Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Penang Indian

Malaysian Indians are a group of Malaysians largely descended from those who migrated from southern India during the British colonization of Malaya. Prior to British colonization, Tamils had been conspicuous in the archipelago much earlier, especially since the period of the powerful South India kingdom of the Cholas in the 11th century. By that time, Tamils were among the most important trading peoples of maritime Asia.

There is evidence of the existence of Indianized kingdoms such as Gangga Negara, Old Kedah, Srivijaya since approximately 1500 years ago. Early contact between the kingdoms of Tamilakkam and the Malay peninsula had been very close during the regimes of the Pallava Kings (from the 4th to the 9th Century C.E.) and Chola kings (from the 9th to the 13th Century C.E.). The trade relations the Tamil merchants had with the ports of Malaya led to the emergence of Indianized kingdoms like Kadaram (Old Kedah) and Langkasugam. Furthermore, Chola king Rajendra Chola I sent an expedition to Kadaram (Sri Vijaya) during the 11th century conquering that country on behalf of one of its rulers who sought his protection and to have established him on the throne. The Cholas had a powerful merchant and naval fleet in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Three kinds of craft are distinguished by the author of the Periplus – light coasting boats for local traffic, larger vessels of a more complicated structure and greater carrying capacity, and lastly the big ocean-going vessels that made the voyages to Malaya, Sumatra, and the Ganges.

The Migration

Many are descendants of emigrants who left thousands of years ago and mixed with countless other ethnicities, while others are recently removed from Tamil Nadu. The diaspora's identity is rooted in an ancient heritage, a rich language and literature and a vibrant culture that many still retain. Many groups claim descent from medieval-era Tamil emigrants such as the Chittys of Malaysia and the Colombo Chetty of Ceylon.

An early emigrant group that is not well documented is the Tamil Muslims who emigrated in considerable numbers to the Sultanates of Malacca (in present day Malaysia) and were instrumental in spreading Islam amongst the indigenous Malays.

The overwhelming majority of migrants from India were ethnic Tamil and from British Presidency of Madras. In 1947 they represented approximately 85 per cent of the total Indian population in Malaya and Singapore. Other South Indians, mainly Telugus and Malayalees, formed a further 14 per cent in 1947, and the remainder of the Indian community was accounted for by North Indians, principally Punjabis, Bengalis, Gujaratis, and Sindhis.

British acquisition of Penang, Melaka and Singapore - the Straits Settlements from 1786 to 1824 started a steady inflow of Indian labourers, traders, sepoys and convicts engaged in construction, commercial agriculture, defence and commerce. But large scale migration of Indians from the subcontinent to Malaysia followed the extension of British formal rule to the West coast Malay states from the 1870s onwards as British brought the Indians as workers to work in the rubber plantations. The Indian population in pre-independent Malaya and Singapore was predominantly adult males who were single with family back in India and Sri Lanka. Hence the population fluctuated frequently with the immigration and exodus of people. As early as 1901 the Indian population in the Straits Settlements and the Federated Malay States was approximately 120,000. By 1931 there were 640,000 Indians in Malaya and Singapore and interestingly they even outnumbered the native Malays in the state of Selangor that year. The population was virtually stagnant until 1947 due to many leaving for Burma during the Japanese occupation as recruits for the Indian National Army and "Indentured Japanese labors" for the Death Railway.' At the time of Independence in 1957 it stood at a little over 820,000. In this last year Indians accounted for approximately 8 to 12 per cent of the total population of Malaysia (in the range 1.8 to 2.5 million) and 8 per cent in Singapore (250,000). There has also been a significant influx of Indian nationals into Singapore and Malaysia in recent years to work in construction, engineering, restaurants, IT and finance with many taking up permanent residence in Singapore where they account for nearly a quarter of the Singapore population.

Tamil Indian

Tamil Malaysian or Malaysian Tamil refer to the Malaysians of Tamil ethnic origin from India and Sri Lanka in Malaysia. They make up over 70% of the Indian Malaysian population group in Malaysia. Although bulk of the migration happened during the British colonial period there were established Tamil communities spanning a millennia.

