too, the processes of change in a context such as Malaysia’s— where internal differences tie into external contexts (principally the Indian and the Chinese) differentially aligned in many ways, and where internal processes are very much influenced by international trade and defence rivalries—pull in many directions and are unevenly evaluated. Yet it is equally clear that Malaysia is currently enjoying a period of financial growth, political stability and administrative efficiency of a kind that puts it into a position to make impressive strides towards the realization of its Plan objectives. In raw materials, Malaysia has rubber, palm oil, timber and tin, and the prices such commodities have commanded in the international market have provided Malaysia with the basis on which to diversify its economy. Malaysia’s current political stability has manifested itself in various ways. It has resulted in the strong attraction of foreign investments. Simultaneously, it has made possible a rapprochement with Peking despite the fact that the Malay peninsula since 1948 has been intermittently the target of a predominantly Chinese, left-wing insurgency and the fact that the possibility of communist-styled insurgent activities remains.



The prospects for peace in the region are clouded. But the emergence of stable relationships between China and certain of its Southeast Asian neighbours, with the principal of non-intervention in the affairs of the others working amongst them, could help these prospects along. And this could leave Malaysia increasingly on its own in defining its own problems of national integration. Rubber

Rubber was unknown

(Miller, 1965:140-143).

in the









1876 the

Central Amazon basin, it started out slowly as a plantation crop. In 1897, only 345 acres were planted in rubber.

With the coming of the automobile, the demand for rubber soared and since the early years of the twentieth century, rubber has played an important role in Malaysia’s export earnings. In 1971, Malaysia produced roughly 42 percent of the world’s natural rubber (Department of Statistics, 1971:199). The price of rubber is subject to severe fluctuations in the international market. A world slump hit the rubber industry in the 1930's, leading to considerable confusion in the organization of the local industry. More recently, with the price of oil soaring in conjunction with the Arab oil embargo of 1973 and early 1974—a rise resulting in a parallel rise in the cost of producing synthetic rubber—the price of natural rubber rose. With a more diversified economy now than in the earlier years of the twentieth century, Malaysia’s economy is less

dependent on the market


of rubber


it was.


Malaysia’s interests and investments in the rubber industry are clear. The acreage in rubber as compared with the acreage in all the other principal crops in 1971 in West Malaysia was relatively very high (Table 1.3). As an export commodity, in

1971, rubber accounted

for roughly

46 per

cent of the


earnings of the country’s major exports (Table 1.4). Finally, though the acreage in rubber did not go up consistently between 1961 and 1971 (it was higher in 197! than in 1961, but slightly less then than in most of the other years following 1961), the production of rubber in West Malaysia has risen consistently



in recent years, from 734,600 metric tons in 1961 to 1,250,400 metric tons in 1971 (Department of Statistics, 1971:3). TABLE





Wet paddy Off-season paddy

921,840 393,760

Dry paddy Rubber

49,510 4,245,400

Coconut Oil palm Miscellaneous crops

518,769 768,907 493,440

*Source: Department of Statistics (1972:39). TABLE





Commodity Rubber

Tin and tin-in-concentrates Saw logs

Sawn timber Iron ore Palm oil

Palm kernels

Pepper Copra

Coconut oil

Canned pineapples *Source: Department of Statistics (1972:108). **The dollar sign ($) in this book refers to Malaysian

otherwise indicated.

» Estates AND

$ million** 1,417.4

905.8 101.8

145.8 20.5



3.0 0.1



dollars, unless


In 1961, there were 2,218 rubber estates (‘lands contiguous or non-contiguous, aggregating not less than 100 acres in area, planted with rubber or on which the planting of rubber is permitted and under a single legal ownership’, is the Department of Statistics’ definition of an estate) in West Malaysia, in




1971 there were 2,014 (Department of Statistics, 1971:9). The decrease in number during this period was due largely to the fragmentation of some of the estates that occurred during the earlier years of Malaysia’s independence. Government action in 1969 laid down strict conditions according to which fragmenta-

tion could still take place after this date. But this action also specifically identified the continuing interest of the government in maintaining, roughly at least, the established pattern of rubber production in the country. Consequently, the fears of certain estate owners concerning the possible liquidation of assets were alleviated, and even today non-Malaysians own around 534 of West Malaysia’s 2,014 estates, with their influence in the industry continuing to be even stronger than this figure would imply.? As fragmentation occurred, the number of people having small holdings (‘areas contiguous or non-contiguous, aggregating less than 100 acres. ..’ defines a small holding) increased. In 1971, in West Malaysia roughly 650,000 metric tons of rubber were produced on ‘estates’, 600,000 tons on ‘small holdings’ (Department of Statistics, 1971:4). LaBOUR Table 1.5 gives the distribution of labour on rubber estates in West Malaysia: (i) by ethnicity, (ii) by planted acreage, and (iii) by whether employed as ‘direct labour’ (living on the estate, etc.) or on a contract basis. An examination of the figures in Table 1.5 enables a number of significant conclusions. First, with reference to ‘direct labour’, Indians predominate only as labourers for the acreage ‘size groups’ 1,000-1,999 and









Malays, Chinese and Indians are all strongly represented. That is, the Indian preponderance in the Malaysian rubber scene today *Malaysians owned 1480 estates, Singaporeans 153, British 273, Indians 83, Americans 6 and ‘Others’ 19 in West Malaysia in 1971 (Department of Statistics, 1971:11). The mean acreage of the nonMalaysian-owned estates is higher than the mean acreage of the Malaysian-owned estates, giving the importance of foreign interests in the Malaysian rubber industry added weight (Department of Statistics, 1971:14).


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occurs primarily only on the larger estates, those owned disproportionately by non-Malaysians. Second, and again in

reference to ‘direct labour’, our conclusion has to be that


occupational group, by ethnicity, in the process of being displaced from the rubber industry is the Indian. We do not have time datain Table 1.5, but we do know that Indians predominated in West Malaysia’s rubber industry in the early years of its growth. The changing composition of the labour force has been due: (i) to the results of fragmentation where Malays and Chinese, in a better position to purchase rubber acreage than the Indians, did so, in turn proportionately employing more and more of ‘their own’, (ii) to policies of ‘racial balance’ working however subtly toward the ‘elimination of the identification of race with occupation’ and to the advantage of the Malays in employment, and (iii) to such things as the increasing productivity of estates, the spreading out of urban growth and the planting of certain rubber areas in oil palm trees, all factors tending to decrease the need for estate workers, in general (Malaysian Indian Congress, 1974:16).

Third, looking at the distribution of ‘contract labour’,

it is

clear that Malays and Chinese predominate here, the Indians coming in a relatively poor third. Historically, the Indians were brought in primarily as labourers and settled on plantations. In a somewhat classical sense, their colonial masters and the

representatives of these


became the patrons of the

Indians, providing for them in their estate contexts and facilita-

ting or hindering their various interests in access to the ‘outside world’. In contrast, the Chinese

had much less of

an ‘established’

relationship with any other group. They were forced instead to establish their own kinds of political and economic linkages.

These developed in relation to the demographic and occupational outlines that increasingly came to be identified with them.

Along such lines,




occupational settings in

Malaysia, the Chinese early came to practice certain contract services (construction and sales, for example), on estates. The Malays, meanwhile, rural as they have traditionally been, have

long been associated with rubber flantations in one capacity or another, particularly when there have been shortages of



Indian labour and when rice prices or crops have been insufficient to enable them to support themselves ctherwise. Furthermore, more than any of the other ethnic communities today they know the kinds of governmental supports necessary to increase, rather

than decrease, their proportional representation in almost any occupational area not traditionally defined as theirs. Looking again to Table 1.5, roughly 41 per cent labourers on estates in West Malaysia are Indians.

of the

Indian Malaysians Reviewing the reasons for the considerable discrepancy between the figures for total net Indian immigration into Malaya and the number of ‘survivors’—‘the migration records generally appear to register a migrational surplus out of all proportion to the number of Indian survivors returned at census counts, leaving a very large number of net immigrants unaccounted for’—Sandhu, (1969:167-169) discounts relatively the possibility that the missing number would have been absorbed into other population groups in the country, the possibility that they could have

gone into other parts of Southeast Asia and the possibility that

immigration figures for departures from the country, deaths, etc., may have been unequally reliable. He then concludes (p. 169) that the most likely explanation for the discrepancy is ‘, .. that the mass of these net immigrants were killed by exhaustion, malnutrition, disease, snake-bite and so on’.

Many immigrants found that conditions in Malaya were often deplorable. Incomes at times were so low they hardly

allowed for physical efficiency, let alone the savings most workers had expected. Housing conditions, medical facilities, emotional and physical problems often became acute in the plantationstyle isolation most estate labourers abruptly came to know. Many writers have roundly condemned British Malayan and Indian governments for the conditions of the Indians in Malaya. Many have emphasized the accomplishments of the Indians despite their problems, claiming for example, that the Indians were centrally key to the entire creation of Malaya’s rubber


Whatever the perspective, the Indians came, the British

needed and encouraged their coming, the wealth of Malaysia did come to be defined largely in terms of its rubber production, the



Indians were thoroughly instrumental in this and their conditions of life were often thoroughly debilitating. Meanwhile, the conditions of life among today’s Indian Malaysians as these appear from the plantation are the concern of this book. By proportion urban, the distribution of the Indian population in comparison with the distributions for the Malay and Chinese populations in West Malaysia, for certain of the years between 1911-1970, are given in Table 1.6.




10,000 AND








1911 1921 1931 1947 1957 1970

_ _ _ 73 11.2 14.9

_ 31.1 44.7 47.4

_ _ — 25.8 30.6 34.7

10.7 14.0 15.1 15.9 26.5 28.7

* Source: Said (1974:46).

As the data of Table 1.6 show, all of the major ethnic communities ot West Malaysia have an increasing proportion of their populations now living in urban areas. Among the Indians, the urban proportion now comes to slightly more than

a third.

The total Indian


in 1921 to 226,000 in 1957.





from Indian

258,000 estate

population as a proportion of the total Indian population and the rural Indian population, respectively, declined from 54.9 to 27.5 per cent and from 75.7 to 52.2 per cent (see Table 1.7). Objectives On the level of descriptive analysis, the objectives of this study are to provide for a comprehensive look at the social life that occurs among a community of Indians living on a West Malaysian rubber plantation. The attempt will be to provide answers to questions such as the following: How are their patterns



of living related to those in the Indian settings out of which these people originally came? How are these different? How are the

Indians tied into their larger geographical, economic, and religious environments? How do they conceive

political of their

prospects within the Malaysian context? And how are they relat-

ed in idea and deed with the Malays and the Chinese they encounter? At this level, in short, we present here a sociological study of a particular Malaysian community, realizing that in focusing thus, we limit our perspectives while at the same time we allow for amore detailed, holistic analysis of the patterns of social life that exist than would be possible if the locus of research were to be more extensively defined. TABLE 1.7 : INDIAN ESTATE POPULATION OF MALAYA, 1921-1957 Year

Total Indian Estate Population (in thousands)

1921 1931 1947

258 304 2A1


age of Total Indian Population

Estate as Percentage of the Rural Indian Population

54.9 48.8 40.2


* Source : Sandhu

Estate as Percent-


75.7 67.0 66.0


(1969 : 217).

Again at the level of descriptive analysis, our objectives are to provide, through the study of social life in the selected community, a look at social life in Malaysia. Lisa Peattie, pre-

senting an analysis of social life in one neighbourhood of a Latin American city, shows (1968:1) that by understanding

be seen

what is to

in terms ‘... of the connections which seem to appear

between (this neighbourhood’s) life processes and elements of the surrounding environment, some understanding of the surrounding environment as a new city, as Venezuela, or as one of the typically developing countries’ can be achieved. Many other scholars have proceeded similarly, giving us for example,

perspectives of life in other contexts through the relevant study

of particular neighbourhoods (for example, Liebow, 1967; Gans, 1962; Suttles, 1968; and Wiebe, 1975) or regions (for example, Srinivas, 1952; Hiebert, 1971; and Bailey, 1970). The perspectives of Malaysia that the view from the plantation



enables are obviously only some of many that could be developed. -Moreover, given the conditions under which the Indians came to Malaysia, their relative isolation and their minority status as a community, such perspectives more



from the bottom’ rather than the ‘top’ of

Malaysian society. Nevertheless, they are important, for they can allow for the better understanding of how social processes in Malaysian social life influence and are influenced by the social processes occurring in a particular community. On the theoretical and comparative level, the objectives of this study are to complement the kinds of understandings that come out of the study of immigrant Indian communities. Thus, we expect our study of Indian Malaysians will enable com-

parisons with the ways

in which



been socially

involved in societies as different as Natal (Burrows, 1952; Kuper, 1960), Burma (Chakravarti, 1971), Fiji (Mayer, 1961), Uganda (Morris, 1968) and so on (see Van den Berghe, 1962). We also expect to contribute to the understanding of how immigrant communities adjust to their new environments in the more general theoretical sense. Our objectives are to contribute to the understanding of the variables important in enabling the

integration and assimilation of ethnic groups and those keeping such groups apart.


Related Research Numerous references to the place, problems and contributions of the Indians in Malaya and Malaysia can be found. The earliest writers—most of whom were Indians—almost always wrote with a definite political bias. Says Sandhu (1969:11, note): For the most part their writings have been panegyrics of Indian achievements in Malaya and conditions of the Indians’ poor treatment by the British Malayan Government and tuans. The majority of this appears to have had the singular motive: to eulogize and publicize the position of the Indians as a whole, or their particular sector of interest or achievement, probably in the hope of improving their status. In




of the






apparent have been absent. But here the problem is often that the references are overly general and all that we are really left with is a summary characterization or two on the place of the Indians in Malaysia. Since the writings of the earlier polemicists, relatively little formal attention has been given to the place of the Indians in Malaysia.

The exceptions to this comment are striking. Sandhu’s study (1969) of the immigration and settlement of Indians in Malaya (1786-1957)



is very


on the Plantation


is Ravindra K. Jain’s

Frontier in Malaya

Additionally, some recent articles on specific dimensions


of life

among Indian Malaysians (Subramaniam, 1970; Appa Rao, 1970) and articles on the health ‘threats’ they confront (Rama-

chandran, 1970)—are interesting. The exceptions, however, only underline more clearly the general point. The sociological study of the Indian community in Malaysia remains very underdeveloped. There are overlaps between Jain’s community study and


His study is helpful in an overall



in its analysis of the ‘domestic group’ and economic processes in estate life, and it tells us much about its central hypothesis (1970 : xvii), ‘... that the industrial subsystem influences the community subsystem on a Malaysian rubber estate’, at the same time telling us much of the adaptation of groups and institutions among Tamil labourers in Malaysia. Despite Jain’s successful accomplishment of objectives similar

to ours, there are numerous reasons for another community study. First, Jain’s study is already somewhat dated. The fieldwork in relation to which it was written was carried out in 1962 and 1963, before ‘Malaysia’ came into existence and long


its policies of social restructuring were formally



in the period


Jain’s study,



Malaysians have no doubt come to define their position within

Malaysia differently than they did. Jain speaks of the younger Malaysian-born Indians as being less India-oriented than their immigrant elders and forebears, defining their allegiance to


as ‘somewhat




true this might have been, this assertion deserves an updating, given the problems of Indian communities in general, and



Indian immigrant communities in particular, in today’s pronationalist and anti-colonialist world. On the other hand, the Jain finding is quite possibly no longer true. In Jain’s own

words, the post-colonial plural society has an ‘.. . unstable and

rapidly changing character’ (p. 439). In short, influences in contemporary Malaysia are working towards the displacement of the Indians from their long-term association with the country’s rubber production industry. Our look at what is happening is from an established rubber estate. Other views—for example, from within the urban milieu in which many Indians now find themselves or from rural areas where formerly established estates have been fragmented— also need to be developed. But a study complementary to the Jain study is useful for comparative purposes, especially given the rapidly changing context of Malaysian social life.

2 Setting

The General Setting

Kulim, the district in southern Kedah (see Figure 1.1) in which

the estate studied here is situated, is primarily a rubbergrowing district. It has some sixty-one estates (Department of Statistics, 1971:27), twenty-two of which are each comprised of over 500 acres (Azizur, 1973:4). It also has considerable

acreage in rubber under the ownership of ‘smallholders’. Over-

all, slightly more than half of the cultivable land in the district is currently being utilized for the production of rubber and about one quarter is planted in oil palm and paddy (Azizur,


A drive through the rubber-growing areas of Kulim District is much like a drive through the rubber areas of many other parts of Malaysia. Where the rubber trees stand mature, their rows sometimes seem to stretch endlessly, leaves and branches often intertwining to shade long stretches. The trunks of similarly aged trees are scarred uniformly as a result of the repeated incisions tappers make in milking the trees’ latex. Under the trees, on well-tended estates, the surface of the ground is kept clear. When rubber trees are young, certain vegetables or fruits

are grown among the trees on some estates. In general, rubber estates are geared to the production of rubber alone.

The population of Kulim District is 88,421 (1970 Census). By major ethnic groups, the proportions of Malays, Chinese and



Indians, respectively, are roughly 45 per cent, 30 per cent and 24 per cent.

The Malays in the rural areas of Kulim District

live in the

numerous scattered kampongs and work primarily in paddy cultivation or the production of rubber. The rural Indians are concentrated in rubber-producing areas, The rural Chinese live primarily in smaller towns and villages, earning livings as businessmen, middlemen or labourers, or working in contract arrangements on rubber estates. In the larger towns of the district, business areas are predominantly run by the Chinese. Labourer and ‘working’ populations here are drawn from all three ethnic groups and the majority of all government functionaries are Malay. Ladang Getah


drive into


attention, passes through trees. The estate itself is European and one of the prised of 4,954 acres of

Table 2.1.


the estate

that focuses our

dense and extensive stands of rubber foreign-owned, still managed by a largest estates in the area. It is comland, planted or used as indicated in

TABLE 2.1: LAND USE, LADANG GETAH* Acreage Total, planted in rubber Total, planted in coconuts Acreage occupied by buildings and roads

4,497 65 42

Waste land


Total *Source:

Manager’s Annual Report,



Overwhelmingly, the principal product of Ladang Getah is rubber. And fora long time this has been the case with all that it can imply, given stable managemeat. Replanting and new 1Police, army and predominantly Malay.








planting schemes are carefully defined, the relationship of these with yielding areas being such that production over longer periods of time can be precisely predicted. The introduction of new, high-yielding varieties of rubber trees has been consistent. Pest and disease control measures, manuring procedures, cultivation and soil conservancy measures, organizational procedures and so on, are all by now somewhat routinely decided upon, when necessary with the help of outside experts. Particular questions in an overall undertaking as complex as. the prodiuc-

tion of rubber

for an international

market, continue to arse.

But, in general, the production of rubber here is well-defined. The potential annual crop of rubber for Ladang Getah when all of the areas already planted come into bearing (958 of the

4,497 acres in rubber are now in ‘immature rubber’) is 5,500,000

pounds. The manufactured produce of rubber in 1973 came to 4,566,000 pounds; the predicted crop for 1978 is 5,000,000 pounds. The people of Ladang Getah live in one or the other of the estate’s two ‘lines’-—because workers’ quarters are usually built together in lines—areas: Pudthukuchi and Chinnakuchi. Pudthukuchi is by far the larger of these and it is the community in relation to which we will develop our sociological perspectives. Chinnakuchi is a small residential community organized under the administration of the estate manager resident in


It has a small Hindu temple.

Certain cooking

and other supplies can be locally purchased. Otherwise, by itself it has little in relation to which sociological understandings might be developed. Furthermore, though they are paid for their work out of the offices located in Pudthukuchi, the people of Chionakuchi are not intricately involved in the social life of Pudthukuchi. Our historical sketch of the people and









Chinnakuchi; records over the years are available only in combination. Our sociological understandings will be developed only in relation to the data relevant to Pudthukuchi.

Historical Notes Ladang Getah was set up asanestate in 1905. Except fora brief period of Japanese occupation, it has been owned and




managed by Europeans from its beginning. Its labourers in the earlier years were almost exclusively brought over from Tamilnadu under the kangani pattern of recruitment. Some of the older labourers vividly recall experiences they had when they first arrived. They talk of the isolation, confusions and very severe hardships in the living and working conditions they knew. Most of the adults in their days have experienced many dramatic changes. The documented story of Ladang Getah for all practical purposes, however, begins only in 1939 and 1940, the first years for which Manager’s Annual Report figures and accounts are still available.2 With the disruption of local procedures that occurred in the Second World War years, the next Manager’s Annual Report was not compiled until 1946. But such reports for all of the years since then are still available. LABOUR


The general outlines of the Ladang Getah labour force, by ethnicity and terms of employment, are described in Table 2.2 for selected years. The data clearly indicate that the labourers on Ladang Getah in 1939 were almost exclusively Indian. They show also that since then, despite numerous minor reversals in trends, the proportion of Indians in the labour force has decreased, the proportion of Malays has increased to the point that members of this ethnic community in 1973 comprised just a little over

50 per cent of the total labour force, andthe proportion


Chinese in the labour force has never been numerically significant.

The obvious changes in ethnic proportions in the labour force reflect the influences of numerous factors. Over the time-span

represented, many Indian labourers returned to their homeland or sought employment elsewhere, spurred into the actuality of doing so both by the expectations they had had when they originally came and by the uncertainties they had come to under-

stand in a Malaysia that came to be no longer politically guided *Older records for the estate were at one




or not they still are available is unclear. According to Ladang Getah’s manager, if they have not been lost or destroyed by fire, they are buried in the records sections of the company’s main offices in Kuala Lumpur.



TABLE 2.2:



1939 1940 1946 1947 1949 1951 1953 1955 1957 1959 1961 1963 1965 1967 1969 1971 1973





Regular Employment






Contract Employment**





506 508 308 298 361 410 337 409 352 343 380 388 350 279 255 222 218

1 50 188 170 166 117 154 163 162 181 187 216 211 198 197 237 2A5

2 2 2 2 2 17 3 7 6 10 9 il 12 9 9 12 12

__ _ _ _ _ __ _ 44 72 102 25 38 1 1 6



Non-Resident __ _ _— _ _ _ 26 31 31 7 13 2 2 3

509 560 498 470 529 544 494 379 520 604 679 748 605 537 464 474 490

*Source: Manager’s Annual Reports, 1939-73. **Contract employees were occasionally used on Ladang Getah prior to 1959 (in 1952 and 1953 particularly) but they are not so identified in Report summary figures.

by the British, a Malaysia in which established estate styles of

life could be eliminated, at least for atime, in relation to the Policies of fragmentation, and a Malaysia where the ‘special position’ of the Malays was politically guaranteed, the interests of the Chinese could be expressed forcibly—in relation to the powers of this community—and the interests of the Indians were poorly championed and very poorly expressed at best. In ways, the increasing proportion of Malays in the Ladang Getah labour force reflects also the encouragement all Malaysian employers in non-farming sectors have had in recent years towards the employment of more Malays. The latter influences have been subtle and estate personnel claim there has never been a specific attempt to recruit more Malays to the disadvantage of Indian labourers. Yet such persons also acknowledge that related pressures exist.



Meanwhile, the labourers talk openly of these and understand their significance. Until about 1956-57, the Ladang Getah employment context was relatively ill-defined. Malays were first taken on as labourers during 1940 when export releases were raised and Indian labour was in short supply. According to the 1940 Report, the Malays were ‘good tappers, paid the same as Tamils’, but ‘they were not much used for field work’ (1940 Report). Under the circumstances, they were the ‘best’ available. Following the period of Japanese occupation, Tamil men were ‘,.. short due to the heavy loss of manpower on the Thai/ Burmah railroad’. Some estates, bidding for labour during this period, paid more than others, attracting away labour from estates like Ladang Getah where planters’ association guidelines identified the maximum pay allowed. In response Ladang Getah offered a ‘bonus ... for good work" to hold and attract labour, meeting with some success (1946 Report). It also introduced

cost of living allowances and started to provide other amenities

for the labourers, continuing to develop these in the later 1940's.

The instabilities of the employment market continued, however,

affecting both the Tamils and the Malays, by now both locally important as labouring groups. The estate saw its force augmented in 1946 by some 250 Tamil labourers from an estate in Central Kedah, but by the end of the same year ‘... probably all had

left to return to the district they left where rice and fish were

cheaper and more plentiful and pay was higher’ (1946 Report). Tamil labourers were hard to hold on to during this period. So too were the Malays. By 1949, tappers were more abundant though still not sufficient to keep more than 95 per cent of the ‘tasks’ (tapping sectors) filled. Good as the situation was, by the end of the year it had deteriorated, resulting again ina shortage of labour. This time the reason was as follows: ‘... due to a heavy paddy harvest, paddy harvesters were earning $5 a day’, so it was ‘not surprising many returned to their kampongs’ (1949 Report). Again, the recruiting that occurred during the beginnings of the Emergency period (referred to in more detail *The statement quoted in the text continues, ‘... in 1941 we had 350

men and 142 Tamil women ... in 1947 we


(1946 Report).

have 163

men and 155 Tamil



slightly later) saw ‘most’ (1948 Report) of the able-bodied male Malays leave to join special constable, police, navy and air


Finally, instabilities in the supply of labour were directly related to such things as the price of rubber and the related rush to increase production. During such times (1949 and 1950, for example), certain independent ‘Asian estates’ in particular (1950



offered far higher wages to labourers than

did established estates like Ladang Getah. During 1952 and 1953, Ladang Getah and certain other estates utilized contract labour for tapping despite the extra responsibilities this meant in the supervision of tapping. There were bright spots in the labour situation in the years

immediately following the Second World War. But it was not until about the middle 1950’s that the labour situation stabilized to



of the


Very few labourers have

‘bolted’ the estate since the later 1950’s. Meanwhile,

with the

cut-back in the force—from a high period of employment between 1961 and 1965 to the current, rather consistently defined level (Table 2.2)—‘discharges’ alone have accounted for by far the majority of the labourers ‘lost’, and even these figures have tapered off (Table 2.3).

Tue WAR YEARS The war years in Malaya (1942-45) were years of confusion in the Ladang Getah employment context. They were also years of general deterioration. In 1940 the entire European staff was

called up for two months of ‘continuous and extensive’ military training, the estate in the meantime being administered only ona part-time basis by a manager from another estate (1940 Report). In turn, the 1946 Report gives us some indication




the period



of conditions


Accordingly, tapping was now considerably below pre-war standards; almost all the buildings necessary for the housing of the staff and labour and the production of rubber, had to be reconditioned; misused or dismantled and taken-away machinery had to be replaced; squatters had come to occupy some 100 acres




in rubber;4

and, whereas

a year before



on the lost weight


labourers were very weak and suffering from

mulnutrition’, now ‘... they have put are looking healthy’ (1946 Report).


the ill effects of


Discharged 18

Paid-Off _

Bolted 3





1951 1953

_ -

315 184

_ -



1955 1957 1959 1961 1963

172 58 96





1971 1973



33 38


64 52 _ _





_ _ 0 0 15




5 9

*Source: Manager’s Annual Reports, 1939-73. For the years, 1950-58, figures for labourers leaving the estate are given as paid-off. No separate numbers are given for those who bolted.

The total number of acres planted in rubber was 50.7 less in 1946 than in 1941. Problems of labour shortage and unrest, a general shortage of materials and the ‘neglect, wanton destruction and looting’ that occurred during the war years saw Ladang Getah in a somewhat dilapidated state following the war. But recovery was rapid. While in February 1946, only 1,000 pounds of rubber were produced on the estate, by the end ‘No rent was collected from the squatters in 1946. Later, first $1 a year, then $5 a year were collected until the squatters were compelled

to leave the estate. Low rents were justified as follows: ‘...(the presence of the squatters on the estate) saved us large sums of money under the

compulsory food cultivation (scheme that required that) 2 per cent of our total area (be planted in food crops)’.



of the year

crops had

risen to

pound mark’ per month.

a rather respectable


THE EMERGENCY YEARS Ladang Getah was particularly affected during the Emergency years (1948-60) in that it lost many Malay males to police and

military recruitment. It was also affected in other ways. With the emergence and activities of ‘so many unregistered

trade unions’ among Indian estate labourers in Malaya and the


region following


war (1946 Report),® considerable

‘unrest’ and ‘subversive propaganda’ occurred. The 1947 Report


At the beginning of the year Tamil labourers were difficult to control due to labour union leaders in Kedah expecting that their newly-won power gave them authority to do what they liked on estates with the result that they defied the police and got away with it. Whatever the reasons for the unrest, by the end of 1947 Indian labour had settled down. Among other developments: .. the Kedah Planting Association took very strong action in the approach to government with the result that a riot force was drafted to Kedah and after they had gone into action on a few estates the situation improved. Ring leaders received stiff sentences and new laws were passed. As the country moved into the Emergency years, it seemed to the managers of Ladang Getah that labour became easier to control. According to the 1948 Report: ‘The troubled state of the country has tended to make them (the labourers) more loyal.’ Additionally, the other reason—that of force just referred to— ‘The report continues: ‘They (the unions) do not wish to be registered as they prefer to be outside the law.’ Whatever the perspective, out of the contention among such unions today’s union structure emerged as we shall see later.



comes in and the explanation for the new loyalty also states that by now ‘... the bad Union leaders have either gone underground or been shot or imprisoned’. By the end of 1948, the Malay males who had earlier responded ‘very well to the call to defend the lives of the Staff and the property of the Company’ had also trained into an efficient guard. But the situation, in general, appeared grim in Ladang Getah. The following letter, included with the 1948 Report, attests to this: The communists started to try and rupture the economy of the country early in the year. Firstly, by getting control of the Unions and causing trouble by getting their members to strike, and, when this failed, bythe brutal murder of

Planters and Miners, and in some cases the Asian Staff.

The belated Government reply to this was to tell managers

to recruit guards Needless




for themselves

and the estate property.

say, the arms were not available to equip these

a considerable


of Europeans


murdered, troop reinforcements were sent to Malaya. The next to arrive were various Politicians. They came out to see things for themselves, and were passed from one Residency to another, from Penang to Singapore; after a few weeks they flew home and their speeches in Parliament astounded people out here by their complete ignorance of the whole situation. They just did not know what they were talking about. The late Sir Edward Gent was rightly blamed for the lack

of preparedness

instead And putting nothing

of the


and by trying to talk

of meeting force with force. finally we have his Highness the Governor General over the most amazing political speeches which mean to anyone with the possible exception of himself.

Inspite of what you may read in the home papers, things are

as bad, in this new year, as they have ever been. Just recently,

within the period of one week, three killed,










but escaped

Things in our part of Kedah have been relatively quiet, but with the splitting up of the big gangs down South, we are now



more liable to attack than ever before. keeping

less talk.





fingers crossed and hoping for more action and

The situation in Ladang Getah never came to be nearly as serious as it might have been (and was in certain estates) and the estate guard was never really put to the test. Nevertheless, several exciting incidents occurred. Station guards were placed at each European bungalow and the factory and a personal guard accompanied each European on his estate rounds. During an anti-banditry® month in 1949, some 100 names of suspected people in the area were written down. In 1950 the labourers got ‘,..a little scared after seeing the bandits on many occasions’ and began to tap in groups instead of alone, jungle growths over the whole estate were cut down and kept down for

security reasons, bungalows on each side of the estate were fired



in the

fire’ the office.

beginning of

1951 an attempt was made ‘to

‘Bandits’ were thought to use squatter areas on the estate as ‘staging camps’ on their travels from one area to another, according to police reports (1950 Report), and all but the five squatter families permitted to move into lines areas and continue farming certain estate lands (paying rents of $5 a year) were driven off the land by the end of 1953, with police assistance


In April 1953, the line-sites at both Pudthukuchi and Chinnakuchi were fenced with an eight-foot barbed wire security fence. An Indian ‘bandit’ surrendered on the estate in 1953, stealing away from his gang of ten one night after it had been hiding on the estate for two weeks. The following night, two other members of the gang were shot by the police (1953 Report). For sometime early in the Emergency, all of Ladang Getah was defined as a ‘Black’ (unsafe) area. In August 1955, the Pudthukuchi lines area and the road leading there were “Labelling during the Emergency was often peculiar. The ‘war’ as some called it was officially, generally labelled the Emergency. Guerilla opponents to the Government are often called ‘bandits’ in records of various engagements.



declared ‘White’ (safe) with the ‘effect of eliminating food rationing and the removal of many irksome restrictions’ therein (1955 Report). The Chinnakuchi line-site and crop areas were declared ‘Grey’ in 1956, White in 1957. All Ladang Getah lands were declared White in 1959. Subsequently, the fences surrounding the two line-sites were taken down. Estate Work Outlines

The staff of Ladang Getah belong to either the Administrative

Staff (until 1961 called the ‘European Staff’) or the Executive Staff (until 1961, the ‘Asian Staff’). At the end of 1973, the administrative staff consisted of the manager and an assistant

manager,’ the executive staff of a chief clerk, a junior clerk,


storekeeper, six field staff conductors, a (medical) ‘dresser’ and one factory conductor. But for the manager, a European, all but one of the staff members (this person holds a ‘red I.C.’, see Chapter 3) are Malaysian citizens. All but two of the field staff

conductors live in Pudthukuchi. Under the staff are the labourers, the labourers themselves

(tappers and weeders, respectively) being organized under kanganis (foremen) responsible to conductors. The number of

kanganis per conductor varies from one to three but for four of the seven conductors it comes to two each. Four of the estate’s six field conductors work on Pudthukuchi-centred Divisions (two as tapping conductors, one as a weeding conductor, the last as both a tapping and a weeding conductor), two work on the Chinnakuchi Division (one overseeing tapping, the other overseeing weeding). Formally, the organization of work on Ladang Getah is as

described in Figure 2.1.

