Sri Lanka's Malays Want More Political Space On The Island

By P. Vijian (Photo: ancient photo of Sri Lankan Malay community)

(February 01, Colombo - Lanka Polity In Sri Lanka's ethnic cocoon, the minority Malay population is searching for more political space to voice their socio-economic rights.

An estimated 50,000 Malays, mostly descending from the Indonesian archipelago and southern Malaysia, are the minorities among the minorities in the country's 20 million population.

In post-war Sri Lanka, the Malays are worried if their social-political mobility would be stifled without proper political representation in the island's multi-ethnic make-up, as a bulk are still in the economically-backward segment.

"About 30 per cent of the Malays are in the middles-class while 60 per cent are in difficult circumstances, living below the poverty line.

"They don't have regular income or proper housing, access to universities and government jobs are difficult because these are allocated according to ethnic proportion, and Malays are less than one per cent (of the population)," Sri Lanka Malay Association president Iqram Cuttilan told Bernama in the capital.

In the island state, Singhalese make up 74 per cent of the population, 12 per cent are Tamils, while another 12 per cent are Moors, who are Muslims (Muslim community is made up of the Moors, Malays and Indian Muslims).

The Malays, who were brought into Sri Lanka as soldiers by the Dutch in the late 1600s, still profess Islam, speak the Malay language, and continue to preserve their own culture and heritage of their forefathers.

But now, the new generation of Malays wants to be equally represented in the mainstream Sri Lankan society which, to some degree, has been ethnically polarised.

"We are lobbying the government to nominate a Malay MP (member of parliament) to represent Malays in Parliament. We are not being heard in the parliament, the minority rights cannot be articulated now," said Iqram.

The Malays have assimilated well into the Sri Lankan society and lived side by side with the other ethnic groups for decades.

Many are multi-lingual, with Singhalese, Tamil, Malay and English widely spoken among the Malay community. But their voice remains muzzled.

The pearl-shaped island had been torn apart by ethnic conflict for the past 30 years, when a Tamil separatist group took up arms against the Sri Lankan establishment, demanding a separate homeland for its two million people.

The war ended disastrously last May.

Even in last week's sixth presidential election, votes of unhappy Tamils (in the north) and Muslims (in the east) clearly swung to the opposition, once again signalling their dissatisfaction of being marginalised.



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