Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Digest: Farish Noor's Essay And Other Recent Articles on Temple Demolitions in Malaysia

Farish Noor's essay on the subject
Temple destruction a loss for Malaysian identity -Farish A Noor
Saturday, July 01, 2006

The bottom line is that the Hindu temples of Malaysia are and have always been part of the Malaysian cultural landscape. Hinduism is one of the Malaysian faiths. It has been rooted in the culture of Southeast Asia for more than 2,000 years. If anything, its long historical embeddedness shows that it deserves more than a token mention in the history books

Religion's entry into politics often leads to its politicisation and loss of its core spiritual values. This is painfully obvious to the scholars who have watched the rise of political variants of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism the world over. This has led many an analyst to the somewhat depressing conclusion that despite its lofty ideals religion has yet to develop immunity to the temptation of power. Since every religion is understood and judged by the actions and behaviour of its adherents, it is clear that Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists are often themselves the reason why these religions get such bad press these days.

Given the aggravated tensions, the contradiction becomes all the more blatant in the context of multi-confessional nations where the battle for hearts and minds often leads to a competition for converts. Being perhaps one of the most multicultural and multi-religious countries in the world today, Malaysia, is a good starting point. Since the advent of the 'Islamisation race' that took off in the 1970s, there has been a sustained campaign to win over more non-Muslims to Islam, and vice versa. Only
recently it was revealed that in the northern state of Kelantan, ruled by the Malaysian opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), the state government will offer cash and other rewards to Muslims who marry non-Muslim aborigines and convert them to Islam. One wonders where this will lead. Perhaps multiple conversions 'bonuses' for Muslim men who take several non-Muslim wives.

To complicate things, there is a simultaneous neglect of other faith communities and their places of worship and congregation. Over the past two decades a long list of complaints has been compiled by representatives of the Christian, Hindu and Buddhist communities: Permits for the construction of churches and temples have often been delayed, if not denied. On top of that there is the complaint that Hindu temples have been demolished, often on the pretext of 'development' but also because they were 'too small' for sizeable congregations or there were not enough Hindus living nearby to justify them. One wonders if the same line of argument would be used by the
(mostly Muslim) officials in cases of isolated mosques not close to large Muslim settlements.

Malaysia's Hindus are one of its many doubly disadvantaged communities. First, they belong to the Indian minority, marginalised for a long time on account of its so-called 'immigrant status'. (This is discriminatory because most Malays also have ancestors who came from places in Indonesia or Thailand.) Second, many of them belong to the poorer section of the Indian community, having been brought to Malaysia during the British colonial era as plantation workers and labourers who helped build the railway system that today connects much of the country. It is sad that this community has been relegated to the margins and remains on the threshold of Malaysian citizenship and national identity. Hinduism is recognised as one of the
faiths in Malaysia, yet the plight of so many Hindu temples goes unrecorded in the country's media, save for a few independent newspapers like Malaysiakini.com.

Fortunately globalisation may stand in the way of the rampant destruction of Hindu places of worship. While such demolition may have gone unnoticed in the past, today the Malaysian Hindu community is wired up to the global Hindu Diaspora. Since the beginning of this year, representatives of various Malaysian Hindu organisations have started seeking help from Hindu communities overseas. The Internet and other tools of global communication have helped ensure that the destruction of temples does not go unnoticed. Thus far, the response has been impressive, with Hindu organisations in Europe and other parts of the world appealing to the Malaysian government and the prime minister to do something to stop the march of the bulldozers.

The onus for living up to its image and slogan as a country that is 'truly Asia' lies with Malaysia. Under the banner of 'Islam Hadari', Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has projected a vision of Malaysia as the bastion of moderate progressive Islam. The emphasis of this school of Islamic norms and praxis has been on bringing to foreground the civilisational aspect of Islam as a way of life that is tolerant, plural, dynamic and sensitive to the needs of the times. Perhaps the time has come for the ideologues of the Malaysian state to put their words into practice and show just how tolerant and pluralist this vision of Islam is.

