Monday, June 13, 2005

Malaysian-Indian identity

Do Punjabis (an ethnic group of people who originate from the Punjab region of the Indian sub-continent) come under the “Indian” category or the “others” category?

I once asked this question and provoked a small heated discussion among my friends.

According to some of them, Tamils, Malyalees and Telegu (based on the Indian languages they speak) fall under the Indian category while other groups like the Punjabis (majority Sikhs), Gujaratis, Ceylonese (Sri Lankans), come under the "lain-lain" (others) category. Others disagreed and were of the opinion that everyone from the Indian sub-continent is an Indian. To this day I am not sure what’s correct.

It is quite funny that Sikhs are often incorrectly referred to as ‘Bengali’ in Malaysia. Bengalis actually refer to people from the Bangladesh and West Bengal state of India. I won’t mention another term used to refer to them, which is considered derogatory here in Malaysia but is actually derived from a Hindi/ Punjabi word meaning “brother”. Yeah! Its strange.

There are also the Indian muslims who have assimilated with the Malay community and the Chittys but that’s another story.

It was interesting to learn that a founder member of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), a component party of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) alliance was a Sikh. Datuk Mahima Singh Thaliwal who was also the country’s oldest former MP, passed away at the age of 99. Read the Star report here.

BTW, The Indian community in Malaysia is the smallest of the three main ethnic groups and accounts for about 10% of the country’s population.

13 comments:

~Harsha~ said...

biru ka hitam ka hijau ka.. kita orang malaysia kan? *wink*

my dad is a Punjabi, a pure Punjabi at heart. still has a kampong in Amritsar LOL :)

pezal said...

When I was a little kid, I call the Indian community as "Orang Keling". The "man with a turban" the Sikh are being call "Benggali". The Indian Muslim community as a "Mamak".. The rich Indian are normally Chitty. Because the always provide loans.

But know.. I know the truth.. hemmm

Lucia Lai said...

i suppose if punjabis are from the sub continent india, then they should be classified as indians too.

hmm... yes i refer to punjabis as bengali too. didn't know that bengali actually refers to the bangladesh people.

you know in our hokkien word, we refer to the indians as 'kelinga'. apparently because of the 'keling' which people deem deragotory, an indian friend of mine don't like it whenever we said 'kelinga' for indians. i can't understand... we don't use 'kelinga' as an insult but it is just the hokkien word for indians. if we don't use 'kelinga' what else can we use?? nothing!

Anonymous said...

As a punjabi person, i am of the opinion that I am Indian. Punjab is a northern state in India. Therefore, I am an Indian. It is very sad that most punjabi's in Malaysia do not think of themselves as Indians. Most of the Indians in Malaysia are from the southern part of India (the Tamil people). Therefore, most people in Malaysia assoicate being indian with being tamil. Personally, i was also caught in this dilemma as I was growing up whether I was Indian or not. Punjabi's and Tamil's speak a different language, eat different food, have different cultures and dress differently. The revelation I had that I was INDIAN came to me on my trip to India when I was 18 years old. To my amazement, India is a country which is made up of so many different types of Indians. Every state has different cultures and the people speak in different dialects/languages. It's a beautiful country full of contrasts, beauty and sadness in equal ammounts, wealth n poverty. A country of extremes. Perhaps thats what makes the beauty more potent as it is contrasted against poverty and sickness. Or perhaps it is simply a place where I found my roots..my true identity.. I am definately proud to be Indian =)

Shan said...

Hi, I'm a Sikh.And unless Punjab has picked up it's skirts and relocated to say Outer Mongolia, then I reckon we're Indians based on the simple laws of geography. HeHe!

But guys, please try to refrain from derogatory name calling. Please try to be more aware and educate yourselves and your friends/families. It ain't nice. I myself have schooled-in friends who (very innocently and without malice or bad intentions) have used innapropriate words - again, it's bad manners and it ain't nice. Put yourselves in our shoes.

But that's just me being sensitive I suppose.

Good post by the way. Never really gave the Indian & Others topic much thought until now. Cheers :D

Anonymous said...

Happy Independence Day. Three cheers for India.

A Proud Indian
I am Indian - www.iamindian.com

Harjit said...

"Indians" are citizens of the Republic of India. In Malaysia, "Indians" are mostly of Tamil origin. They were sometimes called "keling" because they were all supposed to come from the great Indian city of Kalinga. Punjabis are from the Punjab (now divided between India and Pakistan). They had an empire of their own all the way from Afghanistan, to Kashmir and Tibet. Sikhs are a religious ethnic race, (like Jews are). Sikhs can be Indians (if they are citizens of India), Pakistani, Malaysian or as in my case, Australian or something else depending on their citizenship. Best Wishes from Harjit, Australian Migration Planners, Sydney ("ausmigration@iprimus.com.au").

Adam said...

Harjit: Thanks for the information. Most of the Punjabis in Malaysia are descendants of people who came here during pre-partition days during the British Raj, when it was still British India. Some were from Lahore which is now in Pakistan.

Mariamman said...

You can just look at this place what world is talking about Malaysian Indians and the new burning issue of race relations.

http://malaysian-indians.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

There is no race called Indian. it is completely wrong, the right word should be South Asian. India is made up of many races, do you know in eastern india in assam, sikkim, the people look just like chinese ? they are of chinese/malay blood , are they indians ? politically yes, racially no. Indian should be someone who holds the passport of India. because then pakistani can be indian, bangladeshi can be indian, sri lankan can be indian, afghani can be indian, the WHOLE WORLD can be indian. where do we put a stop to it then ?

there is no race called Indian. Malaysia and Singapore's definition of indian is so crap.

in other countries, they are just referred as south asian, or asian. that can include anyone from the south asian subcontinent.

punjabi da munda said...

