This issue was first brought up on this blog in early May. A letter written to Malaysiakini alleged that the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Jamaludin Jarjis (or JJ), had made insulting remarks towards an Indian student (and Indians in general) in a speech made to students in LA. There's been a couple of updates on this so I though I'd highlight them for the benefit of our readers.
First update - MP for Ipoh Barat M. Kulasegaran was reported to have asked JJ about this issue in parliament and JJ replied that he had already apologized to the person in question (student Sheena Moorthy) although Kula still insisted that JJ had not apologized directly.
Second update - a letter written in Malaysiakini defending the actions of JJ. It seems like such a passionate defense that I thought I'd reproduce it here in full:
JJ didn’t mean to insult student
Abdul Kadir Azhari
I refer to the report Minister taunted over remarks made to student and the letter Apology demanded from racist minister by Dr Sheela Moorthy.
I am surprised by the recent escalation of the situation revolving around the allegedly discriminated Sheena Moorthy and the Science, Technology and Innovation Minister, Dr Jamaludin Jarjis (JJ). I have read Sheela’s letter regarding JJ's remarks and feel I should clarify the incident.
I believe Sheela was exaggerating the facts; I was present at the dinner at the Belacan Grill in Los Angeles in April together with 40 Cal Poly, Pomona, University of Southern California, Cal-Tech and International Islamic University of Malaysia students and representatives of the Malaysia Students Department in Los Angeles. I would like to make it clear that Sheela was not in attendance at the dinner. Though her action of sending the letter on behalf of her sister, Sheena, is with good intention, I do not believe she could provide context to what had happened that night.
I have read Lim Kit Siang's blog regarding the incident and find that he best summarises Sheena's grievances over JJ's comments. His blog can be read here. From this point and further, I will use his blog, as well as Sheela's letter above as my references.
Through Sheela’s letter, Lim identified Sheena's three complaints as listed below. I will describe each incident chronologically and provide an actual description of each incident within context.
Incident 1 - ‘Each student had to briefly introduce themselves. When it came to her turn, while speaking, he interrupted her and asked if she knew Samy Vellu, because he knows him. She did not see any relevance in that and he mentioned it a few times for no apparent reason’.
The only reason why I could see this as discriminatory or why Sheena took offence was because of the reputation that S Samy Vellu carries and the fact that they are both Indians, insinuating that because she is Indian she is like Samy Vellu. It's true that JJ interrupted her and asked her if she knew Samy Vellu. However, Sheela failed to mention JJ's comments on Samy Vellu's importance in scholarship distribution. After asking if she knew him (Samy Vellu) or had talked to him before, JJ said he knows him very well and would get Samy Vellu's help in sorting out scholarships.
Samy Vellu is the president of the MIC, and therefore in charge of the distribution of scholarships and grants to Indian Malaysians. His assistance would be beneficial to Indian students. Sheena failed to realise the relevance of Samy Vellu to the further education of Indian Malaysians.
Incident 2 - ‘He gave a speech regarding how agriculture started in Malaysia. He mentioned how the British invested in Malaysia and made farmers work. Due to the lack of a work force, ‘buruh India’ were brought in. While mentioning this, he looked at her saying ‘That's how we get Indians in Malaysia’.
JJ did not give a speech on how agriculture started in Malaysia. Rather, he gave a speech on the development of Malaysia's biotech industry. He talked about our abundance in natural resources and its potential for utilisation and began his speech with Malaysia's agricultural industry. He explained how Malaysia has progressed from an agricultural-based economy to becoming a leader in the biotech industry.
He wanted to stress the leap from an agricultural-based economy to one that has taken a cutting-edge science to the forefront. To further emphasise that leap, he stressed the importance of the Indians in the agriculture industry which contributed to the progression of our country.
During his speech he did not mention ‘buruh India’ nor did he say ‘that's how we got Indians in Malaysia’. Instead, he used the term ‘pekerja India’. JJ said neither of the two remarks attributed to him during the dinner. So then, giving Sheela and Sheena the benefit of a doubt, I will assume then there was a communication mix-up. It is understandable that a speech on the immigration of Indians be summarised as ‘how Indians came to Malaysia’ and from that to JJ saying ‘that's how we get Indians in Malaysia’.
JJ was standing in the middle of the restaurant; it is almost impossible to say that JJ was directing his remarks towards Sheena because he was looking at all of us during the time.
Incident 3 - ‘After saying he is going to get Mara to help the bumiputera students, he looked at her and asked ‘How many Indians are here?’ Sheena did not keep track of the number of Indian students so she mentioned that in the room there were two (pointing to another Indian Malaysian friend, who is fair skinned) and Jamaludin looked at him and asked ‘Oh. You are an Indian? Which means you are an upper-class Indian and she is the lower-class one’ (pointing at her). Jamaludin went on to say that, ‘Oh, I am not going to help upper-class Indians, I only help the lower-class ones. They are the ones that need it'.’
All that is written above is true, and I will not dispute that. However, I'd like to mention that there is no distinction between light-skinned and dark-skinned Indians. Can you say that lighter-skinned Indians are more prosperous than darker-skinned Indians? You cannot. If you believe so, then you are misleading your mind from the truth. In Malaysia, we do not have that kind of distinction with the Indians.
And you should see Sheena and the other Indian guy - both of them are equally fair. JJ did not make his statement based on their skin colour but instead on the way they dressed and represented themselves. Neither did he make any remark based on their skin colour or race. He has even clarified it was meant to be a joke, though it may sound rude. I believe he had no intention to offend anyone including Sheena.
