Most of us have had our fair share of experiencing racial
discrimination. Being an Indian in Malaysia inadvertently places me and
all other fellow Malaysian Indians in a very small and often a time
marginalized 7.1% of the total population of this so-called multiracial
country. We are often subject to senseless racial and religious
sentiments spewed forward by the more 'purer, upper-class' races, who
are incidentally the ones given more rights and freedom to bargain for
better lives regardless of whether they deserve it or not.
I personally had spasmodic encounters with racism from preschool until lower primary and a little more during my upper primary school years. Being the sensitive lass that I was, I would often come running home with teary eyes and would gibberishly recount the awful instances the best I could to my mother. She was like my superhero during my growing-up years. Emotional though I was, I was most of the time absent-minded whilst my whole blurry and small world revolved around me. That said, I usually took no heed of what some nasty schoolmates had to say about me. I've heard the common racial slur directed at us Indians all too often - the 'Keling' word. I guess I had developed some sort of tolerance for it back then when I heard of that word every so often - directed towards my Indian teachers, fellow Indian friends, and myself. Besides, it didn't take me long to realise that the word had little to absolutely no meaning at all. I like to think of it as an 'empty' word.
There were two instances however, that really affected me and sent me home tearing for the rest of the day. I still occasionally think of those unpleasant days and would tailor words in my mind and recreate that bloody moment virtually with a bolder me in the picture.
I'll start with the lesser unpleasant one. One quotidian school day when I was in Year 4(10-year-old), I entered my class to a bunch of classmates playing their flutes to a discordant melody. The second period was Music lesson and my music teacher had assigned each of us to get ourselves flutes for that day's music lesson. I sat down next to my classmate who was busying herself with her own Yamaha flute. I pulled out my purple, translucent flute from my bag and started scrutinying it with my 10-year-old sense of awe and wisdom to not play the flute and add to the cacophony. The girl next to me,well let's call her Iman. Iman turned to take a pause and look at my flute. Seemingly curious, she asked if she could have a look at my oh-so-fancy instrument. I obliged and handed her my flute. She then proceeded to place her mouth at the tip of the flute and begin playing a note. Another guy, let's call him Izzul, who was seated in front of Iman turned around and gaped at Iman. His face was contorted in some sort of disgust. Well I would have to admit that maybe Iman didn't have a knack for flutes. But that was not the case. Izzul went on to jeer at Iman for being silly to place her mouth on a flute that tentatively had my saliva in it. Well, really I wouldn't mind if he was apparently concerned over Iman's hygiene. I was wrong yet again. He went on to tell Iman that she was actually playing a flute that had some Keling's saliva in it and that it was dirty, for that reason and not in a more general fact that anything with another person's saliva is unhygienic. Iman then went all dramatic in drinking and gargling her mouth with water. She went so far as to call me "najis". Having little knowledge in the Malay language back then, I could hardly fathom what she had meant. I asked her to Barney the meaning of the word to me. She nonchalantly explained that najis meant feces. I was perturbed. She gave little to no regard about my feelings and how it would tear part of my confidence as soon as I understood what she had meant. I tried to muster a bit of boldness to knock some sense into her head but with my gibberish language, I don't know if I had anything more than a mesh of hand-signs and nervous errs enter her head. Needless to say, I sulked with her for the rest of the day. We did end up becoming close classmates though through Year 4 and Year 5 after an instance where I had sensed her seeping guilt and blatant suppressing of the need to apologize to me.
My by-far-the-worst discrimination came when I had least expected. The long-awaited ring of the school bell marked the end of class lessons for the day. I was in Year 5, one more year and I'll be graduating from primary school. One could already call themselves 'semi-senior' or so once they're in Year 5, I guess. It could be said that my upper primary school years were generally a blur but relatively peaceful. Peaceful was not what it seemed on that particular day, however. I walked to my school van with my twin sister and settle in an old seat on the second row of the van. We were exhausted and sweaty and the stuffiness inside the van only exacerbated the uneasiness we felt. Not long after, a group of Year 6 guys that were well-known for their talkativeness in our small van community enter and sit in the the row directly behind us. There was one peculiar guy in the group who always stared blankly at my sisters and I. I think it's worthy to note that my sisters and I were the only Indians in the van. We usually dimissed the guy as being strange and maybe just maybe curious about us in some odd ways of his own. Just as the van started moving, one of the five who was right behind me put out his entire arm through a sliding window and held up the formidable middle finger on my side of the window whilst bellowing "fuck, fuck, fuck..". It went on like a mantra. Bear in mind my sister and I have not been exposed much to this word or any other profanity prior to this but exposed enough to know that it was a bad word. It immediately struck my 11-year-old mind that it was a horrible word and that that guy was evil for saying it. I retaliated by mustering some courage to back my sister and I. I apparently did what I would call now, " turning the other cheek". I naively told the verbal abuser that he shouldn't be doing so and that it was a sin to use such profanity, in hopes that he would repent. Instead of retreating like what I had expected, his other members joined him in jeering at the two of us with a myriad of racial slurs. I turned to look behind and the guy whom I thought was quiet and peculiar was showing up a middle finger and yelling profanities at my direction. It was unbearable. No one bothered to back us up or offer to knock some sense into those offenders. Not even the van driver. My whole journey back home that day was a living hell.
Another thing I would like anyone to note is that my sisters and I were very, very quiet and needless to say, peaceful individuals. In retrospect, I think it was that quality about us that had made way for informal truces between us and the notable racists we had in our lives. None of the aforementioned instances or whatever racial discrimination experiences in between and henceforth have been prolonged any longer than an hour by the same individual. There were random spikes of racism by different individuals across different situations, to put it concisely.
In hindsight, I don't know what to make out of the racial intolerances I experienced as a kid. Those unduly racism I had experienced in the later stages of my childhood had a considerable mar on the already thin sheet of confidence I trumpeted around as a child blossoming into the early days of my teenhood. I would often find myself obsessing over a lighter skin shade so I can be likened to a person of a more 'dignified' race, similar to those of my lighter-skinned counterparts. I tried ways to hide my identity as an Indian, making use of the unintelligible fact that most of my peers bought into, that is the notion that Christianity, is a race. I knew for a fact, that this was, as obvious as it sounds, a stupid belief. This is sadly, still a widespread notion. And as sadder as it gets, racism is still on the rise, incongruent with the trend that statistics show of Malaysians today, that there are more literates today as compared to yesterday.
This leads one to wonder, what is the cause of the widespread racism among society today, especially among Malaysians who have long witnessed a heterogeneous society? What is this deep-seethed, directionless hatred that our younger generations are harbouring toward their brothers of different races? Where is it coming from? What measures are the older generations taking to curb racism and nurture goodwill and promote unity instead?