Friday, June 16, 2006


When I wrote this letter and sent it out on the 13th, I did so because I felt that there was no way that I could NOT write this letter. I felt that there was no way in which I could stifle myself. I felt as though I had hit some kind of breaking point.

And the reason for it was no longer the articles on temple demolitions that I was reading via alternative news media and mailing lists, which hitherto despite deeply angering me had also rendered me deeply lost for words. No, the reason why I could not not write this letter was something, superficially, unconnected.

It was a newpaper picture of a retired gardener, S. Sarimuthu, whose only daughter had died on June 11th as a result of viral eningoencephalitis and secondary pneumonia contracted while at National Service camp. In this picture of him, which I can't find online, he looks profoundly forlorn. He looks like his heart had been wrenched out of his body, pounded to a pulp, and then poured back inside.

This picture made me cry and cry and cry, and then write this letter. And cry even more the morning after I did, as I explained to someone what made me do it. The family wasn't Hindu. The girl wasn't the victim of genocidal hate-mongering. But I saw that picture and in my mind I saw that father at hospitals, at home -- I saw the way the nurses looked at him, the way the doctors spoke to him, the way hospital authorities dismissed him as she slipped into a coma. I saw him throughout his life, I saw the way this fucking state in one way or another has taken away even this, even her. I saw the colour of his skin and the sheer, unmitigated loss in his eyes, the way his loss and the loss of these temples were entwined, and I could not not write this letter.

These temple demolitions are ethnic issues first, then religious ones. To truly understand the peculiar dynamics of this, you need to have lived here. You need to have read the paragraph above and implicitly understood what I mean. But I realize you may never have experienced minority reality in Malaysia, and I'm struggling as to how to better paint you a picture of it, a picture that will testify to the experience of millions. So before you accuse me of being dramatic, give me the benefit of the doubt.

This letter has been sent via email to the editors of several Indian publications. If you can think of places where it should or could also be published, or if you see it (edited or otherwise) in any magazine or newspaper (not having access to hard copies means I can't check for its appearance), please drop me an email. Sharanya DOT Manivannan AT gmail.com . Please don't circulate the entire post via email, forwards being what they are, but feel free to link to this post.

Am sticky-posting it for some time. New posts will appear below this.


An Open Letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Dear Dr. Singh,

I write this to you not only as a citizen appealing to the leader of her nation, but as a non-resident Indian outraged and frightened by the atrocities committed against her heritage and religion – and the heritage or religion of millions of others – in the nation of her residence.

The past few months have brought with them a rash of demolitions of Hindu temples in Malaysia. By "rash", I mean an indeterminate but sizable number. By "rash", I indicate a deliberate official concealing of the actual figure.

The official excuses for these run along the lines of clearing areas for highway development and the lack of proper licences. But the sheer enthusiasm by which these demolitions are carried out – demonstrated by their rapidly increasing number and frequency as well as the unnecessary measures often undertaken, such as the torching of the temple structure and the defacement of statues of deities within – negates them. A suspiciously mute media further contradicts such pretexts.

Most of these attacks have occurred by dawn, literally ambushing worshippers within. At least one attack – on the 60-year old Sri Balamuniswarar Alayam in Setapak on June 8 2006 – resulted in the arrests of people who attempted to stop the demolition. This same attack resulted in injuries for some of the arrested – injuries which they were later forced to confess in writing as having been self-inflicted. A priest in that temple suffered a heart attack from the sight of it being desecrated.

This is the story of only one temple.

I cannot tell you how many temples, or stories, there are, because no one knows the real number. No one, perhaps, but the authorities carrying out what is clearly a secret, sinister agenda.

I ask you this: what excuse do you give us for your silence?

The Government of India has thus far taken no official stand on the issue. This is not for lack of knowing. Although the available information about these demolitions remains little, almost all the non-Internet media that has picked up on the situation has been from India. These are state-sanctioned demolishings, not the work of small factions of zealots. The Government of India has a responsibility, particularly because of its relationship with the Government of Malaysia, to respond.

When the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001, the Indian government, along with academics and former state officials, responded with the outrage demanded of the situation.