MANAGER The manager, in general, administers everything that goes on on the estate. The current manager came to Malaya as a ‘planter’ 7A Malay was on the estate for part of the year




trainee under the auspices of the Terengganu State Economic ment Corporation.







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in 1947, came to Ladang Getah as an assistant manager in 1951, then took over as manager in early 1952. He was one of twelve planters marked for assassination by a terrorist cadre during the earliest days of the Emergency. Papers later found by the police show he escaped this end only in that those who were assigned to kill him (and several others) backed out at the last minute, thus failing in their ‘responsibilities’. In 1972, he was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire by the British Queen, the same year also being awarded the A.M.N. by the Yang Di Pertuan Agung, Malaysia. The manager makes regular rounds of the estate, starting early. He knows a good proportion of the workers by name. Though






of the activities of the

people, living as a bachelor in his bungalow, he does occasionally attend weddings and so on, he is an active participant in organizing estate and regional sports events, he is a member of

the Pudthukuchi





he is an


member of various planters’ and other regional associations. Once referring to some of the older buildings in the nearby city of Penang, the manager said, ‘... some people would refer to these as colonial relics’. In the way he said it, it seemed as if he was referring to himself. And so he was. He manages superbly a very efficiently run estate. His roots are very deep. But the manager’s is a kind that will not much longer be found in a Malaysia increasingly taking over its own. OFFICE STAFF Various grades of rubber are produced on Ladang Getah. ‘Skimmings’ and ‘scrap’ are sold inthe area, the better grades find their way into the international market, being shipped out

via Butterworth.

Much clerical work is involved in the process.

The office staff, under the direction of the manager and assistant manager, helps arrange shipments, record shipments and make adjustments when necessary. It is responsible for the ever-increasing amount of paper-work demanded by

governmental authorities.

It prepares payrolls, keeps track of

personnel, makes advance payments and so on. Ladang Getah’s

chief clerk

has worked

on the estate slightly longer than the



manager and, like the manager, is the master junior clerk is a young Malay.

of his job.


FIELD STAFF Rubber trees last varying numbers of years, the actual number relating to such things as clonal type, fertilization, climatic conditions and tapping procedures. Rubber trees are commonly ready for tapping when they are six or seven years old and can

be tapped for between twenty and thirty years.

Trees are usually tapped only on alternate days. If tapped correctly, the incision of the knife will not cut too deeply and the ‘bark consumed’ as the knife daily opens the ‘wound’ will

be about one inch a month.

Tapping conductors and their kanganis oversee the tapping being carried out and they weigh and record the amount of latex the tappers bring to weighing stations. The conductors have an added authority as well. Responsible for the assigning of ‘tasks’ (tappers work in designated areas, or tasks, consisting of the number of trees for which they are daily responsible, a particular set of tasks often coming to be associated with a particular tapper for a very long period of time), they are ina position to assign tappers to Jow-yield areas, areas in which tapping at the ground level is no longer possible (and tapping

must be done with the aid of a ladder) or areas where yields will be high over a number of years. Their recommendations are important to the labourers. Weeding conductors and kanganis oversee the work associated


keeping plantation

grasses. Weeders use sprays in their work.

areas clear of weeds




and unwanted


as well


Factory WORKERS The Ladang Getah factory is located in Pudthukuchi. It isa rubber sheet-producing factory with a maximum output of

500,000 pounds per month.8

*The Ladang Getah factory manufactures

the estate.

No rubber is processed for others.

rubber only






From the places where it is weighed on the estate, the latex is brought to the factory in tanks on tractor-pulled trailers. Here it is mixed with water in aluminum coagulating tanks, then allowed to coagulate overnight with the help of suitable chemicals. The following morning, the aluminum sheets between which the latex has coagulated are pulled out and the white ‘chunks’ of rubber are fed into sheeting batteries. The outcoming compressed sheets are next, consecutively, hung on racks to dry in hot air and smoke tunnels, sorted into grades, baled and otherwise prepared for shipping.

The factory

conductor, his two kanganis and the thirty-two

workers of the factory are all residents of Pudthukuchi. They work in shifts, in seasons of especially high yields often working

extra hours.

TAPPERS AND WEEDERS Roll call for tappers and weeders comes at about 5:30 a.m. .and is called by the conductors. Tapping starts at daybreak (maybe 6:30 or 7:00 a.m.). It is usually finished around 10:00 a.m. A factory siren at 11:00 a.m. signals the time latex collection should begin. Following the weighing of the latex collected, tappers are free to return home, usually getting back somewhere between 12:30 and 1:00 p.m. For some, the afternoon is a time for rest and recreation; for others it is a time when other jobs or ways of earning money can be pursued. Approaching

a tree,







coagulated latex from the incision and the latex cup (saving this and earning four cents a pound for it), then quickly again open the cut. When collecting latex, he simply empties the contents of the cups on the trees into a container, periodically taking this to the weighing station. Weeding is a lower prestige job in estate life than is tapping. It pays less and it much more frequently demands that the labourer work in the sun. Weeders start work at 7:00 a.m., take a half-hour break at 11:00 a.m., then finish at 2:00 p.m. Of the 494 labourers on Ladang Getah, 322 are tappers and 96 are weeders; 224 tappers and 82 weeders live in Pudthukuchi.






on Ladang Getah



for special

projects. In 1973 they were hired as packers at the factory, grafters and sprayers. In early 1974, several of them erected two

creches in Pudthukuchi.

‘Other’ labourers number forty-three for the entire estate; the category includes linesweepers, ayahs, watchmen, fitters, drivers,

grass cutters, gardeners, a scavenger, a carpenter and a Wireman. Almost all ‘other’ category workers live in Pudthukuchi. Pudthukuchi Buildings The principal buildings of shown in Figure 2.2.




The managers’ houses (built around the middle





walled with brick, roofed with tile. Almost all the workers lines (most of them built during the 1950’s) are walled partly in brick, partly in wood, then roofed with aluminum sheets. Most of the older buildings (pre-war, 1940’s and 1950’s) are walled at least partly in wood, then roofed with tiles, alumimum or asbestos. The majority of the buildings erected during

the 1960’s (most of which have to do with factory activities) are walled with brick.

Except for the estate’s new school buildings, three or four of the shops where sufidry goods are sold and two little coffee

shops, all of the buildings in Padthukuchi

and maintained by the estate. The for 1973 lists the conditions of all either ‘good’ or ‘fair’. Lines quarters, in general, consist units commonly comprise a ‘line’) of

are owned,


Manager’s Annual Report estate buildings as being

of housing units (four to six three rooms—a larger room

(perhaps 10 ft. by 12 ft.), a slightly smaller one to one side with a little cooking-wash

area to the rear. For some, the


of crowding are serious (several families have eight or nine children); for others of course, they are not. Most homes have numerous calendar and other pictures of deities and photographs of themselves, their children and their friends on the walls. Many families have some kind of glass-fronted almirah (cupboard) in which they store a few nicer pieces of glassware, perhaps a



trophy or two and a few important papers. Furnishings usually include a few simple wooden (or by now, plastic and iron) chairs,

a little table or two, several trunks or wooden boxes



clothing and such things can be stored, bedding, mats, a bed and

cooking supplies and utensils. Amenities

According to Azizur Rahman

(1973: 33):

Fragmentation benefited only two groups of people, the original owners of the estate who made enormous profits and the speculators who fragmented the estates and made a fortune

out of them. The people who underwent untold suffering and

hardships were the poor workers, most of whom

and worked in the estates from childhood.



Developing his contentions (pp. 33-37), Azizur claims that on fragmented estates, living conditions are ‘dismal’, labour laws are irregularly observed, profits are maximized at the expense of the basic requirements of the workers, recreational facilities are ‘almost nil’ and hereditary systems of occupation have been


Most people would agree wish Azizur’s general contentions. As we noted in Chapter 1, the government itself stepped in in 1969 in the face of possible continuing widespread fragmentation, restricting the conditions under which it could occur. In part, the government’s considerations were purely economic. In part, they also had to do with pressures unions and other groups

brought to bear in representing worker problems (Azizur, 1973: 1).

In contrast with the conditions that occur on certain estates (as Azizur and others have described these), the amenities available on Ladang Getah are various and numerous. The

Manager’s Annual Report for 1973 lists the following as avail-


*The total cost to the estate of all formally defined amenities (including provident fund payments) in 1973 per labourer came to $412.04. Of this total, $59.87 was the sum spent per labourer on medicines and



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Anuadied *g

esnoy axows |

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s,eBeuew jueisissy “y mojeBung ssaBeuey ‘¢

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Club house Toddy shop Electric lights Pipe water supply Malay and Tamil schools Reading room and vernacular newspapers Hindu temple Muslim prayer house Free milk and rice for creche infants Sports ground Land for vegetable and paddy cultivation

Football, badminton and athletic teams

Cinema hall Television sets (2) Pensions for two persons

Advice on family planning

The list—which identifies amenities provided by the estate plus amenities provided in relation to the participation of the Pudthukuchi people—is impressive. It can easily be extended. Housing quarters are provided to a fee of only §2 a month, the fee being primarily in payment of utilities. Electric lighting is available in every house during certain hours in the morning and evening. Not only is advice on family planning given out freely but so too are certain family planning facilities. Creche ayahs are employed by the estate. Grasses around the lines are cut for the people and thelines areas are swept regularly by estate employees. The estate owns the toddy shop, the reading room, the temple and prayer house. One of the televi-

sion sets was bought with funds collected by the



mittee. The other was purchased with estate funds. Movies shown locally are rented through funds in an estate recreational fund into which workers automatically pay. Some of those who wish to can farm estate land not suitable for rubber cultivation and set aside for this purpose. The schools in Pudthukuchi are impressive. They were set up largely with government funds but they would not be here without intercession on behalf of sanitation. Overall, the total cost of amenities to the estate per acre came to $45.26.




the estate people by their leaders. Many other things are also available. Coconut trees on Pudthukuchi land are leased out to a private contractor, earning $900 a year for the estate. One hundred toddy palms are rented to a toddy contractor. He employs four toddy tappers, each of whom taps twenty-five trees twice a day. The morning’s supply makes a good sweet drink for early inthe day. By noon the fermentation is enough to help a drinker to ‘...a good rest from his work’, and by evening when twenty to thirty people (a good number more during special occasions) gather at the toddy shop, the fermented drink is strong enough to help one forget most of his problems. The estate earns $1,200 a year in renting out the toddy palms,

the contractor in Pudthukuchi hasbeen doing his job for twenty

years and the drinkers in Pudthukuchi are satisfied with the product and service they locally know. Another commodity available in Pudthukuchi is bootleg liquor, or samsu. A Chinese Malaysian brings in a supply regularly; a local man sells it in thirty or forty cent shots. The local seller pays $3 a month to an area policeman for ‘protection’. Some of the local people run ‘private taxis’ and one man tuns a bas sekolah (school bus) between Pudthukuchi and other estates and a neighbouring town, taking children to the secondary school there. The local shops provide enough for everyday needs and the local coffee shops are rather regular meeting places for certain groups of people.

In terms of health services, Pudthukuchi workers




clinic services in a nearby




and their

dispensary services locally,





services at a ‘Group Hospital’ a little further away.!° They are

also conditionally entitled to such things as sick pay and maternity benefits. Finally, Pudthukuchi provides ‘amenities’ to its people in community observances, festivals and patterns of many varieties. Of these we will have much more to say later. 14 ‘Group Hospital’ serves the labourers on a group

of estates and

ts supported by the monies collected from the participating estates.




Health A total of 4,567 ‘medical cases’ were treated at the Pudthukuchi dispensary during 1973. Some 322 Ladang Getah cases were treated at the nearby clinic and during the year, eighty-six persons from the estate were admitted to the Group Hospital (twenty-five for treatment of wounds and injuries, seventeen with flu, eleven with enteritis, nine for confinements, three for treatment of snake-bites, three for tubal ligations and so on). All Pudthukuchi labour lines and staff quarters were twice sprayed with D.D.T. in 1973 by Health Department personnel. Of the few people who died on the estate during the year, three died of old age, one of heart attack, the last in premature birth. The Group Hospital doctor, writing of Pudthukuchi health conditions in 1973, labelled the health of the Administrative Staff, Executive Staff and labourers as ‘good’. But he added: Most of the labourers are anaemic by normal standards and many suffer from intestinal worm infestations. This also leads to poor resistance to other diseases, resulting in prolonged illnesses and hospitalization, There is also a feeling of lethargy and lack of interest in their work. Hence there is a reduction in the efficiency of these workers apart from the increase in cost of payment of sick leave and hospitalization. The doctor states also that the ‘proper eradication of intestinal worms’ and the ‘adequate treatment of anaemic workers’ on Ladang Getah is a matter of continuing interest. He concludes stressing the need for personal cleanliness among the workers and their children. Reports from earlier years, in general, give the health conditions of the estate people as ‘good’, or at least ‘fair’. Nothing that might be called an epidemic has broken out on Ladang Getah since the Second World War. Some Pudthukuchi Population Outlines Table 2.4 gives distributions of the Pudthukuchi population by ethnicity, age and sex. The total population of Pudthukuchi comes to 1,214, Indians



comprise the largest ethnic group. Then come the Malays


the Chinese coming in a numerically poor third. TABLE 2.4: DISTRIBUTIONS OF THE PUDTHUKUCHI



Age Group 0-9 10-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59





2.4 a total


Chinese M F


65 132 58 21 34 30

a 122 51 33 29 20

72 60 47 38 13 9

80 70 31 29 10 6

9 9 _4 _ 1

7 5 1 4 1 -

304 398 188 129 87 66










Malays M F












the categories identified in Table

of the Pudthukuchi Indians are of

Telugu speaking backgrounds, eleven of Malayalam speaking backgrounds, the rest are Tamilians. All Pudthukuchi Indians fluently speak Tamil, the common language of most Indian Malaysians. Seven Pudthukuchi households

are Indian

households: two are Indian Christian households,






In sixteen of the ‘Malay’ households, at least one member claims Javanese rather than Bahasa Malaysia as his native language. These people or their forebears came originally from Java. All Pudthukuchi Malays are Muslims. Ties Out A

brief description



little items

“We earlier noted that the Malays now


comprise the


in the

largest ethnic

group on the estate as a whole. Their introduction has occurred proPportionately most thoroughly in Chinnakuchi. Chinnakuchi borders directly with a Malay kampong, making recruitment of Malays here over the years more simply reasonable. Pudthukuchi, more cut off from Malay kampongs though it too has seen an increase in the proportion of Malays resident, retains more its proportion of Indians.



understanding of the kinds of ties that link Pudthukuchi into its environments. A Pudthukuchi tapper set a Malaysian record in the 20,000 metre walk in the 1967 Malaysian Games, having often participated in walk competitions in various parts of the country. _ Speaking with him one evening as he marked trees in his task, he agreed to show us his walking skills. However and wherever he learned these, under a heavy grey sky and the cover of the rubber trees, he then did so, all to the Simon and Garfunkel version of ‘I’d Rather be a Forest than a Tree’, playing on a

friend’s transistor radio.

The George Foreman-Ken Norton heavyweight championship boxing match from Caracas, Venezuela, was broadcast live by TV Malaysia. The Tamil school children and their teachers watched it on the TV set in the shelter attached to the largest local temple. The Malay school children and their teachers watched it on the set at the community hall. A fair number of male tappers managed their schedules so that they could be on hand (the fight came on at 9:30 a.m. local time) at both places. Few of the people watching had much earlier known the names Ken Norton and George Foreman. But all of them knew the name Mohammed Ali and they knew that the winner of this fight would later fight Ali. The official rate of exchange, Malaysian dollars to Indian rupees, in March 1974 was about $33 to Rs. 100. The black market rate, simultaneously, was about $28.5 to Rs. 100. Sending $1,000 to relatives in India at the time, some Pudthukuchi people did so completely knowledgeable about the process and the possibilities of the transaction not working out correctly. Knowledge of currency rates in certain neighbouring countries, ties with relatives in India, some understanding of Mohammed Ali’s boxing prowess—such and many other things are indicative of the many ties people in a place like Pudthukuchi have with their larger contexts. Basically, as Indians, Malays and Chinese living together, their understandings are from the beginning flavoured by diversities in language, dress and styles of life. With their backgrounds they have long seen friends and family members come from and go to other places. A number of Indians went to Sabah from Pudthukuchi



in 1970 to try their luck.!2 And Indian labourers have been going

back and forth to India ever since they were first brought over to work in rubber. Several taxis go in and out of Pudthukuchi. Children go for

studies elsewhere. Many Pudthukuchi people participate in regional religious and similar celebrations. The estate manager

is a European. Penang, not far off, has always had relatively large numbers of Europeans—earlier, British administrators

and military personnel, still the Royal Australian Air Force and always by now, tourists. Some of the





Bond movies; most of the children know how to flash the peace

sign and cry out ‘peace’. . No one who has experienced a heavy rain storm in the Pud-

thukuchi lines area and no one who has travelled at night alone

through the long stretches of rubber surrounding the settlement would ever think Pudthukuchi was not in many ways isolated. It is easy to imagine the social isolations estate workers knew when motorized vehicles were very uncommon, roads were relatively much poorer and mass communication devices were not yet introduced. It is still easy to understand how the geogra-



of the


within the plantation

setting must mark its social life, no matter what its linkages with other contexts. Yet the community is definitely also tied into its surrounding environments in very many ways. Conclusion The labour force on Ladang Getah has dwindled somewhat and changed in composition over the years. But the problems associated with the war and Emergency years are long in the past. The fragmentation of Ladang Getah is not currently particularly

likely. And work outlines are clearly


In short,


Ladang Getah work context is today relatively stable. How does the setting appear in terms of its people and their access to facilities? “The Government encouraged settlement


assistance and advantageous




citizenship prospects.





went then, were primarily those with some kind of ambiguity concerning their citizenship prospects in West Malaysia.



G. Perumal, the Deputy General Secretary of the Malaysian National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW) once told us rhetorically (10 May 1974): ‘It used to be that estate owners thought workers had enough if they had a temple, a toddy shop, six gantangs (a weight measure) of rice and a shelter under which to live.’ Another man, retired as an estate’s chief clerk, remembered older days when ‘.. . it was possible to do anything you wanted to do to labourers, even kick them’, without fear of repercussions. Shirle Gordon notes that estates owned by Malaysians and other Asians are often more repressively run, from the standpoint of the labourers, than are estates run by Europeans (1970: 10). Nevertheless, she also claims summarily that the more than half a million workers and their dependants who live on Malaysia’s plantations today, whatever the ownership, ‘. .. work, live and die within a fetid, unending . . . environment, effectively removed from the wider society’ (1970:10). Certainly times have changed in relation to the conditions under which plantation workers live and express themselves. On estates like Ladang Getah, many amenities have been introduced. On many estates, conditions continue to be very bad. And on some, especially the fragmented estates, there is good reason to suspect that they have deteriorated seriously. Perumal’s statement was never meant to be specifically applicable and certainly whatever its provisional relevance in a bygone day, it wouldn’t come anywhere close, even rhetorically, to allowing for an understanding of what goes on in a place like Ladang Getah today. Meanwhile, our evidence already shows that the Gordon kind of summary is both far too polemical and far too little informed by a perspective from within the context referred to, to be of use.

3 Ethnic Insularity

Presenting in Parliament the Mid-Term Review

Malaysia Plan (1973), Tun Abdul Razak

of the

stressed the



ment’s emphasis on and some of the problems concerning national unity in Malaysia (as reported in the Straits Times,

27 November


The progress that we have made in the first three years of the Plan has exceeded our expectations. The foundations that we seek for a society based on the Rukunegara are today much more solid than they were in 1969 when racial conflict threatened the very fabric of our multi-racial


We need to be ever vigilant against the disruptive forces that still exist amidst us and must be prepared to make

sustained efforts to overcome these forces.

National unity, the corner stone of all our policies, is much too important and precious for us to demand anything less.

National unity is vital not only for the

continuing economic

and social progress that we all seek. It isthe our viability as a multi-racial society.




Numerous other Malaysian leaders have echoed the expressed interests of Tun Razak. According to Datuk Hussein Onn

(as reported in the Straits Times, 28 February 1974): We must always put the interests of the

country before



INDIAN MALAYSIANS party, based on principles laid down by our top leaders.... The basic principle underlying the establishment of a truly Malaysian society must be mutual faith, trust and belief in national resilience among the various races in our nation.

National unity has been and is being preached in Malaysia. What’s more, the ideology here since before Independence has had a strong empirical footing. Roots of the alliance of the United Malay National Organization (UMNO), the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) began to establish themselves long before Independence; the resultant Alliance has dominated political processes in the country (Ratnam, 1965:1-65). During 1973-74, the Alliance catalytically attracted additional, formerly at least, somewhat antagonistic parties intoa National Front (Barisan National) political coalition that literally swept the elections of 1974. Yet the problems associated with the integration of the major ethnic groups in Malaysia remain. Whatever the unity currently apparent, the possibilities of ethnic disunity are

almost never difficult to






Minister Tun Tan Siew Sin’s words (as recorded in the Star, 1 May 1974): ‘Malays, Indian and Chinese cannot be more different than they already are and they are different in everything of importance’. But then the problems and diversities involved along such lines are precisely those in relation to which the Second Malaysia Plan was structured. And these are among the factors most commonly taken into consideration when the successes and failures of the Plan’s implementation are discussed. Planning Malaysia has defined as its objectives

the search for‘... unity, political stability and harmony’, given

the fact of profound ethnic Times, 13







- What kinds of distinctions are there among the Indians, Malays and Chinese in Pudthukuchi? How do the people


different tionships to India to enable

of these? In







ethnic groups interact frequently? What views, relaand identities do Indians here have with reference and Malaysia? To answer questions such as these is a view of integration and national identity from the



vantage point of the plantation.

This is the



of this

Ethnic Insularity RESIDENTIAL SEGREGATION In Figure 3 the residential


of the

Chinese in Pudthukuchi are indentified.




In general, the Indians and Malays of Pudthukuchi live in distinct areas. In very few of the lines can there be found households of both ethnic groups. Most of the people comprising these groups cook, wash, clean, gossip, sharpen their

tools and scold their children

in relative

isolation from


members of the other group. Informal play groups among children most frequently develop among children of the same ethnic background. The Chinese live in households scattered throughout the settlement; but few Chinese as there are in number, they do not upset general residential patterns of segregation. No formal regulations define by ethnicity the places in which particular Pudthukuchi people shall live. Informally, however, there are many reasons for the segregation that occurs. SEPARATENESS IN FACILITIES Children have been able to get a primary education in Pudthukuchi for about as long as anyone can remember. Until 1970 facilities were very poor. Indian children studied in one small building, Malay children in another. Chinese children, few in number in any case, studied either with the Indians or the Malays or in schools in neighbouring towns where educational facilities catering specifically to Chinese interests were available. In 1969 and 1970, the two new primary schools of Pudthukuchi were built side by side about half a mile from the lines 1An earlier version of this chapter was published under the title, ‘Ethnic Insularity and National Identification in a Plural Society: Indian Malaysians, a Case Study,’ in Economic and Political Weekly, X (No. 37), 13 September 1975.

€ esnBIy



Ayio1uys3 Aq Spjoyesnoy Burial ‘seosy 1e;UEepisey 1yoNyNYIpNgY Jedioulg

Ployesnoy asoulyD — wy

ployesnoy Aeew — E

Ployesnoy ue;pu) — [)



quarters (Figure 2.2).

One is

other a Tamil medium school.

master and Malay teachers, master and, but for one





first has

the second has Malay teacher,



a Malay




an Indian headIndian teachers.

Almost all of the students in the first school



discernible ethnic

in the second are Indian. The two schools have almost completely separate play and teaching facilities and they have different school boards. If the children from the two schools march back and forth to the lines for special functions, they march separately. Study conditions in the secondary schools in neighbouring towns—schools to which eligible and able Pudthukuchi students later go—are different in many ways from those found in






outlines despite their overall, formal emphasis toward integration. Creches and kindergartens are also ethnically segregated. The two creches constructed by the estate in 1974 replace older creches also run separately. Their respective ayahs (amahs) match the ethnicity of their wards. A kindergarten for Malays

is now organized in Pudthukuchi; one

for the



is being privately encouraged. One of the Pudthukuchi ‘public’ television sets was purchased under the authority of the temple committee and is installed under the shelter attached to the temple. The other was purchased by the estate and is installed in the cinema hall. TV Malaysia telecasts Tamil and Chinese programmes, when it does, over Channel 2. Channel 1 (the other principal Channel) telecasts are generally either in Malay or in English. With two public sets in Pudthukuchi, there is seldom a problem concerning which-ethnic community gets the right to watch which channel. In general, the community hall set is the set for the Malays and is turned to Channel 1; the temple

set is for the Indians and is turned to Channel 2.

The library-reading room was built by the estate for the use of all estate people. Today, however, those who hang around here are almost all Indians. The reading materials available are allin Tamil. Finally, at least for our purposes here, a separateness is obvious in reference to religious facilities. The Indians of



Pudthukuchi, almost all of whom are Hindus, have their ‘temples. The Malays, all of whom are Muslims, have their surau. The Chinese have no public place of worship in Pudthukuchi. OTHER DIFFERENCES The major ethnic groups of Pudthukuchi are residentially segregated and there are differentiations in many of their facilities. They are also separate in many other ways. Religiously, first, the Muslims follow one religious calendar, the Hindus another. Perspectives of area-wide religious celebrations, observance of life-cycle ceremonies, patterns of approaching defined deities and conceptions of the world also differ. Then too, while Islam is being pushed with a certain missionary kind of vigour in modern Malaysia, many Indians have gathered defensively behind the bulwarks they know, including Hinduism. Second, various considerations in ways related to religious

identifications also

differentiate between

Pudthukuchi'’s major

ethnic groups. By law, children of Muslim/non-Muslim marriages must be brought up as Muslims. If a non-Muslim wishes to marry a Muslim female, he is compelled to convert to Islam, the assumption being that the male’s religion is the determinant one in a family. A non-Muslim female marrying a Muslim male need not always convert. Usually, however, conversion to Islam in such marriages is also relatively automatic.2 For the Malays and Indians in Pudthukuchi, such considerations make the possibilities of inter-marriages extremely remote. And indeed, within the last eight or nine years, only one instance of inter-marriage has occurred between a Malay and a non-Malay. ‘Religious’ kinds of differences also tie in with dietary preferences and savings interests. Dietary differences influence patterns of inter-dining and entertainment. Savings preferences

focus the interests of at least some Indians on the possibility


*These would hardly restrict marriages between Indian ard Malay Muslims. But other factors wculd and there are only seven households among the Pudthukuchi people that are Indian Muslim households.



a trip to India or a major expenditure during a festival period; they focus the interests of many Malays on the possibility of a pilgrimage to Mecca. Third, and overwhelmingly important, the native languages of the people differ. All of the Indians speak Tamil, some of them additionally speaking another Indian language as a mother-tongue. The Malays speak Bahasa Malaysia; the Chinese the dialect of their homeland regions in China (most of the Pudthukuchi Chinese, accordingly, speak the Hokkein dialect). When they associate as members of a particular ethnic group, the Pudthukuchi people speak only their own particular languages. Almost all the Indians and Chinese know enough Bahasa Malaysia to get along well enough in routine conversation. All of the children in school now study Bahasa Malaysia. A good number of Malays and Chinese at least understand a good


of conversational






Malays know any Chinese. All estate staff personnel know enough English to perform adequately in their jobs (records, etc., are kept in English), and a good number, especially of the younger male adults in Pudthukuchi, can carry on at least an introductory conversation in English. In sum, Bahasa Malaysia serves as the link language among the various ethnic groups comprising the Pudthukuchi population, but the only languages in which by far the majority in each ethnic group can converse readily and with no public hesitation are their native languages. Fourth, the news the Indians and the Malays obtain often comes out of vernacular newspapers with coverage directed toward the particular interests of the different groups.? The Malays get their news primarily from the Utusan Malaysia (Romanized script) or the Utusan Melayu (Jawi script), the Indians from the Tamil Nesan, Tamil Malar or Tamil Murasu (all Tamil language papers). Fifth, the Pudthukuchi Indians and Malays tend to belong to different formal and voluntary associations. The regular and *According to the Minister of Technology, Research and


tion of New Villages (reported in the Straits Echo, 27 August 1973), it has become almost the policy of certain vernacular newspapers to give prominence to the ethnic community of its readership rather than to

news of national interest.




youth associations of the area’s United Malay National Organization (UMNO), the regular and youth associations of the acea’s Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) and the area’s Tamil Youth Bell Clubs draw their memberships, respectively, from among the Malays, the Indians and the Indians. Savings and lottery associations are membered almost exclusively by people from a particular ethnic group alone. So too are the memberships of gangs: the “‘555’s” and the ‘020’s” of Pudthukuchi and the area are almost all Indians, the ‘Zero Eights’ are predominantly Malays.4 Sixth, the people have different perspectives of what their

occupational and citizenship prospects will be in the long


differing prospects for the elderly, differing preferences for films (the Pudthukuchi Indians always order Tamil films when their turns in selection for the local showings occur while the Pudthukuchi Malays, though they generally prefer Malay films, sometimes also order Hindi films...because they are cheaper, more accessible and, in their opinion, also enjoyable)

and so on.

MEETING PLACES The Indians and the Malays of Pudthukuchi are insulated from each other in many ways. But there are also a number of situations in which they come together. Most of the workers from both groups belong to the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW). The children who attend secondary school

ina nearby town travel together

in school

buses and


mixed classes. Some males of both ethnic groups drink toddy together at the end of the day. Members of both groups shop in the same stores in Pudthukuchi. In the neighbouring towns,

where almost all of the shops are Chinese-owned

and operated,

of necessity they purchase goods in the same places.® ‘Such gangs are often likely to have some mixture

of membership by

ethnicity in towns around. But in places like Pudthukuchi, gang membership is almost always relatively exclusive. *Generally, the only non-Chinese-operated shops in the neighbouring towns are coffee shops and eating places. Chinese-owned eating places attract Malay and Indian clientele by advertising that their preparations

contain no pork and local






ETHNIC INSULARITY Another example of a situation in which

55 both



Indians participate involves card playing. Throughout the month, a few males occasionally gather for simple games and often the players come from both ethnic groups. The payday games (starting on the night of pay-day and usually lasting fortwo or three evenings)—where observerplayers sit in a circle and contestants at the moment lay their bets on the chance fall of a card alone and where players occasionally lose their entire month’s earnings in the process— almost always include Malays as well as Indians. Finally, the entire industry of rubber production is largely

defined without reference to ethnic considerations.

In general,

tappers are assigned to tasks according to considerations of merit and they are censored or dismissed from such assignments according to how well they do what is expected of them. Similarly, a tapper’s pay is determined by how much latex he gathers and kanganis are responsible for the work done by all the labourers under them, regardless of ethnicity. Employment opportunities on Ladang Getah tend to slightly favour Malays over Indians. But within this general parameter and in terms of those understandings involved in considering ‘exceptional case’ situations, ethnicity plays little part in Pudthukuchi’s industrial sphere. Even in situations where overlappings do occur, however, tendencies toward insularity simultaneously occur. Thus in the Pudthukuchi organization of the NUPW, the general secretary has an assistant. The first isan Indian, the second a Malay. Pudthukuchi needs both for the following reason: only an appropriate member of each community can adequately gather union dues from that community and, according to the people, only an appropriate member of each community can adequately understand and express the interests of that community. Thus also, most play groups inthe secondary schools the Pudthukuchi children attend are ethnically described, Malays and Indians almost never travel together on shopping trips beef. Indian and Malay-owned eating places in the business. But the Chinese-owned shops also attract a Malays and Indians.

area good

do a good number of



and fraternization in toddy drinking and

card playing is more

often considered a fraternization in deviance than anything else. Meanwhile, the more universalistically describable features of the Pudthukuchi industrial context have so far little influenced the ways in which the Malays and the Indians locally interact with each other. The people go to work. They return to socially and culturally distinct patterns of life.

ATTITUDES The relevant attitudes of the Pudthukuchi


reinforce the ethnic separations that occur in






one hand, they reveal a certain suspicion and guardedness in reference to the members of other ethnic categories. On the other, attitudes towards ethnic groups are generally expressed








for an

appreciation of the individual differences that occur within ethnic categories. The following descriptions given by some of our respondents help to illustrate this fact.

