Malaysians of Chinese and Indian heritage often view themselves as second class citizens because of their marginalization where it concerns government economic, educational and societal policies as compared to those of Malay heritage. But they don’t know that a certain category of Malays form the third class citizens of Malaysia.

As a Malaysian of mixed heritage and being fairly close to my Chinese relatives (that interestingly possess an array of religious beliefs – Buddhism, Christian, Muslim, free thinker), I have been acutely aware of the non-Malay heritage mindset for a large part of my life.

All those grouses I hear so often about – lack of educational opportunities from the State (two brilliant all-rounder cousins who could not even score a scholarship between them locally), the necessity of using bumiputera front companies that cheat them (if not forget about getting the project) of their hard earned money, the hurt they feel when their Malay ‘friends’ or colleagues don’t accept their food when they go to great extent to ensure it is all halal, how they are always hit up for a bribe during police road blocks, the lack of any State support or encouragement for their religious and social activities – to name a few of the many, I know by heart. Hell, I saw and continue to see most of it with my own eyes.

I hear this also from my friends and acquaintances that whenever they claim to be the second class citizenry of Malaysia, I cannot contradict them. I could reply that they can still earn a living, seek a loved one, raise a family and eat their favourite food without the immediate fear of death. But I know that sounds more mocking that consolatory. So I nod my head and hear them out. What can I say when our fellow countrymen – Malaysians of Malay heritage – constantly berate their heritage by calling them foreigners and telling them to get out of their own country and go to some foreign land? I always wonder how those sort of Malays would feel if they were told go back to Indon which our own history books tell us they came from.

However, I confess that I do get annoyed when they start going on about how they are the most deprived citizens in this country. Because they are not. There are the illegal migrants, the cheated migrants (by their agents), the refugees, the really marginalized classes – so damn poor and dispossessed you don’t even see them, unless you waded into places you don’t dare or care to – right at the bottom.

And because just beneath them are those in my category of citizenry – the third class.

Who comprise the third class citizenry of Malaysia?

It is those Malaysians of Malay heritage that do not fit or are unable to masquerade the definition of a Constitutional Malay as defined in Article 160 of the Federal Constitution. Under the constitution a Malay “means a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom and … (b) is the issue of such a person“. As can be seen, a ‘Malay’ is not a biological phenomena but a constitutional and so a political one. A Malay who meets or pretends/postures to meet these four elements are those taken to be in the ‘First Class’ citizenry (in form, never mind spirit). Those in the third class citizenry will usually lack one element, or a combination if not all of the first three elements.

I mentioned that I was part of this class. I feel this because I do not habitually speak the Malay language (my first language is English as is my second and third; and if you want irony get this, I spoke in English to my Malay grandmother and Malay to my Chinese grandmother) and I do not conform to Malay custom as I understand it to be. Those that make up this class tend to be seen as ‘Western’ thinking if not cultured, liberal in political and personal outlook and conduct, tend to be more critical minded and seen as second class Muslims by the Islamists. Others that do not fit any mainstream categorization also tend to fall into this class like the homosexual, transsexual of Malay heritage, or Malays who cannot posture themselves as a Constitutional Malay.

Why do I consider this class below that of our Chinese and Indian countrymen?

Because this class has the potential to be even more marginalized and persecuted than they are. They possess all the disadvantages of their Chinese and Indian countrymen (because they lack the necessary family and political connections to utilize; although they do get to invest in Amanah Saham Bumiputera – woohoo) and are unable to take advantage of any of the opportunities generally accorded to their race (because they are not Melayu Malay they are marginalized from those opportunities) or do not want to.

Worst of all, we have no right to privacy. This, notwithstanding the recent Federal Court decision of Sivarasa Rasiah v Majlis Peguam Malaysia & 1 Or (Federal Court Civil Appeal No. W – 01 – 8 – 2006) opining the following:

It is patently clear from a review of the authorities that “personal liberty” in Article 5(1) includes within its compass other rights such as the right to privacy (see, Govind v. State of Madhya Pradesh AIR [1975] SC 1378).

