Are you a gangster from Klang? Are you Christian or Indian? Aiyoh, I have become as dark as an Indian. These are prosaic questions and statements that Malaysia's Indians deal with, at some point and occasion, in their lives in the country. That their families may have lived in Malaysia for more than three generations makes no real difference. 

The gangster tag given to Indians, especially the darker-skinned ones, by other Malaysians—and they include Indians as well—took on prominence in the 1980s. Invariably, the “gangsters” were of Tamil descent. 

Police statistics show that Chinese—who make up 23.2 per cent of Malaysia’s population— have 65 gangs, which puts them at the top among the races in terms of the maximum number of secret societies.

Indians, who account for only 7 per cent of the population, have 18 secret societies—two fewer than the 20 headed by Malays—but their gangs are the most active.

Bukit Aman (Malaysian police headquarters) Secret Societies, Gambling and Vice Division (D7) principal assistant director SAC Rohaimi Md Isa told China Press that Malaysia currently (March, 2018) has 105 secret societies with 576 branches and 9,042 active members.

“Chinese, who number slightly over seven million in Malaysia’s population, are behind 65 secret societies. These societies have 167 branches and 3,113 active members,” he said. Rohaimi added that Malays have 20 gangs, with 120 branches and 1,513 active members.

“As for Indians, who account for about two million of the population, they have 18 gangs, a total of 267 branches and 4,143 active members.”

He said Indian gang members, unlike the Chinese, rarely form splinter gangs, which explains why their gangs are long established and have the most loyal members.

The Malaysian public often hears about deaths in police custody, with Indian names like S. Balamurugan, P. Karuna Nithi, N. Dharmendran who made headlines when they died before they had their day in court.

The Indian connection with the peninsula is ancient. The earliest is  Kedah. Some of the artefacts recovered have been dated to 4 BCE. The entry of Indian labour, however, began in earnest late in the 18th century.

In fact, most of those who die in police custody are Malay, says Suhakam (The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia), the country’s leading NGO in tracking custodial deaths.  But Indian cases are most frequently reported in the media and to Suaram (Suara Rakyat Malaysia), among the country’s leading human rights groups.

The official figures state that 23.4 per cent of custodial deaths comprise Indians. That’s almost a quarter of the official deaths in police custody.

Overall, there were 257 deaths in police custody between 2002 and 2016, according to numbers provided by the Home Ministry in a parliamentary reply on March 28, 2017.



he Indian connection with the peninsula is ancient. The earliest instance is the Bujang Valley archaeological site in Kedah, the northern most part of the Malaysian peninsula. Some of the artefacts recovered have been dated to 4 BCE. They were followed more than a millennium later by traders who came to the newly established Malacca sultanate, on the west coast for spices, gold, tin, etc. Malacca had become an entrépot for goods from the larger Southeast Asia region.

The entry of Indian labour, however, began in earnest late in the 18th century. In the 1790s, Sir Francis Light, founder of the British settlement of Penang, mentions Chulia (people from the Coromandel Coast) shopkeepers and farm labourers in the settlement. Light estimated that about 2,000 men came to work in this manner each year. But they did not create a permanent settlement. They preferred to work long enough to save money and then return to their homes. These migrants were mainly Adi Dravidar (Scheduled Castes), from the hinterlands of the Tamil country and Andhra Desa. They were driven abroad for survival by a lack of work in their homeland.  

The vast majority of Malaysian Indians came as indentured labour in the rubber estates. Mostly illiterate, their years of isolation on the estates gave them few opportunities to learn new skills or get formal education.

Systematic recruitment had to wait for the indenture template that the British created in the early 19th century to recruit Indians to work as labourers on the empire’s holdings across the globe. For the Malayan peninsula the Indians came mainly from south India to work in the rubber estates. For most of them the last ports of embarkation were Nagapattinam and Madras. They mainly came from Thanjavur, Salem, Chengalpet, Tiruchirappalli, and Ramnad districts in the Madras Presidency. Occasionally, the Presidency’s Telugu districts and Malabar in Kerala also provided recruits.

The British also recruited north Indians for the police force and security services, while Malayalees and Tamils from northern Sri Lanka’s Jaffna province took the clerical posts and joined the civil service.

Independent of all these migrants were the Chettiars, making their way to British Malaya for trade and business opportunities.

