I have intimate knowledge of the suffering undergone by an Indian woman, who had a bitter experience with Malaysia over decades, and who is now a US citizen. As Malaysia tends to be getting into a diplomatic stand-off with India over its handling of the protests by people of Indian origin in the country, I am reminded of this woman’ story.
She was married in India, to an Indian citizen who had a Malaysian work permit. Her father-in-law had established a successful business in Malaysia and become a citizen of that country. He wanted his son and daughter-in-law to join him there. This was in the 1960s. Subsequently, the son applied for Malaysian citizenship, but his wife’s application was not accepted as she was not an ethnic Malay or born of Malaysian citizens.
By the late 1960s, the couple had given birth to three children. All of them were citizens of Malaysia till they migrated to the US. But the children were deprived of their mother’s care and presence through most of their growing years, as Malaysia would issue her only a travel/ tourist visa which did not allow her to stay beyond six months at a stretch.
Every six months her visa would expire, and she could return to her family and children only after spending six months in some other country. For decades, she kept shuttling between Malaysia and India. Her husband himself was granted Malaysian citizenship only around the year 2000, four decades after he went to Malaysia on a work permit!
His citizenship might have facilitated his wife’s permanent residency in Malaysia, but it did not mean anything any more as her children had become successful academics and entrepreneurs in the US and she had become an American citizen.
On the flip side, the couple’s children got the opportunity to study in some of the best educational institutions in Malaysia which they might have been denied in India, where the competition is greater and tougher. This, in turn, helped them study in some of the world’s best universities in the US and make a mark.
But the instability and deprivation the woman has had to live with as a consequence of the insensitive handling of her case by Malaysia have had an emotional and mental toll on her, though she is physically strong and agile even in her seventies.
I find a parallel between this woman’s case and those Malaysians of Indian origin who are now protesting their treatment as second-hand citizens in the country of their birth.
The protesting Malaysians are mostly descendants of those who were taken by the British from India to Malaysia to work on their rubber plantations. These persons of Indian origin might have made better lives for themselves in Malaysia than they may have in India, but the sheer numbers who protested show that there is a deep rooted, and apparently justifiable grievance that needs to be addressed.
When lawmakers use the law to quell dissidence rather than have an open debate and discussion about the causes for it, they lay the foundation for discontentment that simmers beneath the surface and erupts when the opportunity arises.
This is as true for a family that is ruled with an iron hand by its ‘head’ as for nations of the world that refuse to allow expression of alternative points of view.