We of the third class citizenry are constantly vulnerable to persecution under Islamic law for things that our Chinese and Indian countrymen can never be arrested and punished for such as drinking alcoholic beverages flagrantly, engaging in pre-marital sex, preaching about their religion without a permit or just going out on a date. Though we are all still equally vulnerable to section 377B of the Penal Code that outlaws anal and oral sex.

In short, our privacy can be violated anywhere and anytime by religious authorities on the flimsiest anonymous tip off.

Recall the Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno case. She went down to a club for a beer one night with her husband. The next day she was a worldwide sensation because of the maximum sentence passed against on her, including whipping, for the grave though bubbly offence of drinking beer. Or you could be at work serving some Muslim destined for hell and then suddenly get arrested along with them (even though you weren’t drinking). Or out on an innocent almost religious date in Terengganu and then – khalwatammokantoi beb (translation: Busted dude!). And if you want to see how sensitively, respectfully and honourably our religious department carries out its duties go to YouTube and search ‘Khalwat Raid’ or ‘Tangkap Basah’ (note how these clips should not be even uploaded to a massive public file sharing website). These are the worse case scenarios for a third class citizen. The twilight zone factor can visit us just about anytime. And just so you know how zealously efficient our religious authorities can be, you could even be raided if you were an American Christian.

(‘Tangkap Basah‘)

A non-Malay Malaysian is spared of such violations, humiliations and inconveniences. They can get wasted with impunity and vomit to their stomach’s content without any fear of arrest. They can sit with their lovers in public or discreet places whilst displaying some affection so long as it does not involve holding hands, kissing or hugging. They can book a hotel room with their lover without having to worry that the religious authorities bearing down on their door and ruin their creatively choreographed footage. They don’t have to be constantly fearful that religious authorities with handheld cams will sneak up on them and then upload the videos on to YouTube.

Its for these reasons I say that the liberal bent Malay comprise the third class citizenry – we can be more intensely persecuted, marginalized and humiliated than a Malaysian of Chinese or Indian heritage in addition to being similarly deprived politically and socially.

The saddest part about our national development is that some of our Malay founding fathers would these days probably fall into the third class citizenry. After all – some had pre-marital sex, many could appreciate a good drink (and by that I mean alcoholic beverage not sirap bandung), enjoyed going to the horse races and out for joget nights. Tan Sri P. Ramlee would never get any of his movies made these days and Salomah would never be as sensual and sexy today as she was then. All of them could do all this without danger of this country dangerously careening off into sex orgies, goat worship, unrestrained gambling and pre-Cabinet meeting drinking binges. None of that happened. I’m not saying everything was great back then but I do feel there was a greater sense of maturity, balance and humour about the Malays of old as typified by Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Dr. Ismail, and the like.

They may not have been the perfect Muslim or even the representative Malay, but that was because they were better than that – they were first and foremost, mature human beings possessed of a holistic sense of fairness.

(Editor’s Note: OK, so we didn’t exactly fix the glitch but we have embedded the videos previously linked directly on this page for the delectation of your all consuming eyes. Thank you for your patience.)

Fahri Azzat practices the dark arts of the law. Although he enjoys writing and reading, he doesn't enjoy writing his own little biographies of himself. Like this one. He wished somebody else would do it...

12 replies on “The Third Class Citizenry”

  1. farez jinnah, if being 'labelled' a 'malay' makes u all that MAD, please, forgive us. I would imagine that to u, the label would probably equal the words 'nigger', 'spic' or 'paki' in some other countries. And please tell us right away the next time u r insulted with the label, so that we may stop doing it. If u know Malays well, u would know that a great many of us out there are also polite people like u.