The word "india" was coined by Europeans, most probably by the english people. The word 'india' is nothing to with any indian language and infact it is a european word.

The sub-continent was ruled by muslims for centuries before the europeans arrived. At the time, each region or state had its own ruler or monarch, much like the european states like Italy, Germany, France , Spain and other european nation states.

In 1947, when the INDIAN UNION got its independence from Britain, the british simply draw the borders of india for their own interests and the ruling Gandhi and notorious brahmin ruling class. Most people in india are forced to accept indian identity rather their own identity such as Punjabi, Bengali, Gujurati, Kashmiri and many other ethnic groups in india.

The indian union is very unstable politically, in economics and freedom of expression, and poverty is widespread bcos the elites of the upper class are exploiting all the people in the indian sub-continent.

today many ethnic groups are unhappy with Indian rule, such as the kashmiris, Sikhs, and people in the northeast region in indian which have demanded their own separate nation-states.

india is big joke, one day it will fall and its people will enjoy freedom and free to practice their own culture.

Kissy Randhawa said...

Hey.. yes this is a very very confusing matter that all malaysians should get rid of. Malaysia has a very big problem in knowing someone's race.
1. THEY DONT EDUCATE CHILDREN ABOUT RACES EXCEPT INDIA, CINA AND MELAYU.
INDIA means TAMIL( including TELEGU, MALAYALEE, AND TAMIL)
this is where MALAYSIA has gone wrong.
IN ANY TEXTBOOK, IF YOU SEE INDIA, THEY WILL ALWAYS TALK ABT TAMILS.
2. TAMILS AND SIKHS ARE VERY VERY DIFFERENT FRM OTHERS.
a) SIKHS EAT CHAPATI/PRATHA
B) SIKHS WEAR PUNJABI SUIT(most TAMILS wear in Malaysia)
c) SIKHS SPEAK HINDI AND PUNJABI AND KNOWS URDU.
D) SIKHS HAVE TURBAN.
E) SIKHS ARE AT THE VERY NORTH SIDE OF INDIA. AND DURING THE PARTITION, SOME CHOSE INDIA, SOME CHOSE PAKISTAN.
F) BASICALLY, PUNJABI/SIKHS ARE FROM PUNJAB. NO MATTER ITS IN INDIA/PAKISTAN.
G) THEIR GURU WAS BORN IN PAKISTAN. SO SOME OF THEM HAVE VILLAGE IN PAKISTAN AND SOME HAVE IN INDIA.
H) PUNJABI IS A RACE. SIKH IS A RELIGION. LIKE HOW BUDDHA IS A RELIGION AND CHINESE IS A RACE.
YOU CAN HAVE PUNJABI HINDU, PUNJABI MUSLIM, PUNJABI SIKHS. THE MAIN ARE PUNJABI SIKH AND PUNJABI MUSLIM. ALL PUNJABIS SPEAK PUNJABI, AND HAVE SIMILAR TRADITIONS AND CULTURE. BUT RELIGION WISE, THEY FOLLOW THEIR HOLY BOOK AND HAVE DIFF WAYS OF PRAYING.
I) PUNJABIS IN MALAYSIA ARE MAINLY SIKHS. THEY ARE CONSIDERED AS "LAIN-LAIN" BECAUSE THEY DONT LOOK LIKE TAMILS. NOT TO BE RACIST, BUT PUNJABIS ARE MORE FAIR-SKINNED. PUNJABIS ARE PEOPLE LIKE AKSHAY KUMAR, SHAH RUKH KHAN, PRIYANKA CHOPRA, KARISMA KAPOOR, KAREENA KAPOOR, SHAMMI KAPOOR AND SO ON. THE JUST HAVE DIFF RELIGIONS. SHAH RUKH IS A MUSLIM PUNJABI, ASKSHAY AND THE KAPOORS ARE SIKH PUNJABIS AND SOME ARE HINDU PUNJABIS.
ITS VERY EASY TO RECOGNISE A PUNJABI BY NAME. IF THEY HAVE A KAUR(FEMALE) OR SINGH(MALE) AS THEIR MIDDLE NAME, THEY ARE SIKH PUNJABI THEN.
MALAYSIA SHOULD REALLY CLEAR THIS MISUNDERSTANDING BETWEEN ALL THE MALAYSIANS.
THEY ACTUALLY ASKED US TO LIST OURSELVES AS LAIN-LAIN. I DONT KNW WHY. AS IN OTHER COUNTRIES.. U ARE EITHER "NORTH-INDIAN" OR "SOUTH-INDIAN" AND ONLY "INDIAN" :)

Anonymous said...

As someone above mentioned correctly, it is an artificial name given by outsiders to people living near the Indus river Arabs and Persians called them (Al-Hindi aka Hindu), Greeks called the region (Indios) after the Indus river.

Reality is, it is Southern Asia. Calling yourself after an artificial Arab/Greek given name is so shameful. Use your original mother tongue/ethnic identity, one's blood cannot change.

Punjabi and Tamils have nothing in common with each other. The same Tamils refuse to call themselves "Indians" in Sri Lanka and fight and kill for a Tamil nation.

There is no such common "race" called Indian. A fair skinned Kashmiri is central asian by origin and a black skinned Tamilian are another group entirely.

Malaysia and Singapore's racial classification system is completely flawed and based on historic generalized definitions given by colonialists.

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