Tragic Orphans: Indians in Malaysia


Carl Vadivella Belle
2015. ISEAS Publishing
Softcover, 22.9 cm x 15.2 cm, 512 pages
ISBN 9789814519038


In 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: Indians in Malaysia – 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. An 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), the 1Malaysia policy and the 2013 general elections.

Table of contents

  • The Malay Peninsula: Early History, Melaka and the Colonial Setting
  • European Colonialism and the Malay Peninsula
  • India and the Development of British Ideologies of Empire
  • British Governance of Malaya
  • Slavery and Indentured Labour
  • Indian Indentured Labour in Malaya
  • Kangany Labour in Malaya
  • Other Indian Immigration
  • Indian Political Development to 1941
  • The Japanese Invasion, Subhas Chandra Bose and Indian Wartime Nationalism
  • The Post-war Period: Reform and Repression: 1945-48
  • From Federation to Merdeka
  • From Malaya to Malaysia: Singapore, 13 May and the New Economic Policy
  • The Mahathir Years: A Changing Malaysian Landscape
  • Abdullah Badawi, Islamization, and the Rise of Hindraf
  • Najib and 1Malaysia: A New Deal?
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Editorial review

A much needed and long anticipated work on a community largely neglected by scholars. This book makes a great contribution to Malaysian studies, as well as to that of the Tamil diaspora. Belle’s meticulous and insightful work will be cited for years as definitive. This admirably sensitive yet scholarly portrayal of the Malaysian Tamil community is rich with inspired sobering analysis of the challenges faced by a minority community within a climate of heightened ethnic consciousness. Moreover, this work goes beyond other studies of this community owing to its comprehensive temporal and topical coverage. ― Andrew Willford, Cornell University

Weight 800 g
Dimensions 22.9 × 15.2 × 3.0 cm

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