The Chinese and the Malays are completely different . . .

like this (and here the respondent took a card placing it first in one place on the top of his desk, then in another, finally boldly drawing a line between the two placements with his hand). Their religions are different, so are their languages. (Respondent: a young college graduate, Malay administrator in the headquarters of the district in which Pudthu-

kuchi is situated.)

They (the Malays) are your friends only until the food (you have given them) is into their throats .. . A Malay friend once told me the Malays liked Indians because it was so easy to cheat them... If you have some trouble with a Malay, it may be difficult between you for a while. But the Malay will not be angry

with you for long... With a Chinese, you won’t even know that something you have done is bothering him. But then he will strike and stick you. They never forget. (Respondent: a married Pudthukuchi tapper with a family.) We don’t have many

Chinese here

and the Malays and



Indians usually get along. But there are time to time. (Respondent: an elderly staff member.)



Sometimes a few Chinese will take part in some of our festivals—for example, Thaipusam. Their religion is something like ours in that it allows many things. But the Malays, if they show any interest at all, will only watch

from a distance.

(Respondent: a middle-aged, Tamil male.)

The only thing the Indians know is work on They are not clever in anything else. (Respondent: a young Malay weeder.)

the estate.

If a Malay beats a Chinese or if a Chinese beats a Malay, there will be the possibility of a much bigger quarrel taking place. But if a Malay beats an Indian or an Indian beats a Malay—or if Indians and Chinese fight with each other— nothing much will come of the quarrel. The Indians are caught in the middle between the much larger groups of Chinese and Malays. (Respondent: a social welfare officer in a town neighbouring Pudthukuchi.) If an Indian is given a house in which to live on a plot of land, he will simply live there. If a Chinese is given the same plot, he will do everything he can to make the house and the land his own. No country should ever trust the

Chinese... .

If they (the Malays go away from you after you have given

them food and someone offers them beat you, they definitely will.


an Indian member

kuchi boys’ gangs.)

$5 to turn around and

of one of the Pudthu-

Chinese are always interested in making money and will never be really friendly to you. Malays are friendly and will even share their meals with you, even when they themselves have very little. (Respondent: a young Indian male.)



No generalizations concerning the

ethnic relations can be






of inter-

the remarks just repro-

duced. Some of them are contradictory in their meanings. Others are far too blunt considering the more generous definitions many people would give. A blandness in inter-ethnic

relations in Pudthukuchi is much




is the



belligerence that some of the statements imply. The remarks listed, nevertheless, are the kind understood in Pudthukuchi

and they are indicative of attitudes often cions






locally are




Pudthukuchi is a place in which very little overt antagonism among the members of different ethnic communities takes place. There have never been any major inter-ethnic flare-ups

here or in most of the surrounding kampongs, estates and


towns. Yet the insularities of the various groups are such that they lead to stereotyping by ethnicity. The members of each of the groups are socialized largely withhin boundaries ethnically defined and whatever the character of the frequent and relatively routine associations most of the Pudthukuchi people

have with members of other ethnic



more intimate experiences occur intra-ethnically.

all their

THE POSITION OF THE INDIANS A Chinese teenager in Pudthukuchi speaks Tamil almost without an accent and often hangs around with a couple of Indian teenagers. The oldest shop in Pudthukuchi was first Chinese-owned; it still is, now like before attracting customers from all ethnic groups.

But vis-a-vis






the following illustration sketched out by the area’s social welfare officer (an Indian Muslim) spells out better the kinds of questions that pertain to the Indians. A handicapped Indian boy was sent by us for training in auto mechanics. When he finished his training, we tried to get him employment in some place (in this town) and since most auto mechanics places here are operated by Chinese, we approached them in trying to get employment for this boy. But they said, ‘Busiriess is bad,’ or ‘We don’t have enough



toom for someone else,’ or ‘We don’t have any extra tools’. Actually, they were saying they didn’t want to take him on. When we finally offered to pay the boy a salary ourselves, giving him a place to stay and an extra $20 a month and asking them only to let him work around in their shops, they still said no. Now we have decided to have the boy learn tailoring. When it is finished we will get him a machine. Then we

will see how that works.

The Pudthukuchi

Indians have had relatively


with Chinese other than with the few who live on the




the few who come in for contract labour and those they encounter in the towns. Their impressions are that the Chinese are interested primarily in money and the maintenance of their own family and group interests. Whatever the accuracy of this understanding, it is theirs, an attitude grown out of the only kinds of associations they have ever really had with

the Chinese.

In reference to the Malays, Indian relationships are more easy-going. A Pudthukuchi Malay once proudly told us: ‘I am ason of the soil (bumiputra). Chinese and Indians must apply for citizenship, mine comes naturally. They need “licences”, I don’t.’ And so it is, in a sense. But the Indians find the rural Malays more understandable than they do the more










closely involved with Malays on the estate than they have ever become involved with any larger number of Chinese. This cannot be taken to mean there is a meshing of cultures and groupings where the Pudthukuchi Indians and Malays are concerned. We have already noted there is not. It does mean, on the other hand, that there isa greater practical empathy between these two groups than between either group and the


A Conclusion The organization of the Indian community in Pudthukuchi is primarily within the lines of ethnicity. The names of the people identify them as Malays (Muslims), Hindus (Indians)



or Chinese. The people can easily be distinguished in terms of certain of their features. The Indians, Chinese and Malays come out of different crucibles in history, their stories in Malaysia have been very different and their ethnic identifications in Pudthukuchi remain very clear.

Do these tend to work against the government’s interests in

promoting national unity, political stability and inter-ethnic harmony? However the answers are framed, the concerns of

the government with the possibility that they


The diversities are wide



conflict are numerous indeed. One of our respondents likened the Malays, the


to two







the Chinese and

durians and a cucumber, respectively:


reasoning was that the Indians (represented by the vulnerable

cucumber) were caught between the far more powerful Malays and Chinese (each represented by a durian, the thick-skinned and

prickly-skinned fruit), potentially damaged both in an individual approach to either as well as in any confrontation between the two.

Given the current stabilities of the Ladang Getah employment context, it would be impossible to conceive of the Indians here

as being caught in a situation as dramatic as that represented in

our respondent’s analogy. Yet the Indian Malaysian community as a whole has been caught in such a squeeze for quite some time and the Pudthukuchi Indians are cognisant in part of the possible implications of their situation. India Ties

BIRTHPLACE FIGURES Table 3.1 gives figures for the number of Pudthukuchi Indians ~ born in India by age and sex. But for one of the Pudthukuchi Indians—an elderly male born in South Africa—all of the rest were born in Malaysia. The figures of Table 3.1 show that a considerable number of Pudthukuchi Indians (seventy-five, about 11 per cent) were born in India. But they also show that the India-born are almost all




one female identified in the 20-29 cate-

gory was brought to Malaysia as a bride for an Indian Malaysian;



a number of the other India-born women. Our conclu-

sion has to be that the proportion of India-born will continue to decline as the older people die. The possibilities of the numerical replenishment of the India-born are at best remote. TABLE 3.1: PUDTHUKUCHI



Age Group 0-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59





0 0 1 6 20

0 1 2 7 9





TRAVEL Back AND ForTH In the older days, many Indians returned permanently to India following some period of time in Malaysia. But many never did and by now it is apparent that most of the remaining never will,

even for a visit. The reasons for this will become more clear as

we proceed and costs are not the only thing involved, high as are the round-trip expenses given the people’s levels of income.® But for the moment, in only twenty Pudthukuchi Indian households have any household members travelled to and back from India for any purposes at all over the period of the last fifteen to twenty years. No Pudthukuchi families plan to return to

India to settle.”

‘The cheapest officially defined round-trip passage (‘bunk’ passage) on the Shipping Corporation of India’s M.V. Chidambaram, a vessel plying regularly between Penang and Nagapattinam and Madras in the middle of 1974 was about $400.

TAII but two of the Indian Pudthukuchi families have



continuously, since the time of their coming, in West Malaysia. One exception involves a family that emigrated (along with several other Pudthukuchi families) to Sabah, then returned (alone), finding conditions there ‘impossible’. The other exception is a family that tried to settle in India between 1947 and 1950, then returned.




The proportion of the Pudthukuchi population

born is decreasing

and relatively few people


that is Indiatravel


and forth. In addition to the occasional local travellers with their

stories, the people are informed about things Indian in the tadio broadcasts they receive and the newspapers and periodicals they read.




of Indian





Indira Gandhi, Rajaji, Kamraj, Annadurai and Karunanidhi. And they know at least some of the issues being debated in certain areas of Indian politics. For example, they know of

the factors involved in the emergence

of the




parties and, more recently, those involved in the emergence of the ADMK party. .

When good Tamil films are shown in the area, many people attend. And when a film starring MGR(M. G. Ramachandran, the leader of the ADMK) comes to one of the neighbouring

towns, the Pudthukuchi Indians know they will almost always have to have reservations to get into the showing of their choice. The popularity of thisstar in particular extends well into the Malay and Chinese communities as well as almost all the way through the Indian community. Other contacts with things Indian and India include the following. Two Pudthukuchi families each own a couple of acres

of land and a house in India. Four or five families send money

to relatives there.8




other visitors

from Indiaare heard about and sometimes these visit Pudthukuchi itself. The mothers in a few Pudthukuchi families would like to see their sons marry Indian girls knowing this will keep their sons more throughly knowledgeable about Indian ways.

There is also a connection that involves education. Two Pudthukuchi staff families—unable to find seats for their sons in local medical schools (because of too much competition,

marks a little below acceptable standards, admission preferences for Malay candidates, etc.) and well aware that the position of *One man explained:

‘If people




relative in Malaysia and my relatives in India are poor, poorly of me. So I send some money when I can.’

relatives they







a doctor in both Malaysia and India is very good—decided to invest money in getting them into Indian medical schools. Thus, one family paid $20,000 for a seat in one South Indian Medical College (says the father sarcastically, ‘The politicians there need the money. . .’); the other paid roughly the same amount for a seat in another medical school.® Both families now regularly send their sons money for expenses. Meanwhile, others know of the ‘investments’ and some express interests in doing similar things if the occasion arises. SoME


Given a rather marked ethnic insularity in Pudthukuchi and the variety and number of contacts between the people here and the Indian context, we are forced to conclude that the Indians

in Pudthukuchi are not going to lose their ‘Indianness’. But how strong is it now? Some young Indian girls occasionally wear Western or Malay apparel. By and large, however, Indian women dress in saris. Similarly, while most Indian men in Malaysia usually wear trousers and shirts, when they do wear more traditional costumes (in their homes, for weddings, etc.), like

the males of other ethnic groups,



wear clothing

specifically identifiable with their own ethnic group. Indian food preparations are distinct from those

of the

Malays and the Chinese. Indian mannerisms—in greeting and in

nodding agreement, for example—are distinctly their own. No one familiar with South Indian ways would have the slightest difficulty in identifying the contextual background out of which most of the Indian Malaysian community comes.

There are differences. Many Pudthukuchi



*Certainly money collected in the way mentioned has often, especially in the past, found its way into unauthorized pockets. There remain many questions in the entire procedure but much of what goes on in the request for such ‘admission fees’ is by now routinized. The money is channeled into building funds and so on. Chinese confronted with similar problems and interests in investing have often used the services available in Hong Kong, Singapore or Taipei in a fashion similar to the ways in which the Indians have used

those available in India.



by those who have travelled to India know their Tamil is more pure than that commonly spoken in Madras. But this describes no real problem; the Pudthukuchi Tamil is ‘... simply like that spoken in Madurai’ (some 300 miles in a southerly direction from Madras). Again, the general context is obviously

different. One of our





he visited

India it felt ‘strange’. But his explanations here had nothing to do with an inability to understand or participate in things Indian. Rather they had to do with the fact that in India things are almost entirely defined in Indian terms whereas in Malaysia the






minority segment

of the


Other differences have to do with such things as the fact that the Pudthukuchi Indians know they have more money to spend than do their counterparts in India and the fact that they know their standards of living in Malaysia are considerably higher. Said one of our respondents: ‘One thing that happens when our people come back from India is that they know they should never waste their money.’

The differences between the Pudthukuchi Indians and their

fellows in India, however, are hardly qualitative The Pudthukuchi Indians, at least in terms of outwardly easily discernible

characteristics, in no ways appear to social heritages.


their cultural


The ‘Indianness’ of the Pudthukuchi people is

unmistakeable. But our evidence indicates strikingly that their

long-term orientations are increasingly being focused into distinctly Malaysian directions. Some illustrations follow. A young Pudthukuchi man travelling in India in 1973 met a person who asked, ‘When will you come back to India?” The Pudthukuchi man replied, ‘Why should I come here and settle in your country? Here it doesn’t rain and look at all the problems you have.’ Again, a Pudthukuchi man who left for India in 1970, tearing up his ‘permission to return to Malaysia’ papers (papers good for a specified period of time from the time of issue) when he did—in the belief that that was something he would never even consider—now has written back asking a friend to‘... tell the people they should not come to India for it is much better in Malaysia’. : The Pudthukuchi man’s response in the first illustration just

given was abrasive and it almost got him into a fight.

But it is



the kind of response many young




express if asked if ‘their country’ was India. Whatever nostalgia

is mixed up in the advice involved warning today is widely understood India’s problems in terms of food shortages and unemployment,

in the second illustration, its in Pudthukuchi. poverty, population growth, severe as they most certainly

are, look worse in how they are reported

in an


rather progressive Malaysia, especially when comparisons are drawn with the accomplishments (or whatever they would be by measures comparable to those used for India) of Malaysia’s

other giant neighbour,

China.2° General

combination with the problems people of the

the Pudthukuchi


South India (see Wiebe,



understandings in social



upon returning to

1975) have helped to narrow severely

whatever options of returning to India some of the Pudthukuchi

Indians The in these people

may once have had. problems of the Indians in Malaysia are varied. But days, Malaysia looks relatively more attractive to like those in Pudthukuchi than it once did. A young

fellow described his family’s relations with India as follows: My father was born in India and he used to talk going back. But he has never been back (he Malaysia at eighteen years of age), and none of children) have ever been to India. Maybe one or

of us will go sometime, maybe






Now we have

often of came to us (his another

no ties

My father used to write letters to

his people in India but by now we have lost their addresses

and we have even stopped trying to trace them. When my father dies do you think I’ll think about going back to India? We can make a good enough living here. This is the kind of perspective many of the younger people in Pudthukuchi have. A certain sadness is involved in such redefinitions among many of the older people. And none of Except for during Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s “Emergency”, furthermore, India’s press has been blunt and critical waen compared

with the presses of most South and Southeast Asian countries, cularly here in reference to the presses in Malaysia and China.




the younger people have developed hostilities towards India. But the young people also now generally feel that to return to India, even given an interest in doing so, without a consider-

able savings—a savings adequate to enable them independently to make a financial go of things—would be a mistake and most of them do not now see much opportunity of saving up such an amount.

CITIZENSHIP Every permanent resident in Malaysia—twelve years of age and over—-must carry an identity card. Blue colour cards designate Malaysian citizens; red cards are carried by persons who are





citizenship: (i) is

relatively automatic for a person born in Malaysia after Independence if one or both parents at the time had citizen-

ship, (ii) can be obtained by a person born in Malaysia before Independence of at least one citizen parent if birth certification can be adequately shown, (iii) can be obtained by any Malaysian-born individual (at the age of twenty-one) if birth certification can be adequately shown, and (iv) can be applied for by any person after a period of fourteen years of ‘permanent residence’ in the country. Holders of red identity cards can work in Malaysia but they are not permitted to vote, they

cannot hold electoral office andthey





permits’ renewed every six months in order to continue working—and renewal depends on an employer’s statement to the effect that the applying individual’s work cannot be adequately

performed by a Malaysian citizen.

The problems associated with defining Malaysian citizenship and absorbing as citizens persons of Indian and Chinese hackgrounds have long attracted much attention. In earlier years, many of the people of both backgrounds were considered to be here only temporarily. The Chinese have often been considered, rightly or wrongly, to be sympathetic with anti-national

elements. The Indians with their characteristics of distinctiveness have likewise at times had their loyalties suspicioned. In

a multi-ethnic society, able proportions.

such questions often assume consider-

At the same time, the process of becoming a citizen, simple



as it is in definition, has often been problematic for those applying. In the. past, births and names were often recorded inadequately, especially during the years of Japanese occupation. Witnesses of births may no longer be living. Many applicants, not independently able to read and understand the application forms, are forced to use the services of typist-

middlemen who may not themselves




necessary technical procedures and specific regulations. Abilities in the national language may be poor—or show up Poorly in what is for most of the applicants, coming as they do from ‘simple’ backgrounds, a rather strange ‘testing-situation’ —and without passing abilities in Bahasa Malaysia, citizenship is not possible. Finally, stories about obstacles encountered in the process of application (and there are many of these, especially concerning the ‘loyalties’ questions) can discourage applicants. Many are the problems encountered. And there still are in Malaysia some 500,000 Indians (as reported in the Straits Times, 4 February 1974) and 300,000 Chinese (as reported in

the Straits


10 June 1974) with only red identity cards.

Increasingly, political and other organizations (for example, the MCA and the MIC) are calling for more facility in taking into Malaysian citizenship the non-citizens. And in relation to

the 1974 rapprochement between Malaysia and the People’s Republic of China, Chinese authorities have increasingly encouraged their citizens living abroad to adopt citizenships in the countries in which they live, at the

(at least publicly)

these people remain.



of liberation’.




But the problems of

at one time almost all the Indians in Pudthukuchi

had red identity cards, only thirty-five now do. Table 3.2 gives their distribution by age and sex. The remainder of the

Pudthukuchi Indians




of age



identity cards. The reasons the people referred to in Table 3.2 are stil] not citizens are as varied as those cited earlier in explaining problems in citizenship. The principal reasons have to do with inadequately reported births. As the figures show, a consider-

able proportion of those still with red identity cards were born twenty to thirty years ago during the period of the



Japanese occupation and the Emergency. However, almost all, if not all of the people still needing Malaysian citizenship (some of the elderly are beyond the age when it will do them any good in finding work) are actively seeking it. TABLE





Age Group


20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59












8 2 _ 1

8 3 — —






Another Conclusion Many Indian Malaysians retain contacts with India and they retain many of the features of social and cultural life common in the South India from which they originally came. But those still in Pudthukuchi have by now strongly identified their best interests in terms of citizenship in and allegiance to Malaysia.

4 Social Organization

The social life of the Pudthukuchi Indians does not overlap much with that of the Malays and Chinese. While they retain close identifications with Indian ways, in citizenship they are now identified primarily with Malaysia. How are they organized

amongst themselves?

And how do some

of the social networks

to which they belong tie them into regional settings? Responses to these questions will concern us in this chapter. Caste In much of India, extended family networks (exogamously defined) link together to form ‘sub-caste’, or jati, units (endogamously defined). Some fifteen to twenty jatis can be found in

the ‘typical’ Indian village.

Ideally and typically, each jati has distinctive occupations and codes of behaviour and the jatis in a region can be - ordered hierarchically in terms of their ‘purity’ or ‘impurity’ as defined in the dominant religious values of Indian civilization. Within any local context, however, the ranking of a particular jati almost never correlates with ascriptive criteria alone; interactional criteria (ability to use power and wealth and so 1Some of the best studies of village life in India are by S.C. Dube (1955), T. S. Epstein (1962), M. N. Srinivas (1952) and Paul Hiebert (1971). For additional perspectives of village life in India, see the essays in the books edited by M. N. Srinivas (1960) and K. Ishwaran (1970).



on) also have a part to play.2, Meanwhile, processes such as those at work in urban and industrial India becloud any simple and most more complex attempts to describe the configurations of Indian social life. The facts of structural compartmentalization and hierarchy extend throughout the system. But

variations plentiful. By no




even on these basic themes are

of the imagination can it be assumed that

caste organization among the Indians in a Malaysian rubber plantation setting is roughly similar to caste organization in the kinds of Indian settings out of which the immigrants to



In India most had lived not only within rela-

tively well-defined regional environments but also as


in small towns and villages, in settings where both ascriptional

and interactional criteria are usually blended in defining a particular caste’s local position. By contrast in Malaysia, to follow the arguments of R.K. Jain (1970:345-353): (i) there usually is the co-residence in a single estate community of people from widely different regional jati networks in India, the result being that wide areas of ambiguity concerning the hierarchical positions of the various groups occurs; (ii) almost no Brahmins have ever migrated to work in Malaysian estates, the result being that the organization of castes in any particular setting has always been cut off from the highest varna (the most socially ‘pure’ and ritually significant) levels of the system; and (iii) such things as wider economic opportunities, the brezkdown of relatively permanent locality identifications and


in cash rather than ‘kind’ have

resulted in a degree

of mobility that has rendered impossible many of the patterned relationships between higher and lower caste persons and groups (jajmani relationships, for example) that can be found in at least most non-metropolitan Indian settings even today. LocaL ORGANIZATION The jatis of Pudthukuchi and the numbers belonging to each jati *The resultant system of jati stratification is complex in its patterning, varying in any particular locality in relation to local considerations. See Marriott (1959), Singer (1964) and Hiebert (1971: 54-80).



are identified in Table 4.1. TABLE





of House-

Gounder Karuvoor

47 7

Kallan Chanan

2 4


Traditional Occupation




Washermen Barbers


1 2

Labourers Labourers







Chakkali Total


Agriculturalists, Labourers Agriculturalists, Labourers

2 1



Agriculturalists Agriculturalists


Vannan Ambattan





Harijans Trulan Ottan


Trinket sellers, “Gypsies” Scavengers




*The jatis ranked are only the jatis among the Tamil Hindus of Pudthukuchi. Members of the eleven Telugu households here voluntarily gave their jatis simply as ‘Telugu’. Members of the four Malayalee households similarly gave their jatis as ‘Malayalee’. We did not press these people for further information. Their jatis would not have fit readily into the ordering described, in any case, though all Telugus and Malayalees in Pudthukuchi came originally out of Sudra and Harijan levels in Indian society. The Indian Muslims (seven households in Pudthukuchi) are not included in the hierarchy described. Neither are

the Christians (two households in Pudthukuchi).

We determined the ranks of the jatis by asking respondents to rank them according to their local standings. Inconsistencies in rankings were described in the favour of majority opinions or with the help of additional respondents. **Actually a Scheduled Tribe not a Scheduled Caste.

No one in Pudthukuchi understands well the varna classificatory scheme. The emphases in the south of India from which

by far the majority originated and








continue to inform themselves have been anti-Brahminic (or non-Brahminic) for quite some time and the Kshatriya and Vaisya labels have never been specifically applicable even in South India. However, none of the Pudthukuchi Indians has any difficulty identifying himself with a sub-caste unit. Like most of their fellows in Malaysia (Sandhu, 1969: 40), the Pudthukuchi Indians came out of the Sudra and Harijan

levels of Indian society. And the distinctions between these two

groups of jatis, clear as they were and continue to be in at least much of South India, were early transferred into Malaysia. Until the middle 1950’s, the two groups of jatis in Pudthukuchi were housed in separate lines areas—the people of Sudra jati backgrounds in quarters where most of the lines units now stand, the people of Harijan jati backgrounds in quarters in the area between the temple and the factory. In those days the management saw to it that low-ranking jobs—drain sweeping, latrine cleaning and rubbish collecting, for example—were done by

persons of the lowest castes.

Jati specificities in mannerisms, occupations and

never been generally observed

in Pudthukuchi.



Coming out of

distinct Indian backgrounds (regionally, linguistically and religiously), often coming individually rather than as members of family units, the people never found it possible to introduce in

Malaysia many of the characteristics

of the Indian jati system.

Some (the barbers and the washermen, particularly) did come to practice their customary occupations in the course of time. Others early on disdained contacts with persons of what they considered ‘lower purity’ levels. But apart from the basic Sudra-Harijan differences—differences that found reinforcement in the ways in which living accommodations were established— few other differences were immediately apparent. Workers were assigned tasks in the system of rubber production. Their incomes were rationally defined. Their living quarters were assigned. And the membership numbers of all but several of the jatis were too low to enable meaningful jati supports. *On this, see Wiebe (1975: Chapter 4). The label Harijan for the ‘Untouchable’ (Parayan) group of jatis in not used in Pudthukuchi. Nevertheless, we have chosen to use it here because of its wider applicability in India and its connotations.



By now, the quarters formerly for Harijans alone have been dismantled and the Harijans in Pudthukuchi live interspersed with the rest of the Indians. By now it is impossible to identify people with particular jatis in considering physically observable differences and it is impossible for persons unfamiliar with the setting to distinguish beween Sudras and Harijans. The following influences have worked together with the influences that were restrictive to the introduction of caste

differentiations from

the beginning in cutting back caste reali-

ties. DK and DMK attacks on some of the inequities of the system in India were echoed and sometimes actively supported in Pudthukuchi as in Malaysia in relation to the activities of agencies such as the Pan-Malayan Dravidian Association (see Jain, 1970: 352-353). Many of the India-born have passed away fromthe scene leaving behind mostly the Malaysia-born with their weaker ties with Indian social processes. The power and economic interests of the Indian Malaysians are now pursued primarily in the understanding that these will be most adequately accomplished if the Indians work together as a general ethnic community rather than in terms of sub-community interests, given the challenges posed by other ethnic groups. Finally, there are no differentiations by caste in the workings of the schools in Pudthukuchi and certainly there are none in the way the Malaysian system of education is defined. Changes in attitudes have accompanied the other changes that have taken place. According to one of the political leaders among the Indians in Kedah: ‘In Malaysia, we don’t have differences like those between Chettiars, Gounders, Pariahs, Ceylonese and more is there such a thing as caste here’.4 According to a young Harijan: ‘Only the older people still believe strongly in jati. In another ten years, such things will no longer make a difference.’ Many claim the Harijans are more outspoken now than they were. And it seemsthat they are. An informal panchayat “The lumping together of jati groups like the Gounders and Chettiars with regional groups like the Ceylonese and the Malayalees in response to a question about jatis indicates some of the confusion that surrounds the use of the word jati in Malaysia. Interestingly also, however, is the possibility that the latter groups are coming to be considered as jatis within the developing Indian Malaysian community.



committee,5 comprised usually of some three or four Gounders and designed to settle disputes among the estate people without reference to the management or other ‘outsiders’ functioned somewhat regularly up to 1968. Then its authority declined. Among the other factors that help to explain the decline was the concerted feeling among the Harijans that their side on most issues was not adequately represented. And indeed, along such lines some of the Harijans warned panchayat members *,.. to behave themselves or face the possibility of losing a few teeth’. More recently, Harijans have demanded the right to

serve food at temple functions and have succeeded considerably

in obtaining this right. Harijans have continuously sought

more representation


the community’s temple committee. One woman respondent explained that she could remember when the Harijans would

accept the carcass of a dead cow with gratitude, later dividing it up and eating the meat. She went on to explain that none of them now even admitted to the eating of beef. PERSISTENCE Much has worked against the persistence of caste in Malaysian settings like Pudthukuchi. Clearly, the system here does not approximate that in an Indian setting of similar population size. Nevertheless, caste remnants are strong and it hardly seems likely these will disappear in the foreseeable future. First,

even now it is possible to rank the of ritual purity (Table 4.1).

Pudthukuchi jatis in terms


as hasa Pariah, the Pariah

Reinforcing the system of ranking, second, stereo-typical attitudes among the groups remain. For many, ‘The Pariah’s wisdom is a half wisdom’. For some, in reference tothe supposed interest of the Kallan in attaining a higher social position, a proverb goes like this: ‘A Kallan will try to become a Maravan, then an Ahamudiyan, then a Vellalla, and even then he will try to improve his position.’ Again, ‘If a clean caste

eats from

the same plate

will realize much happiness’. ‘See Adams

and Woltemade

(1970) for some introductory


on the place of the panchayat in the sphere of village life in India.


SOCIAL ORGANIZATION One of our respondents, a middle-aged


responding to

the suggestion that since everybody’s blood was the same, be no differentiation on the basis of jati, said there should this: Who told you that? It varies according to the food you eat. If a man eats meat his blood will be slightly different from that of a man who is a strict vegetarian and teeto-

taler. The blood of the latter will be ‘coarse’ blood of the meat eater.





Or look at blood groups. If all blood is the same, why are

there groups of blood, like O, A and B? As Group A blood

can be used only by people with type A blood, so it is with jati. Only people of the same jati cluster can get along well together.

People behave according to their jati backgrounds.

Do you think it is possible to change your parents? If you are the son of a Pariah and say you are not a Pariah, in effect you are trying to change your parents. If your parents are Pariahs and you say you are not a Pariah, you are really saying you are a bastard! Right?

This sort of articulation—no matter with how much humour

such things are sometimes expressed—uncovers a latent dimen-

sion of jati interrelationships in Pudthukuchi.

Recognitions or

at least suspicions of differences among the jatis are widespread. And these are often reflected in the ways in which the people

refer to each other.

Third, an emphasis on the ‘Sanskritization’—the process whereby certain practices and beliefs of groups higherin the system are adopted by groups lower in the system (Srinivas, 1952 and 1966)—of beliefs and practices continues to operate in numerous ways. The following are examples. None of the Harijans of Pudthukuchi publicly purchase or consume beef. Many of their jati level fellows in India continue to do so but

here it is no longer considered right for Hindus of any jati level. Another example of the process at work has to do with

defining the people for whom certain of the ‘service’ castes will perform their services. Washermen traditionally perform



certain graveyard





the Vannars

(washermen), like their jati fellows in India, refuse. to perform their services for castes very low in the jati hierarchy, particularly for the Pallans, Parayans and the Chakkalis. In response, some members of these jatis have threatened to beat up the washermen. But says one of them: No washerman has ever performed these rights for these people. So how can I? If I did, would it not mean I was degrading my own jati? And who would respect me then? I am willing to serve the Kuravan but I cannot go lower than


The Pudthukuchi Pallans, Parayans and Chakkalis, claiming the washermen on a number of nearby estates serve members of all jati groups, have confronted such a rationale, asking the local washermen, ‘If they can, why can’t you?’ The answer is simple. In the words of one of the washermen again, it goes like this: Those fellows (the washermen on the neighbouring estates referred to) are not actually Vannars. They are washermen only by profession ... they have learned the job.... They are actually Parayan by birth and so do not lose anything by attending the funeral ceremonies of other Parayan and Chakkalis. Many other illustrations of concerns over practices and beliefs that reflect status positions could be given. The following, however, will have to suffice. None of the Pudthukuchi people wear the ‘sacred thread’ indicating ‘twice-born’ status (Carstairs, 1961). In fact, they are formally ineligible to do so for none of them come from higher than the Sudra level in the varna scheme. But from the perspective of their interests in higher level Hindu attributes, many recognize that to wear the thread symbol ‘ must completely give up eating meat and be a vegetarian and he must be “clean” in all respects’. However many in India of ‘twice-born’ status would live up to such stringent definitions, their usage in Malaysia

SOCIAL ORGANIZATION identifies a knowledge of

beliefs and practices.

77 what

is involved



A fourth area in looking at the persistence of caste orientations in Pudthukuchi has to do with jati mobility. An example of the process at work follows. An inter-jati marriage took

place between a Reddiar

male (A) and





(Figure 4). Of this union was born the ‘partially clean’ female D. After the death of A, B married again, this time unofficially with another Ottan (C). Of this marriage, the ‘wholly’ Ottan male E was born. The ‘partially clean’ F (like D of a mixed marriage) then married D, in the process becoming (though not officially) brother-in-law to E. ‘Now F, ambitious in his jati aspirations and concerned about his family associations, helped convince a friend of his, the clean-caste Chanan G, that the marriage of his daughter (I) with E would be good. In time it took place. This completed, F cut off relationships with many of his former Harijan associates and gradually developed friendships with ‘clean’ caste



also did



his best

to discourage members of his

family from attending low caste marriages, visiting too frequently with low caste friends and so forth. And slowly but steadily he seemed to be gaining ground. Then, an elder brother gave up his job of tapping to become a latrine cleaner—a job more paying, more steady and allowing its performer to finish up by about 10.00 a.m. (thus allowing more time for other activities), but also at the same time a much more demeaning job—and F saw his aspirations put into jeopardy. When the brother continued to clean latrines despite threats from F, F and E beat him ‘properly’ and put his defiance to an end. F now always stands onthe side of the ‘clean’ castes in Sudra-Harijan disputes, he is more anti-Harijan than most of his new friends on matters like the admission of more Harijans to membership on the temple committee and few doubt he will



or Reddiar husband for his

daughter when she is ready for marriage. This case is only an example of how jati mobility interests have been expressed in Pudthukuchi. Yet its implications are clear. A fifth indication of the persistence of caste differences in Pudthukuchi is that marriages here continue to be organized primarily along jati lines. According to some, money not jati




ueatd Ayened,















“7G O-V OV



now makes the difference. Most would agree that jati restrictions in the arrangement of marriages are not nearly as strict here as in India. Yet intra-jati marriages are still far more preferred than inter-jati marriages. Only about 10 per cent of all Pudthukuchi marriages have so far occurred across jati


Especially shunned are most potential alliances between Sudras and Harijans. On a neighbouring estate in a situation where a school teacher from another town had locally passed himself off as a ‘clean’ caste member to marry a local ‘clean’ caste girl, the marriage was very quickly broken up by the


family eight months after

it was completed and despite

her pregnancy, when the truth was discovered. One of our Pudthukuchi respondents told us, ‘Marriages between a Chinese

and an Indian (and there was one





a “love

marriage” between a Gounder girl and a Chinese boy) or between, a Malayalee and a Tamil will happen occasionally, but marriages between a Parayan and a Reddiar or Karuvoor will never be accepted’. Among the numerous other indications of the persisting role of caste are the following. People of many different jatis eat together in public places, including among the younger men

especially people of both Sudra and Harijan jatis. But in homes, such liberties are very seldom





is generally okay for the Harijans alone. Finally, there is often at work the subtle kind of comparison identified in the following example. According to one of our Gounder respondents: Sometimes when we eat together in town, one of our Parayan friends will eat some of his food or drink only a part of his beer, then push his plate or glass over saying, ‘Here, you

take the rest’. But we know what he wants. He wants to know

again that he is equal. I’ve said, ‘Can’t you understand? I’ve known you as a friend

‘The most preferred marriage among the Pudthukuchi Indians is between a sister’s daughter and the sister's brother’s son, or between a sister’s son and the sister’s brother’s daughter. Marriages between a sister’s daughter and the sister's brother are no longer common in



or in India



both places

they also were once pre-


INDIAN MALAYSIANS for so long. Don’t you know me? I know why you want me to drink some of your beer. But you don’t have to do that with me.’

