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HRP’s P.Uthayakumar is “racist”– a fact or ploy?

By Iraiputtiran.

According Uthayakumar, the Malaysians Indians, 70 % of whom he estimates to be in the poor and hardcore poor categories and another 25 % in the lower middle and middle income categories, unaided by UMNO government ridden with racism and religious bigotry, are left to fend for themselves. Even the change, much anticipated and hoped for, post 2008 election in the opposition ruled states is a great let down.

Failing to answer any of P. Uthayakumar’s claims that the opposition alliance has failed to deliver its election promises to Indians and is practicing the same “racial politics” practiced by UMNO, favouring the majority Malays and Chinese, the opposition alliance seemed to have employed a rhetorical strategy, labeling him a “racist” in an attempt that seems to neutralise and discredit his claims.

Charges of racism

In this modern day politics, no one wants to be accused of racism or to be called racist. If it is Uthayakumar who is playing the “race card”, logically being a small party representing the poor minority community, and having not aligned himself with either the ruling coalition or the opposition alliance, what does he stand to gain really, politically?

In such a case, Uthayakumar’s emphatic repudiation of the opposition’s “racist” label as an attempt to counter his dissent on the opposition’s racial politics cannot be dismissed as a “Indian this, Indians that” mindset. Unless proven otherwise, it could be, as he claims, the opposition alliance that is covering up for the shortcomings in its “multiracial” politics.

Definitions of racism

Oxford dictionary defines racism as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualitiesspecific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races” and “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior”.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race” and “racial prejudice or discrimination”.

Indian Perkasa

Based on the definitions above, those accusing Uthayakumar a “racist” need to explain which part of his struggle qualifies him to be a “racist”? In his struggle as a human rights activist and advocate over twenty years against UMNO’s racism, he has not even once claimed that Indians are of a superior race. Rather his claim has always been that the Indians are victims of such racism and race supremacism. Neither has he in his struggle, discriminated ‘others’ on the belief that his own race is superior to ‘other’ races? HRP/Hindraf is often called the Indian Perkasa, equated to the UMNO’s Perkasa. Has Uthayakumar ever claimed that Indians are the masters of this land or theirs is the supreme race in the country like Ibrahim Ali claims “Ketuanan Melayu”? Beyond that, with the support of poor Indians, minorities at that, with all the social disadvantages in the country, he is in no position to discriminate or exercise prejudice against ‘others’? As such, to equate HRP/Hindraf’s struggle to that of Perkasa is a shallow parody of the truth.

If Uthayakumar is indeed a racist, where is the proof, and if no, why the racial rhetoric?

Racial discourse by dominant groups

Perhaps understanding the game and power of racial discourse by the dominant groups in racial politics world over might help to shed some light on why a human rights activist and advocate like Uthayakumar is being shrewdly labeled a “racist” by his political opponents.

Racial discourses shape mental models. It is a form of propaganda (Fields 1990: 110-112) in which social actors employ rhetorical strategies in order to make ‘claims’ and promote a particular interpretation of a social issue. Successful “claims making” enable practitioners to mobilize supporters, attract adherence and neutralise or discredit political opponents. Racial discourse is an attempt to influence others’ perception and a convenient tool to gain political advantages.

Racial discourse of dominant groups work very well to legitimize and reproduce dominance by minimizing claims of inequality and marginalization of subordinate groups and makes dominant group understanding normative for a larger society (Doane, 2006).

Racial discourse is inextricably intertwined with issues of power. Dominant groups enjoy disproportionate access to vehicles of transmission for discourse, including among others, government (e.g. opposition alliance with four states) and media (van Djik, 1997).

The global conundrum of racial politics

In the light of the global conundrum of racial politics, Uthayakumar’s claim that the minority Indians suffer the worst form of racism in Malaysia is not hard to comprehend. Racism on minorities exists in many countries around the world. Grosfoguel (1997) argued that poverty, unemployment and low wages are significant among people of African and Caribbean descent in Europe than among the “native Whites.” In fact, poverty, unemployment and low wages have been so rampant among the racially underrepresented groups of Europe that certain countries have experienced unprecedented social protest. In November 2005, exasperated by racism and police brutality, the youth of Caribbean, North and sub-Saharan African descent expressed their frustration by rioting throughout the artificially segregated Parisian suburbs, which offer little to no prospects (Schneider, 2008). Hindraf’s 25 November 2007 phenomenal rally comes to mind.

HRP/Hindraf’s 18-point demand, including issues related to Tamil schools, higher education, job and business opportunities, seek equality and nondiscrimination. This is provided for in the Federal Constitution. Article 8 of the Federal Constitution provides for equality before the law. Article 12 of the Federal Constitution provides for no discrimination by reason of race or religion in any educational institution receiving government financial assistance.

Uthayakumar’s struggle for equality and nondiscrimination considered “racism” by both BN and PR leaders is puzzling as developed countries are moving towards equality and nondiscrimination in their policies. Nondiscrimination now stands as the key fundamental right in Europe and has been the object of many legislative acts, transposed from the European to national levels (Howard, 2005). From a political point of view “discrimination” has now become the new lens through which European policy makers who seek to promote equality and justice in plural societies view the fight against inequalities (Koppelman, 1996). As a result, the legal apparatus to address discrimination has been enhanced (de Schutter, 2006). This development has made, among others, possible for the vulnerable population, to gain protection and recognition, and in some cases obtain compensation because they have been the victims of unequal treatment based on their race, ethnic origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability (Amiraux and Guiraudon, 2010).

Obama’s call to transcend race and his successful bid to the presidency as well as the Bolivian indigenous Evo Morales’ and African Mandela’s presidencies are all efforts taken by the western world to end racism and inequality in their countries.

It seems then that Uthayakumar’s struggle for justice and equality for the long marginalized minority Indians, for whom nobody else is willing to speak, is in line with the current global political trend of nondiscrimination and equality in plural societies.

Charges of racism and the use of the label “racist” especially by the dominant group can bring detrimental damage and serve as the best rhetorical weapon to kill the opponent. Any such serious claim of racism should be rebutted and proved with factual evidence.

So far, Uthayakumar seems to have proven his claim that Pakatan Rakyat is playing racial politics sidestepping the Indians, with many factual evidences (some of which will be discussed in my following article) in his website (

Nonetheless, the same can’t be said about the opposition alliance which, on the one hand, is suspiciously silent on his claims, and on the other, virulently attack him as “racist”.

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