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Malaysia People - Indian Society

The Malaysian Indian community is the most heterogeneous of the three primary ethnic groups of Peninsular Malaysia. The overwhelming majority of Indians (over 80 percent) are descendants of Tamils from the Indian state of Madras (now Tamil Nadu) and of the Hindu faith. However, there are also smaller Indian populations from many of the other Indian states, speaking other languages, including Telegu and Punjabi. The distinctive Sikh community, in which many men wear turbans, are Punjabi speakers. Also included within the Indian community are descendants of immigrants from Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon).

The Malaysian Sri Lankan community includes both Tamils (primarily Hindu) and Sinhalese, who are Buddhist. Religion is the major element of differentiation within the Indian community. There are a significant number of Indian Muslims, some of whom consider their ethnic identity to be Pakistani. Other Muslims, particularly from southern India, consider themselves to be of Indian origin. There is also a small group of Indian Christians.

Most Indian immigrants, particularly the Tamils, came in response to the need for labor in the rubber plantation sector during the colonial era. The major wave of Indian immigration began in the last years of the nineteenth century and continued for the first three decades of the twentieth century. Until 1910 a system of indentured servitude was the predominant means of Indian immigration within the colonial system. After 1920 a quasi-indentured servitude mechanism, or kangany system, was used. The kangany received a commission for each recruited laborer. Although abuse was probably lessened, the main features of the old system continued the use of false pretenses to attract labor and the obligation to work for several years to repay passage and other recruiting expenses.

In addition to the migration of laborers to the estate sector, there were also other streams of Indian migration. Indians were recruited by the colonial government to work in the construction of roads and railroads and in telecommunications. Indians were also employed as clerical employees in many government departments, particularly in the railroads. To the present day, Indians are overrepresented in the public works, transportation, and communications sectors of the government.

Urban Indians have been active in commerce, participating in small-scale retailing as well as dealing with large firms that trade with India. A good proportion of Malaysia's middle-class professionals, in both the private and the public sectors, are from the urban Indian community.

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Page last modified: 24-11-2017 18:56:21 ZULU