CONCLUSION Writing about Pal Melayu, the estate Jain says (1970: 347):


Malaysia .

he studied,

All families on Pal Melayu belong to named castes (cati), but neither the term nor any particular unit denoted by it is operationally significant for most people in any major context of activity. Connotations of the term cati, when voluntarily offered by the people, invariably refer to what the sociologist of India would designate a caste category (cf. Bailey, 1963) e.g., ‘Vanniar’ by the non-Brahmin and ‘AdiDravida’ by the Parayan and Pallan. The most important cleavage among the jatis (the ‘c’ in cati is pronounced in Bahasa Malaysia as the English ‘ch’ in chatter)

of Pudthukuchi is between the Sudras and the Harijans


paralleling the terms ‘Vanniar’ and ‘Adi-Dravida’ in the Jain quote). And the differences here, though they are much less important than in an earlier day and are continuously subject to attack, will remain significant for a good long time. Meanwhile, whatever the situation in Pal Melayu, our evidence indicates that jati identifications in Pudthukuchi are still thoroughly operative in many social contexts. Despite the absence of Brahmins in the area, the questions related to diversity in background and so on, jati considerations remain important here. But why not? As S. Arasaratnam notes (1970: 197), whatever the changes in physical yearning for and political orientation towards India, there remains among Indian Malaysians‘... a solid core (that)... desire to retain its traditional religious and cultural roots’. Then too, given their strong cultural associations with India, it is hardly necessary that such things as the physical presence of the Brahmins among the Indian Malaysians

occur in order for definitions of ‘purity’ and ‘pollution’, etc., to be established.



LocaL ORGANIZATION Almost no people now live on Ladang Getah without being themselves involved or directly related to others involved in the estate's central purposes; all buildings are owned and maintained by the estate; people here are not allowed to build privately; in general, the lines living quarters are designed for the occupancy of a nuclear family and occupancy is arranged under the authority of the estate’s management. Considering such things, it is not difficult to understand why ‘nuclear’ household living (for our purposes the members of a nuclear household share a ‘kitchen’ and a ‘purse’) is the most prevalent form in

Pudthukuchi (Table 4.2). TABLE

4.2 : LIVING




PUDTHUKUCHI Living Arrangement*

Number of Households

Complete nuclear : Incomplete nuclear Supplemented nuclear

76 13 29

Joint Other

4 6



*In definition: (i) a complete nuclear household consists of parents (married or simply living together) living alone with their unmarried children, if any; (ii) an incomplete nuclear household occurs when one or both parents are missing from an otherwise complete nuclear household, with children; (iii) the supplemented nuclear household is either a complete or an incomplete nuclear household, supplemented with other kin not themselves organized in a complete nuclear form; (iv) the joint family consists of at least two complete nuclear units (linked inter- or intra-generationally); and (v) other households are, for example, single-

member households and so on.

But this is far from the whole story. Even when only the links between parents and married children and between married siblings are considered, sixty-three different household




units in Pudthukuchi link together, usually two or three at a time (and sometimes overlappingly, of course), to form thirtyone extended family networks, each comprised of at least two complete nuclear family units, some of as many as four or five. To put it differently, sixty-three of Pudthukuchi’s 128 Indian households—including the four that are joint family households (Table 4.2)—are also linked in basic ways with other Pudthukuchi


Most of the Indians who came to work on came as single males and, until fairly recently, whelmingly favoured males (Table 1.1). By places like Pudthukuchi it is not only evident is prevalent but also that a remarkable

Malaysian estates the sex ratio overnow, however, in that family living proportion of the

families in the local context are linked together in kinship terms.

This represents many strengths. For one thing, the extended system bears up its own in times of difficulty and dependency.” For another, it encourages and enables related individuals to pursue specialities, for example in occupations. For a third, much as in the Indian family context itself, it enables such things . asthe pooling of resources and influence (see Ramu, 1972; Karve, 1965). At the same time, family networks in Pudthukuchi, defined already as they principally are along the lines of jati, will potentially facilitate the persistence of caste differentiations, In other words, it is as possible as not that, with family networks also developing, there will be more consensus among particular groups about topics like those concerning from among whom marriage partners should be selected. And such developments are the kinds in relation to which the compartmentalization


of Indian

civilization have often emerged in the past

and in relation to which







In short, maybe family networks were not extensive enough in the past to support certain aspects of jati organization and

7Older Indians Malays, the latter

are more likely to retire on estates than are older more often having friends and relatives in other

places (see the figures of Table2.4). Other ways in which the family can often help its own include in the caring for the sick, the hospitalized, widows and so on. For much good material on the ‘domestic the Malaysian estate context, see Jain (1970: 40-88).

group’ in



perhaps their current developments in places like Pudthukuchi will simultaneously encourage the persistence of certain jati related considerations. HOUSEHOLD SIZE One household among the Indians of Pudthukuchi provides shelter for twelve persons. A number of households contain up to nine, ten and eleven. The average number of persons per household comes to 5.5. This means that living conditions for most of the people are crowded, though for many, not excessively so. SomE CONSIDERATIONS



it involves

in Pudthukuchi



of the


in most places. Most children are loved and appre-

ciated. Major family events are often carefully observed. Parents are often confused with the attitudes of maturing young people but generally do their best to provide what they can for their own. Such things are easily observable.

So are things that have to do with problems in local living. The two illustrations which follow refer to unusual occurrences

but both also are relevant in understandings of local life. On a neighbouring estate in early 1974, a young higher caste rubber estate clerk had both hands and feet chopped off with a parang by two brothers of a lower caste. A newspaper

reported the maiming of the clerk as the result of the brothers’

‘misunderstanding’ of the clerk’s affair with their sister. Several Pudthukuchi respondents guessed that the clerk refused to do anything—make payments, apologize, etc.—upon learning he had impregnated the girl and thus was mutilated. Inthe middle of April 1974, rumours of a Malayalee girl’s possible elopement with a low-caste boy came to be known by various Pudthukuchi people. Some of them tried to head it off. But to no avail. It happened anyway toward the end of the’ month.

Both these illustrations are of highly unusual events in


thukuchi life. Even so, what do they enable us to understand better? According to the area’s welfare officer, there is ‘much’ in the way of non-marital sexual relations among plantation



Indians, especially when rates for Indians are compared with those for Malays. But of course, little of this leads anywhere close to conclusions as dramatic as those in the case of the estate clerk. Nevertheless, repercussions in situations of this kind obviously can be severe. Here as elsewhere, questions of pride, ‘face’ and futures are often very closely linked to family considerations. The implications of the second illustration are more difficult to follow. They involve at least questions of caste, conceptions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ boys and conceptions of parental responsibility. One reason the couple ‘had to elope’ was because the marriage was unacceptable in jati terms to the girl’s family, ‘clean’ caste Malayalees. Second, the boy’s local reputation was not good (‘He is a member of the 555’s, he gets into fights and disturbs things and people know he is doing a very bad thing

when he smokes ganja’).8

In reference to the ‘responsibilities’ of the girl’s parents, many felt they should have taken steps earlier in cutting off all possibilities of the event’s occurrence. One young man said: They should have done something long ago. The girl has an aunty living in Singapore. The parents might have sent her to live there. Or they should have quickly gotten her married to someone else. When a friend of several Pudthukuchi

young men was court-

ing a girl against the wishes of her parents, the patents simply packed her off to India within twenty-four hours of the time the

boy’s distinct interests in their daughter became obvious. They sent her to live with relatives for as long as necessary to break the bonds that had been forming. This latter method of solving the problem would have been

*Lower caste males are more likely to smoke and drink locally than higher caste males. Some young higher caste males occasionally smoke and drink when away from Pudthukuchi though they wouldn’t at home, They expect and get little censure for this from those who might find out, On the other hand, with reference to smoking ganja, one higher caste respondent

told us, ‘No

matter where

get a bad scolding if people found out’,

I did that I





costly for the


parents of the Pudthukuchi girl. But it too

makes sense among the Pudthukuchi people. Children, girls especially, are subject to the authority of their parents until marriage and ‘good’ marriages are most commonly joined with at least an active participation in the decision-making process by the parents. The considerations important in the definitions involve personal, economic, family, religious and other factors. THE PosITION OF WOMEN The Pudthukuchi work setting is an industrial one. Women tap and weed alongside men, receiving wages at identical rates. Yet they clearly play subordinate roles in the community. Women belong to no Pudthukuchi committees and none of the

estate’s staff are women.

Women often travel with their men to important centres for major festivals. Most of them usually stay home otherwise except for when they make their occasional shopping trips to nearby towns. In contrast, some of the younger Pudthukuchi mén catch aride into one or another neighbouring town as


as five or six nights a week—for a movie, coffee, a plate

of bee hoon or fried rice or just to get out.


of the Pudthukuchi

men tell their wives about their

plans. Many do not, assuming either that their wives will find out through one or another of the many local channels of

informal communication, if they none of their business anyway.

need to know,

or that

it is

Community Before it occurred, information about the elopement referred to in the prior section travelled through Pudthukuchi like this. The suitor, a member of a gang, discussed his interests with his gang fellows, later obtaining their help in arranging his get-away (on the night of the event one of them waited on a motorcycle near the girl’s home, picked her up when she left her house for a natural reason, then took herto near the school where her boy friend and another friend waited in a car to spirit her off ‘like James Bond’, said one of them). A friend of theirs, the fellow who locally sells samsu, was told about it



in confidence. But he talked carelessly and others came to know. Two of these thought of how they could warn the girl’s people. Not wanting to be identified, they decided they could send the family an anonymous letter, posting it from a nearby town. But thisthey decided not to do realizing the letter would not even reach the girl’s house before the elopement took place. The two finally settled on asking a school teacher friend to tell the girl’s younger sister—a girl he had had as a student in the fifth standard—of the prospects. The teacher did so, advising her to take away her sister’s identity card with the explanation that the school authorities needed at for some

reason or another.


also advised


to stay

as close


possible to her sister during the expected departure time. The sister did as she was told and the elopement was thwarted for a couple of days. Then it occurred anyway. Why didn’t the young men who came to know about the elopement plans, showing concern, do more themselves to stop

it directly instead of passing the responsibility of doing thing to the teacher?


She wanted to go anyway and she would have found a way. She was not happy at home. What could we do? Suppose anyway the parents would have heard of it. They would have started arguing in the house and the grandmother would have come to know. Then she would have begun to scold and cry and to demand who was trying to spoil the name of her granddaughter. When she would have been able to find out, she would go back first to Raman’s (the teacher’s) door, then on and on. Before long she, and then everyone, would have learned everything. The Pudthukuchi Indian community is a tightly-knit community. Informal communication networks—first along the lines of family, age categories and sex, but later along lines that extend throughout the community—link together various groupings in intricate ways, even with reference to knowledge about very private matters.



Some Other Networks Marriage



pilgrimage, jati, political and economic

relations tie the Pudthukuchi


into their wider


environments while also helping to pattern local life. We have gathered some understanding of the ways in which some of these work. Further understanding will be developed in later chapters. For the moment, important also in linking Pudthukuchiinto its social environments are gangs and organizations

like the Tamil Youth Bell Club.

A number of reasons help explain why gangs emerged in Pudthukuchi. According to the leader of the gang with the largest local membership, the 555’s (also the brand name of a locally well-known cigarette, ‘you see the name often and you can easily remember it’), young estate people in the past were often jeered at or treated rudely by other young people while working on the edges of the estate or during trips to other estates

or towns.

They might be threatened with a beating while going

to a cinema show or young fellows from other places might pester girls working off by themselves, ‘pulling their hair or

putting cow dung into their blouses’.

Estate young people are sometimes innocents when they go out and are bothered accordingly. Meanwhile, the police are generally little concerned with the level of quarrelling involved here. What’s more, the people would hardly think anyway of referring to the police for assistance regarding such matters (Chapter 5). The attitude expressed by the leader of the 555’s finds some support in the need of some of the people for ‘insu-

rance’ and ‘protection’.

But others see things differently. Older people often consider gang members to be ‘rowdies’ and ‘good for nothing’. The estate’s chief clerk says, ‘We know every one of them and they know we know, and they know we will know who to come to when there is trouble’. Most people regard negatively the gang’s assistance in the elopement case referred to above. Gangs do operate locally, however, and their organizations are reflective of local reality. Sociologically, the Malays, Indians and Chinese are ethnically insulated in Pudthukuchi and the basic local caste cleavage is between the Sudras and

the Harijans.

Given such considerations, plus the fact that the



Chinese locally form a numerically insignificant minority, we might expect to find gangs organized here along the basic lines of discernible cleavage. And indeed we do. The 555’s

(sixteen members) are all Indians, almost all at the same time

being of Harijan caste backgrounds. The 08’s (about twelve members) are exclusively Malays.® The 555’s and the 08’s are, respectively, chapters in networks of these gangs organized in the wider region. Gang chapters came to Pudthukuchi around the middle

1960’s at a time when area estate conditions were



than they are now. Today they are more collections of young men recollecting past ‘triumphs’ than groups planning new participations. Yet their significance now also is real. They are at the very least latently reflective of differing community interests; they potentially have a power to redress certain grievances; and membered as they are by young adult males, they enable a peer group identification other than that prescribed either by their elders or the estate system itself, thus serving also as platforms in relation to which changes can occur. The Tamil Youth Bell Club in the local area is organized out of Padang Serai and has as its current president a young Pudthukuchi teacher. The local branch is linked together with other such branches into the national organization. The most important Bell Club official, the general secretary, lives in Padang Serai. Working anyway in the city offices, he has also arranged for the Club to take care of the town hall,

keeping it clean and scheduling its use in return for its free use

by the Club. Having as its basic purposes the advacement of the position of Indians in Malaysia and the promotion of Tamil °A third gang, the 20’s, supposedly comprised locally about half and half of Sudra and Harijan background members, apparently crops up occasionally in Pudthukuchi. Perhaps its potential membership would get together again under suitable conditions—perhaps not. However,

our understandings of the kinds of splits that locally occur would lead us

to speculate, given the compcsition by caste of the 555’s, that a gang comprised roughly as the 20’s might be would be reasonable.






jailed, one of them being rather

roughly treated by the police, for example having his head held under water while they sought to get a confession out of him. The leader of the 555’s claims the owner of one cinema ina nearby town lets him attend free of charge to avoid trouble.



language and culture, the Club among other things: (i) has organized sewing classes for young Indian girls, (ii) occasionally organizes tuition classes for children preparing for special school examinations, encouraging area teachers to donate freely of their time in the service, (iii) has organized work-shops (on ‘civic responsibilities’, for example) and appearances by special visitors, (iv) has provided needy children with school uniforms, and (v) has helped people with registration and citizenship problems. The local Club has about 130 members (more than

forty from Pudthukuchi) and a good reputation among

all of

the Pudthukuchi people. Membership fees come to $3 a year; extra fees are charged for enrolment in sewing classes and the

like. Finally,


as it is possibe

to find Tamils, Telugus and

Malayalees among the Pudthukuchi Indians, so is it possible to find related language-cultural organizations in the more

general area. with these.


of the Pudthukuchi people have


Tamilian perspectives usually overwhelm the language and cultural interests of the minority Indian communities in Pudthukuchi. Through regional associations, such communities can nurture an independent identity and most of the members of such communities carefully retain their distinctiveness. Even within Pudthukuchi, they occasionally hold their own. Together they sometimes order, for example, a Telugu film for the

entire community.

on this as follows:

One of our Tamil respondents


They not only want to see Telugu actors and hear Telugu


They also want to see the one thousand

who are not Telugus listening to Telugu. pride in their language and people.

of us

They take such a

Conclusions Social life among the Pudthukuchi Indians is organized basically in relation to nuclear family units living in independently constructed households. Many of the nuclear families, however, are linked together into extended families. In turn,

though jati networks


are under continuous attack from



numerous angles, their influences persist in strength in a number of areas of local life. Some jatis are numerically and otherwise much stronger than others. These have a greater capacity to

define their own characteristics than do the others.

The Pudthukuchi people are tied into their various environments in numerous ways. But again, just as an ethnic insularity describes the Pudthukuchi setting, so is it also true that such linkages primarily serve to link socially Indians only with





their own.

Tamil Youth Bell

Clubs work for the betterment of all Indians but only for the Indians. Indian regional associations, while giving some an identification within the broader Indian label, serve to refine

Indian labels alone.

Political linkages do uot break this pattern.

5 Political Processes

The concerns of this chapter are with how political parties are organized among the Pudthukuchi Indians, how unions operate, the organization of power and authority within the estate and the relationships the Pudthukuchi Indians have with agencies such as the police. Political




The organization of political party relations in Malaysia has continuously had to deal with the question of communal interests ethnically defined. By far the most viable system so far has been the ‘Alliance’. Emergent in pre-Independence days and operative until the new ‘United Front’ was established —during the period of jockeying for electoral advantage that occurred among parties—then as the core within it, the Alliance is comprised of the United Malay National Organization (UMNO), the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). K. J. Ratnam (1965: 161-162) notes that the Alliance has had an ‘inter-communal’, not a ‘non-communal’ structuring, its member bodies functioning along community lines with responsibilities to their own community’s membership. The United Front’s approach has also been couched in intercommunal rather than non-communal terms. The situation here



is far more complex and intricate than before. But here too, below the top levels common aims and mutual understandings and propaganda concerning national unity

that which occurred of leadership where are well-established has long been highly

successful, community orientations are still very strong (Ratnam,

1965 : 216). The six parties that coalesced around the Alliance’s original three to form the Front (in 1973-74) did so in recognition of the basic political outlines already defined and primarily as community-based parties themselves.! The Front together left the task of mobilizing support among the various communities largely to Front supporters also members of those communities. Attempts have been made to establish non-communal parties in Malaysia. Their effectiveness has varied but never have such parties been widely successful. Meanwhile, onecommunity parties have never been able to gain more than a regional legitimation on their own. For now and the foresee-

able future, inter-communal political organization is by far the

most generally effective. The Front garnered almost 60 per cent of the vote in the country’s 1974 parliamentary elections (winning 135 of 154 seats), coming to control all of the states’ legislative assemblies

in the same general elections.” THE INDIANS

The Indians tary or state many seats. representing commonly,

in Malaysia comprise the majority in no constituency. Yet their representatives In the past, this was often possible for parties other than the MIC. More the real continuities in power among

parliamenhave won candidates and more the Indian

‘The United Front in the 1974 elections was comprised of these parties: UMNO, MCA, MIC. Parti Islam Se Tanah Melayu, Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia, People’s Progressive Party, Sarawak United People’s Party, Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu and Sabah Alliance. The ethnic

affiliations of the first three listed have been

identified; the

bases of the

Parti Islam and the Parti Pesaka are Malay; those of the Gerakan and the Progressive Party are Chinese. "In Sabah, no elections were finally held. No opponents to the Front’s candidates stood for election. The sweep here was thus automatic.



Malaysians have been gained under the political umbrellas provided first by the Alliance, then by the United Front.? On the one hand, affiliations have increasingly come to help Indian Malaysians gain positions of political power. On the other, both the Alliance and the United Front have been able to

gain stature for themselves in actively developing relationships with the third largest ethnic community in the country, the Indians. Many Indians still belong to parties other than the MIC. But in recent years, the MIC has been continuously increasing its membership. Numerous squabbles within the MIC regarding personalities and courses of action have






there was much in-fighting between the Congress’ fifth president (Tun V.T. Sambanthan) and his supporters, and the Congress’ successor president (Tan Sri V. Manickavasigam) and his sup-


(see the editorials onthe


in the Straits Times,

25 August 1973, 9 July 1974 and 3 August 1974). The quarrelling had to do with personal differences among the party’s leadership. It also had to do with the gradual political development of the party from the ‘parkalam’ kinds of orientations it had under its earlier leadership (parkalam in Tamil literally means ‘let's see’—used descriptively, then, it refers to and has been used by many to describe the ‘wait and see’ orientation that occurred under Sambanthan’s leadership) to the more active,

publicly debated and goal-oriented recently developed.*

perspectives the MIC has

The growth pains of the MIC have often been severe. The numbers and powers of the Malays and Chinese in Malaysia are far superior to those of the Indians. Increasingly, however, the

*For analyses of the emergence and effectiveness of the MIC in Malaysia, see Subramaniam (1974). ‘The MIC held a national seminar on ‘The New Economic Policy, The Second Malaysia Plan, The Mid-term Review and the Role of the MIC’, in Kuala Lumpur, 11-12 May 1974. The reworked products of the seminar were published, a copy of the report then being formally presented to Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak during the MIC’s 22nd Annual General Assembly meetings in July. MIC President, Tan Sri V. Manickavasagam remarked both at the seminar and the assembly meetings

to the

effect that, ‘The time

has come

for constructive

and constructive action. . together and as Malaysians’ (Malaysian Congress,






MIC is coming to serve as the vehicle tion among Indian Malaysians.

of political


MIC ORGANIZATION Structurally, the MIC consists of a general assembly, state congresses and branch congresses.® Branch congresses (there were some 400 of these in early 1974) are usually set up where there are at least 100 applicants for membership.® Branches link together to form the state and national systems respectively. Membership in the MIC is restricted to Malaysian citizens of Indian origin who are eighteen or above years of age and who agree to abide by the aims, objectives and rules of the congress. As defined in its constitution, these include the


To uphold and the Principles of To safeguard cational, cultural To promote

preserve the Constitution of Malaysia and Rukunegara; and promote the political, economic, eduand social interests of Indians in Malaysia; and maintain inter-racial goodwill and


To consider, assist and deal with all matters affecting the interests of the whole or any section of the community in a fair and just manner; and To promote the advancement of Malaysia in cooperation

with other communities.

In recent years, the MIC has organized several co-operative investment programmes for Indians. It has also assisted a good number of Indians in obtaining Malaysian citizenship, better education (in providing scholarships), employment and so on. Local branches, finally, do various things on their own in community service. One of the Penang branches gave $51 to the *The Central Working Committee is the highest policy-making authority within the MIC. It consists of representatives from each state in addition to other elected and appointed representatives (see Malaysian Indian Congress, 1973:50-58). *The MIC Constitution was approved and adopted by the General Assembly of the Congress, 25 August 1973.



local Ramakrishna Ashrama in 1973 to enable the orphans there to celebrate Deepavali; most of the state congresses have at least formally defined youth programmes; local branches some-


raise relief money



of fires, floods or other

disasters; and local branches sometimes buy uniforms and books for needy school children.

LocaL ORGANIZATION Some of the questions and problems that have confronted the MIC at the national level have been understood in part at the local level. Many of the people in Pudthukuchi know generally of the rivalries that developed between Sambanthan and Manickavasagam. Also known are many of the questions and problems that




at the state




level. As in much of the rest of the Kedah

are concerned

about topics

such as political representation, the procedures according to which party candidates are assigned to constituencies during elections and access to jobs and educations for the members of their community. They also are concerned about what they often describe as the political apathy of their people and the responses of their people to changes in membership ‘subscriptions’ stipulations and programmes. As in Malaysia generally, however, the MIC is clearly the most powerful political party among the Indians in Kedah. In early 1974, according to the state’s MIC vice-chairman S.M. Vellayyappa, there were twenty-three local branches in the state accounting for a membership of some 10,000 people. In Vellayyappa’s opinion, furthermore, the number of branches should increase to forty or so within a couple of years, thus cutting much more deeply into what he considered the number of people (an additional ‘twice as many’) who already seemed

susceptible to organization by the MIC. represent a community.


Such figures obviously

substantial proportion of the Kedah


Branch headquarters in the Pudthukuchi area are located in

a neighbouring town and no branch MIC leader lives in Pudthukuchi. But the MIC is well-organized here. In the estimates

of some of the Pudthukuchi people, roughly 90 per cent of the





men and


(that is, with citizenship, of

twenty-one or more years of age, etc.) have voted for MICbacked candidates in the most recent elections of the past. There seems to be little reason to challenge such estimates. Community elder ‘election agents’ (who currently receive some $20 from headquarters for their services, perhaps later also participating in a feast if their candidate wins) canvass the community before the elections. Through funding provided by branch and state headquarters, they then also arrange for transportation to and from the polling station (some five

miles from Pudthukuchi).

The 1974 elections in Pudthukuchi proceeded much as others in the past. The United Front ran unopposed in the parliamentary constituency to which Pudthukuchi belongs, its candidate (a Malay) thus being seated without opposition. In the state legislative assembly election constituency to which Pudthukuchi belongs, the United Front candidate (again a Malay) was opposed by another candidate (also a Malay) running as an









easily. Of the roughly 200 Pudthukuchi people who voted in the 1974 state level election contest in their area, about half were Indian, half Malay. Among the Indians, about 95 per cent

voted for the United Front candidate. Among the Malays, about 70 per cent did so.

The Indians reasoned

words of one young man:

like this, to use the

If we didn’t vote for the Barisan National, we would be voting against our own interests. The way things are, we can get work in Malaysia. Other parties are not so interested in what happens to us. The slightly higher anti-United Front vote among the Malays was explained in terms of the dissatisfactions certain Malays had with government performances on past promises. Contrasting the election process in Pudthukuchi with that in an Indian village or urban


(see Wiebe,

1969 and

1975), little here is parallel. There parties often compete vigorously for votes in terms of caste, family, labour and other



cleavages, and often a small ‘payment’ for votes is involved. Election sentiments often run very high. . Here, the Indians together generally support only the candidate backed by the electoral alliance to which the MIC belongs and the entire process is comparatively efficiently run. But then, given the minority position of the Indian Malaysians within a political system that very strongly encourages unity while con-

tinuously fearing the possible eruption of inter-ethnic hostilities, this is understandable. Almost by definition, the political potentialities of the Indians in Malaysia are realizable now only in relation to the political allowances other more powerful parties have been

willing to give. The coalitions these make up are organized with the Indians as junior partners.

Whatever the party advantages

the Pudthukuchi people know, then are defined communally and Pudthukuchi Indians vote accordingly.

So do the Pudthukuchi Malays. Prior to the 1974 elections, the Malays were split in their party allegiances. Some voted according to UMNO directives, others preferred to vote for candidates put forward by the Malay-based PAS (Parti Islam)


was eliminated. elections.

In the 1974 elections, however, even this rivalry PAS had joined the United Front prior to the

ATTITUDES Voting is asimple process for the Pudthukuchi Indians and a strong proportion of them vote. But almost none of them are actively concerned with political processes at area, state or parliamentary levels. Their party participation is somewhat automatic along the lines of their ethnicity as encouraged by their leadership. Their attitudes towards government in general are passive, expectant of services, almost never demandirig. One of our respondents said this: Our people have done so much for this country. have worked on the railroads and the plantations. they were building railroads in Siam, if 100 would go, two would return. And without the Indians, where rubber production be in this country? The government

They When maybe would should



know about these things and do something. something, there is nothing we can do.


If they

don’t do

Such sentiments are exaggerated, of course. But such views are widely held in Pudthukuchi. It is easy to understand why.

The position of the Indians in the area and in the country, now

as in the past, is a minority one affected very thoroughly by what others have to say.

Unions The managers of Ladang Getah belong to the Malayan Agricultural Producers Association (MAPA). The staff and the labourers, respectively, belong to the All-Malayan Estate Staff Union (AMESU) and the National Union of Plantation Workers


THe NUPW The trade union movement among plantation workers ia Malaya began to take definite form in the years immediately following the Second World War.” Early on, there were considerable problems in organization. But since 1954—the year five distinct, primarily regional plantation worker unions merged to form the NUPW--union organization among the country’s plantation workers has come to be increasingly well co-ordinated. In general, the NUPW

stands for the interests of all workers (some

250,000) on the rubber, coconut and tea estates of the country. In







is regarded in high

esteem and respect by the Government, the employers, the workers and the public’ (Kumaran, 1970:1). In reference to its relations with the government, the union has followed a policy of political neutrality. In doing this, it feels it has been able‘...

to enjoy considerable influence in the Government’ while

at the

"The story of the NUPW in Malaysia is told in part by Gamba It is told more popularly by Kumaran (1970).


same time being able to keep its membership from breaking into different groups on the basis of ‘...sympathy to any given political party (in a context where) the political affiliation of



(the people concerned) is divided... on a racial basis’ (Kumaran, 1970:18-19). The NUPW’s membership is comprised

predominantly of roughly similar major proportions of Indians and Malays but also includes a considerable number of Chinese. In reference to union relations with management, the NUPW branch secretary for the Kedah, Perlis and Penang region of Malaysia claimed in 1974 that those occurring between ‘the NUPW and most MAPA estates were relatively good.8 And it seems that they are. The relations between these two groupings are fairly well-defined.

Yet it is also clear that the NUPW

feels the workers on

most ‘fragmented’ estates are working under comparatively severe disadvantages.® From such estates, the union is currently receiving most of its applications for membership and here it

defines its principal current responsibilities in the organization of workers. From the standpoint of the workers, there can be no doubt that the NUPW has been instrumental in introducing many improvements in living and working conditions on Over the years, the NUPW has helped workers rates of pay, guaranteed paid holidays, clear weekly day of rest and periods of vacation leave, benefits, housing allowances and retrenchment

union also officially assists members

in matters

the plantation. achieve better definitions of a hospitalization benefits. The

of citizenship

and employment and in legal considerations. And again, as has the MIC, it has encouraged investment programmes, education and other developments among plantation workers and their children. Local branches of the NUPW can be set up anywhere that a ‘reasonable number’ of workers (the smallest local branch th the Kedah, Perlis and Penang region now has only three

members) wish to establish themselves as such. But even to identify oneself as an NUPW sympathizer on many smallholdingsis to court trouble.

As the NUPW



"Interview with Mohd. Khan B. Abdullah, 3 May 1974. °K. Kumaran (1970:20), Research Officer for the NUPW, conditions on the estates that have been ‘fragmented’, ‘horrible’.




for Kedah, Perlis and Penang put it: If an owner comes to know that such and such a person has joined the NUPW, the owner will dismiss the person.

Though the NUPW can take up the case it often takes several months before the case is decided. During that

period, the



assist the dismissed person at the

rate of $80 per month. But how can one live and feed his family on that? On almost any estate, a person can make double that amount while working. Moreover, the NUPW cannot support every person who is dismissed. It would cost too much money. We'd like to, but... . So you see, people are afraid of joining the NUPW (in such places). It meanstoo much trouble in places where there are not many others who also want to join. And there seldom are many who do on small-holdings. . Whatever the problems, and however much some of the workers criticize what they see now as too close an association -between the NUPW and the government and too much of an interest on the part of some leaders in personal rather than union goals, it is clear that the NUPW will remain strong and that its membership in numerical terms at least, will continue .to grow. The Pudthukuchi labourers (both Indian and Malay) enjoy

the kinds of benefits the NUPW and the MAPA have worked out between them. Almost all of the labourers regularly employed by the estate belong to the union,!° and the Indian

and Malay individuals respectively responsible for the collection of fees (these come to $2 a month) in their own ethnic communities do so with almost no difficulty. The management, _simultaneously, has long followed very carefully the agreements arrived at by the MAPA in conjunction with the NUPW. . It was not always thus. Almost all the Indian labourers in Pudthukuchi since the early 1950’s have been willing to join the union. But the proportion of Malay labourers belonging has only become overwhelming within the last few years. 3°]abourers working by ‘contract’ on the estates seldom belong to the


(see Kumaran,



Thus, only within


a similar period

of time have



strengths of the NUPW become as extensive as they now are. Like most other branches, the Pudthukuchi branch of the NUPW has a chairman, vice-chairman, general secretary and a treasurer. All of these offices in Pudthukuchi are currently

filled (as they

always have


by Indians.



however, the general secretary is assisted by a Malay young man, an ‘assistant secretary’, whose responsibilities are to collect dues from and keep informed the Malay members of the local branch.





made by a simple majority of

the persons who attend particular meetings. Very seldom does this number include any women and seldom do more than forty or fifty sit in on even the most important discussions.

