‘Are you really Chinese? Why is your skin dark?’ - By Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Monday, August 20, 2018
Malaysiakini : “How I wished during those sleepless hours that I belonged to a different nation, or better still, to none at all.” – WG Sebald, Vertigo
COMMENT | When my friend P
Uthayakumar said this – “That could have been done just merely by a
stroke of the pen… but they did not do it” – about the current Pakatan
Harapan regime solving the issue of stateless Indians, he is right, of course. M Kula Segaran, on the other hand, is also correct to point out that
citizenship status would be granted not only to the Indian community but
to all races. Both statements demonstrate how easy it would be for the
government to correct this injustice if there is political will to do
When Harapan came into power, unlike most people, I was (and still
am) not obsessed about 1MDB. This country was a kleptocracy long before
Najib Abdul Razak’s excesses sealed the regime's fate on May 9. What interests me is how the state during the long Umno watch
reshaped the demographics of this country. And what really bothers me is
that there are people who have been living in a state of limbo for
decades, while foreign nationals have been granted not just citizenship
but the privileges that come with being of a certain race.
Now I do not want to sound like some sort of ethno-nationalist – I
could not even if I wanted to, because of the racial politics at play
here – but isn’t anyone else curious as to why we have a stateless
persons issue when it seems that every other person of a particular
religious persuasion got citizenship under Umno rule? Will the situation
When I read about this stateless issue, I become obsessed with the
flip side – those granted citizenship with a stroke of the pen. The
people who become part of the majority community, while Indians,
Chinese, maybe even other Malays and the Orang Asal were denied their
rights as citizens of this country.
This, of course, is not solely the crime of the Najib regime; it goes
back a long time. What I want the Harapan regime to expose is how deep
the rot in the system is. While stateless Malaysians are involved in a bureaucratic nightmare
of achieving citizenship, how many foreign nationals have become
citizens with a stroke of a pen, and – let’s face facts – not just
changed the demographics in certain areas, but also the balance of
There was a system in place designed to expedite the granting of
citizenship to certain individuals while hampering the legitimate
aspirations and rights of others. While I can offer no proof of this,
there have been far too many political operatives of the former regime,
state security personnel currently serving and retired, who have made
This kind of racial engineering, whether as alleged to have happened
in Sabah or other parts of the country, is something that poses an
existential threat to the real pendatang of this country. Sounds funny, but it’s true.
One question I get from activists, lawyers and other people who have
been on this stateless issue for decades, is whether there will be more
bureaucratic hassles when it comes to getting citizenship for those born
This of course brings us to the issue of stateless children or young
adults, which trumps whatever curiosity I may have of the racial
engineering of regimes past. Maybe letting those secrets remain buried serves a greater purpose.
Would you really want to know how your government screwed you over by
wilfully by systemically changing the demographics of your country while
calling you pendatang?
The real victims, the stateless children for instance, have been left
in limbo. While constitutionally created citizens go about their lives,
these stateless children have to eke out an existence – if they are
lucky – or become part of an undocumented and ignored subculture open to
the predation of political and corporate enterprises.
Let me be very clear. What these lawyers and activists question is
whether those below 60 granted citizenship if they can prove they were
born here and with one Malaysian parent is whether there will any
bureaucratic hassle when it comes to a non-Malay parent who is a citizen
of this country? Well, that is one dimension of the problem.
A Malaysian issue
Current opposition leader Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was pretty cavalier on this issue. As reported in Malaysiakini
when questioned in Parliament in 2016, he said - “There are 290,437
children who are between one and 18 years old who were born in Malaysia
but are not given Malaysian citizenship.
“These are foreigners and they are born not according to the
country's racial lines, but based on the country of origin of their
parents. The bulk of these stateless children have parents from
Indonesia, Philippines and Myanmar.” That is one part of the story. There is another.
I have often singled out DAP’s Teo Nie Ching for keeping this issue
in the public eye. To understand more of this issue, and the fact that
the number of stateless children exceeds the population of Perlis,
readers are encouraged to read this article where DAP’s P Kasthuriraani Patto reminds us that this is not solely an Indian issue but a Malaysian one. This is important because children should not have to pay for the
sins of the state and of their parents. This last part is axiomatic:
“Through our documentary today we can safely say it’s a Malaysian problem as all races are involved.” Kasthuriraani also expressed disappointment that the foreign spouses
of certain VIPs had an easy time obtaining citizenship, with the
National Registration Department ignoring those who actually needed it
“According to the Federal Constitution, those born to at least one
Malaysian parent can obtain citizenship… Why was the foreigner wife of a
former chief minister granted citizenship and even allowed to vote
twice in elections?” The Star ran an interesting article
on this issue in April of this year. The curious case of Wong Kueng
Hui, who was born to a Malaysian father and Indonesian mother, is worth
considering. Reading about his experience surely falls under the
definition of Kafkaesque.
“‘They said my application was not complete even though I have my
father’s papers and a birth certificate stating him as my father, and
his family vouching for me. They only look at my mother’s nationality
and the lack of marriage certificate,’ he says, adding that he was even
queried about his dark complexion.
“‘They asked me, are you really Chinese? Why is your skin dark? “The delay, he says, has even caused a rift between him and his
stepbrother as travelling back and forth from Keningau to Kota Kinabalu
and ‘going up and down the Jabatan’ took a toll on him. ‘Now, they tell
me my application has been forwarded to Putrajaya’.” Well, Putrajaya? I sincerely hope there was a happy ending to his case.
Because if there is political will to resolve this issue, it really is as easy as a stroke of a pen.