    And besides, for all u know, maybe these ignorant malays were just trying to be polite with u. If that was the case, then i dare not think who is actually being "arrogant, dumb, inbred & uneducated"…

  2. thx for the enlightenment. I stand corrected =)

    The reason I used the economic point of view was to cheer you up, in the sense that well, there's always something good if we look at the brighter side.I do understand your concern that money is not everything especially when we choose to stay in Malaysia despite of the abundant opportunities outside.

    I can now see a clearer picture(hopefully). Basically, in this post , you are trying to convey the message that malays, indians and chinese are the same.In fact, the policy may have even made certain minority to be more vulnerable than others.

    Albeit I don't totally agree that there are people more deprived than others(in general), I do agree that all of us did suffer in a way or another.

    I stand to be corrected.

    My sincere apology on my earlier ignorance.

    Regarding stigma,my deepest apology on that. I do know how sarcastic/mean non-malay can be at times. Certain chinese who have different mould of thinking from their race suffers the same too,apart from the religion and rojak issue.

  3. Hi everybody,

    Thanks for the comments. Appreciate it.

    @ Wawa, I sure hope so but I think we have to do more than just pray.

    @ Saleem, spot on bro. Somebody mentioned this in the TMI comments section as well.

    @ Farouk, thanks for your kind compliments. As for BB, you must have been a year below me then. I fear to think why my name sounds familiar! I confess that I was a tad rebellious in my secondary years. Just a tad of course.

    @ Patricia, we may not be THE minority, but we certainly are A minority. Just because we are Malay doesn't mean that we are necessarily swimming in it. There are Malays and there are Malays and there are Malays and …. you get what I mean?

    @ Injustice/Choong, I am trying to open your eyes and minds from the condition mindset the government has drummed into us. Notice how you are merely focused on the economic and materialistic issue? "Hey, you Malay fella can still apply for MARA, can apply for ASB so shut up lah, what you complaining about?" I can appreciate that perspective but to me that is an extremely narrow one. Life is not just about material wealth and gain. It is about being able to live your life how you want to. In that sense, a section of Malays have a more diminished lifestyle as compared to Malaysians of Chinese and Indian heritage because Islamic laws can be used to oppress and exploit them. I am speaking about the basic things we can do in life. Simple things like going out on a date or for a fun night out with friends (which may involve boozing up) is fraught with anxiety and stress.

    How would you like it if you are with your friends, having a good time, not hurting anybody, then some truck comes along with a bunch of fellas from the religious department with the police and media in tow arrest you, cuff you, humiliate you, cram you in a van. For what?

    Notice how narrow your perspective on the issue? I am Malay so I'm supposed to be 'like them' or 'like the UMNO Malays'. I am not. I am trying to also show you that you must be sophisticated and nuanced in your appreciation of the Malay community. We are not all the same. In fact, people like me are thought of as less of a Malay. I am called Melayu celup, rojak, and whatever else. But the point is this – I am not Melayu tulen.

    Worse when people like me, speak of a Malaysian Malaysia – that we must all be equal, that the Malays do not stand above any other races, that other religions should be allowed to flourish, not just Islam – I am called a betrayer of my race – a pengkhianat. When I speak for those Malaysians of non-Malay heritage who are to afraid to speak up, to make themselves heard because they don't want anything to happen to them – I get damned for it by the ultra-Malay crowd. I don't mind. I expect it.

    But the saddest part of it sometimes is that those same non-Malays think we are part of the same UMNO camp and think if we are somehow oppressed or persecuted, we are just bitching because we have economic access, as if we are indulging in some petty bitching.

    Am I third class? Truth is, I really don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I'm 2.5 class. Whatever. But don't take the title so literally – it's meant to be metaphorical and more importantly, thought provoking.

    Because there is no need to be narcissistic in our suffering. Some of us feel that suffering and some of us suffer as you do, just in a different way.

  4. hmm. I couldnt elicit the main message that you are trying to convey here.