The bottom line is that the Hindu temples of Malaysia are and have always been part of the Malaysian cultural landscape. Hinduism is one of the Malaysian faiths. It has been rooted in the culture of Southeast Asia for more than 2,000 years. If anything, its long historical embeddedness shows that it deserves more than a token mention in the history books. Most importantly it has to be remembered that in the constitution of the Malaysian nation and its identity, Hinduism is not something ulterior, alien
or foreign to the country. The Hindu temples of Malaysia are part of the things that make Malaysia what it is. For that reason Malaysians of all races and religions should decry the demolition of these buildings as destruction of their culture. Those temples are not from Mars or another world: they are Malaysian, down to their foundations.

Dr Farish A Noor is a Malaysian political scientist and human rights activist, based at the Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), Berlin


From Malaysiakini
Hindraf: Enact laws to protect temples
Andrew Ong Jun 22, 06 11:57am

The government must legislate laws to recognise and protect Hindu temples in the country, said the Hindu Action Rights Force (Hindraf).

Its chairperson P Waythamoorthy, a practicing lawyer, said present legislation absolves local authorities from seeking a court order to demolish temples.

"Because of this, devotees and temple committees have no avenues to challenge the decision," he told malaysiakini yesterday.

According to him, local authorities often carry out demolition exercises on the ground that the temples were 'squatters' although many were built with the consent of the then British colonial government.

He said this legal loophole allowed local authorities to circumvent Section 295 of the Penal Code which deems defiling places of worship a punishable offence.

Piecemeal solution

Waythamoorthy was also not convinced with Tuesday's announcement that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) would only relocate and demolish temples after consulting a MIC-backed committee.

He described this as a piecemeal solution.

"The MIC have adopted a very regressive approach by merely talking to DBKL. It is wrong to say that the matter (demolishment of temples) is concentrated in Kuala Lumpur," he added.

He said a more wholesome approach would be for MIC president and Works Minister S Samy Vellu to discuss the matter in cabinet because this was a national issue.

Apart from setting up a special task force to look into the matter, he also urged the cabinet to push for the legislation of a Freedom of Religion Act.

In a related development, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) dismissed the allegation that opposition parties and NGOs were trying to capitalise on the temple demolition issue.

According to PKR deputy Youth chief S Manickavasagam, devotees and temple caretakers had approached them for help.

"They turn to us because they have no one else to turn to," he said.

Meanwhile, PKR Segambut division chief S Maniselvam asked why was MIC acting on the issue now.

"Samy Vellu has been president of MIC for 27 years. Why only now (does he take action)? This matter has been going on for a long time," he said.

Earlier, the duo and several others submitted a memorandum to the King urging him to stop the demolition of temples in the country.


From From The Peninsula Qatar
Uphold religious freedom, Hindus urge Malaysia
Web posted at: 7/3/2006 9:3:2 Source ::: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR . Malaysian Hindus yesterday called on the government to guarantee the right to freedom of religion, which they say is being trampled on by conservative Islam in the mainly Muslim country.

A Vaithilingam, the president of Malaysia Hindu Sangam which represents over 1,000 Hindu temples and associated communities, said the group issued the demand at their annual general meeting yesterday.

"We unanimously endorsed that the federal government should take this matter seriously and see that part of the constitution is implemented," Vaithilingam said.

The country's constitution affirms freedom of religion for Malaysians, but Hindu Sangam and other religious minority groups say growing Muslim conservatism is eroding their rights.

"Very often the authorities are ignoring the fact that there is something known as freedom of worship," said Vaithilingam.

Religious tensions have been on the boil since December, when an ethnic Indian moutaineering hero M Moorthy was buried as a Muslim over the protests of his Hindu wife, who said he never converted.

Moorthy was ruled a Muslim in an Islamic or Shariah court, in which his wife had no say as a non-Muslim.

Hindu Sangam's call comes amidst a crucial hearing in Malaysia's highest court to decide whether Islamic courts have the exclusive right to rule on whether Muslims can legally convert.

The Federal Court decided it would rule on the matter following the case of a Muslim woman who appealed to have her former religion struck off her identity card after converting to Christianity. Lina Joy, an ethnic Malay, was originally known as Azlina Jailani but changed her name when she converted in 1997.


