05 Feb 2015: Tragic Orphans

Extensively researched and engagingly written, a welcome addition to the much neglected topic of the history of Indian communities in Malaya/Malaysia … an insight into the lives and challenges faced by them.
– Gauri Krishnan, National Heritage Board, Singapore
BM496 Tragic Orphans flier-1In view of recent trends and directions structuring the current political scenario in the country, a book which openly discusses the plight of the Indian community in Malaysia, imperfections and all, is presumed to be nothing but controversial. The title of the book – Tragic Orphans – was inspired by the activist K.A. Neelakanda Ayer while describing the fate of Indians in Malaya, “whom India has forgotten and Malaya looks down upon with contempt.”
Rather than merely going over familiar territory, author Carl Vadivella Belle attempts to cast fresh light on the Indian experience in Malaya/Malaysia, assembling his analytical lens from essential constituents: interviews with members of a vanishing generation of Malaysian Indians, such as people who had been recruited under the kangany (labour recruitment) system; who had personal experience with the Klang strikes of 1941; who had participated in the wartime politics of Indian nationalism; who had been active in the early years of the MIC; and who had known the leading figures who helped shape contemporary Indian society in Malaysia. Belle laments the fact that although there have been a number of historical, political, sociological and anthropological studies of the Indian experience in Malaysia, there has been no comprehensive general history of Indians in Malaysia for the past four decades. With Tragic Orphans, he aims to explore the history of the modern Indian presence in Malaysia, and trace the vital role played by the Indian community in the construction of modern-day Malaysia.

This book is neatly structured into three basic sections comprising, among other topics:

  1. leekokliangAn overview of the pre-modern and early modern history of peninsular Malaya leading to the Melaka Sultanate, the intrusion of European colonialism, the development within British India of colonial ideologies of conceptions of racial and societal hierarchies and the subsequent imposition of these ideologies.
  2. Tracing the migration of Indians to Malaya throughout the colonial era, forms of Indian labour (indentured,kangany, assisted labour schemes, plantation ‘slavery’), social and economic reforms and political movements in pre-war Malaya.
  3. Examining post Malaya/Malaysia, events leading to Merdeka, the May 13 incident, the New Economic Policy, the Mahathir and Badawi eras, the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), the1Malaysia policy and the 2013 general elections.
In keeping with his experience as a former diplomat, Carl Vadivella Belle maintains an even keel in the face of a thorny subject, balancing an outspoken and forward approach with unfeigned and objective writing. He continues to write and currently resides in Australia.

carl clip

Watch a short 5 minute clip of Carl’s thoughts on spirituality during his time in Malaysia

Come join Carl to explore the history of the modern Indian presence in Malaysia and trace the vital role played by the Indian community in the construction of contemporary Malaysia at the book launch on Thursday, 12 February 2015 from 7—10pm (registration at 6.30pm) at The Star, Pitt Street.