Some months back, the Government of India sent an official criticism to the Government of Denmark regarding the publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons insulting the Prophet Muhammad, resulting in the cancellation of Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen's official visit to India at that time.

Denmark and India have a strong history of bilateral relations, from Prime Ministerial visits to Copenhagen in 1957, 1983 and 2002 to total, direct Danish investment inflows to India since 1981 having reached approximately US$148 million at the end of September 2005 (according to the website of the Indian embassy in Denmark).

Malaysia and India, too, have had many successful bilateral exchanges over the decades. By an interesting coincidence, the
manufacturing-based foreign direct investment from India to Malaysia now also amounts to US$148 million (according to Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Dato' Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak at an India-Malaysia CEO forum in Mumbai on June 9 2006).

As simplistic as it sounds, it's almost as if all those millions of US dollars from Denmark – a country whose religious insensitivity India officially condemned – were poured straight into Malaysia – a country whose religious despotism India is curiously, confoundingly silent on.

The rights of ethnic Indians and other minorities in this country are crumbling, like our temples, as I write this.

2.05 million people of Indian descent may be a tiny number, when compared against the 1 billion and counting whom you, as prime minister, are officially responsible for.

But I ask you this: when temples that stood for over a century are destroyed, what really dies? Not stone and statues. Not bells and prayers. Not – thankfully and thus far – people. You see, what frightens me is not the loss of these temples themselves, though architecturally speaking, that too is often a disappointment. What frightens me is what these temples are taken to represent, and by extension, what their demolitions therefore represent.

As I write this, I am grasping in the dark as to the actual number of temples that have been demolished, torched or otherwise desecrated in the past six months alone. Numbers I have read range anywhere from 10 to 20. Why are these numbers so nebulous? If the authorities carrying out these attacks are doing so with fully defendable reasons, why the secrecy? Why the media blackout, through which only wavering, surreptitious glimpses insinuate at a growing crisis?

I write to you because I feel as though the country in which I live, and in which 8% of the population trace their roots back to India, is teetering on the brink of religious and ethnic calamity. I write to you in an atmosphere darkened by the shadow of the pre-genocidal.

I write to you because I am afraid.

Yours sincerely,

Sharanya Manivannan
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
June 13 2006


All previous posts on temple demolitions: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Update: Thank you, Sepia Mutiny, for picking this up.

Update 17/6: Thanks also to everyone who wrote to me privately, mostly to let me know that they had sent my letter to some media outlet or another, or had linked me somewhere. One such person was Vikrant Nath, who sent me PM Manmohan Singh's email address -- I have now emailed him directly.


Blogger BeautyOnFyre said...

I am saddened by what I read, and I do not understand how anyone with a conscience can not intervene to put a stop to this.

What is so extremely sad about all this is how these religious zealots, in the name of a twisted version of their Islam, are carrying out what really is essentially extremely un-Islamic. The Quran makes it clear that violence - which this clearly is, in my opinion - is permissible only in self-defense and implies unmistakably that all houses of worship are sacred.

These savages need to learn to respect diversity if they ever expect anyone else to respect Islam because at the end of the day, all they succeed in doing is proving they are a bunch of barbarians no better than the Taliban (for what they did in Bamiyan).

And for anyone not familiar with Islam and its teachings, I don't blame them for believing all Muslims are terrorists and Islam is a religion of war when it is not.

At the end of the day, you get what you give.

9:59 AM  
Blogger multidimid said...

But how can a foreign country intervene in the internal affairs of another country?

10:25 AM  
Blogger Sharanya Manivannan said...

Multidimid - A foreign country cannot stop what another country is doing within it own borders just like that. But it can apply political pressure via issuing statements, reconsidering agreements, etc -- there are a variety of ethical ways in which a foreign country can voice its disapproval and outrage.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Kaveetaa Kaul said...


I am shocked at the state of events you have depicted. This definitely is an issue which should get coverage. I am linking your post to my blog. Lets take it from there.

Peace and love


11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that India should intervene on behalf of the indians in Malaysia, if we dont who will...it is disheartening to realise that people never learn..it is not the question of why we cant help it is the question of why we should. We should remember first that we are humans and we cease to be if we stop feeling and responding to the misery that others like us feel..i can only fathom the unspoken fear in the hearts of those people.