From The Star
MIC stand on temples
By JANE RITIKOS Monday July 3, 2006

KUALA LUMPUR: The MIC wants local authorities to consider the relocation or building of temples in its structure plans to resolve the issue of temples being demolished to make way for development.

"As one of the main races in the country, we must make a firm stand that we, too, have a right to practise our religion," said MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu when opening the Malaysia Hindu Sangam annual general meeting yesterday.

Samy Vellu said when land was allocated for the building of places of worship, the local authorities "tended to forget Hindus".

He said when a decision was made to demolish temples, a relocation programme should be worked out before the demolition.

"If there are several temples in one location, we should think of grouping them together as one way to solve the temple problems," he told the delegates.

On another matter, Samy Vellu said the MIC wanted to restructure the party's central working committee (CWC) so that it was more effective in serving the community.

"I think I should restructure the entire CWC so that it is more effective to serve the community rather than just making it a place for meetings," he added.

He also said that that for now he would only appoint Cameron Highlands MP S.K. Devamany into the CWC. The MIC president can appoint nine members to the CWC.

"I have decided to appoint only one person into the CWC for the time being, which is Devamany, because I think being an MP, he should at least be a CWC member so that he will be able to do more work.

"That's the only decision I have made at the moment," he said, adding that he would need more time to decide on the appointments.

He also said Senator Saravanan Murugan would replace Datuk V.K.K Teagarajan as the party's Federal Territory chief.

"The party chiefs of all other states will remain the same," he added.

Teagarajan lost in the vice-presidents' race in the recent MIC elections.


From New Straits Times
Samy Vellu: Set aside temple sites
03 Jul 2006

KUALA LUMPUR: To prevent the demolition of Hindu temples, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu yesterday suggested that local authorities set aside permanent sites for temples.

Noting the anguish felt by the community each time temples were demolished by the local authorities, the MIC president said no temple should be demolished until relocation plans had been made.

Samy Vellu, who is also Works Minister, said: "There have been cases where temples located on government or private land have been forced to make way for development.

"However, in some instances, no alternative sites were given to relocate these temples."

Speaking after opening the Malaysia Hindu Sangam (MHS) annual meeting at Dewan Tan Sri Mahfuz on Jalan Sultan Salahuddin here, Samy Vellu said a relocation programme should be worked out before any temple was demolished.

He also commended Kuala Lumpur City Hall for setting up a unit to handle all matters pertaining to Hindu temples.

"I believe that Kuala Lumpur City Hall is the first local authority to establish such a unit to look into the affairs of Hindu temples and I wish to thank Kuala Lumpur Mayor Datuk Ruslin Hasan."

Samy Vellu said Ruslin had also agreed to the formation of a five-member committee headed by MHS president Datuk A. Vaithilingam to monitor the relocation of temples.

Vaithilingam said the problem of temple demolitions in Kuala Lumpur would be resolved with the setting up of the unit at City Hall.

At the Amma Education Foundation's (AEF) annual excellence awards at the Royal Selangor Club in Jalan Raja here later, Samy Vellu reminded students who benefited from study loans to contribute to society.

He told students to be grateful to teachers and sponsors who had placed a high premium on their education.

Present were AEF president Datuk Ravindran Menon and the All Malaysian Malayalee Association (Amma) president G. Satheesan.

Samy Vellu pledged a donation of RM30,000 to the AEF while the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents pledged RM50,000.

To date, AEF has RM1.5 million and has given out 150 interest-free study loans, amounting to RM600,000.


Index: Temple Demolitions in Malaysia

April 23: Temple Demolished
April 26: The Bamiyan Way
May 31: Unrelated post, but with links to articles on the issue
June 1: Things Standing Shall Fall, But The Moving Ever Shall Stay
June 8: Temples
June 9: Temple Demolished, 5 Arrested, 1 Injured
June 16: An Open Letter to PM Manmohan Singh
June 23: Updates - Temple Demolitions
June 25 : Foreign Backing Against Temple Demolition



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