Tue AMESU The first strike ever by the AMESU occurred in April 1974, It involved a dispute over the payment of a special relief allowance, particularly the back-dating of agreed upon (by MAPA)

increments. The practical dimensions of the issue were relatively

unimportant and the nine days of striking by the 3,000 staff people who participated proceeded rather uneventfully (see the relevant articles in the Straits Times, 31 May 1974, 2 April 1974 and 10 April 1974). Yet principles were involved and the fact ofthe — strike served notice to management that a considerable cohesiveness bound together staff people in the expression of their interests,

The strike disrupted very

little in Pudthukuchi

though all

Office staff here observed it. A number of labourers commented that it was about time their staff found out what strikes were

for. Said one old woman:

We found out how to strike long ago. The staffs always were against us and with the managers, and they always said we wouldn’t be able to get anything by striking. Now they

have learned from us !

The striking staff made it clear that they had no specific grievances against their local management, that they were only

following union directives.

All of them went quickly and

pily back to work as soon as it was over.




Local Configurations

THE MANAGER AGAIN In general again (see Figure 2.1 and the related comments there), the manager and his assistant are responsible for the industrial process of rubber production on Ladang Getah and the extensiveness of their authority is pervasive. The estate’s buildings, their maintenance and their occupancy are under the control of the management. Work details are enforced under management authority. The office staff works in relation to management directives. The workers know how the manager runs things. At the same time, he knows fully well the kinds of questions he will have to answer and the ways the people he is responsible for will respond to particular developments. During colonial days, the authority of the manager was considerably greater than it is now. It has declined as unions have come to represent more strongly the interests of specific groups, national development plans have had their local impacts, a planning government has come to demand that more and more records be kept and various authorities have come to be increasingly interested in such things as local health provisions. Yet, obviously, the manager retains a very considerable local power. This power, in turn, both by design and chance, has to do primarily only with the rationally definable affairs of the estate. To put it differently, to the extent intra-community considerations do not affect the successful accomplishment of the estate’s purposes, to that extent his own influences do not impinge. Along such lines, the manager’s ethnicity and style serve him well. Knowledgeable about many but intimately friendly with very few, he is seldom dragged into quarrels or considerations that do not affect production. Being a white man, the manager’s ability to remain aloof from local affairs is strengthened. In Malaysia, as in India, before Independence the authority and power of the colonizer peoples were seldom questioned. In both countries, whites almost always occupied almost only higher, and certainly the highest, positions, working and administering locally through the assistance of ‘natives’. Within the plantation context, the



strengths of whites in the decision-making process

were over-

whelming. An elderly Tamil woman sitting on the door sill of a little Pudthukuchi coffee shop while we and others sat there drinking; once reflected almost to hereself: Things are

so different now.

Once when a white man came

around, people would stand up, put their hands behind their backs and look down. Now look, a white man sits here and no one does anything special.

The former chief clerk of a nearby estate said a similar meaning like this:

something with

Then the manager was very powerful. He could beat anyone if be wanted to though he almost. never did. People felt toward him almost as children feel toward parents. At times of weddings, festivals or special trips, the manager would often give out a little extra money or a gift. Now? Unions have become much more powerful and many things have changed. I don’t mean to say unions are bad. They had to come. The problem is that now everything is decided exactly as it is supposed to be decided and people no longer feel ‘personal’ toward their manager. There was a time when the white man was ‘like a god’ to at least some of the Pudthukuchi people—‘He could go and come when he wanted and change what he wanted.’ Things are no longer like they were. Pudthukuchi’s manager; in any case, would not neatly fit anybody’s stereo-typical view of how such a person would live and work in an Asian country’s plantation context. He runs a very efficient system with a good deal of authority. He has been able to do so, holding consistently the respect of the local people in both pre- and

post-colonial days.

Yet, of course, he also carries with him certain trappings of the past. And in relation to his expertise and the managerial abilities and attributes he holds, the Malaysian government has decided to let him and his kind continue to manage much of

Malaysia’s plantation wealth for the time being.



The Pudthukuchi chief clerk once told us: If one of us would be a manager, we would


for special favours




certainly be



There would be very much favouritism and much complaining. We need an outsider to run the estate effectively.

Similar arguments have been used before by colonialists and their staffs in justifying the continuation of the status quo. However, given the questions related to the fact of ethnic plurality

in Pudthukuchi plus the ways in which local groupings try first to assist their own, if efficiency and accomplishment in rubber production are the goals—and they currently are—

Ladang Getah’s


manager certainly helps

effectively in their






is defined

in inter-ethnic

terms under the administration of the manager and his staff. Within these outlines, the various communities are relatively free to organize themselves. The major political rivalry within the Pudthukuchi Indian community, in outline terms, occurs between some of the younger and some of the older men. Before unions and so on penetrated the Pudthukuchi setting, some of the elders informally joined . together to make up a panchayat. The people had known such political units in the Indian caste and village contexts out of

which they had come and a unit at least called a panchayat (but

without the legitimization normally supporting a panchayat’s activities in an Indian rural setting) worked well enough. Its purposes were to solve community problems within the community to the extent possible. No panchayat thus defined now exists in Pudthukuchi. But there are other committees, the two most important being the temple committee and the local NUPW committee. The local religioustemple committee is responsible for organizing

social observances. The

NUPW committee has at times played

an active role in determining working conditions. The members of the temple and NUPW committees are



elected and, until the middle of 1974, both memberships were dominated largely by the kinds of men who earlier would have

been or would have become members of the panchayat. commonly








ingrained subservience to the existing authority structure and so on. Since, younger men with more aggressive perspectives have

taken more power in both of these arenas of local


As elsewhere, the young men of Pudthukuchi vary in their orientations. Many accept the authority of their elders readily and are interested almost only in work on the estate. Others are bored with estate life, get out as often as possible and frequently think of finding employment elsewhere. A few participate actively in gangs. A few are actively interested in bringing about local changes. Among the latter is the person (we call him Rangaswamy in Chapter 8) primarily responsible for precipitating the recent changes in the organization of the local temple and NUPW Committees. Joining together particularly with Harijan young men, but also with others who disliked the older patterns of leadership, he first managed to get himself elected as the general secretary (the person with the most actual power) in the local branch of the NUPW. Later, after a four- or five-month running quarrel, he and his friends forced the entire old temple committee to resign, thus making way for themselves and those more acceptable from their own points of view. The transitions just referred to have to do with an entire set of ambiguities that currently characterize political workings within Pudthukuchi. Many factors—from personality clashes to caste and power considerations—are involved. We will discuss these and their implications in Chapter 8, noting there that the successful maintenance of its position by the new coalition will likely foreshadow numerous other changes in the way in which local activities are conducted, noting also that the new coalition will be able to maintain its current position only with

considerable luck.

Some Other Contacts Numerous










other than those affiliated with



political parties and unions occur. Referring only to the associations of the Pudthukuchi people with the police in illustrating these, the Pudthukuchi people, in general, stay as clear of the police as they can. They see involvements with the police at best as troublesome, possibly also as leading to problems in finding employment, securing citizenship papers and harassment. One of our informants said: If we report things to the police, they will want us to come as witnesses later. This can get us into trouble as well. If people don’t really cause us trouble, then why should what they do concern us? Along such lines, after one young Pudthukuchi man was threatened by another with a parang one midnight in early 1974, he was coaxed by his friends not to report the incident to the police for fear any police information against his name would make it impossible for him to get his red identity card status changed to full citizenship and difficult at best for him to get his wife now in India (she is an Indian citizen who has never yet been to Malaysia) to join him. According to the police, such perspectives are ill-informed. Nevertheless they are held, bred in a background where


were little domains unto themselves, populated by people who knew very little of the wider environments in which they found themselves. Then too, the police in the Pudthukuchi area hardly consider it in their chief interests to cater specifically to the needs of the Indian community, relatively powerless as it is, and stories enough of the ‘inadequacies’ of the police curb somewhat the interests some local people would otherwise have in seeking assistance. Just as Pudthukuchi Indians approach the courts when they have to (and they do, for legal clearances and the like), however, so do they approach the police. The cars in operation out of Pudthukuchi as ‘taxis’ are not licensed as such. Their operators thus pay off appropriate policemen at about $5 a month for the privilege of running them unobstructed. Again, the fellow who sells samsu locally pays for the illegal privilege of doing so. The police are almost inevitably involved when major crimes are committed against individuals or properties. And




usually called to an estate like Pudthukuchi to

patrol a major local festival, especially if trouble is expected. Summary and Conclusion

The Pudthukuchi political arena is limited but interesting. It involves many cross-currents. National policies and definitions have little direct following here. But the people are generally aware that within the calls for national unity and equal participation are sometimes very strident calls by particular individuals for the special protection of Malay interests. One of the top leader of the MIC expressed concerns along such lines: Some of the Malays are obsessed, completely ethnocentric in the claims they are making for the bumiputras, simultaneously coming to be almost vehemently opposed to special privileges for other groups. In less sophisticated wording but with a similar message, a Pudthukuchi Indian labourer answered our question, ‘Is the NUPW doing anything for you?’ as follows: They do what they can. But the government now wants the Malays to get first choice. If there are ten labour vacancies





six Malays


Indians or Chinese are even considered.




The political horizons of the Pudthukuchi Indians are limited. But they have been made to understand that at least currently the government’s principal interests are in helping the Malays first. Second, the Pudthukuchi people are tied into numerous regional and national, political and quasi-political networks. Their party affiliations reach out along ethnic lines, stretching finally into ‘Alliance’ or ‘United Front’ configurations, so far the best umbrellas for the sheltering of Indian interest. The

union interests of the people are more inter-ethnically defined

and both Malays and Indians belong to the same unions, variations relating to level of employment not ethnicity. But here too, intimate concerns among the Indians and Malays are

108 locally handled, respectively, by Indian) and an assistant (a Malay).





With reference to agencies such as the police, it is clear that

the Pudthukuchi people prefer to take care of themselves, and they generally do so. Third, within the estate context, management relations with workers and office personal are evaluated, in general, in their effect upon efficiency in production. Pudthukuchi’s manager runs a well-organized estate. Authority is concentrated in him. Within the Pudthukuchi Indian community, finally, rivalries are channeled by numerous variables. Women are clearly subordinate to men in political relations. They hardly participate

at all in party discussions. They do not participate

at all in

union procedures, though they would strike if the occasion arose and they were encouraged to do so by their men—as they have been in the past. Within Pudthukuchi, the committees with the most power are the temple and the NUPW branch committees. Very recently, major changes affecting the organization of both committees have occurred. These have included competitions between younger and older men at one level, a traditionally organized and a newly organized coalition at another. Overall, the estate context is increasingly penetrated by extensions of organizations outlined in more general areas.

6 Economic Considerations

In the first section of this chapter

some of the outlines of the

West Malaysian economic context are described, with special reference to the place of the Indians. Materials and analyses of the occupations, earnings, expenditures, savings and investments and ways of borrowing of the Pudthukuchi people are then presented. Some Outlines

OwNERSHIP Tables 6.1 and 6.2 give, respectively, figures on ownership of assets and the ownership of share capital in West Malaysia for 1970. Non-Malaysians own about 71 per cent of corporate agriculture in West Malaysia, and 57 per cent of corporate industry. The Chinese come in a relatively distant but nevertheless strong

second, The Malays and the Indians, in that order, come in at

the very bottom. The figures of Table 6.2 necessitate a similar arrangement, this time with respect to the ownership of share capital in limited companies. Thus lie some of the basic imbalances the Malaysian Government is currently trying to


Lasour Force

The racial composition of the labour force in West Malaysia is




Modern Agriculturet Corporate





of Total





Malaysian Malay Chinese Indian Other Government




29.2 0.3 25.9 0.3 2.7 _




94.1 47.1 32.8 10.1 1.8 2.3




42.8 0.9 26.2 0.1 14.3 13


97.6 2.3 92.2 2.3 0.8 -











*Source: Government of Malaysia (1973). +Modern agriculture figures are given in planted acres. estate acreage.



sector as defined






the non-corporate sector 741,600 acres. . Industry figures cover manufacturing, construction and mining. Ownership is in terms of fixed assets excluding an unallocatable $25.2 million. The corporate sector as defined covered $1,307 million, the non-

corporate sector $171.3 million.



Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries Mining, Quarrying Manufacturing Construction

Transport and Communication Commerce Banking and Insurance


Total in per cent * Source : Government




0.9 0.7 2.5 2.2

22.4 16.8 22.0 52.8

0.1 0.4 0.7 0.8

75.3 72.4 59.6 24.1








13.3 0.8 2.3

of Malaysia (1973).

43.4 30.4 37.8

2.3 0.7 2.3

12.0 63.5





roughly similar to that of its population, being comprised as follows: 49.7 per cent Malay, 36.1 percent Chinese and 13.1 per cent Indian (Department of Statistics, 1970: 76). The labour

participation rate is higher for the Indians (68.1 per cent) than

for the Malays (64.7 per cent) and the Chinese (63.8 per cent). The female participation rate among the Indians (45.7 per cent) is higher than are the rates among the Malays and the Chinese (42.8 per cent and 43.0 per cent, respectively), while the rates among Malay, Indian and Chinese males are, respectively,

87.6 per cent, 87.0 per cent and 85.6 per cent.

EMPLOYMENT PATTERNS Employment distributions by ethnicity and sector in West Malaysia for 1974 are given in Table 6.3. Roughly half of the total employment in West Malaysia is in ‘Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries’. The next larger employment sectors are ‘Services’ (19.0 per cent), ‘Commerce’ (10.6 per cent) and ‘Manufacturing’ (10.5 per cent). Among the Malays, almost 65 per cent are involved in ‘Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries’, The only other proportionately major category of employment for them is ‘Services’ (17.8 per cent). The employment of the Chinese is more dispersed: 28.5 per cent are in ‘Agriculture. ..’, 18.6 per cent in ‘Manufacturing’, 18.8 per cent in ‘Commerce’ and 18.4 per cent in ‘Services’. Among the Indians, almost 47 per cent are in ‘Agriculture .. .’. Then, respectively, 24.8 per cent are in ‘Services’ and 10.6 per cent in ‘Commerce’. By sector of employment: (i) Malays predominate in ‘Agri-

culture. ..’, ‘Electricity. ..’, ‘Transport...’ and ‘Services’ (though

only in ‘Agriculture...’ is their proportion larger than is their proportion of the total population); (ii) Chinese predominate in ‘Mining and Quarrying’, ‘Manufacturing’, ‘Construc-

tion’, and ‘Commerce’ (in all of these



having far more representation than their population ratio would imply); and (iii) Indians, while they predominate in no sector, have significantly more representation than their population ratio would imply in ‘Electricity. . .”” ‘Transport. . .”, and ‘Services’. Breaking down some of the categories of Table 6.3, we obtain the following (Department of Statistics, 1970: 90-91).




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Smallholding agriculture is basically Malay-oriented, with 77.2 per cent of those involved here being Malays, 20.1 per cent being Chinese and only the very small balance coming from other ethnic groups. Of all the wage earners in smallholding agriculture, 62.2 per cent are Malays, 34.0 per cent Chinese, only the remainder again being from other ethnic groups. Whereas estate workers in Malaysia account for 13.2 per cent of the total employment, the largest group here for historical and other reasons is the Indian (45.2 per cent). The proportions of Chinese and Malays are 27.6 per cent and 26.8 per cent, respectively. UNEMPLOYMENT In 1962, the unemployment (‘actively unemployed’) rates in the labour force for each of the major ethnic groups in West Malaysia were practically the same: 6.1 per cent for the Malays, 6.0 per cent







Indians (Department of

Statistics, 1970: 110-111). By 1967-68, the same rates had gone down to 5.8 per cent for the Malays, up to 6.9 per cent for the Chinese and dramatically up to 10.3 per cent for the


The increase in unemployment among Indians in Malaysia has to do with such factors as: (i) fragmentation, (ii) the ‘overdependence’ of Indians on plantation employment in the past, (iii) lack of skills necessary for alternative employment, and (iv) preferential treatment for others (Malaysian Indian Congress, 1974; Department of Statistics, 1970:111). INCOME Table 6.4 gives the percentage distribution of households income and ethnic group in West Malaysia for 1970. 1The 1970 figures contained in the Mid-term



of the Second

Malaysia Plan (1973) for unemployment rates among the Malays, Chinese and Indians are8 per cent, 7.4 percent and 11 percent, respectively. These are not directly comparable with the Socio-Economic Survey (1967-68) figdres given in the text. However, like the latter, the 1970 figures show the relatively poor position of the Indians. For a thorough discussion of ‘Unemployment—the West Malaysian Example’, see D.J. Blake (1973).





Income Range

per Month

$ - $ $ $ $ $ $

1-99 100-199 200-399 400-699 700-1,499 1,500-2,999 3,000 and above




22.9 19.1 10.4 3.0 11 0.2 =_

2.6 78 119 5.3 2.9 0.7 0.1

1.3 44 3.5 1.2 0.6 0.1 0.1

Other 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1

Total 27.1 314 25.9 96 4.7 1.1 0.3

*Source: Government of Malaysia (1973).

Per capita annual incomes in West Malaysia are currently among the highest in Southeast Asia—coming to about US $400 (Blake, 1973:39). Figures in Table 6.4 show, however, that

more than 58 per cent

of all





incomes of less than $200 a month; that is, the gap between the rich and the poor in Malaysia remains wide. Median incomes for Malays, Chinese and Indians, respectively, come to $122, $271 and $196,mean incomes to $179, $387 and $310. The disparities by ethnicity thus represented are Compounded by the inequalities in the ownership of wealth, already identified (see

Stockwin, 1973).


SUMMARY Indians occupy a middle position between the Chinese and the Malays in terms of income. In almost all other economic measures, their position is subordinate. Making Money

OccuPATIONAL DISTRIBUTIONS The Ladang Getah administrative staff consists of the manager and his assistant (Chinese). The executive staff in the Pudthukuchi context consists of a chief clerk, a junior clerk, a storekeeper, four field conductors,a factory conductor and a



dresser. But for the junior clerk and one of the field conductors

(both Malays), the others on the executive staff are Indians. The outlines of the Pudthukuchi labouring staff are described in Table 6.5. The forty-three labourers listed in the ‘Other’ category in Table 6.5 may be classified as they are in Table 6.6.











































1 —



*Source: Manager's Annual Report, 1973. tLabour figures for Ladang Getah are given in the Manager’s Annual Report, for the estate as a whole. We obtained figures for Pudthukuchi with the help of the chief clerk. However, some of the figures recorded thus for the number of weeders did not exactly fit with those for the estate as a whole. Those included here are adjusted very slightly.


TABLE 6.5*


1 _ _




2 5


Gardeners/Grasscutters Scavenger Wireman

3 _1 1






Total *Source:

14 Manager’s Annual Report,



Ayahs Watchmen

Fitters Drivers


9 1973.








The data of Table 6.5 show clearly that men as well as women work in Pudthukuchi in the same kinds of occupations. They show also that Indians and Malays comprise by far the overwhelming proportion of the local work force. In factory work and in weeding, Malays are more numerous than Indians; in tapping, the opposite is true. The inroads by the Malays into the local occupational structure, in other words, have been made most thoroughly in work areas where‘... itis easier for them to start’, to use the chief clerk’s words. Will this penetration proceed much further to the continued detriment of the local work position of the Indians? There seems little doubt the ‘squeeze’ will continue to the advantage of the Malays. Certainly more Malays will eventually become members of the executive staff. But, for the time being, it seems also that the work ratios evident will not change much. First, the proportion of Malay, to the extent it does increase on Ladang Getah, will continue to increase first in the Chinnakuchi subdivision (Chapter 2). Second, the area rubber employment context is relatively stable. Third, the Pudthukuchi Indians are by now almost all blue identity card-holders with the right to work without having to obtain work permits. Finally, again as we have already seen (Chapter 2), a natural and tremendous adjustment in the proportion of Indians has already occurred, the resultant balance itself coming to be somewhat adequate in the area. The Pudthukuchi Chinese, as elsewhere, are only marginally involved in estate work. A few weed and tap (Table 6.5). Most of the rest work in ‘Other’ occupations (Table 6.6). Four are currently working in Pudthukuchi as ‘contract’ sprayers. WAGES AND EARNINGS




a number of factors. Members of the

executive staff are paid salaries; tappers are paid according to how much latex they collect; weeders and others are paid ‘daily’ wages. The market price of rubber per pound has recently ranged from a low of forty-one cents in 1972 to a high of about $1.15 in January 1974.

Tappers in March 1974 were paid a minimum wage of $3.80



for a day’s work.? For more than twenty-two pounds (‘dry poundage’) in a ‘high-yield’ area and more than sixteen pounds in a ‘low-yield’ area, tappers then received an additional fourteen cents per pound, Five to six months earlier (towards the end


1973), the minimum daily rate was $3.10, the additional pay per pound was eight cents. The difference in rates had to do with

the change in the value of rubber in the international market. Scrap latex—the coagulated remnants in the bottom of col-

lection cups, along the wound on the tree and so on—is worth four cents a pound to the tapper collecting it. Overall, a

tapper’s income depends on his skills, the kind

of area

he is

tapping, the season of the year, the number of ‘rainy days’ in the month and such things as the going-price of rubber. Some can sometimes collect up to forty or fifty ‘dry pounds’ of fresh latex in a day. Tapping, however—in addition to being a job

with higher prestige than weeding or other



jobs, a job allowing better working conditions and a job requir-

.ing more skills—is also a job allowing higher wages. Approximate average earnings per Ladang Getah labourer per working day are given in Table 6.7.



Children Females






_— Malays






Manager’s Annual Report,



General Average








As the figures in Table 6.7 show, men make slightly more money in both tapper and ‘other’ categories than do women, and

Indian tappers earn more than Malay tappers.

In reference


both of these observations for historical and other reasons, it is *The minimum wage varies with the price of rubber. The basic pay is set each month, based on the price of rubber during the previous




more likely that men rather than women, and Indians rather than Malays, tap the better areas. Other reasons have to do with such things as the number of sick-day leaves taken and so


ADDITIONAL SOURCES OF INCOME The regularly defined, labourer work day for all but the factory workers on the estate (who work on shifts) begins early. In turn, for most of the labourers it is over shortly before 2:00 p.m. For most, the afternoon is a time for rest. For some it is the time for making a little extra. With the management’s permission, about a dozen families work on plots of land on the estate—land unsuitable for the growing of rubber trees—growing vegetables or paddy for sale or for their own use. Two Indians of barber

caste backgrounds A





to cut hair on a part-time basis. sells fish,



biscuits and a few other items from a little stall behind his house.

He also owns a public address system he rents (at $38 a time) to those in need. Another Malay runs a bicycle repair stall in the cinema hall. Five Indian and eight Malay families own land

and/or a house in other places, some of them realizing a profit in their ownership. afternoon to work

One Malay tapper travels to Penang every as aclerk, in the process earning an extra

$200 a month. Four or five of the locally owned occasionally serve as taxis.



Additionally, some family members ina number of households work in non-rubber production activities while other

family members tap, weed, work in the factory or run

a local

shop. A Malay man and an Indian each runs a personally owned bas sekolah (seating about fifteen children at a time) back and

forth to schools in neighbouring towns, serving both Pudthukuchi

and other estates. A couple of women prepare the Indian breakfast items, idlis, dosa, puttu, etc., for sale in the morning,

preparing other Indian snack items for sale at the in the evening.




How good are the incomes of the Pudthukuchi people?

This is



a question that cannot be answered in many respects. But we can gain an understanding of the kinds of things on which the

people spend their money.


ing the largest r cent

estion. thing,

ration ‘ndian id for dendi- forms ndary

am of ier in s and relled antee

* umily four

iding iting mple jomly

“See Jain (1970:164-174) for comparative and detailed ing of the way a kuttu, or savings group, works in another

rubber estate setting.



more likely that men rather than women, and Indians rather than Malays, tap the better areas. Other reasons have to do with such things as the number of sick-day leaves taken and so on,



ADDY. The r: worke

turn, |

For r

time fi about unsuit or pac caste | A M

biscui He als to tho:

cinem. and/o1 in the. aftern. $200 2 occasi Ad

holds family shop.

bas sei fortht

and ot fast it prepai

in the

1e incomes of the Pudthukuchi people?

This is



a question that cannot be answered in many respects. But we can gain an understanding of the kinds of things on which the people spend their money. HOovusEHOLD EXPENDITURES Table 6.8 describes the expenditure patterns of ten selected Pudthukuchi households (five Indian and five Malay) during the

month of April 1974.3

Among both the Indians and the Malays, by far the largest proportions of monthly expenditures go for food (43.6 per cent and 54.1 per cent, respectively) for the month in question. Other larger expenditure items for both groups are clothing, travel and kuttus. Major expenditures for clothing come only in preparation for major festivals or in meeting specia] requirements. Indian family E thus spent the ‘outrageously high’ amount it did for clothes in relation to the wedding of a son. The high expenditure for clothing by family D went for the school uniforms necessary for two children intending to complete secondary school; the $60.60 spent by Malay family P included a sum of $22 towards the time payment of clothing purchased earlier in he year. Travel payments vary with the seasons, special occasions and the like. The two family D children just mentioned travelled

often to a neighbouring town during April trying to guarantee

anticipated upper-secondary school seats for themselves. Family E’s travel expenses had to do with wedding arrangements and preliminaries, family L’s accumulated quickly when four members travelled to Malacca to visit relatives, each spending $18 for thetrip. Family F paid §8 during the month in hiring a taxi for the trip to a neighbouring town.

Kuttus in Pudthukuchi are of two kinds.4 In the more simple

*The households represented in Table 6.8 were not selected randomly and the sample is not statistically representative of any larger population. The households represented, however, are as ‘average’ in most respects as are any others in Pudthukuchi. ‘See Jain (1970:164-174) for comparative and detailed understanding of the way a kuttu, or savings group, works in another Malaysian

rubber estate setting.



variety, perhaps fifteen to twenty women get together, each agreeing to put something like $2 to $4 (see family B’s contribution, Table 6.8) in a pot. Then, in turn, the participants gain access to the total sum, thus gaining extra money from

time to time for specially

needed items like children’s school

uniforms, other pieces of clothing or furniture. In the other variety of kuttu—similar in ways to the first yet more complex in organization and usually involving more money—a group will get together—usually under the instiga-

tion of the one who needs an extra sum—each



buting a similar sum of money (say $50 or $100) to a common fund. Then the person willing to pay the other kuttu members

the most for the first use of the money, gets it first. The fund

is replenished from month to month giving each of those who have not yet had it the chance to bid for it. The last man in

line gets the entire sum without having to pay for the privilege.

Few people in a place like Pudthukuchi would violate their

responsibilities in such a saving’s group.

Yet some would and

have. Persons organizing kuttus are thus generally held responsible for seeing to it that the sum raised periodically is




and they are held responsible for

making up the share not paid by a defaulter. Almost always, Malays and Indians form kuttus among their own kind only.


all the



participate. in


Some don’t need to. Others, for some reason or another, would hardly, if ever, be asked to. Even in our sample of ten households, however, eight are so involved and the amount

offered is substantial in all but one case.

‘Other’ expenses (Table 6.8, item 14) include a wide variety of items. Family C paid $5 and family D $5 toward wedding moey (discussed in the next section of this chapter) expenses during April. Family D also paid $5 in interest on $50 (10 per cent per month) borrowed earlier. Other items paid for under this category of expenditure include cigarettes, cigars, betel leaves, coffee shop expenses and hair dressing supplies. Looking next at toddy expenditures, toddy drinking is

clearly only an Indian (and an Indian




the families in our sample. However, even though expenditures here are considerable (accounting for 5.8 per cent of all the April expenditures among the Indian families represented),



at thirty cents a pint glass, in the families represented it is clear

that relatively few, if any, drink anywhere close to excessively.

But then, as we noted much earlier (Chapter 2), there are very few who do anyway in Pudthukuchi. Expenditures for religious purposes and school fees were very low in April—at times they are higher. The Pudthukuchi people have their housing provided for them by the estate. Most of the people’s medical expenses are taken care of through the local estate-run dispensary or the services provided by the ‘group hospital’ in the area. Our evidence shows,

finally, that in nine of the ten families identified in



some money was spent in attending cinemas. Cinema attendance is the principal form of commercial entertainment the Pudthukuchi people know. Many Pudthukuchi people become debtors from time to










Table 6.8—families picked for our expenditures study with no particular criteria in mind except that all of them be ‘average’ —during April, four (A, C, E and M) spent far more than they earned, five (D, L, N, O and P) spent about as much as they

earned and only expenditures.


(B) had

anincome far greater than its

Even among these few families, the reasons for expenditures considerably different from incomes are varied: family A lost an earner for the month because of sickness; family C spent extra in attending the wedding of a relative in a neighbouring town; family E held a wedding spending $330 for clothing and $69 for travel in the process; and family B was trying to save up money in payment of an outstanding debt. Whatever the reasons included in such explanations, however, the Pudthukuchi people try their best to balance out their incomes with their expenditures and most of them succeed rather well in the long run. Savings and Investments Of the Table 6.8 families, during April only one Indian and two Malay families themselves put aside any money for what they considered savings (item 13); the Indian family was paying into an insurance policy covering the life of the household



head, each Malay family put $5 into saving


later withdrawal.







trip to Mecca but alsc for possible

Now again, there is nothing statistically representative about

the ten families identified in Table 6.8. But as is the case for

these families, in general in Pudthukuchi: (i) most Malays who consciously save on their own save only inthe Tabong Haji fund (in all, thirty-six Malay adults in twenty-seven households are currently paying $5 each per month into the fund), so that they can eventually take the trip to Mecca should they choose to, and (ii) proportionately very few Indians themselves consciously save at all. Concerning the latter point, one of our staff respondents said: ‘What is there for most of the labourers to save? Maybe one family in ten puts something away. Anyway, most want things only for today.’ There are other ways in which the Pudthukuchi people save, however. In kuttus, many are simultaneously participating in a savings arrangement. So are the Indians when they give their moey monies at times of marriage. According to this timehonoured procedure, when a member of one family gets married, members of other concerned families give gifts or money contri-

butions to one or the other or both of the sides involved in the

match. The ‘gifts’, in general, go toward the establishment of the new couple but they are also carefully kept in mind. The giving families expect to receive the equivalent of what they have given, plus a little in ‘interest’, at appropriate times. In a sense, the moey procedure is hardly an investment or savings procedure. Such giving simply links together sets of families, helping them provide occasionally for certain of their members. On the other hand, it can be so considered. People know which others ‘owe’ them what and subtly or otherwise, they point out their grievances if anticipated receipts are not forthcoming appropriately. Several older Pudthukuchi Indians upon returning to India permanently and leaving behind no potential recipients of the ‘returns’ on what they themselves had previously given, went from family to family collecting where possible the ‘balances’ they could. A few Pudthukuchi families (five Indian and eight Malay) own some real estate in other places. Three or four Indian families here have purchased or plan to purchase shares (at



$100 per share) in MIC or NUPW sponsored coopetative invest-

ment programmes.

Three or four Malay families in a parallel

sense have invested in the cooperative attempts undertaken by the NUPW or by groupings designed for the advancement of their own ethnic community. Almost no families in either ethnic group use banks for investing their money, a few own insurance policies and only proportionately very few now, as compared with say twenty years ago, invest in gold or jewellery in saving. On their own, in short, apart from the ‘informal’ patterns of saving involved in kuttus and moeys, few Pudthukuchi people invest or save much. There is a rather precarious balance between incomes and expenditures for most of the families. Formally, however, all who work in Pudthukuchi save in relation to the compulsory employee’s provident fund (EPF) programme. Accordingly, workers and employer’s contribute monthly to a fund available to the employee upon his leaving the estate or upon retirement. Apart from EPF earnings, only two Pudthukuchi people have ever received pensions (amounting to something like $20 to $30 a month) and only a ‘very few’ haveever received any kind of ‘relocation’ allowance

upon dismissal from work or retirement.®

Borrowing Money Perhaps a third of the Pudthukuchi people are paying for things purchased on credit. Wages are normally paid to labourers twice a month; most workers can take out advances occasionally for suitable reasons. Pawn brokers in neighbouring towns are sometimes approached for cash. Other ways of obtaining cash are through banks and private


In relation to the fact that few


people have any association with banks, this avenue in borrowing is largely closed to them. Certified moneylenders in the towns and cities near Pudthukuchi usually charge a monthly 5Relocation’ allowances have so far been calculated at like $20 per year of work. Thus, for example, a person with like twenty years of work behind him might receive $400 for expenses. But, again, only ‘very few’ have so far received

relocation allowances.

something something relocation any such



interest of something like 10 per cent on loans the size of those commonly sought by the Pudthukuchi people (say $100 to $300). For obvious reasons, few use the services of such lenders unless compelled to. For ready cash, the Pudthukuchi people who cannot raise

it in other ways (through kuttus,

friends, advances,

etc.) turn

to local people who also lend money. Rates here vary with reasons for needing the money and personal factors. But the relations involved in such transactions are usually more personally and informally made and guaranteed than is possible when official moneylenders are involved. One of the Indians who lends a little money in Pudthukuchi is an elderly man with a little extra cash he earned in driving his taxi.