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Cynthia said...

I applaud you for speaking up. You've given voice to my thoughts. Thank you for your courage (I'm a chicken myself, as you can already see)
I will pass your letter on to everyone I know.
Keep it up and may God bless you!

6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are SO brave. SO brave. God bless you. Thank you for saying what we've all been thinking, though perhaps not so poignantly as you've written it.

8:49 PM  
Anonymous treefingers said...

Sharanya, no one who has read your fiction or poems and also your non-fiction, like this, should ever doubt that there will be another Arundhati Roy.

Even under a pseudonym I don't want to share my thoughts about the happenings. But you have and you are brave for it.

2:39 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

It isn't Indian Govt, who should protest.. It is you and me.. the Malaysians.. we have the tidak apa attitude.. we don't care.. We have an Indian Minister in Parliament.. we elect him to power each term.. It is us that needs to change..unless we stand for our rights, we will always be sidelined.. We will always be the lain lain..

6:11 AM  
Blogger Mahesh said...

sharanya, while the demonstration of islamic chauvinism through brute force is nothing new, ur courage in speaking up is astounding. keep writing, for that is the only way ur voice will be heard. indians have a way of standing aside and tolerating atrocities in the interests of subsistence survival. i admire u for breaking away from that legacy and standing up for ur (our?) community's rights...

if u dont mind, i'm going to place a link this site on my blog

7:40 AM  
Blogger Sharanya Manivannan said...

Thank you to all of you who've commented here for your support, as well as everyone who has come here thorugh Sepia Mutiny, Desi Pundit, India Pad and other portals (thanks especially to those who put this link there), and everyone who wrote to me privately.

Immigrant in Canada -- Believe me, if I could vote here, I would do as you said. There is an election coming up. Will/can you vote?

Mahesh -- Feel free to link me or my post. Thanks.

I think both Immigrant in C and Mahesh are right about this peculiarly Indian legacy of mute tolerance and standing aside. We seem to always be the first to allow the trampling of our culture, the first to deny our own heritage except at fashionable moments, the first to acquiesce to cultural and other imperialisms.

But if all of us can do just a little bit to shake off this malignant ethnic predisposition, a little bit personally and a little bit politically, perhaps things will change.

8:43 AM  
Blogger Maryam said...

Hello Chairwoman Miaow

I linked your wonderful letter to http://akramsrazor.typepad.com/islam_america/2006/06/literalism_and_.html as the entry above addressed the same issue but from an American Muslim's prespective.

It breaks my heart to see the atrocities being committed by a government that seems to get more and more out of control as each year passes. And they claim to represent the "tolerant" face of Islam. Ha.


9:49 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...


I blogged abt this in on April 25th.
I now live in Canada, I left Malaysia, the land of my birth, As I am an ethnic minority, and my own kind rather kow tow to Malays than understand that, We have equal rights enshrined in the constitution..I have no future in Malaysia and much as I want to fight for my rights.. my voice will be drowned in the melee of caste and creed problems that plague our community so much.. We can't look above our own differences.. we look down on our own kind.. and the Buniputeras know that only too well.. our weakness is their gain!

11:12 AM  
Blogger zhihongxj said...

Sharanya, I have no words to express my respect for you and your courage, and my utter disgust at the situation as it stands. And so: Rage, rage against the dying of the Rights!

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Dani said...

.....all i can say is the famous malaysian tidak apa attitude is government cultured, organically grown...and lovingly tended....and they tell us youths to be outspoken, and to seek out knowledge for a better patriotic country....like the One indian, on chinese and one malay propoganda ads...XD


3:38 PM  
Anonymous Aparna said...

Thank you for your spirited and eloquent stand. I live in Canada and this is the first I've heard of such levels of discrimination in Malaysia.

12:39 AM  
Blogger Chad said...

I hope your letter to the PM works. All of us should write him too. A PM's email address should not be classified information. He works for the people.

But I'm not sure if Mr.Singh would do anything. Sure, he has a moral obligation, but he also has a million of his own residents and neigbours with nukes. Doing the right thing has never been a major prerogative in politics.

