Malaysian Tamils are in an unenviable position for socio-economic advancement in this relatively prosperous southeast Asian peninsula. Locked into a more or less permanent minority representing only about ten percent of the population, they are caught between Malay majority political power and a large, highly competitive, economically entrenched Chinese population. Avenues for societal integration and upward mobility are blocked at every turn by government legislation, the Tamils' inability to influence government decisions, racio-cultural discrimination, and the relatively poor economic position of the majority of Malays. Fearful of losing "control" of their country, to the economic hegemony of the Chinese, the Malays have reserved three quarters of the land mass of west Malaysia for themselves. Apart from the subdivision and sale of rubber estates there is no suitable land available to the non-Malay populations. Malaysian government efforts to rectify the "economic imbalances" among the races, manifested in the Bumiputra ("sons of the soil") movement with a four-to-one hiring quota favoring the Malays in all public agencies, has further diminished employment possibilities for Tamil socio-economic advancement.
The Tamils' pursuit of socio-economic improvements has, nevertheless, been impressive. Active in the labor movement from its inception, Tamils built the largest and best organized union in the country; formed a national political party in coalition with the ruling Alliance party to represent their interests at the highest levels of government; created a cooperative society that succeeded in buying twenty plantations, covering more than 30,000 acres; and many individuals sacrificed and worked hard to acquire housing lots and ten acres of rubber land per family on state and federal agricultural land development projects. The cumulative effects of these impressive accomplishments, however, have succeeded only in maintaining a subsistence survival level for the vast majority of Tamil laborers.
Their reform agencies and political associations are monopolized by a small group of urban literate elites, individuals from the small "middle class" of Tamil businessmen. Plagued by incessant political factional infighting at all levels of society the laboring masses have been manipulated into a dependent passivity by the impotency the politics of exclusion and parochial divisiveness. . . . (Author's abstract exceeds stipulated maximum length. Discontinued here with permission of author.) UMI