Some Notes on Retirement Compulsory retirement in Malaysia comes at fifty-five years of age. EPF earnings for the long-term Pudthukuchi worker, .according to the chief clerk, usually amount to something between $3,000 and $5,000. Few of the people retire with other

major savings.

How are the EPF savings spent? Elderly Indian people are more likely to remain on the estate than are the elderly Malay people (see Table 2.4), the latter more frequently having relatives or acquaintances in other places with whom they can

stay. Those

of either

ethnic group

who retire on the estate

live as dependants of working relatives; those who go off to live elsewhere usually either simply channel their monies into the budgets of those with whom they live or try to put these to

other uses. services.

Some have tried to start little coffee shops or repair

In general,




is more than any of the Pud-

thukuchi labourers have ever had immediate


in the first two

retirement in the

recipients, in turn, have man lost about a quarter was being helpful only absconded. Others have

to. Some

spent their savings very foolishly. One of his receipts to another he thought to find later that the ‘helpful’ man had seen half and more of their money go

or three


of their

requests of borrowing relatives, friends, feasts on had spent lavishly, too much drinking and so on.





Others have fared better. Better or worse, though, once off the estate, the only real life setting most such Indians have ever known, all of them confront numerous difficulties. Not yet established enough in places other than the estate are either the informal or the formal networks that otherwise might assist the elderly Indians in their retirement years. Conclusion . Numerous


ment context.


at work in the Pudthukuchi employ-

The prices of rubber affect wages.


interests in promoting the interests of the Malays have tended to put the Indians on the defensive and they have had to ‘give’ locally as more and more Malays have been employed. Union activities are important in defining working conditions. So are the definitions of management interests in maximizing production. Such influences will continue to operate. But the Pudthukuchi employment context is by now relatively stable. Incomes and numerous other benefits are routinely defined.

Yet there remain numerous difficulties. First, the Pudthu-

kuchi Indians currently have relatively few work options. This is not to say the Indians are not officially planned for in Malaysia’s development plans. But it is to say that planning




far been



minimal on the actual processes

whereby shifts in Indian employment concentrations are to be effected, emphases rather being so far directed towards the understandings of Malay redefinitions. Rightly or not, the result has been a continuing, much higher unemployment rate among Indians than among other groups and a context wherein the

Indians, much themselves.




to look out for

That is, to look at the employment contexts of those who remain in Pudthukuchi and similar places—stable as these are —is to understand only a part of their problem. All these people know very well the difficulties that their fellows who have been forced to seek other employment have gone through. Such understandings often,gain extra emphasis in that these same people understand that at least some of their own children will face similar difficulties when they reach the age of employment, given current trends.



There are jobs in contemporary Malaysia. The problem is that people like the Indians of Pudthukuchi have little or no

training in preparation



elsewhere and they are not

currently receiving enough support, informally or otherwise, to make a fairly easy crossing from the estate context they have always known into the work context outside.


second principal problem has to do with the inadequate

planning most of the Pudthukuchi Indians have put into their own futures. Estate wages are not bad (compare the incomes

identified in Table 6.8 with the overall distributions in Table 6.4 remembering that rent and other amenities are provided

free to the Pudthukuchi people); there often is a conspicuous display of wealth during festivals and ritual family occasions; nine of the Pudthukuchi households already have television sets of their own; some of the young men travel into town almost every evening; among the Indians, fourteen own motorcycles and six own cars, while among the Malays, nineteen own motorcycles and six own cars. Such expenditures, by no stretch of imagination, make Pudthukuchi people rich, and they are obviously made with care; the people continue to spend roughly half of their incomes on food alone. But such expenditures do indicate that considerably more than the barest

necessities are often purchased.

The problem emerges specifically among those who leave the estate and the elderly. And so it will be until the infrastructure of the non-estate Indian community in Malaysia

becomes more stabilized.

7 Religious Beliefs and Practices

Formerly a colonial centre, now as before with large concentrations of Westerners, Indians, Malays and Chinese, the urban area of the island of Penang, Georgetown, is a city in which a fantastic variety of religious beliefs and practices occurs.! Mosques can be found in all parts of the island. Clan association ancestral halls and very many temples provide the settings wherein the mixtures of beliefs and practices that comprise the religious systems of the Chinese are focused. Christian churches are easily located. Along more as well as less travelled roads—sometimes located conspicuously, sometimes near the religious places of others and sometimes off alone—are the temples of the Hindus. With Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, Confucianists and Christians observing different events, a variety in local religious observances is easily understandable. Not only do temple and calendrical festivals vary, so do all of the rites and observances conducted within families. Little as well as great

traditional variations (Redfield, 1954)


in the



which the adherents of the different religious systems view their

4While Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, Malaysia is not an Islamic state. Every person officially has the right to practice and propagate his own religion. This right, however, is subject to state laws prohibiting the propagation of any religious doctrine among persons professing Islam. This, in effect, means the Malays are Muslims and conversion with reference to Islam occurs only to Islam. Every state in Malaysia has ‘he laws appropriate to insure this.

128 worlds.

INDIAN MALAYSIANS Some talk of miracles, charms, the spiritual powers of

persons and animals, capacities of mediums, patron saints and other deities to answer particular requests. Others seek understandings of more abstract and transcendent universal truths. The differences among and within the various traditions of religion in Malaysia are in ways worn down by the calls for unity continuously made and the influences of modern commercialism and secularism. Penang until quite recently was a free port, it currently is losing numerous of its more easy-going charms to the inroads of mass produced automobiles and other of the trappings of the ‘modern’ world. Nevertheless, within the multi-religious Malaysian context, sharp religious differences among the various groups remain. Religious systems

provide the symbols according to which people can identify themselves. They define also the worlds of the people, identi-

fying their backgrounds, the patterns according to which they ‘should’ rear their children, live their lives and: direct their energies. When they came, the Chinese and the Indians brought along their own religious patterns. In this, they were allowed, even encouraged by colonial principals interested in contented workers, whether or not in ‘saving souls’. The closest major city to Pudthukuchi is Penang and the miles between the two places are easily covered. But then, the diversities in religion represented in Penang are also represented throughout Malaysia though in varying degrees. What are the outlines of the religious beliefs and practices

of the Indians in Pudthukuchi?

How do these relate them with

their environments? Reviewing such questions, we will look at local life-cycle ceremonies, temple and household activities, festivals and understandings of religious ideas, always looking only at Hindu procedures. The Malays of Pudthukuchi are Muslims. All but nine of the Indian families (seven are Indian Muslim, two are Christian) are Hindu. Life-Cycle Ceremonies There is nothing entirely standard about the ways in which life-cycle ceremonies are performed in Pudthukuchi. Variables such as income, prestige and household composition influence



procedures. So do general caste differences. Yet incomes in Pudthukuchi are roughly comparable among many of the

workers, allowing many of them similar kinds and there is a considerable uniformity in the usually followed. These uniformities concern ing pages. .

of expectations,

basic procedures us in the follow-

NAMING This ceremony (peiyar sootum vizha) is customarily observed during the fifteenth evening following the child’s birth. A few relatives and close friends attend, paying due attention to the newborn and enjoying a meal together. The child’s name is usually selected after at least some con-

sultation with his horoscope.

This can help in the selection


the name’s first ‘sound’. For example, ‘su’, ‘thu’ or ‘ka’ might be indicated. With a selection like ‘su’, a male child might be named after Lord Murugan, as Subramaniam: if female, perhaps as Sundari. If a couple bears a child after approaching a particular deity for help in this, the child will almost certainly be named after this deity. A successful approach to Murugan, for example, might result in the child’s being named Murugan, Subramaniam or Kandhan, all references to the same deity. As in India, the names used by Indian Malaysians have almost always had some specific religious reference. Though for many, this continues to be so, here, as in India, there is an increase in the use of names other than those of deities. In such cases, neither horoscope nor vows to deities are commonly involved. EAR-PIERCING

Almost no boys now have their ears pierced but the practice of ear-piercing is still popular among women. Almost all Tamil

girls have their ears pierced when they are young.

At one time, this ceremony (kathani vizha) usually

big feast.

Now feasts are seldom


includes only members of the family.



a goldsmith


If invited



included a


to come



do the



piercing) charges about


Thus families


often simply

take their child along ona trip to Penang or another town, getting the job done for $3 as they accomplish other things. PUBERTY

Puberty ceremonies have not been observed on a grand scale among the Pudthukuchi Indians for at least a decade and they have never been observed for males. Some parents at one time marked this life-cycle event for their daughters by holding a martriage-like celebration. Such attention would now embarrass most girls and parents no longer insist on public observances. Instead, the occasion is now usually simply observed within the family. On the fifteenth day after a girl’s first menses

begins, a tray bearing some turmeric water and lime (called aalam)—plus some betel leaves, one dried chilli, a piece of charcoal and some incense—is ‘shown around’ the girl’s face

several times, then thrown out. The girl attends this little ceremony in a new sari and blouse and usually wears garlands

of flowers.

For about the next

vegetarian food to eat.




Nothing more is involved.

is given


MARRIAGE By far the majority of the marriages in Pudthukuchi

least partially arranged.

At one time a middleman

are still at

(a tharagar)

regularly helped families find suitable partners for their children, receiving pay for his services. Now, increasingly, friends and relatives perform this function.

Though marriages are generally arranged, the people

married are almost always now


a voice in finally

mining the suitability of the proposed match.


to be




obtained—and sometimes even without—the horoscopes of the two are normally consulted to determine whether or not they ‘match’. If they do not and the problems implied are basic, the planning is stopped. If they do, a ‘contracting ceremony’ is planned for later. The contracting ceremony (nichaya thartham) is held at the

prospective bride’s home.

The prospective





brings along betel leaves, areca nuts, bananas, flowers, sandal wood dust, some kungkumam (a red powder), turmeric and coconut. The exchange of these items between the bride’s and the groom’s parents (the exchange of the thambalam) signifies that the girl involved is contracted for marriage with the boy. In turn, the groom’s party is given food. Then the most significant event of the contracting ceremony, discussions about how many sovereigns of gold the groom’s people will give for the bride, take place. Conclusions here depend upon the status, abilities and incomes of the two families and the earning prospects of the people to be married. The bride’s people announce how much they will give the couple only after the groom’s people have committed themselves. Discussions here are detailed and they sometimes involve hard bargaining. Families ‘invest’ in the matches and they become linked in the process. The discussions almost always involve gold. For one thing, it is a traditionally prestigious offering. For another, it is difficult to cheat with gold. Said one of our women respondents:

A person can show his bank account and promise to pay

a certain sum. But his account may be no good or he may try to cheat. If he promises to pay in gold, he must bring in the amount promised. There is no gold account. Next comes the






horoscopes are consulted in the selection of a good day. Normally this ceremony is held inthe evening at the bride’s house.

The ceremony begins with the arrival of a number of women (five, seven or nine, but never an even number), each bearinga tray. The trays themselves bear the items brought along by the groom’s people: white sugar in lumps; turmeric, betel leaves and areca nuts; coconuts (again an odd number only); promised gold ornaments, a sari and blouse; garlands and flowers; fruits; sandalwood dust; scented water

and kungkumam.?2

*Seven clusters of items are listed in the series given—hence seven trays. If only five trays were to be used, the coconuts would go with the turmeric, etc., the flowers with the gold and jewellery.



After the trays and their offerings are viewed by those who want to and if everything is as it should be, an elderly, highly respected man picks up the tray with the gold and gives it to the bride’s father, saying, ‘This now belongs to you, your daughter belongs to him’ (meaning the groom). The bride’s

father then acknowledges this three times and the most important part of the betrothal ceremony is over. The bride next

tries on her new sari and gold ornaments, and sometimes now the couple exchanges rings. The marriage ceremony takes place at the groom’s house. The bride normally arrives the day before though her arrival

sometimes varies with the distance





If it is easily covered, she may travel over on the wedding day. Astipulation is that a bride should not travel to her groom’s place on a Tuesday or a Friday, both inauspicious days. Thus, if the marriage is to take place on either of these days, she usually plans to arrive the day before. If this is impossible, in order to counter the possible ill-effects of this travelling, the couple is supposed to return to the bride’s house immediately after the ceremony. Under normal conditions, the couple returns to the bride’s home only on the third day after her arrival at the groom’s home, returning again to the

groom’s home three days later. By tradition, the bride’s parents should give

the couple


oil lamp, a brass vessel (chembu), a tray and a brass water carrier (kudam), the carrier being offered filled with an odd number (fifty-one, sixty-one, seventy-one or 101, for example) of sweet-cakes (athirasams). The bride’s people can additionally give whatever else they wish—for example, a radio, a bed, a mattress or an electric fan. By tradition, the newlyweds

should not be given a broom or a winnowing basket (muram).

If possible, the couple next visits the bride’s former home (for three days) in the third month of marriage. At this time, she receives a new sari, he anew dhoti, and she changes her original thali if she has not already done so.® *The thali is a symbol of marriage. It is tied around the bride’s neck

during the wedding ceremony.



BIRTH OF THE First CHILD The parents of a daughter usually invite her to come home for the birth of her first child. Better-off parents may invite their daughters during the seventh month of pregnancy, others only during the last days. Almost no deliveries are now made at home, almost all the people coming to recognize the advantages of hospital assistance. Ideally, the new mother’s parents

are supposed to provide the newborn with a gold chain or gold

bangles. At least they some swaddling clothes.



child with a cradle and


The Pudthukuchi people almost always bury ratherthan


Sudra and Harijan level castes












India cremate


dead), this means of disposing of bodies is currently less than one-third the price of cremations ($150 vs. $500). The bodies of young children are always buried. The barber (ambattan) is responsible for preparing the firepot to be carried (by an eldest soninthe death of a mother, if possible) during the funeral procession. The washerman (dhoby or vannan) is in charge of preparing the neiy pandham (a stick with a ghee soaked cloth wrapped at one end to be lighted and carried) and he collects, disposes of and cleans appropriately the clothes of the deceased and affected members of his family. Parayans prepare the grave. On the fifteenth day after death, a special rite (karumathi or athma santhi) is observed. Again, numerous people are involved and the techniques of performance are carefully

defined. Sixteen days after the death of a husband, the widow’s thali is takenfrom her by other widows and only widows are supposed to watch this procedure. From now on the widow is not permitted to wear jewellery and is supposed to wear only a white sari. Some




of the ceremonies described are described in thorough

134 detail, especially the marriage and




more do’s and don’ts than have been mentioned outline the

marriage process and funerals are conducted differently depending on the organization of the household conducting the ceremony and the relationship of the deceased to those remaining. Then too, whatever the underlying similarities of such ceremonies in Pudthukuchi, the variations between higher and lower level castes in their performances of these are sometimes striking. Enough has been written, however, to enable some general considerations. First, family relationships obviously remain basically important in defining both the life-cycle ceremonies of the Pudthukuchi Indians and their subsequent social-rights and responsibilities. Second, religious considerations permeate almost all of these observances. The ear-piercing ceremony now involves few

such considerations and most observances have been

cut back

in ways—for reasons of embarrassment, financial shortage, secularity and disinterest. Additionally, none of the Pudthukuchi people feel it important to be able to or find it interesting to speculate about such things as the religious reasons for ‘odd number’ specifications in the performance of ceremonial duties. Such things are simply accepted at face value. But at least most of the people know these can be explained within their religious system by those who are supposed to know. Their everyday involvement in the performance of such cere-

monies, furthermore, helps them to know

some of the ways in

which they and their people are different from others.

Household and Temple Worship HOUSEHOLD WoRSHIP Life-cycle ceremonies involve families and household members.

Every Hindu household in Pudthukuchi hasa deity corner or puja arai. Several pictures of favoured deities usually hang here, sometimes also a picture of a leader like C.N. Annadurai (the late leader of the DMK in Tamilnadu) or Mahatma Gandhi and perhaps the picture of a deceased family member. During festival occasions especially, an oil lamp and incense are often lighted in honouring preferred deities. Usually then



too, prayers and some flowers, bananas, coconut, betel leaves or other items are offered. During the rest of the year, most people approach their household deities very irregularly, perhaps only about a quarter of them giving prayers regularly throughout the year.

TEMPLE WoRSHIP There are several well-known temples to

Vishnu in Malaysia.







Some of the Telugus set up Rama temples

when they came. By far the most popular Indians are Murugan and Mariaman.


The overwhelming majority of the Indians in Malaysia came originally from the lower and lowest levels of Indian caste society.

Most of them came also of South Indian backgrounds.

Both of these factors help



level deities of the Hindu pantheon (for


of the higher-




Siva) are of relatively little direct significance here. Lowerlevel groups in Indian civilization are far less Sanskritic in their

beliefs and practices than are groups higher in the system (Singer, 1964; Kolenda, 1964). South Indians, since the early years of this century, have known leaders who have railed against Brahminic Hinduism (and Hindi, Brahmins, etc.), marking it as an instrument of ‘northern imperialism’, DMK teachings remain popular among Indian Malaysians. According to Hindu mythology, Murugan is actually

Subramaniam, one of the offspring of Siva and Parvathi. But few of the Indians like those in Pudthukuchi care much about

the linkages between Subramaniam and higher level Hindu beings. Their own interests remain primarily on a practical

level. Mariaman is the goddess of small-pox, other such diseases. These seldom now

chicken-pox and find victims in

Malaysia. As among the lower caste people in South India, however, Mariaman remains very important among the people both for her traditional and her other capacities.

PUDTHUKUCHI TEMPLES All the larger towns








many of these have Murugan as their centrally important deity. The Pudthukuchi people visit these from time to time, ally during festival occasions.

In Pudthukuchi


the Mariaman temple


is by far the

most important. Located centrally, a tile-roofed, open-sided shelter surrounds the gopuram in which the deity’s symbol is situated. Tuesdays and especially Fridays are particularly good days for approaching Mariaman but only five or six regularly do so even on these days. More commonly, people approach Mariaman only when they have special requests, for example doing so in the attempt to prevent or fight an illness or in doing

their best to prepare for an examination. weddings are held under the





Pudthukuchi guests


fed following ceremonies. Many people loaf or rest under the shelter. And temple facilities are fully used during festival periods.

The first Mariaman temple was built just after Ladang Getah was first established—about two miles from the present Pudthukuchi lines area. This structure, still visited occasionally by a few people, is by now close to ruins, almost completely and

quite beautifully wrapped up

in the encircling branches

banyan tree. The main Mariaman and has been carefully maintained.

temple is the most important centre the Pudthukuchi Indians.

of a

temple was built in 1938 Like the former was, this

in the community

life of

The second most important temple in Pudthukuchi

is the

Muniandi temple situated just at the outskirts of the lines area.

Muniandi is a watchman, a protector of a village or area. His garments are red and he is offered limes and toddy, the latter . so that he will draw his bow boldly’ when necessary. His

three-foot, heavily moustached figure in the temple is enclosed in

a masonry structure. A ten by twelve foot cement area in front is sheltered by a tin roof erected by a lottery winner who appreciated the help he felt he had received from Muniandi when drawing correctly. In the views of the people, Muniandi stands guard. And in five or six places on the estate, little ‘shrines’ to Muniandi can be found. One of our respondents said: You don’t need to notice








much. They see an anti-hill or a tree with a strange shape and they go and pray there, maybe putting a little red cloth on a stick or something for Muniandi. Whatever the expressed sarcasm of some, such little sometimes become quite permanent. And with good Often they stand to guard the task area of a particular and perhaps to prevent snake-bites and the effects of evil

shrines reason. tapper spirits.

THE PUSARI The current priest in Pudthukuchi (pusari) came in June or July of 1973. He lives in the house provided for him and is paid his salary of $95 a month out of temple committee funds.

No other formal allowances are added to this basic amount but he can often make an additional $20 or so a month in

conducting ceremonies among the people. however, he and his family are among

Whatever this extra, the poorest on the

estate. This fact coupled with his relative ignorance of



gious, his lack of priestly qualities and his clear lack of faith in appropriate deities finds him in a relatively lowly local posi-


He is of a

Sudra jati—but

this makes no difference.

There are few Brahmins in Malaysia; in any case, relatively few Brahmins have ever served in a priestly capacity the personal requirements of people of the social levels of the Pudthukuchi people. More important are other factors. With refer-

ence to his faith, for example, he refuses to ‘walk

on fire’


festivals) though most of his predecessors did. With reference to his attributes, the following is illustrative. While the pusari once talked informally with a group of adults, one of these took the pusari’s hand and said, ‘Look at all the dirt under your nails. Go and clean them. How can you be a pusari if your hands are like this?’ We will note subsequently that no



the attitudes

toward their religion.


of the




Yet obviously, most of them



people little

respect for their priest. This they explain is purely a particular dislike. But it also goes further than this.



TEMPLE COMMITTEE Automatically each month $2 is subtracted by the management from the pay cheque of each Hindu labourer. The resultant sum is accessible for expenditure by the temple committee. As a service, thus, eighty dollars are paid toward the expenses incurred in each adult funeral. Out of these funds, locally sponsored festivals are funded. Temple funds have also been used to assist persons with very special needs and for such things as the television set in the Mariaman temple shelter. Committee members are elected by adult Hindus. Though this process is often somewhat haphazardly carried out, these members hold relatively important positions within the local community. Again, the Mariaman temple and its concerns focus numerous of the most important activities in the religious

and social

life of the




temple is supported through voluntary contributions.


Festivals At least a few of the Pudthukuchi Indians observe many

occasions identified in the




of the


to Alor Setar and several to Penang in 1974, taking in some of the Chitraparuvam festivities there. A few remember Lord Krishna’s birthday and some light a lamp or burn a little incense to mark the Navarathri festival. As a part of various festivals, lamps are placed ‘ drive away the “darkness” and to let prosperity and awareness take its place’, or simply to curry favour where possible. Such observances are important for some of the people. Overall, the most important festivals for the Pudthukuchi people are Thaipusam, Deepavali and the local fire-walking observances. Thaipusam and Deepavali are commonly recognized as being the most important festivals among Indian Malaysians; we shall see below why fire-walking must be added,

at least for the Pudthukuchi people. THAIPUSAM

Thaipusam, a festival honouring Lord Subramaniam, is celebrated



in Malaysia primarily in the city areas where there also are large concentrations of Indians—Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh and Sungei Patani. At all such places, a general procession is involved in the three-day festival. In the Kuala Lumpur area, this proceeds from the Sri Maha Mariaman temple at Batu Caves to the temple inside the caves; in Penang it goes from the





to the Waterfall


Chettiar’s) temple, then to the Lord Subramaniam hill temple. Thaipusam is certainly a religious festival. The processions involved are primarily made up in all places by devotees carrying kavadis. These are sometimes nothing more than a container of water or milk. Sometimes, they are a simple decorated frame with a picture of Lord Subramaniam to be carried

balanced ona

shoulder. But often the kavadis also are decorated,

metal-ribbed frames supported by their carriers in part by shoulder harnesses, in part by the many sharply pointed metal spokes that penetrate his body. In addition to those who carry kavadis, Thaipusam processions also include many who demonstrate their faith in or allegiance

to Lord Subramaniam in other ways.

Many kavadi carriers and

others walk along with limes hanging on hooks stuck into their bodies. Others pull ‘carts’ with strings attached to body hooks. And some march along with long (say four foot in average Jength but up to fifteen foot) metal rods stuck through their

cheeks or the skin of their sides. Why

do devotees carry kavadis or otherwise take part in the

processions? The reasons are as numerous as those

for which

people approach deities in most places. Most, however, do so to fulfil vows, either their own or those made for them by others. They participate in honouring the commitment made to do so if health was restored, a child was conceived, an examination was passed or a job was obtained. In preparing to carry kavadis or march with hooks or spikes in parts of their bodies, those who do so are supposed to think

‘clean’ thoughts, socially participate accordingly, and eat only vegetarian foods for appropriate periods before the event. In

turn, almost all participants would agree that what appears to the outsider as tortuous is hardly felt at all, leaving no ill aftereffects. They know they have Lord Subramaniam’s assistance. In this also, however, they know the chants of priests and their



supporters, the smells of incenses, the pressures of crowds and the swoonings of others as they don their own kavadis or are ‘possessed’ with spiritual powers. Throughout they find strong social encouragement from their people. Thaipusam is a religious occasion. Obviously, it is more as


Refreshment stalls (thaneer panthals) are set up along the

procession route. Family members often accompany kavadi bearers. Groups of five to ten young fellows dance loosejointedly—often to the most modern popular music—around


Women, children and-men, dressed in their best, watch

along the roads. Hawkers of trinkets, drinks and other refreshments do a brisk trade and many festival participants are fed at participating temples during the occasion. Temple spokesmen make statements in preparation for Thaipusam such as the following: this‘. . .is a festival in praise of Lord Subramaniam and not afun fair’ (reported in the Straits Echo, 21 January 1974). Accordingly, they advise only the playing of religious songs and behaviour that will make ‘. . the occasion look more like a religious affair’. Whatever the effects of such statements, the social exuberance evident duringa major Thaipusam festival

in Malaysia is abundant.

Some 1,000 persons bore kavadis during the 1974 Thaipusam processions at the Batu Caves; another 1,000 did so in Penang. A few (six to eight) of the kavadi carriers at both places were Chinese. The rest were Indians. Some Malays watched at both places but, as usual, none of them participated. At both the Batu Caves and Penang, some 200,000 to 400,000 people

turned days.

up at the principal temples invoived during the festival

DEEPAVALI Deepavali (the ‘Festival of Lights’) celebrations contrast sharply with those of Thaipusam. Hindus go to temples to offer prayers or present offerings. Otherwise, this is a relatively quiet day of visitation. Malaysian newspapers make much of how members of different ethnic groups visit back and forth on occasions like Deepavali and Hari Raya, occasions when Hindus and Muslims, respectively, hold ‘open’ their homes to all visitors. And indeed,



there is a considerable amount of inter-ethnic visiting on such occasions among students, neighbours, political office-holders and others, particularly in urban areas. The visitation that occurs is generally intra-ethnic in rural areas.

Fire-WALKING Fire-walking festivals are commonly held by particular temples. One was held when the new Subramaniam temple was dedicat-

ed in Bukit Mertajam, an annual festival is held before the Sri Maha Mariaman temple in Minden, Penang, and many such

festivals are held during the course of a year in particular estate areas.

The details of fire-walking festivals vary. But their general outlines are usually similar. A bed of red-hot coals (perhaps six by twenty feet and six inches deep) is prepared, usually by lower caste labourers. Devotees carrying kavadis of a variety similar to those involved in the Thaipusam procession, again to Lord Subramaniam, approach the pit walking along a route marked with leaves, palm fronds and other decorations and along which pictures of various deities are hung. Devotees prepare themselves for their kavadi bearing and fire-walking in diet, thought and activity. Offerings are made before the first person crosses and usually the first person across is a priest invited for the occasion from


other place.


devotees momentarily stop to dance

while crossing the coals but tarrying is little if at all allowed.

Whatever the faith and desires of such crossers—and often here

as in the Thaipusam proceedings, an ecstasy among the participating devotees is easy enough to see—ceremonyassistants hurry them on (being ready also to catch them should they fall), after the crossing holding them firmly as they plant

their feet in a little ditch filled with a fresh milk solution.

Following their crossings, devotees commonly dance around the nearby temple, bearing their kavadis and other encumbrances. They then have these removed inside the temple in the presence of what they trust is now a deity well-pleased with

their fulfilment of a vow or demonstration the day of a fire-walking ceremony, commonly provides vegetarian food

of commitment.


the temple concerned for all who wish to



partake. After the walking, several invited individuals or a group or two from some neighbouring town or estate may dance to drum and musical accompaniment, anda film or drama will usually be sponsored for later in the evening.

FESTIVALS AND THE PUDTHUKUCHI PEOPLE Some of those more sophisticated in Hinduism’s



of some of the observances during Thaipusam and fire-walking :



who don’t know any better do things like pierce

their bodies with rods and walk on coals’.




more common among the upper class, upper caste and educated Indians than among others, however, and most Indian Malaysians, urban and rural, are lower class, lower caste and poorly

educated. Most of the Pudthukuchi Indians belong

with the majority

just described. Roughly a third of them in their own estimates, travelled out to take part in the 1974 Thaipusam festivites in

one or another of the neighbouring cities (particularly, Penang

and Sungei Patani).

enjoyed their outings.

By their reports, most of them immensely

Fire-walking ceremonies are customarily held in Pudthukuchi about once in two years. In relation to the 1974 observances, the one dozen kavadi carriers proceeded from the original Mariaman temple to the Mariaman temple in the middle of the community before which the bed of coals had been prepared. Their final approach to the coals was led by a tractor pulling a trailer on which a large image of Lord Subramaniam had been mounted and by a small musical band comprised of young men

dressed al] in white. After offering prayers, the young priest invited for the occasion walked across the coals first, then

waited at the far side as the devotees came across one by one. A couple of women in the audience and several young men were completely possessed by ‘spirits’ as they watched and had to be carried off by friends. After walking over or passing around the coals,4 devotees and their accompanying friends ‘Men almost always walk across the coals. Women

most often instead circle the coals several times.

sometimes do




and/or relatives circled the temple thrice, then entered to remove their burdens. During the evening, the invited priest and the band of young boys danced and otherwise entertained those watching under the shelter attached to the temple. That same evening and the next, Tamil movies were shown near the temple. During the afternoon of the festival day, some 1,000 people were fed at the temple. Perhaps thirty or forty Malays (almost all of them young and male) and a few Chinese watched the proceedings. The rest were Indians, many of them coming from neighbouring estates. Many of the vendors here like at most such observances were Chinese, most of them coming in from neighbouring towns for the occasion. The guest of honour was the estate’s manager; other important visitors were those he invited. These included members of the area’s police and administrative services. In all, about 2,000 watched or took part in the day’s activities. Pudthukuchi Deepavali celebrations are simple and familyoriented, not at all like those involved in Thaipusam and firewalking. Homes are fixed up for this holiday occasion, special


are served


most of the people dress in their best.

Some evening public entertainment is usually sponsored (a movie or a drama) but, most of all, at this time family members remember their own and visit among themselves and their


Gods and the People Back about 1965, drought conditions worried the Pudthukuchi people. So the Indians made a representation of a woman, an

effigy hugely proportioned in bosom and bottom, then dragged

it around the community on a cart. The young and the men made lewd remarks as it passed, the women spat at it and threw things. A good deal of humour was involved. But so too were other things. One of our respondents explained the consequences of the action of the people like this: ‘The (goddess of Tain) saw what we were doing and was ashamed of the way we were suffering. So the rains came.’ The people did what they knew they could and they would do similar things again if confronted by a situation calling for the same remedies.



The gods most of the Pudthukuchi people know are approachable and approached. A few years back, some young men who wanted to pick the right three-digit number in a lottery took a young ‘innocent’ boy along with them to the old Mariaman temple at night. On the way they dipped him three times ina stream; at the temple they asked him what number he ‘saw’. Reporting ‘none’, they put some lime paste in the palm of his hand then had him walk around the temple three times. Again he saw no number. The same night, finally, they wrote numbers on slips of paper, then had the boy draw three of these randomly. They played the number thus comprised in the lottery (to no avail).

Many other illustrations yield similar understandings.


one Pudthukuchi mother and her husband anticipated difficulties

in delivery,



at the

St. Anne’s Church

in Bukit

Mertajam to give the child a Christian name if the delivery was an easy one.® It was, and the parents fulfilled their vow. The

young Indian Muslim who leads the 555’s in Pudthukuchi claims Murugan is his favoured deity.6 He explains like this:

What difference does it make if Iam a Muslim? I had bad

stomach pains. So I vowed to Lord Murugan to carry a kavadi during Thaipusam if my pains were cleared up. They were and I carried a kavadi. I have had no stomach pains


When a woman in welfare people with she accused. Was he said he would swear

a nearby town claimed she was raped, the the help of the police picked up the man responsible? He swore he wasn’t and he the same thing before Muniandi. In turn,

‘People from all over Malaysia









annual St. Anne’s feast at the church. Numerous miracle

cures have been associated with feast-day activities. “The Indian Muslims in Pudthukuchi, in general, are more attuned with the Indian community than is the Muslim, Malay community. The Malays feel the religious orientations of the Indian Muslims are suspect at best. The Indian Muslims are far more at home recreationally, language-wise and socially with the Indians.

