The Malay peninsula's initial association with Indian culture dates as far back as the fifth century. These ties were predominantly related with commerce. However, the last 160-odd years, and by far the most significant period of migration, was basically tied in with the export of labour.
While earlier Indian contacts with Malaya were motivated by individual needs,the consequent movement of Indians to this country during the 19th century was to serve the interests of their colonial masters.
The most significant wave that influenced the face of Malaysian Indians till this very day commenced with the influx of manpower in the 1830s, when Indian labour, rumoured to have started with convicts, were brought into the country to work firstly in the sugar and coffee plantations and, later, rubber, tea and, eventually, oil palm.
Along with workers for the plantation sectors, other groups also trickled in to take up menial labour work. Sepoys and domestic servants were also brought in by the British and settled in the Straits Settlements.
By 1870 there were 30,000 Indians in Malaya, not including earlier migrants who had already been assimilated with Malay communities. The size of the population parallelled the ebb and flow of the demand for rubber and later oil palm, fluctuating between 75,000 in 1891 and 625,000 by 1931.
These labour forces would also be seconded to various government undertakings: public works, municipal services as well as road and rail construction.
While labourers remain by far the most numerous immigrants throughout the migration of Indians to Malaya, there were also significant numbers engaged in commercial pursuits and in professional and clerical employment. For example, the clerical services within the growing British bureaucracy were manned by the Ceylon (now Sri Lanka] Tamils.
Those who came to Malaya had either worked with British officers in Ceylon who had been transferred to Malaya or were beneficiaries of the superior network of secondary schools established in north Ceylon by missionary organisations. Together with fellow Ceylonese from villages in Jaffna, they were eventually concentrated in certain fields of service such as the railways, public works, postal services, accounts divisions and the Treasury.
The 20th century heralded the first influx of middle-class Indian migrants with young, educated Matayalis from Kerala and the Malabar districts of the Madras state moving in to dominate in private sector posts within European firms and the plantations.
Educated individuals from other Indian communities also began to descend on Malaya around this time, including professionals like doctors, lawyers, journalists and teachers - all with high expectations.
Another category of non-labour groups were the Punjabis and other North Indians, who were recruited to the police, security services in various governmental departments and as technical personnel for the railways.
Simultaneous with this influx was the arrival of various categories of traders - lineal successors to some of the earliest Indian adventurers to this land. Parsees, Sindhis, Marwaris and Gujeratis set themselves up - from large-scale businessmen to tallest peddlers.
And one must acknowledge the pivotal role played by the South Indian Muslim businessman as far as retail trade in the peninsula is concerned. They retailed all goods of Indian origin, taking full advantage of the mass migration of Indian labour.
They were also among the first Indians to move into the Malay states and, because of their deep Islamic ties, established bonds with the Malay communities which have prospered till this very day.
The Chettiars are another prominent community that has flourished in modern Malaysia. Reputed for being trustworthy businessmen, they extended their influence through money-lending activity that was immensely crucial in the expanding economy that was Malaya.
All in, Malaysian Indians are a colourful and dynamic mix of peoples who may not always have seen eye to eye but have nevertheless evolved into a dynamic and crucial component of Malaysiana.
Telegus, Malayalis, Bengalees, Punjabis, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Tamils, Saivist... the list is endless and all have played their part in being a part of this country's rich past and even richer future.
They revel in their differences but understand each other more than they would care to admit.
* Text taken from page 84 to 86 of "Soul Of Our Nation" under Indian Community.
|A devotee with pierced cheeks fulfilling his vow made to Lord Subramaniam during the Thaipusam celebration.|
|Babies, small children as well as adult Hindus take the opportunity to shave their heads during the auspicious occasion of Thaipusam.|
|Children play in the vicinity of the Chitty temple in Kampung Gajah Berang, Malacca.|
|In a Sri Lankan Tamil wedding ceremony, the performance of symbolic and significant rituals is essential for a blessed married life.|
|Sri Lankan Tamils perform the Panchaalarthi at the Sri Kandaswamy Temple in Jalan Scott, KL, daily. Strict adherence to religion and the pursuit of education are the main themes in the Sri Lankan Tamil way of life.|
|A young woman sits patiently while her hands are decorated with henna. This ritual is part of the pre-wedding Sangeet ceremony to beautify a Sikh bride-to-be in preparation for her wedding.|
|Besides the hands, the feet of Sikh maidens are also decorated with intricate patterns as part of her bridal accessory.|
|A Sikh bride-to-be has many pre-wedding ceremonies to get through. One of these is the mainya oil ceremony. The young lady is cleansed with oil, yoghurt and horsegram flour to make her skin fair and bright on her wedding day.|
|The Hindu-Gurkha weddings, the element of fire (Agni) is important. The sacred fire is a symbol of the destruction of the ego and purification the soul.|
|A deft hand is required in the preparation of some Indian delicacies such as roti canai.|
This completed the section on Indian community.
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