Prior to British colonization, Tamils had been conspicuous in the archipelago much earlier, especially since the period of the powerful South India kingdom of the Cholas in the 11th century. By that time, Tamils were among the trading peoples of maritime Asia. Although bulk of these immigrants to South East Asia had assimilated with the majority Malay ethnic group some communities such as the Tamil Muslims and the Malacca Chittys are remnants of these earlier migration history.

During the British colonial era, Britain facilitated the migration of Indian workers to work in plantations. The overwhelming majority of migrants from India were ethnic Tamil and from British Presidency of Madras. In 1947 they represented approximately 85 per cent of the total Indian population in Malaya and Singapore. Other South Indians, mainly Malayalees and Telugus formed a further 14 per cent in 1947, and the remainder of the Indian community was accounted for by North Indians, principally Punjabis, Bengalis, Gujaratis, and Sindhi.There were, in addition, three further ethnic Tamil and religious groups whose political and economic importance in Malayasia far exceeded their numerical strength. Two were important business communities the Tamil Chettiars, a mercantile and money lending caste from Tamil Nadu, and the South Indian Muslims namely Moplahs from Kerala and Marakkayar from Tamil Nadu who were mainly wholesalers. The third group were the Sri Lankan Tamils also known locally as Ceylonese Tamils who were employed principally in the Civil Service and in the professions.

Trade contacts between the Tamils and Arabs & between the Tamils and East Indies antedate the Islamic period (circa 570-632 A.D.), or the birth of Islam. Indonesians and Malays came to know about Islam through the Muslim merchants of south India and not through Arab missionaries. Furthermore Islam had reached South India, particularly Tamil country in the 8th century A.D., while the state of Gujurat received Islam during the early 14th century, as a result of the invasion of the Delhi sultanate. Muslim traders of the Coromandel Coast are said to have been even politically influential in historical Malaya. In 1445 A.D. Tamil Muslim traders staged a coup at Malacca, installing a sultan of their choice. During the coming of Islam to Malaysia was the early decline of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Penang Indian

Indian in Penang are from various places in India,but the majority is from Tamil Naidu. Indian also divided into religion group, Indian Muslim and Indian Hindu, Indian Christian(include Indian Catholic, Indian Anglican etc). Indian Hindu is the majority, and Indian Christian is minority. Some of them are Anglo-Indian, which statically will not be under Indian, but others or Serani. There are also Jews, Persian or Parsi, Anglo-Indian, Tamil Muslim, Bihar Muslim from India; Anglo-Burmese and Rohingyas from Burma; Tamil, Muslim and Ceylonese from Sri Langka, and later the Pakistanis and Bangladeshi Muslim.

The Indian Muslim have formed their own separate group from the main stream Indian; they are fighting to be accept as Malay. Some of them like Jawi Peranakan, Mamak, have been assimilated into local Malay community. They even consider themselves as Penang Malay. But early Malay and Indonesian had been around in Penang much early than Capt Francis Light, they are the original Malay which are the people of Kedah Tua or Kedahan when Penang was part of Kedah.

Now even the Indonesia immigrant community(excluded the early Indonesian community who had assimilated into local Malay and is now a constitutional Malay), legal or illegal combined are larger than the Indian community.

Early Indian in Penang

Malayalee( Malabari)

A shrine called Keramat Tuah in Datuk Keramat which is said to have belonged to one Sangli Perappa. The grave,which possibly dates back to 1715, was also known by another name, Fakir Melana, who could have been a Malabari from India. This is
possible evidence of Indian settlement in Penang before the British acquired the island in 1786.

The task of tracing Malayalee contributions to Penang is complicated by the fact that the early wave of immigrants was largely Muslim. Their inter-marriage and assimilation into the local Muslim population makes it difficult to isolate their exclusive contributions since their identity as a separate community has diminished.