As far as I am concerned, the student delegates were not surprised at all with his speech. How is it possible that he could make remarks based on their skin complexion? During the dinner, the Indian guy was wearing a very nice collared shirt, unlike Sheena who wore a simple and dull black shirt with a skirt (which I would say doesn't suit her at all).
Nonetheless, JJ, in Boston, a few days later clarified that he had said some things in jest and he wished to apologise to ‘the student in LA’ if he had offended her. And that is a great and generous gesture from our honourable minister.
It is interesting to note the writer 'implies' the underlying rational for JJ saying certain things without being clear on whether JJ tried to explain the things which he said in context (I don't think he did).
My response to his letter would be that many times, when our 'own' race is not being insulted or denigrated, it is often easy to overlook these insults as oversights on the part of the speaker. But if Sheena, as one of two Indians in that room felt insulted and aggrieved, then I think that the said Minister (as well as other politicians) should be more sensitive and careful in his speech.
Perhaps all our politicians should undergo some sort of gender (reference to the 'bocor' incident) and race 'sensitization' class!
Last update - In response to the above letter, the following letter was posted on Malaysiakini.
Minister both racist and elitist
I refer to Abdul Kadir Azhari's letter, JJ didn't meant to insult student. I am in awe of the intellectual sophistication on display in this particular letter, especially the way in which Kadir manages to conflate two issues that are particularly controversial within the Indian community - skin colour and class.
After confirming that Jamaludin Jarjis did indeed make a crass and insensitive remark by associating (however ludicrously) skin colour with economic standing, Azhari says, ‘All that is written above is true, and I will not dispute that.
owever, I'd like to mention that there is no distinction between light-skinned and dark-skinned Indians. Can you say that lighter-skinned Indians are more prosperous than darker-skinned Indians? You cannot. If you believe so, then you are misleading your mind from the truth. In Malaysia, we do not have that kind of distinction with the Indians’.
So what is your point, Kadir? The fact is, your ‘honourable Minister’ did indeed make that distinction; it is obvious to anyone with a brain that Jamaludin, at least, views Indians in terms of binaries like fair-skinned - upper-class; dark-skinned - lower class. I do not want to reduce my intellectual capacities to rubble by deigning to argue this point by further scrutinising the complex racist beliefs that underlie those remarks.
My comments should be reserved for this particular gem: ‘And you should see Sheena and the other Indian guy - both of them are equally fair. JJ did not make his statement based on their skin colour but instead on the way they dressed and represented themselves. Neither did he make any remark based on their skin colour or race. He has even clarified it was meant to be a joke, though it may sound rude. I believe he had no intention to offend anyone including Sheena’.
Jamaludin did not make his statement based on skin colour, but instead on the way they dressed and represented themselves? That makes complete sense. So what Kadir is saying is essentially this - Jamaludin didn't mean to cause offence by being a racist dimwit, but instead, by being an elitist dimwit. Okay, point taken.
Kadir continues: ‘During the dinner, the Indian guy was wearing a very nice collared shirt, unlike Sheena who wore a simple and dull black shirt with a skirt (which I would say doesn't suit her at all)’.
So if a person is viewed as wearing unflattering clothes, for whatever reasons (it could very well be that she couldn't afford better clothes, or it could very well be that the choice of garment was not unflattering to the person wearing it), it is perfectly acceptable for someone like Kadir to write and publicly ridicule the person by making a comment such as ‘which I would say doesn't suit her all’, (I'm sure Kadir's fashion sensibilities are far superior to anyone else's).
And then by some strange twist of logic, he uses that very reason to defend the ‘honourable’ Jamaludin, exempting both himself and Jamaludin from accusations of racism and class prejudice.
And to top it all off? After hearing Jamaludin's remarks, ‘the students were not surprised at all with his speech’.
Brilliant. My faith in Malaysian politicians (our esteemed leaders) and Malaysian students (our bright hope for the future) has been duly restored. Am I glad to be Malaysian.
The last couple of sentences are noteworthy. I think that most of us are no longer surprised by the kind of racist and sexist language that emanates from the mouths of our politicians. I think we should demand a higher standard. And I think we should keep our politicians accountable until the day when such speech is a rarity and is politically costly rather than the status quo of being acceptable.
Looks like damage control gone awry for "JJ".
A passionate defense indeed. One, however, that is not garnished with any common sense. Its aftertaste lacks common decency.
The Minister himself asserted more than once, did he not, that he has apologised. Obviously (isn't it?) a person would only apologise for having insulted someone because that person has, indeed, insulted someone. Or am I missing something here.
Then along you have a third-party joker declaring in such passionate terms that there was no insult. The fact that anyone has to go to such length to dissect, analyse and then rebut a one-sentence insult is really mind boggling and speaks volumes of the perfection of the culture of "angkat bolas" in this society we loosely referred to as Malaysia.
Not necessarily true that apologising means you are in the wrong (or at least feel that way). Saying sorry is common in different cultures to show regret. In this case "I'm sorry you're offended but I did nothing wrong".
The defense clearly indicates that the author was simply apple polishing the minister. Pretty shallow but pasionnate defense though.
i have to admit, both are very well written. Somehow or rather you ought to give credit to kadir for attempting to defend JJ, especially when JJ is already in a position that he is so wrong. Although the letter was very well written but not perfect, it was a very good attempt by kadir.
As i go through the letter by kadir, i felt as if my MP bashing feelings was almost completely eroded. But obviously i did realise some really lame excuse that kadir came up with. nevertheless bravo to both the writers.
Passionate defense? It appears more like a twisting of facts to me. Probably he was paid to write something like this. God knows, it's a well known BN tactics, throwing candies at people.
many humans have just forgotten to say the word "sorry" sincerely without trying to explain themselves out of what had caused the issue.
just plain simple sorry wld have been sufficient
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