On Feb 19 this year, the same day that the Home Ministry's Special Implementation Task Force (SITF) to register, process and eventually provide fast-track birth certificates and MyKads to stateless Indians began its eight-day session, the Federal Territory People's Progressive Party (PPP) chairman A Chandrakumaran said the period was too short.
A mere eight days to register stateless Indian Malaysians, Chandrakumaran said, were not sufficient and that his party was receiving "never ending visits" from stateless Indians (Sinar Harian).
The next day, Johor MIC chairman KS Balakrishnan said more than 5,000 Indians in Johor did not have identification documents. (The Star)
Since the methodologies used for national population statistics data in this country are not transparent, being a guarded state secret and protected by the government under various draconian laws, one only can use the little data on population available and read between the lines for information that can reflect the true reality on the ground.
The honey trail
To look for bees, one has to trace the honey trail.
Considering that stateless people in Malaysia are deprived of the ultimate social security net, which is citizenship, and hence excluded from virtually every sector - health, education, employment, security and housing - it should come as no surprise that Indians have the lowest development index in the country.
They have the lowest life expectancy rate at 67.3 years compared with the national average of 71.2 years. Indians have the second highest infant mortality rate, highest school dropout rates and less than five percent of Indians reach tertiary level of education.
Indian Malaysians also have highest the incidence of alcoholism, highest incidence of drug addiction as well as make up the highest number of prisoners in proportion to the population.
Indians are involved in 45 percent of the country's crime and they record the highest percentage of deaths (just less than 95 percent) while in police custody.
They also constitute the highest rate of suicide among any Malaysian community, at 21.1 suicides per 100,000 population as compared with 2.6 suicides per 100,000 population for Malays and 8.6 suicides per 100,000 among the Chinese.
More than 60 percent of the inmates at the Simpang Renggam Detention Centre are Indians. Around 40 percent of male Indian youths are involved in crime; 14 percent of juvenile delinquents in this country are Indians; 41 percent of the beggars in Malaysia are Indians and more than 30 percent of them do not own a house.
Only a minuscle 1.5 percent of the nation's corporate wealth is in the hands of Indians and if the wealth of Ananda Krishnan's and Tony Fernandes' wealth is excluded, then it will be even less than half of that.
Beneath all these depressing statistics is probably where the estimated 450,000 stateless Indians in this country lie hidden.
Viewing this issue of statelessness in Malaysia from a macroscopic point, one can see that at one end of the spectrum, the Umno government, as alleged by the opposition, is actively giving citizenship to foreign Muslims from Indonesia, Thailand the Philippines, numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
And, on the other end of the spectrum, the poor and illiterate Malaysian-born Indians, numbering hundreds of thousands, are being systematically denied their citizenship in a rather shrewd manner.
Even though the Malaysian government strongly denies these allegations, its non-transparent governance does not give justice to its serial denials.
Trapped in poverty
The stateless in this country are generally trapped in poverty. They feel marginalised and ostracised in virtually every sector: at hospitals, in schools, institutions, enforcement agencies, and government and corporate institutions.
In order to survive, they need to seek a defence mechanism to overcome their woes and challenges. They either have to beg or to turn to crime, for there is no other alternative from a government that is devoid of caring and sharing.
P Uthayakumar (right) of HRP estimates that the majority of the 450,000 stateless Indians in this country are in Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Negeri Sembilan and Johor. Coincidentally, these states also hold the highest numbers of Indian gangsters.
HRP has come out with out with several proposals to National Registration Department (NRD) to address the problem of statelessness among the Indians:
1) The government should set up a special transparent unit within the NRD. This unit should have adequate resources, all the way from field workers to a department director. Its charter should be to:
a) Identify all Indian Malaysians who do not have birth certificates, MyKads or have problems with their citizenship status.
b) Create a database for them and establish appropriate programmes to resolve all their problems, one by one, by Dec 31, 2011.
c) Simplify the procedures for applying for delayed birth certificates and MyKads. Make the process 'poor people friendly'. Applicants should not be required to fill out so many forms or to provide so much documentary evidence, which most often are redundant.
Also, do not require them to come to the NRD offices so many times or send them on wild goose chases. Do not reject their applications because they did not cross the 't's or dot the 'i's. Treat them with more respect and support them throughout the process.
d) Authorise senior and respected members of the community to certify births and parentage where a hospital is unable to do it.
2) Religion, race and marriage should not be made non-constitutional barriers to birth registration.
3) Parents must be empowered to decide the religion of their children on the basis of the equality of all religions.
4) The NRD or religious organisations should not impose Syariah laws on non Muslims. Mixed marriages are one of the major reasons for the problem of statelessness among Indian Malaysians.
5) Empower this special unit to address this problem without interference from any religious body.
6) The NRD should discard procedures that were set up a long time ago, such as using outdated technology like photographs, to establish resemblances. Where necessary, opt for newer methods such as DNA profiling.
7) All that is required is for the hospital where the child is born to be made responsible for the registration of the birth. The birth must be registered and a birth certificate issued.
8) In cases of births at home or children who have been abandoned, a similar and simple enough alternative procedure needs to be established.
9) The government should extend the e-Govt system to cover this crucial need and set up a mechanism to monitor and report this effort in the NRD website.
10) This special unit in the NRD must be authorised to work with the Health Ministry, the Education Ministry, the Human Resources Ministry, etc, to resolve any associated problems pertaining to those ministries.
Attack the root causes
So, why should one care for these stateless people ?
First and foremost, there shouldn't be a reason. Each one of us must, simply on grounds of empathy and compassion, take on the responsibility of putting pressure on all our political leaders to take serious efforts to solve this ever-growing number of stateless people in Malaysia.
Politicians who merely give lip service and ignore this issue should be exposed and censured.
Second, crime is on an ascending trend in this country and it could in some way be symbiotically linked to the rise in the number of stateless people.
It will be pointless to build higher fortified walls around our houses and put up expensive and elaborate security systems as well as live in gated, guarded communities if we continue to remain blind to the root causes of this problem.
If left unaddressed, Mother Nature has her own unique way of 'correcting' these imbalances.
The problem of exclusion is universally acknowledged to be the source of the various social ills of any given society.
The statelessness of the Indian poor reduces Indian participation in Malaysian democracy, and this shortsighted and self-serving view of Umno has far reaching consequences.
If you were to connect the dots, you will see that the thinking that generates this shortsighted position on statelessness is what is perennially keeping us in a state of mediocrity among the community of nations.
Those of you who have been fortunate enough to step out of the country and see what is happening around the world will recognise the true folly of this kind of myopic policy of the Malaysian elite.
Due to our selfish, self-centred lifestyles, we could get 'bitten' in the process for not exercising our civic duty in helping these poor and vulnerable stateless people.
Albert Einstein once said that the world is a dangerous place, not because of people who do evil but because of good people who just look on and do nothing about it.
We are run by diversity. We become divided because we think that we are many.
This feeling of diversity, the psychology of plurality and the sentiments of multiplicity lead to conflict, confusion, and chaos; whereas the feeling of unity and harmony, the sentiment of synthesis and the experience of oneness brings unity.
Let us all be united in bringing the state of the stateless in Malaysia to its valid and justified attention.
DR PARAMAN VS is a general practitioner by profession. Just entering into his fifth decade of life, he regretfully admits to having exercised his right to vote only once - which was in the last general election. He drove 200km to do so. His wish is that the millions of Malaysians who are yet to register as voters will do so, soonest possible. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org