In contrast, the subsequent wave was predominantly Hindu and there was less inter-marriage with local Malays. Although this group has managed to preserve its unique identity, its contributions are equally difficult to isolate from early sources because most historians have placed them under the broad South Indian category.

1786 - The Choolias

"The Choolias, as Tamils from South India were known, were among the earliest of South Asians to arrive in Penang. Alaudin Meerah Hussein Lebai is mentioned as the founder of the Ariffin Mosque and Mesjid Kongsi. He is said to have arrived in Penang with Captain Francis Light, the British trader who acquired the island for the British government

1803 - Bengalis

The establishment of the Bengali Mosque in Leith Street in 1803. We do not know for sure this is a Bengali Mosque or Punjabi mosque, even the name is Bengali Mosque.

The Bengali people are an ethnic community native to the historic region of Bengal (now divided between Bangladesh and India) in South Asia. They speak Bengali (বাংলা Bangla), which is an Indo-Aryan language of the eastern Indian subcontinent, evolved from the Magadhi Prakrit and Sanskrit languages. In their native language, they are referred to as বাঙালী (pronounced Bangali). They are an Indo-Aryan people, though they are also descended from Mongolo-Dravidians, closely related to Austro-Asiatic, Dravidian, Assamese, East Indian, Sinhalese, Munda and Tibeto-Burman peoples. As such, Bengalis are a homogeneous but considerably diverse ethnic group with heterogeneous origins. They are mostly concentrated in Bangladesh and the states of West Bengal and Tripura in India. Rohingyas from Burma are Bangalis. After independence of Bangladesh, there is Bangladeshi Bengalis.

Many Malaysian wrongly called Pubjabic as Bengalis, which is great mistake. If the Bengalis Mosque is named due to the mistake, then the mosque indicated the historical arrival of Pubjabic people; otherwise it is the Bangalis or Biharis Muslim who established the mosque.

1821 Pubjabi Sepoys

There is also reference to Punjabi "sepoys" (soldiers) guarding the northern boundary of Province Wellesley in 1821.

The Punjabi people (Punjabi:ਪੰਜਾਬੀ ,پنجابی also Panjabi people) are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group from South Asia. They originate from the Punjab region, which has been host to some of the oldest civilizations in the world including one of the world's first and oldest civilizations, the Indus Valley Civilization. The Punjabi identity is primarily cultural and linguistic, with Punjabis being those whose first language is Punjabi, an Indo-European tongue.

Punjabis are mostly and primarily found in the Punjab region, of India and Pakistan, which forms the present Indian state of Punjab and Pakistan province of Punjab , this is because the Punjab region was divided between the two nations at independence from Britain. In Pakistan, Punjabis comprise the largest ethnic group at roughly 60% of the total population of the country and reside predominantly in the province of Punjab and Azad Kashmir. In India, Punjabis represent about 3% of the population. The majority of Punjabi-speaking people in India can be found across the greater Punjab region which comprises the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and the Union Territory of Chandigarh. Besides these, large communities are also found in the Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian states of Rajasthan, Uttaranchal and Uttar Pradesh. Punjabis belong largely to three major religions: Islam (70%), Sikhism (18%) and Hinduism (10%) and also small numbers of Christianity, Jainism and Buddhist. Muslim Punjabis are the largest group in the Punjab region and are largely concentrated in Pakistan, though a small Muslim Punjabi population exists in India. Sikhism and Hinduism are the major religions followed by Punjabis in India, with Jainism being the largest minority religion that is followed largely by Punjabi Banias and Bhabra people.

The Punjabis people in Malaysia, including Penang are mainly Sikh, Muslim and Hindu.After the separation of Pakistan from India, there are Pakistani Punjabis and Indian Pubjabis. But Pubjabis is not Bengalis ,as wrongly called by local Malaysian.

1840 Punjabi Sikh

A more definite confirmation of their arrival lies in the actions of Maharaj
Singh and Kharak Singh, who were exiled to the Straits Settlements(comprising Penang, Malacca and Singapore) in the 1840s for their part in the Anglo-Sikh Wars. The majority of North Indians, he noted however, had come to the Federated Malay States and the Straits Settlements from the 1930s onwards, attracted by business and job opportunities.

