Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 26 Oct 2018

In March 2018, Pakatan Harapan (PH) promised to resolve the issues surrounding stateless Indians within 100 days if it won the 14th general election. In a special pledge made for Indians as part of its election manifesto, PH said that it would resolve Indian statelessness as one of its key promises immediately after assuming federal power.

All these years, Indian pressure groups such as Hindraf have claimed that there are as many as 300,000 stateless Indians in the country. After the PH promise, Hindraf executed yet another volte face by pledging their support for PH in GE14. Hindraf’s leader, Waythamoorthy was duly rewarded with a ministerial appointment.

Yesterday, as part of a Deepavali “gift”, 200 Malaysians of ethnic Indian origin were presented with letters of approval for citizenship by Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. At this rate, will we be witnessing such yearly Deepavali “gifts” for the next 1,500 years?

Now that he is a minister in the new PH government, has he protested against the data given by Deputy Home Minister Mohd Azis Jamman who told the Dewan Negara recently that the actual number of stateless Indians in the country stood much lower than the 300,000 claimed by Harapan leaders before the general election. Azis said that as of May this year, the Home Ministry had only received 3,853 applications for identification documents – out of which 1,638 had been resolved, while the remainder were being processed.

I would think Waythamoorthy owes us an explanation for the government’s data on the real numbers of stateless Indians in this country, namely, 3853 against his oft spouted 300,000! As recently as 19 Aug 2018, he still insisted “ten categories of statelessness have been identified as causing citizenship issues to more than 300,000 individuals”.

A nation-wide problem

How does Waythamoorthy, who portrayed himself as a human rights champion when he was not in government, justify his race-based preoccupation by saying the problems faced by Indians are unique and therefore, the policies need to be specifically targeted for them?

The issue of stateless Malaysians affects more than one ethnic group – it is a nationwide problem that includes the Chinese and also the indigenous peoples of East Malaysia. It involves large numbers of children. The PH government should therefore not only focus on solving the problems faced by Malaysians of Indian descent who are classified as stateless but of all such Malaysians who qualify for citizenship.

Waytha must realise by now that he is the minister in charge of National Unity and Social Wellbeing for all Malaysians and not just of ethnic Indians. The issue of statelessness has been a problem for natives in Sabah and Sarawak for generations.

There must be a political will to implement an entirely fresh approach to solving the issue of statelessness in Malaysia especially to ensure the rights of everyone including children and indigenous peoples who have been denied not just their nationality, but also access to healthcare and education for decades.

In order to solve one key area of the problem of statelessness, the National Registration Department (JPN) needs to urgently design a proactive procedure that can be used to access and process everyone entitled to citizenship as a right, even in the hinterland indigenous communities of Sarawak and Sabah. The NRD must also ensure that there is no interference from government-appointed headmen to compromise those rights by insisting on political allegiance to the government before signing the appropriate forms.

What is stopping the implementation of fair and just processing of applications right now?  If the new PH government persists in using occasional Deepavali or pre-election gifts of citizenship to a select group just like the BN used to do, we will have to wait at least a thousand years before we succeed in solving the problem of stateless people in this country.

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