"For whatever it might be worth, since






represented, he has had an inflamed appendix removed.





the welfare officer explained: That’s what we'll have him do next. The people usually will not tell lies before Muniandi. If this fellow denies raping the woman at the temple, we will probably do nothing more

to him.

The person who built the shelter before the Muniandi temple in Pudthukuchi did so because he felt Muniandi had assisted

him. And, finally, people walk on coals or carry kavadis in fulfilling vows or placing requests, all in dealing with their deities. The deities most Pudthukuchi Indians approach are those from whom they know they can expect particular blessings in relation to the making of particular agreements. And in agreement-making, they approach any deity they think may be helpful while simultaneously, of course, keeping in touch with

favoured deities. The Pudthukuchi Indians feel they are less interested in charms, spirits and magical powers than are their Malay fellows. However, they do seem to have fewer such orientations than do their lower caste fellows in at least certain South Indian village

areas (see Hiebert, 1971; Wiebe, 1969). Very few of any age wear charms, most are afraid of the dark now more for nonspiritual than spiritual reasons and the symbols often placed before South Indian homes to




off the


spirit are seldom




of man,

found here.


Worshippers may not understand the higher standing

Obviously, these people like their counterparts in Indian villages, are involved in Hinduism more at ‘little’ (common, ‘nonliterate’) than at ‘great traditional’ (abstract, ‘literate’) levels. But it seems some of the more magical-animistic perspectives these people might once have had, have been dropped. Meanwhile, limited as their religious understandings are, many can be tied in with more abstract level understandings. This is clear both in physical and interpretational reality. The symbolic representations of Lord Ganesh—the Hindu elephant-headed deity commonly approached at the start of any venture to help assure a successful outcome—are situated before both the Muniandi and Mariaman figures in their respective of Ganesh in the Hindu pantheon,

but they at least nod

to his



representation as they approach Muniandi and Mariaman, knowing this helps insure success. With reference to interpretations, most of the people realize full well that Hinduism’s teachings are far more elaborate than are their own understandings. There are no pilgrimage centres in the Malaysian context similar to the pilgrimage centres in the Indian context, centres that are places of religious learning,

recreation, festival and ‘integration’ for those within the centre’s

realm of influence.








observances and the reports of travellers returned from India keep many aware of persons who know more than they of Hinduism.

Among other things, a few travelling pilgrims have

periodically passed



and similar places,

spending an evening or two talking with those who wished to ‘learn’. And some of the previous priests at times read a portion or two from the Bhagavad Gita or another sacred text, interpreting in places. Even the best informed among the Pudthukuchi Indians know little more than that dharma has something to do ‘. . .with doing things to help others’, karma to the doing of good and bad things and the receiving of good and bad in turn, appropriately, and punya to the storing up of a supply of ‘credit’ from which to draw when necessary. Travelling pilgrims as such are less popular now than they were before the days of television and similar introductions. But whatever the understandings of the people, all of them certainly know they are acceptably Hindu. And of course they are. Hinduism very carefully recognizes and allows for differences in beliefs and practices, often encouraging higher level, more universalistic understandings but seldom forcing these upon the unprepared. *The sphere of influence of some Indian pilgrimage centres obviously extends across the Jength and breadth of the country. The influence of others is more regionally limited. Some Indian Malaysians, especially those looking ahead to retirement, some day hope to visit certain Indian pilgrimage centres. Many know of at least some of these. Within the Malaysian context, the closest thing to a regional pilgrimage centre would have to be one of the cities where major Thaipusam festivals are held. The differences are obvious. Yet, in ways they serve the Indians in a region of Malaysia in much the same way pilgrimage centres in India serve the people.



Conclusion The leader of a ‘Divine Life Society’ lives on an estate that borders Pudthukuchi. He explains that his society encourages teetotalism, vegetarianism and more worshipful attitudes among Hindus, but he adds that very few are interested. None of the Pudthukuchi people belong, only three or four on his own estate




of conversion to another religious system

among the people in the Pudthukuchi area are very low. The local people hear of some Chinese converts to Islam from time to time, particularly in urban areas.






They currently







Christianity in Malaysia today is primarily non-evangelical. Malays by law are not to be proselytized. And Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism are certainly not generally interested

here in proselytizing, wherever else they might be. The Divine

Life Society leader referred to here, when asked if he knew of any persons of other ethnic groups who had become Hindu,

said ‘yes’ immediately.

But when challenged by his wife, the

only example he could give was of a Malay woman who had married an Indian man. And this marriage had occurred before Independence, before such conversions were declared ‘impos-

sible’. Examples of conversions across other ethnic lines in the Pudthukuchi area are equally hard to find.

Though every person in Malaysia has the right to profess and practice his own religion (within the limits identified), those

who profess Islam have a certain edge. Their religion is the state religion. Though normally this makes no difference, from time to time, sometimes purposefully and sometimes unknowingly, Malay government officials in their public statements

sometimes cross the vague having

line between


is implied


Islam as the state religion and what would be implied

if Malaysia were to be an Islamic state. Their statements have sometimes












Chinese. Such considerations make a difference in the multi-religious context of Malaysia.

But just as the

munities in Malaysia remain socially separated,.so remain distinct in their religious orientations.

do they



In Pudthukuchi, religious insularity basically accompanies ethnic insularity and there are no prospects whatever of any major changes in this. Tbe only indications of changes there are among the local Indians in fact have to do with the shortening, streamlining and secularizing of certain ceremonies and things like naming children with ‘...short, sweet names like Pushpa or Priya’ rather than after deities. They have almost nothing whatsoever to do with inter-ethnic exchanges. Given this insularity, what is the condition of Hinduism in Malaysia as viewed from the Pudthukuchi context? First, our evidence suggests beliefs and practices at the level of the family and household are strong. Though some ceremonies have been cut back, others, particularly marriage and funeral ceremonies, are still very carefully observed. All households have puja arais. But then a strength at this level might have been expected. Deepavali observances here are routine as they are among most Indians in Malaysia, and the organization of the family in Pudthukuchi (as we noted in Chapter 4) is strong. Second, our evidence indicates that religious procedures and understandings at the level of the Pudthukuchi community are also strong just as is the case among Indians in many other

local communities in the country.

Third, and most generally, our conclusion

is that Hinduism

is alive and well in Malaysia as well. Among the Pudthukuchi

people, there are many who would say the young today are not as religiously inclined as once they might have been. But these same people, knowing the realities of Thaipusam and related observances, quickly add that whatever happens at a local level will not happen on a wider level. They kriow that Hinduism’s ideological demands are slight, allowing for tremendous diversities in both beliefs and practices, and they know that Indians are not joining other religious. systems. In India, some of the more dramatic aspects of festival and

ceremonial observances—for example, the piercing of the flesh

with rods and hooks—have been prohibited by law. In Malaysia, they are allowed, even encouraged. In a sense, this is due to the ‘needs’ of the Hindu community to attract attention to its own religious traditions, given the multi-religious environment it knows in Malaysia. To put it differently, the ideal-typification of Hindu observances here symbolically tends to preserve and



intensify this religion’s own local identifications. Cut off from India in ways, yet still culturally and socially aligned in others, the Indians in Malaysia are symbolically relatively well-united. No caste-level festivals of anything like the significance of the Deepavali, fire-walking and Thaipusam festivals can be


in Pudthukuchi.

In some ceremonies, particular castes


of Indian settings out

still perform particular functions when and where possible. But this is only marginally reflective of what often occurs in the

of which


of the


Malaysians originally came. In the long run, the developments here bear careful watching; what happens will be related to

what happens to caste considerations in the country.

8 Factions and Disputes

We have been looking in turn at the ways in which various dimensions of life in Pudthukuchi are organized. In this chapter, the factors involved in one major local controversy will be viewed. .

On the face of it, the issue to be examined is entirely straight-

forward. It involved first the decision to hold a fire-walking ceremony sometime during the first ten days of April 1974, then the decision to cancel the ceremony entirely, finally (sometime in early August) the decision again to hold the ceremony, this time in October. Changes in plans occur in any community. To look into the factors involved in this particular set of reversals, however, is to gain an inside view of the ways in which the various processes of life among the Pudthukuchi Indians are related and appear to be emerging. Background Considerations In early January 1974, Rangaswamy and





the leader of the dissident coalition referred to

in Chapter 5, the person who became general secretary of the Pudthukuchi NUPW branch in March—were given $300 by the Pudthukuchi temple committee so that they could stage a ‘drama’ during the 14 January Pongal celebrations. Later on, thinking they would also like to be in charge of some of the entertainment during the fire-walking observances, the dissidents agreed to sponsor a film show or drama in response to




a promised donation of $300 from the temple committee. But as April rolled around, Rangaswamy and his supporters came to insist they needed $450 rather than the promised $300 to stage the entertainment they planned. The temple committee refused to give more than it had agreed upon


the argument by Rangaswamy that if the


amount were given he and his group would not in any way disrupt the planning for the fire-walking. Subsequently, numerous rumours circulated to the effect that the fire-walking preparations would be obstructed. Thus the temple committee decided no such ceremony should be held in 1974. Whether or not the ceremony could have proceeded without a major incident had Rangaswamy and his followers been granted the $450 they finally sought is open to question. The

fact is that

the fire-walking

was only

rescheduled after the

temple committee just referred to resigned and was replaced in its entirety. The $450 debate only papered over other considerations. Factors Among the factors involved in the fire-walking issue were power, money, corruption and deceit, administrative secrecy, caste problems and problems in communication and personality. These are discussed below.

POWER CONNECTIONS Until very recently, Maniam was both the general

the local branch of the NUPW

and one of the most




members of the temple committee. Rangaswamy took over Maniam’s NUPW position and later brought about the resig-

nation of the entire old temple committee with the help of his supporters. Maniam views very sarcastically Rangaswamy’s influence Ladang Getah’s manager. Says he:



Rangaswamy brought a few friends to (the last NUPW elections) and ousted us. He was successful in becoming the




of grass-cutting.


he cannot even maintain his easy job

Now he has to work in the hot



ing all day. Let him suffer. Only then will he learn. Do you think Rangaswamy can enter the manager’s office like I used to? The manager is like fire now. I hear that he shouts at Rangaswamy. You must know how to behave with the manager. He is the boss of the estate. You are working under him. You can’t talk law with him. He has the power to do what he wants. We must approach him properly. See what Rangaswamy is doing! That’s what I mean. Rangaswamy

job than before.

is indeed now working at


a less comfortable

the recent contests between him and his

supporters on the one hand, and Maniam and his supporters on the other, have resulted in Rangaswamy and his supporters

taking over most of the power attendant with both the Pudthu-

kuchi NUPW and temple committees. Their opposition finally made it impossible for the temple committee previously in power to sponsor the fire-walking; their gaining of power enabled its rescheduling and, finally, its successful observance. Rangaswamy’s success in gaining the NUPW general secretary’s job took more than his bringing along a few of his friends to an appropriate meeting, then getting himself voted into

office. It involved also his use of a number of union issues and

his mobilization of thus far under-represented local groups. In reference to one of the union issues involved, the old guard (Maniam and his supporters) had often argued it would sometimes be all right if tappers and other workers, because of rain during the week and so on, made up work on Sundays at regu-

lar pay



in this they received considerable support

among many of the Pudthukuchi people. Many wanted

up the extra money involved.

to pick

Rangaswamy and his supporters, however, took a much more legalistic, opposing stance, arguing that any work on Sunday (the officially agreed upon day of rest), according to

agreements between MAPA and NUPW had to be rewarded at double pay rates no matter who sought the work and no matter what the reasons involved.

Other debates on similar issues developed and Rangaswamy and his supporters usually found it possible to demonstrate



that the old guard in the local NUPW was more attuned with management’s interests than they were. They also argued that they would be better able to serve the ‘interests of the people’

than would the others.

In a sense, this was a lot of bunk. MAPA/NUPW relations in Malaysia were very good at the time and regional NUPW representatives agreed the same was also specifically true for Ladang Getah. Nevertheless, the issues thus presented struck a

respondent chord,


among the Harijans



come to feel that the old guard had not adequately represented Harijan interests. With reference to the specific techniques in approaching sup-

porters, Rangaswamy and his friends openly championed some of the interests of the Harijans, also

leaders of the 555

working directly with

gang (a gang comprised



of Hari-

jans). From the viewpoint of the old guard, this latter linkage was to be criticized. In fact, it did give Rangaswamy and his supporters the capacity to ‘bully’ a bit the members of the old

temple committee in their


to plan the fire-walking.

From Rangaswamy’s viewpoint, however, the linkage was

reasonable. In his words:


Being friendly with them, I gained. I didn’t lose anything. For example, I asked them to help me collect a little money so an old, low-caste woman would have enough to comme-


the sixteenth

day ceremony




death on a decent scale. They worked well. I know the 555 members don’t always do good things. But then, they wouldn’t be any better if I had nothing to do with them. Anyway, ‘A cork floats even in dirty water’. In Rangaswamy’s analogy, gang was the dirty water.

at worst he was the ‘cork’ and the

THE Money CONNECTION The $300 vs $450 argument cited above obviously concerned money. So did the debate over Sunday work. And so do many other issues argued back and forth between the two major



Pudthukuchi factions. According to a Rangaswamy supporter: Until


five years


the temple committee was

responsible for taking care of the coconut plantation

on the

estate. It then earned some $550 a year in this way. Profits went into the temple treasury. Then the temple committee decided it was too much trouble to hold the contract, so it gave it over to a Chinese man (from a neighbouring town). With the price of coconut now, just think how much the temple committee could earn if it still had the contract. Stupid fellows. Again, for example, when still in the process of disrupting the plans for the fire-walking the first temple committee was trying to establish, the Rangaswamy faction roundly criticized this committee’s thought of hiring contract labour todo the odd jobs involved. This faction’s supporters claimed this would cost more than it would if local young people were employed. In response, members of the temple committee agreed that the suggestion was fine but they simultaneously argued that time was short, that they needed to be able to guarantee that the work was done correctly, that their local opponents would disrupt their plans if local workers were employed, no matter how carefully these were selected. Thus they argued that they were forced to use contract labour. The people of Pudthukuchi are employed in an industrial work context where money patterns are carefully defined and controlled. Almost the only general community pooling of funds occurs in relation to the $2 per labourer subtracted

monthly for access by the temple committee. The ways in which

monies are spent:by this committee, especially in times of dispute, are carefully scrutinized, evidences of misappropriations and so on being actively sought out by those out of power in

their attempt to discredit the others. In short, expenditures here

are indicative of community emphases, tendencies and preferences, the significance of the fund itself tying in with the religious and the symbolic dimensions of local life. QUESTIONS OF CORRUPTION AND DECEIT







his supporters



claimed that the temple committee, in recent years, had not been providing an adequate accounting of its expenditures. Few people took this charge very seriously. The old temple committee was not careless in its expenditures. On the other hand, the members of the old temple committee had ample reason to distrust the contentions of Rangaswamy and his supporters. They found out after the fact that this faction had purposely asked for more than they needed to stage their Pongal drama, on their own using the surplus to purchase a clock for the estate’s reading room. Again, for example, soon after he asked for $450 instead of $300, it became widely known that Rangaswamy was seeking the larger sum hoping again to be left with an excess (this time about $100 to $150) to spend as he and his friends would see fit in further furnish-

ing the reading room.

In response to such facts, Maniam once told us: ‘To get what Rangaswamy wants he will do anything. How can we trust him?’ When we asked whether Rangaswamy could have gotten any money for the reading room in any other way, Maniam answered: ‘We cannot provide everything someone like him asks . for, but maybe we could try. The trouble with him is you never know what he is rea!ly asking for.’ Rangaswamy admits now that he never intended to keep from disrupting the old committee’s plans for the fire-walking ceremony. Looking back, Maniam agrees: ‘They were determined not to let us go ahead’. ADMINISTRATIVE SECRECY The old temple committee started to plan for the fire-walking without holding a general meeting. The reasons for proceeding thus, as explained by one of this committee’s members, were as


You know what happens in a general meeting. People talk nonsense. They ask silly questions. In the end people leave even while they are still arguing. We wanted to get things done. Its already been two years since we had a fire-walking ceremony.




To our interjection here that a general meeting always preceded the planning for such an important event in Pudthukuchi, the same committee member replied: But this time it didn’t seem necessary. Most people wanted to have fire-walking. Only towards the end did


and others start to ask for more money and to claim that a general meeting should be called. We were elected to be on the temple committee. We had the right to make some decisions,

Whether or not they did have that right, the fact that the old

committee did not call a general meeting came to be a rallying point for the dissidents. It also came to be one of the spevific reasons why the old committee finally had to abandon its plans. CASTE Even if only marginally, the lowest castes in Pudthukuchi have long been represented on the local temple committee. They have always had. access to the local temples. But at times of feeding during temple festivities, they have always in the past been prevented from serving food to higher caste celebrants. Describing the situation as it was before the 1974 fire-walking, one of our Parayan respondents reflected like this:

Whenever sticks are collected for a fire-walking ceremony,

a Gounder and a Parayan will go out side by side. When thetemple is decorated, nobody cares what jati you belong to. Your jati doesn’t matter in anything except when it comes to serving food. Then differences have always been important. I pay the same temple fees someone from another jati does. I work like they do. If God knows this, will he make a difference when it comes to serving food? Some five years back, when this same respondent stood close to a food serving station during a fire-walking celebration, some clean caste men came up to him and said, ‘Please go outside



and do that work while we help here for awhile.’ In recollection, this respondent says: ‘I knew what they meant. So instead of doing what they asked I just sat down and took my food immediately.’ Things have certainly changed. The request by the clean caste men just referred to was made. But this suggestion, indicative of differences as it was, was a gentle suggestion when compared with the ways in which such things might have been decided say a decade back or in many South Indian villages. Furthermore, however, things have changed even more than the

illustration cited would allow one to infer.

Rangaswamy is a Gounder and some clean caste people support him. But it is only in relation to the support of the Harijans that he has been able to gain the political prominence he has within the Pudthukuchi Indian community. Without this support, the older set of alliances that earlier gave base to the panchayat, then to the old NUPW and temple committees


set that centred in more




caste bases—would easily have been able to withstand Rangaswamy’s challenges. The leadership in the new temple committee is still in the hands of clean caste persons, though there is now more representation from among the Harijans than there ever was before. Its president is also the chief clerk of the estate, the kind of man with enough authority and responsibility to get things done


But he has


things as restrictions on who should

whom are nonsensical.

publicly that he thinks such have


to’ serve

And it is for this reason he was backed

as president of the new temple committee

his followers.


by Rangaswamy and

Does all this mean the Harijans are on the verge of gaining the right to serve at temple functions without reservations, and

that more and more caste considerations will soon start to crumble? We will look into this in a little more detail befow.

For the moment the answer is, possibly, but by no means necessarily. Before the old temple committee had been forced to cancel its plans, when asked if he would be able to check demands from his supporting Harijans for the right to serve, Rangaswamy said he could not. Then he continued with the question, ‘Do you thinkI wish to see them serve?’ His implied



answer was ‘no’. In turn, in his words, his technique for preventing them from doing so went as follows:

What we can do is divert their attention (i.e., the attention of the Harijans) for about four hours, from about 12:30 to

about 4: 30 p.m.

the temple.

This is the time when rice will be served at

So, to take their attention

lem, we can send them, say errand. We would have to likely to cause trouble if around the others wouldn’t

away from the prob-

to Penang, on some important send the top people, those most they remained. Without these cause any trouble.

By the time these people would come back, the serving would at least be almost over. Maybe even they would have forgotten their interests in the meantime. This is the only way out without trouble. Whether or not such an approach would have worked, some Harijans for the very first time actually did get the chance to serve food during the 1974 fire-walking activities. At first, the agreement among Rangaswamy and his followers had been



this year

the best thing for the Harijans to do

would be to start by serving their own kind only. But in the planning for the event, even this little reservation was obscured. Given the new chairman’s disdain for caste differentiations, on the day of the fire-walking the young Pariah who had been the most interested in breaking down the serving prohibition against Pariahs, was taken to the cooking shed behind the temple and there told by the new temple committee’s vice-chairman to serve out the bulk quantities to the people who were serving





everyone that day!





In the meantime, on



the serving floor, two

young Pariahs served a number of diners of both Harijan castes.




OTHER FACTORS Among the other factors involved in the decisions surrounding the fire-walking ceremony in 1974 were the personalities of the principal actors involved and problems of communication.



Regarding the first, Rangaswamy feels that the members of the old temple committee have always regarded him simply as‘... asmall boy incapable of doing anything good’. In fact they do, adding that they feel he is inexperienced, rude to elders and too respondent to gang interests. From the other side, Rangaswamy and his supporters, as we have already noted, consider the old leaders to be disinterested in effecting any general changes, inefficient and interested primarily in providing only for their own securities. In reference to problems of communication, through most ofthe argument period, both sides acted as though the other’s Perspectives were almost completely irrelevant, refusing to Meet each other or to accept the services of a middleman in settling their dispute.

Apparent Trends We noted in Chapter 4 that caste differences persist in Pudthukuchi despite the fact that numerous influences work against their persistence. In Chapter 5 we noted that the con-

flict between the older alliance and the new alliance potentially

foreshadowed further more extensive


Our data since

Chapter 4 do not necessitate the modification of any of the conclusions reached there: caste obviously continues to play an interesting local role. Meanwhile, our second general notation remains problematic. Should the new coalition flounder, older patterns more

clearly sympathetic with the traditions of the past will no doubt again be quickly asserted. Should the new alliance per-

sist, the Harijans with their higher caste supporters (including especially people like Rangaswamy) will increasingly come to gather power, also gradually gaining additional local rights. For the moment, members of the older alliance have already given warning that they should not be counted out. According to Maniam:


of them think its all over just because they have

gained a few things. But I will not leave here for won’t keep quiet. I’ll happens. We will never

we will be around fora long time. at least another fifteen years. I create problems for them whatever leave them in peace.



More traditional and more ‘modern’

processes of social life

remain in competition with each other in Pudthukuchi. But how do things seem to be going? Inthe long run, it seems inevitable that the less particularly Indian processes will gather momentum. Legalistic considerations will gain in prominence. So will the capacity of persons thus far underrepresented to represent specifically their own interests.

9 Education and Family Planning

Education The


of primary

and secondary


in West

Malaysia by degree of government support and medium of instruction according to statistics presented by the Ministry of Education in 1970 were as given in Table 9.1. TABLE 9.1 : THE NUMBERS OF PRIMARY AND SECONDARY


Type of School

Medium Malay

of Instruction






Fully and partially assisted Private Secondary Fully and partially assisted Private

2,318 1

303 8

319 30

991 43

657 4

4,356 78

432 101

_ 38

_ -

735 147

*Source: Malaysia Year Book (1971). TA few of these are actually Telugu-medium

Most primary and secondary


schools in West Malaysia are



government-supported. No Chinese-medium secondary schools are fully assisted by the government and there are no private Tamil secondary schools in West Malaysia. Without government assistance, there would be almost no facilities for education among the Indians at any level. Since 1970, Bahasa Malaysia has been progressively introduced, beginning with Standard One in all of West Malaysia’s English-medium schools. The government expects that by 1983 all primary and secondary schools currently having English as the medium of instruction will have switched over to Bahasa Malaysia and that ‘... all courses, other than languages (under the new system English is to remain the second language in all schools) for new admission to Universities will be conducted in Bahasa Malaysia’ (Government of Malaysia, 1971: 236). All assisted schools currently offer Bahasa Malaysia as a compulsory


With such transitions projected and currently being implemented, by 1983 the overwhelming majority of all secondary education in West Malaysia will be offered with Bahasa Malaysia

as the medium

of instruction

(see Table 4.1, noting

the transitions envisaged) and the importance of Bahasa Malaysia throughout the educational system will have been upgraded. ° Numerous difficulties are involved in all this. The government’s conviction is that its language policies will buttress integration and unity in the country (Government of Malaysia; 1971: 231-232). But some fear a lowering of standards as the media of instruction are changed and many parents among minority ethnic groups fear their children will know increasingly less about their own cultural and other backgrounds as increasingly more emphasis is placed on Bahasa Malaysia.? 1The topics and questions introduced here are complex. For more information, see the Ministry of Education booklets, Report on the Implementation of the Recommendations of the Education Review Committee 1960 (1971), and Report of the Committee on Curriculum Planning and Development


*This is particularly true for the Chinese. Though by far the majority of the Chinese in Malaysia by now attend ‘English-medium’ schools, in recent years there has been a slight increase in the number who have opted to send their children to ‘Chinese schools’, especially in places



From the other side, the argument often has been raised that ifthe government is serious about really making Bahasa Malaysia important, it should force its thorough introduction at the primary level as strongly as it is at the secondary level. Whatever the strengths of such arguments, various media of instruction (Chinese, Tamil and Bahasa Malaysia, particularly) will remain in operation at the primary level, allowing for a relatively familiar start in education forall the major ethnic groups in West Malaysia. Turning to several of the findings of the very excellent Dropout Study (1973) published by the Malaysian Ministry of Education while focusing particularly on the relative position of the Indians, we find: 1 More Indian youths drop Malay or Chinese youths,


of school

than do either

2 The enrolment rates of the Indians are lower than are those

among the Malays and the Chinese in both urban and rural areas, 3 Indian youths are less motivated in their studies than are either the Malays or the Chinese, 4 The Indian community is the poorest of the three major communities, a fact contributing to the relatively low rates of enrolment among its youths.

The position of the Indians in reference to education is comparatively poor in Malaysia. In general, however, impressive strides have been made in this country in the development of primary, secondary, technical, vocational and higher education and in the development of teacher training, research and speciality education programmes (for overall figures on most of the developments in this listing, see Government of Malaysia, 1971: 222-242). According to the 1973-74 economic report released by the treasury (as reported in the Straits Times, 10 December, 1973), 92 per cent of the West Malaysian population between six and eleven attended school in 1972, the literacy rate rose from 51 per cent in 1957 to 68 per cent in 1970 and the federal government is currently spending an like Penang (see the comments by the Penang Director reported in the Straits Echo, 16 February 1974).





estimated 20 per cent of its total expenditures on education, a figure ‘... very high compared with other countries with a per capita income similar to Malaysia’s’.

Loca FACILITIES Two very new primary schools stand side by side about half amile from the Pudthukuchi lines. One was completed in



other towards the middle of 1970.

Both have four

large classrooms, some storage facilities and administrative office space. Both are single-storied buildings, constructed of masonry, nicely painted, well-ventilated and well-lit. Both have extensive play areas and plenty of shrubbery. The students

who attend both schools wear the same kind of uniform


study in the same general curriculum.® The teachers in both have roughly the same educational backgrounds (none are university educated; most have passed their Form 5 Malaysian Certificate of Education examinations; several have had a little teacher’s college training). In both there are as many teachers

as classes,





in teaching

responsibilities at the higher standard levels. In both, teachers voluntarily stay back on certain afternoons of the week to help their wards in their studies, the attempt being to improve examination performances. Both schools were built with funds provided through direct government assistance on land set aside by the estate. And both schools are far better—in teaching potentials, facilities and so on—than are by far the majority of all estate schools in the country.4 They are also far better than the schools that were here earlier. Those who moved into the school completed in


moved in from

single-room school

quarters; those who

moved into the other school moved in from the small, wireNetting and wood-sided building that now serves asa play

-centre for young people and

a family

All over Malaysia, primary school children

(or jumpers), white shirts (or blouses) and

planning, wear

white socks







On curriculum matters, see the Ministry of Education booklet (1971). “Some of the Pudthukuchi teachers, while showing us around, said: ‘To understand how estate schools really are, be sure you also visit other schools. Our schools here are the best you will be able to find’.



centre. Both former school buildings were far too small and ill-equipped to accommodate adequately the students required

to attend. Both Pudtbukuchi schools are in very good physical condition

and both offer educational programms similar in many ways. But despite the parallels, the differences are also easily identified. One is a Malay-medium primary school, the other a Tamil-medium primary school. The teachers in the Malay school (the one completed in 1969) are all Malays, those in the Tamil school—but for the bahasa guru, the language teacher of Bahasa Malaysia and English, a Malay—are all Indians. All but a few of the students in the Malay school are Malay,

all but a few in the other are Indian. Each school has its own headmaster, school board, administrative set-up and accounts

procedures. Each has its own gardener and its own parentteachers association. Wherever personnel are involved, each system employs only the ethnically ‘appropriate’. Most school-ground activities are separately carried out. Some Teachers’ Day observances were innovatively carried out

jointly in 1973. Other innovations doubt









sports days, recesses and so on are

separately observed with the use of separate facilities. _ THE TAMIL SCHOOL A Malay


was started in Pudthukuchi

sometime after

the Second World War, at a time when the local Malay population came to require its own educational system. A Tamil school was set up long before the Second World War. Initially, this school enabled at best only the learning of elementary skills. Indians here and in similar places, after all, were in

Malaysia to work in rubber.

The situation has greatly changed.

the sole teacher in


ing estate’s school :



According to Perumal—





headmaster unti] 1973 when he was transferred to a neighbour-

When I first came, only twenty-two names were on the register. There should have been 100. The old manager was

not interested. Sometimes he would come and make fun of the students who had come. Children then could go off and



help their parents in the field and earn ten cents cents a day.

Nobody cared much about school.

or fifteen

Whatever Perumal’s discouragements under the oJd management, a new (the current) manager soon took over, sometime later wondering aloud if the school’s problems were due to an inadequate teacher. Upon hearing of this informally, Perumal explained his problems and interests to the manager. Then,

again according to Perumal’s recollections:

... the next morning the manager called all the workers together and asked them, ‘Does the teacher beat your children? And everybody around answered ‘no’. Then he

asked, ‘Are you afraid of him?’ And everybody said ‘no’.

So he said, ‘Ok, tomorrow morning every child who should

be in school

better be in school.

If a child is not enrolled

next week when I check again, his parents will no longer be able to work here’ The next morning, instead of something like twenty-two students, there were ninety in school. And so things went, a bit of rather active encouragement obviously helping enrolment figures along. Apparently, in turn, Perumal and the new manager got along well over the years. In fact, Perumal claims the encouragement and help he received all along from the manager helped him in his own efforts to get the government to grant money for a new Tamil school in Pudthukuchi. Perumal explains that his own efforts here included: (i) gaining the signatures of ‘almost everybody’ (among the Pudthukuchi Indians) on a petition for a new school later sent to the government, (ii) the writing of many many letters to concerned officials, and (iii) the appropriate final expenditure of the money granted. With reference to the letter-writing (over a ten-year period), Perumal says he sent out as many as seven copies of a letter at times—his addressees occasionally including people like Tunku Abdul Rahman (then Prime Minister), the Minister of Education and Kedah’s Chief Minister—explaining this abundance as follows: ‘. sometimes must get everybody asking questions if you want to get something done’. With reference to the correct appropriation of funds awarded, he claims money has



sometimes been awarded in other places but then either allowed to remain inthe bank, collecting interest, or used inappropriately.

Perumal deserves considerable credit in the fact that there isa new Tamil school in Pudthukuchi.? So does Ladang

Getah’s manager—and so does the government. On the one hand, the government had already appropriated money for a new Malay school in Pudthukuchi and thus might have been more susceptible to pressure. On the other, its current emphases in education encourage just this sort of thing. CHANGING


The orientations of the Tamil school in Pudthukuchi used to be toward India, even as were most of the general orientations


the people.


The pictures on the walls of the



Indian leaders, India was called ‘our motherland’, the national

anthem the children learned was Jana Gana Mana (India’s) and the books the children read were written and published in India, distributed under the auspices of the Madras Municipal

Corporation. In those days it was not uncommon for a teacher to exhort his students in their studies with words such as the following, ‘If you do not study well, you will feel


when you go to India’.

It is still by no means difficult to identify a Tamil school, even when no teachers or students are around. Hindu icons still usually hang in office areas: so do pictures of Indian leaders or poets. But by now such symbols are merely representations

of patterns of life common




of another

country’s ways. Meanwhile, the orientations encouraged in books and lessons are by now distinctly Malaysian. Textbooks use names common among the various ethnic groups of Malaysia—Achang,





Miss Goh, for example—rather than Indian names





‘When transferred from Pudthukuchi to serve as headmaster in another estate’s school, seeing immediately the need for better facilities, Perumal started again in the process of getting a government award for better buildings. In time, he was again successful in a combination of government interest, good luck, community support and personal perse-




their illustrations reflect the same


‘Our country’, to

them by now refers only to Malaysia in all school-related activities. Changes in orientations to India have been thorough. Made necessary by government stipulations (curricula are defined by

and textbooks now

appear under the auspices

of Malaysia’s

Ministry of Education), they also have occurred simultaneously with the changing national affiliations of the Indians. Other orientations that have changed dramatically are those concerning the purposes of education. At one time, the Indians of Pudthukuchi saw their futures only in plantation activities or in areturnto India. Now most Indians are Malaysians and while they see the Pudthukuchi employment context as currently relatively stable, they also know full well: (i) that at least some

of their children will have to gain employment (ii) that many of their people have already

of other kinds,

been forced to take

up, or for other reasons have already taken up, non-plantation

work, and (iii) that estate employment will, if anything, become less of an option for them as their proportion of the employment force here continues to dwindle. In short, one of the reasons for changes in orientations towards education has to do with the fact that more and more of the Indians have come to see education as a means of escape from the employment binds they increasingly know.