Among the older migrants the names of the passenger liners that took them to and from Malaya are part of their oral history; SS Rajula, on a fortnightly “Straits Service” from Madras to Penang, Port Klang and Singapore from 1926 to 1972, and the M.V. Chidambaram to Penang.



he vast majority of Malaysian Indians came as indentured labour in the rubber estates. Not only were they poor but also mostly illiterate and their years of living in isolation on the estates gave them few opportunities to learn new skills or get any formal education. It became a potent factor in their heirs’ turn to crime three generations later. 

According to economist P. T. Bauer European planters made use of south Indian labour as the permanent core of European plantation labour forces, in a ratio of about 10.2 Indians to 2.7 Chinese, per 100 planted acres. 


Line housing on a plantation. A typical unit had two rooms for the average family.

They were housed in permanent lines (compound housing) in the central section of the plantation, while Chinese contract workers lived outside the plantations in their own kongsi accommodation (communal housing) or in separate huts. 

The entire process of labour market functioning and organisation in the sector was effectively regulated through legislation, recruitment systems and immigration policies that served to protect the interests of Western firms and maintain workforce fragmentation. 

The colonial administration was also able to repatriate unemployed Indian workers during depressed economic conditions while Chinese workers’ mobility was restricted through immigration policies, according to the study, The Malaysian Indian Dilemma: The struggles and agony of the Indian community in Malaysia (Janakey Raman Manickam, Human Development and Research Centre, Klang).

The plantation system infantilised Indians as they became dependent on their plantation masters for services such as housing, crèches, and plots for growing vegetables or raising livestock.

That study states that Indians were the most marginalised of workers. They resided in closed plantation societies in frontier zones and the plantation symbolised the boundary of their existence. The isolation of plantations and colonial vagrancy laws also prevented them from leaving. 

In any case, the Indian workers’ background of illiteracy and inability to speak either Malay or English intensified their isolation and vulnerability. They were trapped in this cycle of dependency and poverty on the plantation for all of their effective lives. 

According to one social researcher, the provision of housing and other amenities by planters had a built-in mechanism for social control. 

Labourers in estate housing were not charged rent (which was included in the wage calculation). So, if they were dismissed, they faced eviction.

According to Janakey Raman, the plantation system infantilised Indians as they became dependent on their plantation masters for services such as housing, crèches, and plots for growing vegetables or raising livestock and had problems making the transition to urban surroundings when they were evicted.

Kernial Singh Sandhu in Indians in Malaya-Immigration and Settlement 1786-1957 says, “South Indian labourers were preferred because they were malleable, worked well under supervision, and were easily manageable. South Indians were not as ambitious as their northern Indian compatriots and certainly nothing like the Chinese... they were the most amenable to the comparatively lowly paid and rather regimented life of estates and government departments. South Indians had fewer qualms or religious susceptibilities and food taboos... and cost less in feeding and maintenance”.

And there you have the start of the gangster issue. 



viction from the estates from the early 1980s onwards as they changed owners and developed into brand new townships saw Indians competing for unskilled jobs with migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Myanmar. Moreover, this was also the time of the big switch from rubber to oil palm so there was no way these displaced workers could leverage their experience as rubber tappers in the new set-up. They had nothing to offer but their labour.

The mainly Tamil Indians were thus hit by a double whammy when they were kicked out of their rural havens. They lost the basic security of housing and had no skill that would help them survive in their new urban surroundings. Perhaps the one thing that could have helped was acceptance into land settlement schemes under the government agency Federal Land Development Authority (Felda). 

Between 1957 and 1960, over 300 rubber plantations (93,000 hectares) were converted into small holdings. The fragmentation of plantations had severe consequences for Indian workers.

Founded in 1956 to handle the resettlement of rural poor into newly developed areas and organise smallholder farms growing cash crops, Felda selected settlers almost entirely from one ethnic group though its own policy guidelines allowed it to recruit 30 per cent of any scheme’s population from non-Malays for schemes located outside Malay reservation areas.

The original Land (Group Settlement Areas) Act of 1960 governing the development of such settler scheme areas did not specify any ethnic preference in settler recruitment, only requiring them to be Malaysian citizens.

Between 1957 and 1960, over 300 rubber plantations with a land area of about 230,000 acres (93,000 hectares) were converted into small holdings. This figure rose to about 324,000 acres in 1967. The fragmentation of plantations had severe consequences for Indian workers; most of them returned to India. Subsequent attempts to form workers’ cooperatives to purchase rubber estates only involved small numbers of Indians.