I think that this business of not getting involved in another country's internal affairs is relative.

It's often used as xenophobic Msian propaganda to stop anyone from asking any questions of doing anything abt it. But if nobody interfered in Germany's internal affairs, Auschwitz's concentration camps would still be open for their next shift.

Have you thought abt writing to any authorities in Msia? It's in their jurisdiction, anyway. We all should do something about this. This demolition has to be against the law. If I'm not mistaken no one can obstruct another person's religious practice or something.

But I don't think that they would do it to a mosque or even a Chinese temple, because those communities take care of their own. Just look at the difference between a Tamil school and a Chan Hwa or an asrama somewhere. If we don't place importance of simple things like teaching children to read and write, the whole future of a people would inevitably head downhill. It's like we're planning for some kind of social disaster.

But if we speak with one voice, they will know that we will not be silenced. There should be equal amount of outrage regardless of whether they demolished a mosque, a church, a chinese temple, a qurduwara or even a Satanic cult's meeting place because when we legistlate that one belief system is superior to another, we are entering the threshold of Facism.

6:13 AM  
Blogger Seal said...

We have people who talks "the people of Malaysia, we are Malaysian" only during election and collecting donations and pretends not to know what is happening ...

I think as a human he/she has to be a human first and have humanity as priority before others! I think many fail to remember that!

I will add you in my blog.

10:39 PM  
Blogger Dean said...

Why can't Malaysia get its act together. I actually found those Danish cartoons to be very amusing. let's see more of them, please!

12:38 PM  
Anonymous aneeta said...


I've linked to your open letter and added some comments of my own. Here's the link:

Thank you, once again, for highlighting this issue.


3:57 PM  
Blogger Zafar Anjum said...

Hi Sharanya

I had forwarded your letter to the Indian PM to a newspaper in Singapore. They have now carried reports of the temple demolitions in Malaysia. Thanks.

8:59 PM  
Blogger The Keling Speaks said...

Racial and religious intolerance seems to be on a rise in Malaysia of late. We had one MP uttering the word, "keling" (derogatory term for Indians) in Parliament, and the government was silent about it. Another claiming "Malay Supremacy", others making it clear to all non-bumiputera Malaysians (how ironic that bumiputera is a Sanskrit word), that we shall always be looked upon as "immigrants", eventhough people like me are fourth generation Indians in Malaysia.

Now the temple demolishing, which is on the rise, but nothing new. It has happened before but hardly reported.

When I read what prompted you to write the letter, I totally understood. If you are a poor or middle class Indian in Malaysia, you are always on the sidelines.

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Nirpinder Singh said...

While the rise of Ugly Fundamentalism anywhere in the World is to be condemned, it is a fact that India’s record in this matter is not clean. During the ‘90’s when (the Late) Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao of the Congress party was the Prime Minister, he was widely perceived to be hand in glove with the BJP. This party, although publicly posturing as being Secular, is blatantly anti-Muslim, and anti-all other Minority Religions. There is very little in the way of crude, venal, or hypocritical behaviour that the BJP will not stoop to in order to gain votes. Witness the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The same Mr. L.K. Advani, who stood and passively watched the demolition taking place, after having impressed upon the Lumpen Hordes gathered there the “need” for building a Ram temple exactly where the Babri Masjid was situated, now has the temerity to lecture the Pakistan Government on the need to protect Hindu monuments there. The BJP leaders who loudly trumpet their own name as the protectors of the Hindu Religion have long been known to be double faced. They pose as Secularists in Public while pouring scorn on, and preaching hatred against all Minority Religions in Shakhas and Private Meetings. This is in spite of the Token Muslims that have been taken into the BJP fold. One only needs to talk with persons who were around at the time of Partition to realize that most of the Jan Sanghis, now absorbed into the BJP, are murderers having participated in Loot and Murder of innocent persons in 1947, in full Public view.
In a situation where Indian Muslims – Does India have the second or the third largest Muslim population in the World? – are questioned about their Patriotism daily, what right does the Indian Government have to preach to the World a Tolerant, All Inclusive, Democratic and Secular way of Government? What is needed is the rise of a generation of Leaders steeped in Gandhian traditions. Some persons who can start a Satyagraha in all Nations where Indians are settled, to set an example with good personal behaviour and good conduct. Being a writer perhaps the Correspondent can take the lead by writing Articles in Newspapers in Malaysia to promote accurate knowledge about Hindu thought.
Let India, and Indian thought, not be judged by the conduct of its Shiv Sainiks, Bajrang Dal members, and the Swayam Sewaks. It is time now that good Indian Culture and thought is imported from the places where it has emigrated, to replace the image tarnished by the likes of Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishan Advani, Uma Bharti, and Narender Modi. The more heart-rending cry should be going out from us to you. Please help us to save our Nation and our Culture.
India is turning Materialistic, while keeping a large fraction of its population in abject poverty. All of you who have emigrated and done well for yourselves in foreign Lands should help us by showing us a way to be Human and behave compassionately with each other in our own Nation.

11:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read your letter to Dr Singh. Don't think that's going to make a difference. Here is why

1. Babri Masjid was demolished in India by a state government under the supervision of central govt led by Narashimma Rao.

2. Muslims were killed/tortured in Gujarat with state govt support under the supervision of central govt led by Atalje.

3. Tamilians were sexually assaulted and killed in Karnataks with the state govt support under the supervision of central govt led by Rao again.

4. Kashmiris have been killed for quite a long time and most of the Pandits have fled Kashmir long time ago to be alive. The govt didn't care until the terrorists were trying to attach the parliment. Then they staged a drama by moving the troops to the border. The politicians don't care for innocent lifes. They only care if one of them (criminals) is in danger. And what for we are fighting? just for the land?. So Indian govt's theory is that the terrorists can't do anything to the Land even if they destory the Kashmiris and they only wanted to protect the land.

5. Indian fishermen are repeatedly caught by Sri Lankan navy for fishing in the cutch island. The Indian govt never cares.

6. Last but not the least. Dr.Singh has given a speech that the countries in support of terrorism needs to be isolated after the Bombay tain blast. Don't you think he should be the one first to act by removing all sorts of ties with Pak? Close their embassy, close ours, close the border and imposet economic sanctions on them and request the same from the international community.

I feel sorry for all of us. What do you expect out of the lousy Indian politicians. All they care is how to loot Indian people and make more and more money. I understand that Dr.Singh is not a politician, but except him everybody else sorrunding him are politicians.


An Indian out of frustration.

10:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its so sad in knowing what is going on around us while the Malaysian Gov are planning to ruin our freedom and the Indian politicians are pretending as if nothing ever happened as they got what they wanted.
The poor and middle class Indians in Malaysia, are those who are facing the most of this rising problems and suffering without knowing their rights.
When saw the clips of the demolition of the temple, who to blame? a group of Indians were helping the police and DBKL to evacuate the temple people and they were the one who took the deities from the temple. An Indian lady was seen pushing an old lady of the temple which made a cold atmosphere while the police took it as an advantage to take over the temple. Its very sad that there are no unity among us. As seen that other blood sucking idiotic racist in this country taking advantage on us.
Till the day we are united....this people will keep on stepping on us....

Crying for Indian's unity

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to use Anonymous but I did not want to register.

Yes, these are sad stories. One major problem has been that Malaysian Indians (read Hindus) have been building little shrines that grew into temples without any proper planning or authorisation -very often they did not even bother to buy the land, unlike the Sikhs and the Christians. This leaves them on very shaky ground legally.

As for the pollies, they are bastards. Half a million Indian professionals have migrated out of Malaysia by some accounts. They obviously did not like the islamisation - some subtle other not so subtle and yet some forced- there. Those who remain should immediately ensure that other Hindu temples are placed on a stronger legal footing.

Finally, if you are a professional, a graduate or a tradesman, consider migration.( I did - I'm not a Hindu - and I'm very happy.) Send me an email at "ausmigration@iprimus.com.au" with your CV (education, age, experience, training etc) for a free assessment. No obligation on you or me if you are from Malaysia.

10:18 AM  

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