1833 Tamils

Following the establishment of the British trading port in Penang, the English East India Company brought in Hindu labourers from South India to develop the new colony, while others came in as traders. An indication of their presence, he noted, was the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Queen Street, which was founded in 1833.

Tamils were brought in from the Tamilnadu state in India as indentured labourers
in the early 1800s. There were Tamils working in the departments of sanitation, water, electricity, engineering, veterinary, transport, public works and telecommunications.

In pre-Independent Malaya, Tamils dominated these industries as labourers. Many of their descendants have since become educated and moved into the middle-class.

Some of the Tamils in Argyll Road were apparently well off and they seemed to have owned well-built houses and travelled in horse-drawn carts.

Tamils also worked on the road to Penang Hill, which was completed in 1920. The present day Youth Park in Jalan Utama was once a quarry where many Tamils were engaged in quarry work. Apart from working in plantations in Gelugor, Sungai Nibong and Sungai Dua, Tamils were also engaged in the fishing industry in Tanjung Tokong and Telok Bahang.

The North Indian

North Indians were a colourful, interesting and important part of the vibrant multi-racial population of Penang. This population has not changed muchsince the mid-1900s, though many have moved to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore in search for better prospects.

Many of the early businesses set up by the pioneer North Indians in Penang no longer exist. As a result of higher education, many descendants of the early settlers have become professionals instead of continuing in trade.

"Those businesses situated in the inner city areas of George Town are moving out or may even close as a result of the reduction of economic activity there. The repeal of the Rent Control Act has also had dire consequences for North Indian businesses in the 'Francis Light' grid of Beach Street, Bishop Street, Penang Street, King Street and Chulia Street.

The newcomers

Due to the political changes in the South Asia region, many newcomers from non-traditional areas were coming to Penang. Some from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, even Sri Langka, and Burma. The newcomers included Tamils, Malayalees, Punjabis, Pathans, Sindhis, Gujaratis, Marathis,Bengalis, Biharis, Oriyas and Uttar Pradeshis. In the following decades, they were joined by Iranian Muslims, Parsees, Nepali Hindus, Afghans and, even,in recent times, Kashmiris and Rohingyas.

Indian Muslim

Indian Muslim community was at its best in most ways when it unanimously and proudly identified itself as Indian Muslim. But, responding to economic and political developments in the country after independence, it has created for itself an identity crisis.

Analyst Hanapi Dollah had once said that the identity of Indian Muslims changed from Indian Muslim to Indian when they joined MIC and became Indian Muslim again when they formed KIMMA (Kesatuan India Muslim Malaya) and finally changed to Malay when they join Umno. This dilemma of identity has hindered their unity, diversified talents and efforts, and weakened the political strength they would have had, he said

MIC(The Malaysian Indian Congress)

The Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC or Kongres India Se-Malaysia) (Tamil: மலேசியா இந்தியா காங்கிரெஸ்) is a Malaysian political party and is one of the founding members of the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional, previously known as the Alliance, that has been in power since the country achieved independence in 1957.

The MIC was established in August 1946, at the end of World War II, to fight for Indian independence from British colonial rule. After India gained its independence, MIC involved itself in the struggle for the independence of Malaya (now Malaysia which was achieved in 1957. It positioned itself for representation on behalf of the Indian community in the post-war development of the country. The MIC joined the National Alliance comprising the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) in 1954 which became the Barisan Nasional in 1973 with further expansion in the number of component parties. The current head of the MIC is President Dato' Seri S. Samy Vellu.

Like the other racially based political parties in multi-racial Malaysia, membership in MIC is limited to ethnic Indians, the majority being Tamils descended from Indian migrants.

Note : (draft copy, still room for improvement)

Related articles:

1. MIC(Malaysian Indian Congress),
2. Call us Malays, say Indian Muslim youth, The New Straits Times Online dated March 3, 2008,

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