Basically, then, rural and estate Indians were left to fend for themselves. The World Bank in 1980 did point out this problem and in its report stated its concern for Indian estate workers who faced increasing under-employment following the conversion from rubber to oil palm and who in normal circumstances “would be good candidates for land development schemes”. 

But no change was permitted to the policy emphasising Malay participation and restricting non-Malay participation in rural development programmes. So, what could the Indians do? 

Their problems were compounded by the fact that many in the estates had no identity cards, or held red ICs (denoting permanent resident, not citizen). That limited access to national-type schools run by the government, hospitals, and job applications.

Most of the displaced Indians attended Tamil schools on the estates. If they had the proper ICs, they got further schooling, going through an additional year first, called Remove Class. Thus, in the 2000s, displaced Indians and their children were mired in a vicious cycle of poverty. It’s undeniably a historical injustice of the country’s Bumiputera (sons of the soil) agenda.

In 2015, the welfare arm of the Malaysian Indian Congress (which represented the Indian constituency in the federal government), Yayasan Pemulihan Social (YPS), said about 40 per cent of Malaysian Indians were still at the bottom of the income ladder.

P. Waythamoorthy, minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of National Unity and Social Wellbeing in the new Pakatan Harapan government, said in 2018 there were an estimated 300,000 stateless Indians, including children who had been denied education and healthcare because of the fog around their citizenship status.



aythamoorthy is one of the new breed of combative Indians and part of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), a pressure group that has risen spectacularly in the last decade or so. It began as a coalition of 30 Hindu non-governmental organisations committed to the preservation of Hindu community rights and heritage in multiracial Malaysia, with its slogan of “Makkal Sakthi” (People Power).

About 20,000 Indians gathered near the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, carrying life-size portraits of Queen Elizabeth and Mahatma Gandhi to indicate the nonviolent nature of their protest.

It first came to public attention with an eye-opening rally in Kuala Lumpur on a Sunday in 2007. The provocation was the bulldozing of Hindu temples in 2006 by Kuala Lumpur City Hall. Hindu advocacy groups were enraged because the temples were legally built and centuries old. Simmering resentment over this act finally burst into the open in a public protest.

On August 31, 2007, the country’s 50th anniversary of independence Waythamoorthy, who is a lawyer, filed a class action suit on behalf of Hindraf against the Government of the United Kingdom at the Royal Courts of Justice in London for $4 trillion ($1 million for every Malaysian Indian) for “withdrawing after granting independence and leaving us (Indians) unprotected and at the mercy of a majority Malay-Muslim government that has violated our rights as minority Indians [14] as guaranteed in the Federal Constitution when independence was granted.”

The lawsuit also sought to strike out Article 153 of the Constitution which acknowledges Malay supremacy and for the court to declare that Malaysia is a secular state and not an Islamic state [16] as declared by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in his earlier term as prime minister. He also heads the PH government as prime minister.

The purpose of the rally was to hand over a 100,000-signature memorandum to the British Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. About 20,000 Indians gathered near the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, carrying life-size portraits of Queen Elizabeth and Mahatma Gandhi to indicate the nonviolent nature of their protest, as an Al-Jazeera report stated.

The gathering highlighted the disparity between the races of Malaysia and also brought out the anger over forced religious conversion. In 2007, there were a series of court cases involving the custody rights of non-Muslim Indian mothers against the unilateral rights of their newly converted Muslim husbands to convert their children to Islam.

Two legal battles running then were the cases of Shamala (2003), and Subashini (2007). In both, the originally Hindu husband converted to Islam and unilaterally attempted to convert their children as well without the non-Muslim wife’s legal permission.

A more recent case was that of Indira Gandhi whose daughter Prasana was taken by the convert father, and after nine years has yet to be returned to her mother. Police have yet to find the convert father.

Former estate Indians turned their hands to various trades. While the majority found legal means, a section of younger men saw easy pickings in working for the Chinese triads, which have a long and colourful history.

To political eyes the rally wasn’t just about temples being destroyed but also Malay privilege that kept the minorities out of mainstream economic development. From the New Economic Policy to the New Development Plan (1991-2000) and the New Vision Policy (2000-2010), all were targeted to promote the majority Malay population.