    Just to reconfirm, are you trying to tell the public that there is this group of 'Malays' that is ostracized by all races due to their thinking and background? Thus, ppl should try to understand that not all of the Malays are privileged and in fact, this 'group' is the pitful ones because they are stuck in neither world?

    Or, this is just a random rambling?

    yet, at the same time, this group of 'Malays' did receive more benefits(albeit very little) than the races other than 'pure Malay'.They are still eligible for certain benefits under NEP( such as being MARA recipient, investment and etc).

    Thus, I find the term 'third class' to be rather unsuitable. Unless you choose to not receive any benefits at all, then probably I think your post will stand more authority. Of course, this is not meant as a critisicm.

    what I want to say is, 'hey! you did receive benefits, so Malaysia aint that bad afterall k =) theres so many more deprived people that we need to care about. so lets stop feeling bad about our conditions=)"

    I have a chinese-malay best friend who share the similar sentiment with you =) if by chance what I have managed to elicit from you is correct =) I stand to be corrected.

  5. Sorry I don get da point you r trying to say…….are you saying u r a Malay bumi who cannot get benefit from NEP???? Is tat even remotely true? As for extra-marital sex/alcohol, even Malay bumi cant do those in public….so where is this 3rd class issue????

  6. Maybe you guys are not the minority. Maybe there is a silent majority who think alike but do not dare or care to speak up. Lets pray and hope for some real change.

  7. Dear Fahri,

    I really enjoy reading your articles. This is to me, your best one. I'm in the same Malay boat but in an ideological sense. I subscribe neither to Malay nor Islamic supremacism and this puts me in the minority of the Malay political spectrum. Oh yes also, I'm a mamak.

    By the way, I was in the batch after yours in BB, I think. Your name sounds really familiar.

  8. Fahri, if you are a 3rd class citizen, then a Federal Constitutionally challenged Malay Woman would fall into a class lower than that. Being a woman, she has all the issues that you have AND the added issue of being treated like crap in the Syariah courts… HIDUP1MALAYSIATRULYASIA….

  9. Umno should tell the non Malays this a long time ago when the non Chinese were granted citizenships or shall I say second or third class citizenships !

    As a condition these citizens are not to question their rights and also to tolerate their corruptions and to give them whatever they want or demand. Above all to squad down so that they can look taller than the non Malays, but are they really the taller ones ?

    With these mentality Umno members will forever be living in the third world and soon may even go back to become the under developed world. These are indeed good enough reasons to compel them to send delegations after delegations of officials including the P.M. to plea to the once Malaysians non Malay professionals to return to serve in Malaysia. Incentives after incentives were and still are being offered for the non Malay professionals to do so. What has happened to the millions of NEP students they sent and are sending to the varsities ? In hibernation or may be they have decided not to serve in Malaysia but which country will take them ?

  10. i not malay. i only muslim of chinese-indian parentage. i malaysian. yet arrogant, dumb, inbred, uneducated persons thinking they are the master race keep glossing over my identity and piss me over 7 levels of hell, when they say "then, you malay".

    plus, did our stupid drafters of the constitution actually think that race can simply be defined with the stroke of a pen? there is no classical definition of a malay. even if you were chinese, indian or portuguese or any which baskin robbins flavour you get a kick out of, you will be invariably mixed somewhere along the line.

    watch the episode "Infection" (the 1st episode) from the 1st season of Babylon 5. in a nutshell 2 warring factions on a planet fight for yonks, 1 comes up with a weapon (an android) that latches on to the DNA of the other faction and have it kill the other faction. but like the best laid plans… they screw up when they don't realise that they share traits with the other faction and the androids end up killing their creator too. thus ends a civilisation.

    my point here, is this. there is no pure race nor can there be a race defined by traits because we all share one trait or another. so maybe it's time people become a little bit more educated, scientifically aware and do away with that definition of a "malay".

    it's time for us to be ourselves and join the rest of the human race, work hard for the fruits of our labour and earn our own identity.

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