Other influences—some more and others less inter-related with that just identified—also occur. For one thing, the economic situation of most of the Indians is now far better than it was.

On the one hand, their own earnings and understandings of how these should be spent have improved. On the other, most of them at least now know of scholarship and loan opportunities for higher studies as defined under the auspices of the NUPW, the MIC and government loan programmes. In reference to this last point, most also know that already three of their own have used such loans and scholarships in successfully completing their own university educations. Another factor here is that the horizons of the people have been continuously expanding. Across the board (for Indians, Malays and Chinese), though females remain somewhat less likely to be literate than males, illiteracy is being eradicated (Table 9.2,). The messages of the mass media bombard



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the local context continuously. More and more frequently the people hear of the successes of others, learning better how they might pursue the same among themselves. Finally, of course, such

things as their better current access

to education and a simple interest in not appearing stupid when in other places have influenced their orientations to education. SoME PERSPECTIVES

Attitudes toward education among the Pudthukuchi Indians have changed in recent years. Yet an access to a good quality education is still not open to most. A number of reasons underlie this. First, though the facilities of the local schools are good, the quality of instruction is in ways inadequate. Most of the teachers are young and capable and texts are provided for the students. Primary education in Pudthukuchi (as in Malaysia) is free. But the process of education usually involves memorization and the learning of answers only, seldom an encouragement to question and to realize the excitement of learning. Asa result, the interest of most students is never kindled and the evaluation of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ students is done simplistically. A good student, in short, listens more carefully and memorizes more efficiently than does a poor student. In terms of the performance of its students in Standard 5 assessment







comparison with all Tamil schools in Kedah in 1971 ranked forty-sixth (out of fifty-two), in 1972 ranking forty-first (out of sixty-four).

In 1971, only one





‘passed’ successfully all Standard 5 assessment examinations; in 1972 only one of nineteen did.® A second problem with local education ties in directly with the poor ‘pass’ rates just described. A‘D’ or‘F’ markin any of the compulsory Standard 5 assessment subjects automatically

means a ‘failure’ for the student in these tests. And one of the subjects tested is Bahasa Malaysia. *Promotions





Form 3






Malaysia. In a sense, then, the Standard 5 assessment examinations, mean little.

In another

sense, they are



‘streaming’ the children along the way and for the children.




handy .





For some students of the Tamil medium school, a passing mark in Bahasa Malaysia is hard to come by. All of them have more trouble than do most of their Malay school counterparts.” Indian children study Bahasa Malaysia all along, beginning in Standard 1, and of course they hear it spoken, picking up a considerable amount along the way. But they do not really grow up bi-lingually, insulated as are the ethnic communities

from each other in their environment.

Such problems become even more obvious at the secondary level. Here, Indian students find it increasingly possible to continue their education only in Bahasa Malaysia medium progiammes, and examination scores in this language are continuously coming to be considered more important both for

those who want to continue their studies and those

who con-

template employment in the government sector. Thinking ahead of such potential problems, three or four Indian children in Pudthukuchi are sent by their parents to the

local Malay-medium school.

The idea in part is that


children will possibly have a better grasp of Malay than will the children who come out of Tamil-medium primary schools. The Tamil school children from Pudthukuchi who do go on to secondary school, however—and two or three a year usually do—attend a Bahasa Malaysia-medium ‘Form Remove’ first for a year. In the process they supposedly pick up the skills they will need in later continuing their studies ina different language medium. At the same time, they ‘lose’ a year in the process, incurring additional expenses.® A third general problem area in the Pudthukuchi

setting is

that education, while definitely seen as a means of escape from the local context, is no longer seen as quite so sure a means 7Tamil is not a compulsory


in the




culum. *One of the Chinese families in Fudthukuchi sends two of its children to local schools. one to the Malay school, one tothe Tamil school. Not only is this currently reasonable in business terms; it also makes good

business sense in the long run from the family point of view. *There is talk of eventually slowly switching the medium of instruction from Chinese and Tamil in government-supported primary schools to Bahesa


But so far talk is all there

vested interests are involved at various levels.







of escape as it once was. There is currently no question here about the values of university level and professional education. But there is a growing understanding that lower level, general educations do not necessarily lead to job opportunities, what-

ever their other benefits might be. And clearly such an under-

standing is justified. While many job opportunities remain for the highly educated in Malaysia, there is an increasing surplus of applicants for jobs requiring a modicum of education. A fourth problem has to do with what the headmaster of

the Tamil school called the


of many

of the

people. Whatever the changes that have occurred, in his opinion, many families still regard education very lightly; many children find no encouragement in their studies from their parents; many of the children do not receive proper nutrition before being sent off to school; and even the few costs involved (for uniforms, shoes, notebooks, pencils, parent-teacher association fees, etc.) are more than some families can easily provide

for their children. CONCLUSION

The development of education in Malaysia has been strongly encouraged. More and more schools have been set up, literacy rates are going up steadily and school attendance figures are up in almost all categories. Attempts are being made, simultaneously, to draw the attention of increasing numbers of students into practical, technical and scientific fields of learning, away

from some of those




colonial and

post-colonial contexts where education and white-collar governmental employment were almost inevitably thought to go together.

In Pudthukuchi, facilities are very good and attitudes favour-

ing local education have years. The Mentri Besar opening ceremonies of Major school events (for

been continuously developing in recent (chief minister) of Kedah attended the the new Pudthukuchi Tamil school. example, Sports Day and Parents Day)

attract considerable interest. Numerous considerations moderate

an access to good and potentially continuing formal education among the Pudthukuchi Indians. Particularly so do certain

characteristics of the local learning context

and the




in language competitions the Indian children face. Nevertheless, the developments of education in the Pudthukuchi context as in the nation are real. Family Planning INTRODUCTION A national survey of knowledge about attitudes toward and practices related to family planning was carried out in Malaysia in 1966-67. The 1970 Census of Population was followed by a Post-Enumeration Survey: ‘In view of the importance attached to population and policy, the Department of Statistics, in consultation with the National Family Planning Board, decided to include questions relating to. . family planning’, inthissurvey (Department of Statistics, 1971b: 27).

Viewing comparatively some of the findings of the two surveys

just referred to in Malaysia (Department


of Statistics,


1, The mean number of desired children has declined sharply between the two survey periods for all age groups.... .

2. There has been a general increase in the proportion of eligible female respondents who had ever used contraceptives

from 14% in 1966/67 to 27% in 1970....

3. The percentage of women currently using contraceptives has. . .increased substantially since the inception of the family planning programme, from 8% to 16%... . 4. Between the two surveys ther2 has been a definite change

in attitudes of respondents favouring a smaller family... .

5. There isa more favourable attitude towards family planning in 1970 than in 1966/67. Those approving family planning have increased from 70% in 1966/67 to 78% in 1970. . Family planning is actively encouraged by the Malaysian government, Related programmes are being carried out together with the extension of medical facilities and public health and family planning services. Various private agencies are also involved. According to the Health Minister, however, the main handicaps in the further development of family planning emphases remain ‘...the lack of knowledge and the non-existence of



adequate facilities for family planning’ (reported in the Times, 15 June 1974).

Mortality rates in Malaysia have been

Independence (reported in


roughly halved

the Star, 13 September


since The

executive director of the Federation of Family Planning Associa-

tion has reported that the country’s net population growth rate dropped from 3.2 per cent in 1966 to 2.5 per cent in 1970 (with a slight reversal in 1971 to 2.6 per cent, reported in the Straits Times, 13 October 1973). Yet the fear remains that if birth rates remain at their present high levels, no matter what the successes achieved so far in family planning, the burden in the country on resources, capital and economic growth will become severe. The reduction of birth rates thus remains a strong official priority. The national target in family planning is to reduce the net population growth to 2 per cent per year by 1985 (reported

in the Straits Echo, 28 March


LOCAL PROCESSES In February 1964, a family planning clinic was started in one of



in the





provided a furnished room for the clinic. The Kedah Family Planning Association provided trained staff nurses to run the clinic and supplied contraceptive materials at cost price. But by October, the clinic had closed down, ‘The complete lack of clients’ was due to the fact that the ‘. . .contraceptive methods practiced at the clinic proved entirely unacceptable to estate labourers’. The ‘oral tablet method’ of family planning was not tried ‘. . .at the express wish of the Kedah Family Planning Association’ (Manager’s Report, 1964). In response to reports of such ‘failures’, the Manager of the Estate Department of the agency owning Ladang Getah wrote to.the local manager as follows: ‘So far the most successful results have been on an estate where the estate hospital staff is interested, insists on daily attendance of participating women and keeps full records. The birth rate there has been halved in 2 years’ (contained in Manager’s Report, 1965). The hospital referred to now serves Fudthukuchi. It did Pudthukuchi in 1964. Some consolidation has occurred.

not serve




Encouragements were strong rather early on. But family planning developed slowly on Ladang Getah. In 1966 no males and only four females were regularly issued with contraceptives despite the fact the Kedah Family Planning Association regularly sent a ‘trained team of... nurses to the Estate to lecture, show films, make such records as they wish among the labourers’ (Manager’s Report, 1966). In 1967, still no males and only six females were being issued with contraceptives though the costs of birth control pills were refunded ‘.. . to those taking the treatment regularly who did not confine during the year’ (Manager’s Report 1967). Slow as was its pace of introduction, family planning soon began to gather momentum. The Manager’s Report for 1969 states that ‘... births over the past ten years averaged 4.1% of the population (but that) in 1968 (they came to) 3.8% and in

1969... to 2.8%’. Furthermore, a diversification in methods of

contraception began to occur. In 1969, eight persons were fitted with IUCDs, twenty used pills (seven being refunded the cost of the pills for non-confinement during the year) and one underwent sterilization (Manager’s Report, 1969). During 1971, forty-two women used birth control pills and four underwent ‘tubal ligations’ at a hospital in a nearby town (Manager’s Report, 1971). During 1973, fifty-seven women were on pills (thirty-one of them later coming forward to receive refunds for non-confinement) and three had tubal ligations (Manager’s Report, 1973). In 1970, several estates including Ladang Getah engaged a family planning and welfare officer of their own. Now, no other family planning agencies work directly in encouraging family planning in the estates covered. The person currently working in this capacity, Saroja, was once a teacher in the Pudthukuchi Tamil school and is daughter of the local toddy contractor. She was trained for one month in 1971 under the auspices of the company owning Ladang Getah and she works on a three-year contract basis. Her social work responsibilities include such - things as encouraging cleanliness among the ayahs who work at the local creches, helping girls in handicrafts-learning and encouraging mothers to use glass rather than plastic bottles in feeding their babies. Her principal responsibilities have to do with encouraging family planning.



ATTITUDES Saroja Explains : We always encourage parents


to plan

to have

first a child before

their families. Otherwise we don’t know if

they can even have a family. And they might put the blame on the pills or something else, or on us, if later they cannot

have children.

According to her, estate men today often




when they have three or four children and few want more than four or five: If aman has two or three children, he allows his wife to take oral contraceptives or any other temporary methods.

After the fourth or fifth child he chooses a permanent method. In turn, Saroja explains planning do so because:




do practice family

... they want to enjoy a better living, adequate food and to educate their children. With too many children, they know they cannot even afford entertainment.

She adds, finally, that in her opinion more and more people are

beginning to respond to family planning encouragements. Though such observations are general, they are informed by an intensive understanding of local family practices and attitudes. And they are revealing. First, they indicate that local services by now are rather well-defined. Second, the implication is that women are the ones expected actually to practice family planning and this is substantiated in the figures for how contraception is locally practiced. Third, Saroja’s observations indicate that in local health, economic and other considerations—considerations that help to allow for predictability in the rearing of

children—the interests of the people are developing in the direction of planning for themselves a ‘better’, more consumption-oriented style of life.

But not all Pudthukuchi people are sympathetic

with either

the attitudes encouraging family planning or relevant practices.



For these people, among other things, ‘Children are the gifts of God’ and ‘If the worm underneath the rock can live, why cannot we expect to live?’ Some men think their wives will more likely be ‘unfaithful’ to them if they are allowed to practice family planning. For others, there just is not ‘enough time’ to learn how to plan families.

Among some such people Saroja and her kind at least ally take a special interest.


We try to develop hobbies for them and assist where we can in helping them with their children’s education, helping them where possible in such things as obtaining citizenship, work permits and so on. In this way we hope to help them develop confidence in us. With limited resources and a lack of local assistance, Saroja cannot make good on nearly all of the contributions this listing would imply. Her attempts to gain new recruits to family planning, however, are partly assisted in such ways. Meanwhile, they are assisted in that inthe Pudthukuchi setting, remarks encouraging family planning are becoming more common. The following was made by a middle-aged local man:

An old teacher here used to claim children were given by

God. If illiterate labourers said that it might be excusable. But for a teacher to say he didn’t know another child was going to come alongis just too bad. You connot have a brinjal plant unless you first plant brinjal seeds. Conclusion In the local planning of families, pills are most commonly used. Tubal ligations are more and more common among the people. IUCDs are seldom favoured. Men seldom use contraceptive devices or undergo ‘operations’ and women do so almost only with the encouragement of their husbands. Both Malays and Indians, according to Saroja, participate in family planning in approximately equal numbers. Malays almost never ‘even think’ about sterilization as a possible way of planning their families



but they do not have any questions about other ways of preventing conception. Indians, in general are ‘very interested’.



in Pudthukuchi

planning, a proportionately

still do

large number

not practice



And attitudes

encouraging the further planning of families seem to be becoming increasingly common.

“Neither the Indians nor the Malays in





family planning is being fostered primarily by the other group in order to insure eventually its own numerical superiority. In other parts of the world, the opposite has often been found true.

10 Conclusion

J. S. Furnivall long ago used the words ‘plural society’ to describe the conditions of social life in certain tropical societies under colonial domination. Here groups of people ‘,.. mix but do not combine. Each group holds by its own religion, its own culture and language, its own ideas and ways. As individuals (peoples) meet but only in the market place in buying and selling’ (Furnivall, 1948: 304). In plural societies, integration is imposed by the colonial power and economic

circumstances. It is not voluntary.1

According to L. Kuper (1971: 10-11), the social bases of a plural society are characterized by ‘economic symbiosis and mutual avoidance, cultural diversity and social cleavage’, the

society itself being ‘.. .a medley

of peoples

living side by

side, but separately, within the same political unit’.? ‘Plural society’ conceptualizations of the kind Furnivall and Kuper describe can rather easily be applied in the background of British rule in Malaya. The Indians were brought in under the control of the British from one British territory to another.





in relation to the efforts of Chinese

or on their own and

worked in the Malaya they

An earlier version of this chapter was published under the title, ‘Ethnic Plurality in Malaysia: Plantation Indian Perspectives’, in Indian Journal of Comparative Sociology, II (No. 2). 3Kuper very ably discusses comparatively the Furnivall model of plural society. Essays in Kuper and Smith (1971) identify theoretical and

other developments in this area of inquiry.



found under various different auspices. The different ethnic groups lived separately and were engaged mostly in different occupations. As T.H. Silcock describes the situation (1969: 144):

‘The different races were more concerned






with relations to one another.’


with their relations




In those days, understandings of differences among ethnic groups—understandings based in part in reality but also in part the pure product of imagination—came to be popularly accepted, in turn serving to reinforce cleavages between the different groups. More intimate understandings across ethnic lines developed little, for members of different ethnic commu-

nities met infrequently,

place’. Good in the British, Malaya





as might have been ‘plural society’ conceptualizations descriptive analysis of Malayan society under the their applicability now is indeed questionable. Colonial is no more and Malaysia has achieved independence.

The demographic become

if at all, apart



outlines of the Malaysian population have stabilized.



into what


is now





curtailed long ago and by now the sex ratios among the formerly immigrant peoples have come to be relatively balanced. Prior to the Second World War, it was still possible to think in general that many within the various ethnic communities in

Malaya were transients. It became clear soon after that Malayan society would remain multi-ethnic. Malaysia has formulated and is implementing its plans and programmes in terms of its population composition, still housing considerable numbers of people






in no


denying the local, national identifications of any of its major communities. An access to education has been vastly facilitated

for members of all national groups. Illiteracy is fast being eradicated. The professed goals in planning in the country have to do with the restructuring of society to the effect of eliminating the identification of ethnicity with occupation and income and the eradication of poverty. Strides are continuously being made in the direction of making Bahasa Malaysia not only the country’s official language but also the language



to be used in forging a more basic homogeneity in communication among all of the nation’s peoples. The proportion of the relatively poor in Malaysia still causes much legitimate concern, but the country’s economic bases are firm enough to make it at least possible to assume that in the long run, the income gaps between rich and poor Malaysians of all communities can be narrowed. The trappings of a modern, consumeroriented market place are abundant and available to all with the means to purchase them. In the political arena, elites of various communities have long effectively welded together their interests in ‘racial harmony’. ‘Plural society’ conceptualizations are not so easily used in understanding the Malaysian context now as before. Yet questions relevant to such formulations remain. In what respects do

the people of different ethnic communities

still not combine?

Where are patterns of ethnic avoidance and cleavage breaking down, if they are? What are the expressions ethnicity has taken on in the modern Malaysian context? The View from the Estate The



of Malaysia possible


from the


particularly as this involves the Indians

living here, is most definitely a very limited view and it must be recognized as such. Materials and analyses along the way have hopefully informed us of the ways in which these people live in relation to their backgrounds and their context. But the very fact of their focus allows us only a restricted view of larger regional and national settings. Yet a thorough understanding of any social microcosm simultaneously allows a more appropriate understanding of the enveloping social macrocosms —and thus we shall proceed, in this section summarily attempting to determine how the materials developed allow us to view

the social processes at work in what was at least once a society relatively easily labelled a ‘plural society’. SEPARATIONS

The Indians were the principal and almost the only labourers in Pudthukuchi











proportion of Malays







numbers of Indians and Malays constitute the local labour force.

People within the two major communities perform the same’ kinds of jobs at the same rates of pay under the same system of management. They are housed in similar quarters and their access to the amenities available is roughly equal. In short, the formal ‘market place’ and bureaucratically describable participations of the Indians and the Malays in Pudthukuchi are simi-

lar, indeed almost identical.

Meetings among the members of the various ethnic groups are frequent and inevitable. Chinese in Pudthukuchi work essentially in ‘service’ arrangements and in contract appointments. Both locally and in the economic services they provide in neighbouring places, they are encountered regularly by both Malays and Indians. Contacts between the Malays and Indians take place in work, play and residential environments. To use Furnivall’s words, however, it is clear in numerous ways that the peoples of the different Pudthukuchi ethnic com-










speak different

languages, are stereotypically identified with different civilizations in the minds of others, often wear different clothing,

different festivals,

live in different

lines areas,

They also name their children


send their children to different schools, watch programmes on different television sets, in general spend their leisure times separately, save what little they can with different long-range

purposes in mind.

are almost always easily distinguishable in terms of facial features, belong to different political parties, name their gods differently, differentially pay their dues to unions, view their prospects both on the estate and inthe country differently, approach different spokesmen ethnically defined, marry almost exclusively amongst themselves, travel to other places separately, internally organize themselves along different lines, competitively define differently the pros and cons of their own cultural systems and come out of different and in the past often competing crucibles of civilization. There can be no

doubt whatsoever that the identifications of the various commu-

nities in Pudthukuchi are ethnically distinct from

gical point of view.





BRIDGES Given such understandings, there is relatively little reason to think currently that the members of the various ethnic groups in Pudthukuchi will soon start living in any way other than ‘side by side, but separately’ (Kuper, 1971: 11). Questions of prospects for the future immediately thus arise. Particularly, if the ‘integration’ or assimilation of the various communities is unlikely in the foreseeable future, what

indications are there from our data that functionally important

structural and other linkages among the




increasingly make





possible, even essential? Among these are the following. First, the citizenship identifications of almost all of the Pudthukuchi people are by now specifically in Malaysia alone. However

ambiguous may have been such identifications for some

even a

decade earlier, all the people are by now tied in almost exclusively with what they see as their common prospects (however

competitively defined to the advantage of certain groups) in





the Indians




now that their

younger people will have to learn Bahasa Malaysia.



increasing use of the language, in turn, communication among the different communities will increasingly be facilitated and channels into non-estate jobs will become more competitively open for those who in the past might have only known certain immigrant community languages. Students are now compelled to learn the national language not only through compulsory instruction but also as a precondition for the successful completion of examinations, the successful pursuit of scholarships and the successful application for numerous non-estate (and

non-ethnically specific, see Gardner, 1975) jobs. Third,



of the


of changes now taking

place within the Pudthukuchi Indian community itself—chan-

ges that have to do with the organization of the temple committee and the local branch of the NUPW, for example—while hardly indicative of changes in general ethnic identification, suggest that with the gradual coming to power of a younger, less traditionally and more legalistically inclined set of

leaders, working relationships willsimultaneously and potentially



become increasingly feasible. This need not be taken simplistically. But with the evidence that the trends are in the direction of more pragmatically inclined decision-makers, persons interested more than their predecessors in such things as the stipulations of contracts, also forthcoming will be the chance of more routinized and less arbitrarily defined relationships between managers and workers, supervisors and workers, and workers and workers. Clearly, the estate in the modern Malaysian context is no longer a‘little domain unto itself. Fourth, it appears that as more and more of the inroads of amodern, secularized world occur—making travel to other places increasingly possible, for example, at the same time allowing for a certain standardization in both understandings gained and artifacts possessed—at least a veneer of uniformity will become more common. Almost all the young men already

usually dress similarly (in trousers and shirts, and in shoes and

socks when leaving the estate) and increasingly, some of the Indian women wear sarongs or other simple and comfortable

garments rather than saris around their houses. Finally




planning, has officially made it clear

the government,


all its people, whatever their ethnicity. Accommodation

or Integration?

T. N.







in all its

it is planning


various expressions of Bengali




the 1947

Independence period centred in a demand for a Muslim home-

land and desh tion

free from the economic exploitation mill-owners, expressions that during were focused against the economic of the (West) Pakistanis and were

tion of ‘broad




of Hindu landowners the birth of Banglaand political exploitacentred in the asser-


religious terms’

(emphasis added)—argues that‘... in multi-ethnic societies, each ethnic category will seek to pursue political power and economic advantage by itself or in association with other








F. Barth, he adds immediately that ‘... in the context of such dynamic interaction, what is of crucial importance is... the



effort of boundary maintenance by ethnic groups and not the content of ethnicity at any particular time’ (1972:83).3 Dealing with some of the implications of his argument, Madan (1972: 84, note) claims that the term ‘integration’ in

the discussion

of inter-ethnic


in much of Asia and

Africa is useful neither‘ a guide to policy, or asa conceptual category’. His argument instead is that ‘we now need to think in terms of the politics of ‘“‘accommodation” ’.

The scope of this study cautions usin the making of generali-

zations. But the views within and from Pudthukuchi imply that a general accommodation, not an integration of life styles, has occurred, the general indication being also that the ‘bridges’ enabling accommodation are in numerous ways gathering a

certain strength.



of political and other

interests there then might be at the elite levels of Malaysian society, following Madan’s line of argument our implications are that considerations pertaining to the local and similar contexts will more reasonably be focused on the accommodation already apparent than on any patterns of integration eventually hoped for.4

Bases for Accommodation Several brief periods of rioting and violence have occurred in Malaysia during the last couple of decades. But, in general, the






in comparatively few

major inter-ethnic hostilities. Responsible leaders have been successful in mobilizing opinions against violence. The people of different communities have generally been widely separated in their spheres of everyday activity. In recent years jobs have been relatively accessible within the context of an expand-



Malaysians. It takes














the the

*Madan (1974) has identified some of the questions concerning his usage of ethnicity in response to a comment on his 1972 paper (quoted here) by L. Dumont. These cannot concern us here, but their implications are interesting. However, they do not undermine the Madan perspective. ‘Stuart Gardner’s findings in Penang (1975) indicate similar conclusions are to be arrived at in a modern urban setting in the country.



possibilities of inter-ethnic outbreaks remain. On the one hand,

many illustrations from within Malaysia point to the realities of tensions. On the other, numerous instances of what has developed in other nations with somewhat parallel systems of ethnic pluralism are available. Looking first within, it is by no means by chance that the Malaysian government calls so frequently for inter-ethnic unity and harmony, that its leaders have worked so diligently in formulating. effective political coalitions and that its care in ‘controlling’ political formula-

tions other than its own has been continuous.

Its interests


restructuring Malaysian society are defined in recognition of the violent outbursts that could occur given continuing wide political and economic disparities among the country’s various ethnic communities. S. Alatas has commented, ‘As far as Malaysia is concerned, communalism has never occasioned a disruptive relationship between the existing communities, though there is a profound sense of community consciousness’ (1969:194). This has been true to a remarkable extent. But few in Malaysia today would consider it reasonable to hold on

to such ‘articles of faith’ alone.

Meanwhile, however realistic it is to say that disparities among the communities of Malaysia are being reduced as modern developments continue to take hold (in language, education, -etc.), the experiences of minority communities in

numerous other countries

lead to the conclusion that concerns

about ‘harmony’ are thoroughly realistic. the Indian minority in Burma some time 1971) and the more recent experiences of in Uganda testify to this. So do the

The experiences of back (Chakravarti, the Indian minority experiences of the

Biharis in both Pakistan and Bangladesh, the (West) Pakistanis in Bangladesh, the Chinese in Indonesia, the ‘Asians’ in England and the Blacks in America. Within the Pudthukuchi context, the relations among the various ethnic communities are relatively peaceful. The underlying reason for this seems to pertain primarily tothe similar

participations both of the major communities represented here

have in the local economic and political arenas. Their political participations extend along different channels, but neither community dominates the other and both communities are administered within one set of general guidelines, whatever



variations there are in the internal political organizations of each of these communities. In economic terms, members of both communities participate similarly in the ‘market place’. Does this enable a more general view? Possibly. T. Silcock writes (1969:160): ‘Because the Malay grievance is mainly economic, economic progress might remove it, until no real

obstacle to full Chinese participation (in the country’s political

life) would remain.’ As we have already noted, Madan argues (1972: 83) that each ethnic group in multi-ethnic societies will

pursue ‘... political power and

economic advantage,

by itself

or in association with other chosen people’ (emphasis added). Our understandings are that rough parities in economic and political advantages in Pudthukuchi: (i) tend to underlie the

inter-ethnic accommodation that occurs, and (ii) that the same accommodation will probably be strengthened if no major imba-

lances develop in these areas of social life. Our implication, to follow the arguments developed more generally by Silcock and

Madan, plus some of the understandings that come out of examinations of the positions of ethnic minorities in other societies (van den Berghe, 1970; Morris, 1968), is that whatever the differences that prevent integration and assimilation among ethnic communities with differences as great as those occurring among the Indians, Chinese and Malays of Malaysia, successful accommodation is possible, given roughly similar economic and political participations by the different commu-


Indian Malaysians Malaysians of Indian backgrounds are generally referred to in the press and by the government as Malaysian Indians. The point is minor in ways. In others, it identifies a continuing misconception. The fact of the matter is that Malaysians, or at least Indian Malaysians, would by now be afar more appropriate term. These people retain an ‘Indianness’ in many of their attributes and interests and, no doubt, they will continue to doso. But their citizenship is here, their economic orientations are here, their young people see their futures in Malaysia, their political representations extend into coalition arran-




meaningful and their access to many of the



advantages today being increasingly defined and the government are officially outlined in terms the extent quotas are met (and this, of course, lematic) people in places like Pudthukuchi will their interests are being taken into account. the challenge and the promise, given some

bases of accommodation.

guaranteed by of quotas. To remains probrecognize that And herein lies of the essential


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Wiebe, Paul D., ‘Elections in Peddur: Democracy at Work in an Indian Town’, Human Organization 28 (Summer), 1969. ———Social


Life in an Indian Slum,

Delhi: Vikas



Abdul Rahman, Tunku, 166 Abdul Razak, Tun, 47, 93 Adams, J., 74 Alatas, Syed Hussein, 186 Alliance, 48, 91-93, 107



Staff Union,

98-101 Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham, 62 Appa Rao, C., 19 Arasaratnam. Sinnapah, 2, 6, 80 Azizur Rahman, 21, 38

Divine Life Society, 147 Dravida Kazagham, 62, 73 Dravida Munnetra Kazagham, 73, 134-135


Dube, S. C., 69

Dumont, L., 185 Economic outlines (Malaysia), 109114 Education, orientations in, 167-170 Emergency, 5, 29-32, 67 Epstein, T. S., 69

Estate Amenities, 38-42

Bailey, F. G., 18, 80

Expenditures, 118-121

Birthplace figures, 60-61 Blake, D. J., 113

Factory workers, 35-3€ Family, 81-85; local organization, 81-83 Family Planning Association, 176177 Festivals, 138-149, 148-149, 150

Barth, F., 184 Burrows,



Carstairs, G. M., 76 Caste, 69-80; local organization, 7074; persistence, 74-79; caste and disputes, 156-158

Chakravarti, N. R., 18, 186 Citizenship, 66-68 Community, 85-86 Contract Labour, 37

Department of Statistics (Malaysia), 10-13, 21, 111, 113, 173 Deepavali, 140, 143

Field staff, 35

Fire-walking, 141-142, Furnivall, J. S., 179


Gamba, C., 98

Gandhi, Indira, 62, 65

Gans, Herbert J., 18 Gangs, 54, 84, 87-88, 144 Gardner, Stuart, 183-185 Gods and the people, 143-147


INDEX Gordon, Shirle, 46 Government of Malaysia, 8-9, 10910, 112, 114, 162-163 . Hamzah Sendut, 5 Health, 41-42 Hiebert, Paul G., 18, 69-70, 145 Household worship, 134-135 Hussein Onn, Datuk, 47 India ties, 60 Ishwaran, K., 69



Office staff, 34-35 104-105,



Kuper, Hilda, 18 Kuper, Leo, 179-183 Kuttus, 119, 120, 122-123 Liebow, Elliott, 18 Life-cycle ceremonies, Literacy, 169



Puthucheary, J. J., 5 Ramachandran,


Madan, T. N., 184-185, 187 Making Money, 114-116 Malayan Agricultural Producers Association, 98-100, 152-153 Malaysian Chinese Association, 48, 67, 91-92 Malaysian Indian Congress, 14, 48, 54, 67, 91-97, 107, 123, 168 Manager, 32, 34, 102-104, 165-166 Manickavasigam, Tan Sri V., 93,


Marriott, M., 70 18

Mid-Term Review, Second Plan, 47, 93, 113 Miller, H., 10

Ministry of Education,


Parkinson, C. N., 2 Peattie, Lisa R., 17

Perumal, G., 46 Plural society, 7, 179-181 Police, 106-107 Political Parties, 91-94, 95-97, 182 Purcell, V., 4°

Kumaran, K. K., 98-100



Workers, 46, 54-55, 98-101, 104108, 123, 150-153, 157, 168, 183

Panchayat, 73-74,

Karve, Iravati, 82 Kennedy, J., 2 Kolenda, Pauline M.,


48, 91-93, 96-97, 107


Pan Malayan Dravidian Association,

Jain, R. K., 19-20, 70, 73, 80, 82 Jati mobility, 77


National Family Planning Board, 173 National Front (Barisan National),



Mohd. Khan B. Abdullah, 99 Morris, H. S., 18, 187

C. P., 19

Ramu, G. N., 82 Ratnam, K. J., 4, 91-92 Redfield, Robert, 128 Religious conversion, 52, 147 Retirement, 124 Rubber, 10-15 Ryan, N. J., 4

Said, Rahim, 5-6, 8, 16

Sambanthan, Tun V. T., 93, 95

Sandhu, Kernial Singh, 2, 5-7, 15, 17-19, 72 Sankritization, 75 Savings and investments, 121-123 Second Malaysia Plan, 8, 48 Second World War, 24, 26-29, 67,

98, 180-181

Silcock, T. H., 180-181 Singer, Milton, 70, 135 Smith, M. G., 179

Smith, T. E., 5

Srinivas, M. N., 18, 69 Stockwin, Harry, 114

196 Subramaniam, P., 19


Suttles, Gerald, 18 Swettenham, Frank, 2

Unions, 98-102, 182 United Malay National Organization, 48, 54, 91-92, 97

Tamil school, 165-167


Tamil Youth Bell Club, 54, 87-89

Ten Siew Sin, Tun, 48 Tappers, 36 Temples, 135-137; temple worship, 135; temple committee, 61, 138, 154 Thaipusam, 138-140

den Berghe,


Pierre, 18,

S. M., 95


Wages and earnings, 116-118 Weeders, 36 Wiebe, Paul D., 18, 65, 72, 96, 145 Woltemade, Uwe J., 74