Hindraf’s importance to the present times goes deeper. Its programme of action has had a transformative effect on Malaysia’s political landscape. It struck an undeniable chord among a large section of Malaysians, not just Indians. The Hindraf agenda was one of the triggers for the Malaysian voter’s switch to the political opposition, which eventually defeated the long-ruling Barisan Nasional government in the May election.  



hrown on their own, former estate Indians turned their hands to various trades. While the majority found legal, even if meagre, means, a section of younger men saw easy pickings in working for the Chinese triads, which have a long and colourful history that begins with community protection and later branches out into illegal activity. They were called “secret societies” by the colonial powers though they functioned discreetly rather than in secrecy or defiance of the law. The original function was to provide services to the immigrant Chinese in Malaya. Indeed, the preferred Chinese term is “kongsi”, business endeavour. 

The original secret society in Malaya is believed to be the Tiandihui (Society of the Heaven and the Earth). It was founded in the 18th century by a monk in China’s Fujian province as a mutual aid organisation and entered the country sometime in the 1800s. Other kongsi came up probably for similar reasons and some turned to crime. By the late 20th century these secret societies or triads had become a formidable threat to law and order. There were also opportunities galore for people willing and able to do the work.

It was something of a godsend for many jobless Indians who took on the dirty, dangerous and difficult work of trafficking drugs, contract killings, loan collections, gambling syndicates, armed robbery, extortion and prostitution, etc. The Eighties were a time of flux as many triad members were moving up the food chain. Some were even into legitimate enterprise. Soon, the Indians just took over parts of the “business”.


Bentong Kali, icon of aspiring gangsters, killed by police in 1993.

There was also a sense of solidarity in being part of a larger entity. One 20-something Indian said, “It was great to have a group of brothers who look out for each other”. 

Bukit Aman’s CID director Datuk Hadi Ho Abdullah said that in 2013 about 70 per cent of the 40,000 suspected gang members in the country of 28 million were Indian. Chinese and Malays made up the remainder (25 per cent and 4.77 per cent respectively). A 2014 Al Jazeera documentary also said almost 70 per cent of gang members and felons in Malaysia were Indians. That had not changed in 2016. 

Director of the award-winning movie Jagat Shanjhey Kumar Perumal is convinced Tamils are influenced by the glamorous depiction of gangsters on television and cinema.

What real hope is there when discrimination is everywhere you turn? After 61 years of independence there has been no significant upward mobility in the Indian community, most of whom are Tamils.

“Astro, pioneer of pay-to-view television in Malaysia, has dedicated Tamil channels that run drama series, many of which show gangster lifestyles as glamorous. The parents are glued to these serials, leaving the kids to fend for themselves, teach themselves, or to hang out with those who offer something more exciting that is even similar to what’s on the telly.

“I’m not blaming Astro, but everything begins at home. If dad comes home drunk every day, his son will also do exactly that. If mum is always in front of the TV watching Tamil movies and serials while telling the children to study, only the bodies of the children will be at the study table. Their focus will be on what movie or what serial is going on now.

“Parents do lead by example. The stuff that’s on the tube influences youth. It also helps propagate gangsterism, suicidal tendencies, and emotional liability among Indians.”

Jagat (2015), a title derived from the Malay word jahat, loosely translated as “bad” is a coming-of-age story set in the 1990s which subtly underlines the plight of Indian Malaysians forsaken by the estate owners and forced to move to the cities and towns.

For Tamil school teacher S. Malar, the education system offers no real hope. She says her pupils must also work at part-time jobs to make ends meet at home. 

“What real hope is there when discrimination is everywhere you turn,” says Malar who has been in Tamil schools for 40 years. “After 61 years of independence there has been no significant upward mobility in the Indian community, most of whom are Tamils.

“The economic equity of Malaysian Indians is at 1.3 per cent. Income inequality is highest among Indians and 81 per cent of Indians have three months’ savings at the most. They make up just 4 per cent of university entries between 2014 and 2015.

“We Indians are like refugees—poor, hopeless, can’t find jobs, can’t feed the family. So, being part of a gang works.”



lamour, police chases, daring robberies. One name comes to mind in Malaysian gangster history—P. Kalimuthu, aka Bentong Kali. In the 1990s, he made headlines for his daring heists and escapes from police.

Kali joined a Chinese gang at 14, starting out with robberies and graduating to drug smuggling. He was jailed and released at the age of 19. He started his own Gang 04 in Kuala Lumpur. Kali was eventually caught and killed in a shootout at Bukit Damansara, an upscale township with million-ringgit bungalows. He was hiding out in that swimming-pooled, air-conditioned, luxurious, leafy-green enclave.

Gang 04 had its origins in Hua Kee, a very active secret society in the 1980s. Police say 04 was taken over by its Indian members and broadened its activities from collecting protection money and fighting for turf dominance to robberies and murders. They were armed and dangerous.

