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In Malaysia, Police are NOT More Likely to Abuse Indians

Updated: Jun 11



Some of us joke that according to the daily newspapers, it’s mostly Indians who die in Malaysia. We make the claim based on this fact: in the obituary sections, the majority of death announcements are of Indians.


In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, an African American, principally by one white policeman, Derek Chauvin, in Minneapolis, the USA has been deluged with protests broadly labelled “Black Lives Matter.”


Some Malaysians have recirculated old articles or published new articles comparing Indians in Malaysia to African Americans in the USA.


Anne Dorall is the author of “Indian Malaysians are over-represented in police custody deaths” (link). It was published on 4 June 2020, in The Rakyat Post.


Anne’s article recounts the 2013 cases of Sugumar Chelladuray and Dharmendran Narayanasamy. Both cases are tragic and clear proof of misconduct by arresting officers, investigating officers, and higher-ups.


Anne uses data from Malaysiakini, Suhakam and a Parliamentary response to make many valid points, including that only one in four cases are publicised.


However, the two statements in this paragraph from her article call for some comment:

“Ethnic Indians make up less than 7% of Malaysia’s population but account for almost a quarter (23%) of officially reported deaths in police custody. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), going even further, estimates that this number could be higher at 55%.”


The first statement implies that the expected percentage of deaths in custody for Indians should be about 7%. But the expected percentage should be the percentage of Indians in lockups – a percentage which we do not know. If 23% of detainees in lockups are Indians, and 23% of those who die in lockups are Indians, then 23% is the expected percentage.” So, it’s an invidious comparison. All it tells us is that the proportion of Indians in lockups is probably larger than their proportion in the general population (7%).


The second statement, the 55% estimate (based on news reports), is as unreliable as concluding that most of those who die in Malaysia are Indians, “because most of the death announcements in obituary pages are of Indians.” The 55% estimate probably tells us Indians are more likely to vent their grief publicly. (Note: We’ve not been able to confirm that Suaram ever suggested that 55% of those who die in lockups are Indians.)


The sad truth is, data about custodial deaths is not routinely published in Malaysia. The only data the public has comes from answers to sporadic Parliamentary questions. Therefore, people have to rely on other means of estimating the number of deaths in custody.


The key fact is this: on average, 16 persons die in Malaysian police lockups each year. That’s the problem which needs to be addressed.


Martin Vengadeson is the author of “Whose lives matter,” (link) published in The Star on 14 October 2018, and now being re-circulated. On 31 May 2020, in Malaysiakini, he published “White trash, George Floyd and the Malaysian equivalent” (link). This article is also being circulated.


Martin begins his first article by recounting advice he gave his sons:


“IF you ever get stopped by the cops at a roadblock, don’t be a smart aleck,” … “They will see you as Indian, and police here are notorious for their maltreatment of Indians in the lock-up.”


Martin lists the names of four “celebrated cases” of Indians who died in custody: Francis Udayappan (May 2004), A. Kugan (January 2009), N. Dharmendran (May 2013) and S. Balamurugan (February 2017).


According to Martin, Suaram’s data suggests that 56% of news reports of deaths in custody are of Indians, while his own study over fifteen years leads him to an estimate of 80%.

Martin leaves it to readers to decide which data they “choose to embrace,” since the key point remains the same: “a disproportionate number of Indians have died in the lock-ups.” His point is “Many injustices do not have a racial slant to them, but police brutality does appear to.”


Martin then touches on deaths in custody of minorities around the world. He mentions the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA. Then he writes:


“Social activist Janakey Raman who spent most of his life working with estate communities says that the fear among the Indian community is that they have been targeted and branded as criminals, and that there is a vicious cycle of suspicion and blame that reinforces itself.”

In his second, more recent article, Martin recounts many cases of police brutality against African Americans in the USA. He concludes:


“I also have a question for you my dear Malaysian reader – is there a trend of racism in police brutality here? Is there any mirror of the same phenomenon that you can think of in Malaysia?


“I’ll give you some clues - lock-up deaths, majority race, minority race, hypocrisy, privilege, no convictions.


“Figure the rest out for yourself.”


Both Anne and Martin suggest Malaysian police target Indians. We respectfully disagree.

The sad truth is, Indians are disproportionately represented in the arena of crime.


The Malaysian Indian Blueprint, produced in 2017 by Indians in the Prime Minister’s department, points out that though Indians comprise only 7% of the population, they account for 22% of documented domestic violence cases, 29% of arrests for violent crimes and 70% of gang members.


Two other points bear pointing out. First, in most cases of abuse of Indian suspects by police, the abusers are Indian officers (interrogations must often be conducted in Tamil). Second, in the dozens of cases EDICT is familiar with, “racial profiling” is not among the claims made against the police.


We know many will be upset by what we say here, because they sincerely believe Indians have a bad deal in Malaysia.


We are well aware that hundreds of thousands of Indians have died while establishing and working on plantations during the British era and in the death railway during the Japanese era.


We are well aware that post-war, hundreds of thousands of Indian workers have been ousted from estates and turned into urban slum dwellers.


There’s compelling data to support those statements, but there’s no compelling data to support statements that the Malaysian police systematically target Indians.


The truth is, police misconduct is race-blind in Malaysia. In Malaysia, the response to George Floyd's death should be a response to police brutality, NOT a response to (alleged) discrimination against Indians.


EDICT 10 June 2020

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