Police claim some of the 04 members operate even today as professional assassins. Yes, the talk on the street is that you can hire an Indian to kill someone for just RM5,000 (₹80,000). That’s also the sum a candidate needs to stand for election.

gang logo.jpg

Gang logos, both Indian and Chinese.

According to police, however, the most violent Indian gang is not Bentong Kali’s 04 but one called 36, said to be a splinter unit of an old-time Chinese gang, Hong Men. Heavily involved in drug-related activities, along with gang 18, it started operations in the 1970s. The Chinese members of 36 are still there, but are like tai ko (bosses) and have legitimate business fronts including real estate investment.

Like modern terrorist groups, these gangs also use online media to recruit members. Do they have much influence in Malaysian-Indian society? Ordinary people constantly refer to the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) as gangsters. The ties are economic, cultural and political.

It is said that gangs collect protection money from students to sustain their operations. And since the teenagers have little choice, they take pride in belonging to a country that doesn’t want them except as cleaners and grass cutters. The joke in urban areas is, do you ever see a Chinese sweeping the leaves on roads? No.

One former gangster who runs a Kuala Lumpur restaurant says he and his buddies lived it up at expensive city hotels for up to two weeks after a major heist. Drinks, karaoke and women. Some bought luxury cars and watches and took holidays in the US. He says he now helps former gang members find legitimate jobs, even if they don’t pay that well.

Becoming an armed gangster is easy in Malaysia though gun ownership without a licence is a crime.

One young fellow said he was recruited into a gang at the age of 13. He soon collected 30 underlings. What do you need to do as a small gang leader? 

“You must do drugs, break into houses, steal, extort, or even kidnap,” he said. He quit in 2012, fearing he would be killed before he reached 21.

Becoming an armed gangster is easy in Malaysia though gun ownership without a licence is a crime. Gang members say there are deep-rooted links between the underworld and police, even political figures.

Take the incident involving former Deputy Youth and Sports Minister M. Saravanan, who was accused of being connected with the assault of the the staff of Tamil Malar at the newspaper’s office in Kuala Lumpur in 2017. The question is why a minister confronted journalists at their place of work, “attempting to stop violence” carried out, in his own words, by “MIC Youth boys”.

Criminology professor P. Sundramoorthy claims the people at the top of gangs are influential individuals and difficult to prosecute in court.

For the ex-gangster restaurant owner, “If you want to eliminate gangs, start with the politicians, and then with the police.”



enison Jayasooria, research fellow at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, says the quick fixes politicians offer are just a way for them to keep or attain power. Handouts are a typical example. “Education, character development, capability development, neighbourhood building—all of these require long-term social work and community intervention,”he says.

He said social work and community intervention were currently lacking because most Indian-dominated NGOs were staffed by volunteers and did not have trained social workers. Perhaps one group fitting that bill is the USM Indians Inspire. Formed in the last decade or so, the group is seen as a vehicle to pool the resources of Penang’s University Science Malaysia Indian graduates to help the community, through financial aid for Indian students, tuitions, guidance and motivation.

Malay resentment of “foreign Asians”  was never openly stated when the British ruled, but after independence in 1957 these “aliens” were forced to leave or repatriated.

One member said the homes the group has visited are “poor, really poor”. And the people Inspire helps are all Tamils. “They have nothing going for them. We even supply reading material to the Tamil schools. We hold seminars, offer counselling and training to motivate them to give them that spirit to excel.”

Do Malaysian Indians, Tamils in particular, need motivation to excel? Many point to the New Economic Policy (NEP) as a barrier to their progress.

Instituted after the May 13, 1969 race riots in Kuala Lumpur, the NEP incorporated poverty reduction and income redistribution programmes based on affirmative action policies for Malays. The main concern was to raise their standard of living and hence a rural development strategy became critical in development planning. 

That was the rationale for Felda and its ethnic-centric policy and the Rubber Industry Smallholders’ Development Authority (Risda).

Malay resentment of “foreign Asians” in colonial Malaya was never openly stated when the British ruled, but after independence in 1957 these “aliens” (Chinese and Indians who were not granted citizenship) were forced to leave or repatriated, despite their long connections and residence in the country. 

Ah, but the Indians themselves looked towards Mother India first as their homeland, leaving only a handful who saw hope in Malaya. The Immigration Act 1959 was primarily intended to control the movement of non-citizens into the country. 

Then, after the creation of Malaysia (1963), the government passed the Employment Restriction Act 1968, intended to restrict the numbers and manipulate the “quality” of migrants to ensure only skilled non-citizens were permitted entry. 

The government also made it compulsory for non-citizens to apply for work permits for about 2,000 employment categories. These included the plantation industry, railways and municipal services, all of which were dominated by Indians. 

What we have today is an Indian underclass that is the result of government neglect and the politics of disengagement.

The work permits of Indians were non-renewable and consequently 60,000 of them left for India. Although they were eligible for citizenship, they were unable to get it as their reasons for wanting it to secure employment were not acceptable to the Malays.

These exclusionist policies also discriminated against Indians’ economic and political rights, turning them into “orphans of empire” (Indian Migrant Workers in Malaysia, by Amarjit Kaur). So Indians became “stateless” and illegal migrants. 

The share of Indian workers in agriculture (i.e. plantations) declined from 12.8 per cent in 1950 to 9.7 per cent in 1970. What we have today is an Indian underclass that is the result of government neglect and the politics of disengagement.

Many academics and social commentators point to the NEP for this, a development model that promotes inequality among races. The intention was to restructure Malaysia’s socio-economic fabric and to find ways to reduce poverty among all. It ended up according Malays special privileges. Worse, it essentially created a wealthy elite within that community. 



overty is a national problem, and the poor include Malays, Chinese and Indians. However, time and time again, since the 1960s, there comes along a Malaysian Indian Blueprint (MIB) to close the economic gap between Indians and the rest of Malaysian society.

One was the MIC Bluebook project, spearheaded by its president, Tan Sri V. Manickavasagam, in 1974. It had key proposals which included an increase in Indian share capital, ownership and control, racial balance in public employment, offer of Indians who were restricted under the Employment Act 1968 and abolition of the contract labour system, allotment of new housing and introduction of a systematic academic scheme for Tamil schools as recommended under the Aziz Commission Report. None of the Bluebook recommendations were taken into consideration.

In 2015, yet another masterpiece of bureaucratic prose was released to improve life for Indians. Implemented in 2017, it has done little. It was publicly perceived as just another MIC-UMNO offering before the 2018 general election.

So, will the narrative of Malaysian Indians change with the new Pakatan Harapan government? Will Tamils no longer find the world of gangsters more fun than normal jobs? They need to get those jobs first, and the new government must help open those doors.

According to MIB statistics, close to 60,000 of the bottom 40 per cent Indian households earn less than RM2,000 a month. Of those earning less than RM 1,000 a month, about 84 per cent do not have the savings to support three months of living expenses.

The community is also far behind the Bumiputeras and Chinese in education. Only 5 per cent of Indian children whose parents had no formal education succeeded in tertiary education, compared with 33 per cent for Bumiputeras and 44 per cent for Chinese.

The number of school dropouts among Indians is disproportionately high, accounting for an estimated 13 per cent of the total from primary school.


A group of Tamil women in Province Wellesley (Seberang Prai today) in 1907.

About 14.5 per cent of Indians are unemployed, compared to 11.6 per cent of Bumiputeras and 8 per cent of Chinese. Among those aged 15 to 19, 25.5 per cent of Indians are categorised as unemployed, compared to 8.1 per cent of Bumiputeras and 12.1 pe cent of Chinese.

Klang Member of Parliament Charles Santiago in 2017 asked for an increase in Indian student intakes into universities, vocational and technical centres. This included opening up Mara (Majlis Amanah Rakyat) institutes to Indian students from the B40 group. Mara is a government agency formed in 1966 to aid, train, and guide Bumiputeras in the areas of business and industry. It is under the Rural and National Development Ministry and hailed as a bastion of Malay-only education.

Santiago asked for an increase in the award of government procurement contracts for Indian small and medium entrepreneurs; an increase in employment at the federal, state and local councils; an increase in loans and grants as well as easy access to funds to create young Indian entrepreneurs from the B40 category including women and single mothers; and to make affordable houses available to B40 Indians as a matter of urgency. There are other politicians who have brought up these same issues, over the decades.

“It is the responsibility of the government to make these changes happen, for they are Malaysian citizens,” said Santiago. The Indians who migrated from estates are now “stuck with urban poverty and they need vocational training to push them out of poverty”.

The Indian community generally is so far behind the rest that it might take at least two generations to move out of the low-income category.

Many Malaysians across the board believe radical government intervention is needed to lift the Indians out of the quagmire of poverty. An NEP for Indians might just wean them away from the gangs into legitimate employment.