No more splitting hairs

  • Opinion
  • Monday, 17 Mar 2014

A day must come when we learn to truly celebrate our diversity without it being used to divide us.

I DREAD it when people ask me what caste I belong to. Some days, I feel like telling them I’m a pariah (a derogatory term for Indians, no further explanation needed here) just for the heck of it, to see that priceless look on their faces.

But, out of courtesy, I tell them that I’m Telegu, which is actually more a linguistic group.

Similarly, the debate over the removal of race from forms continually sees mixed reactions in our sphere.

If I hate being asked what caste I belong to, surely you can gauge how I feel about being identified by a particular race.

What is in the race that matters so much?

We’re Malaysian. Shouldn’t that be enough?

I don’t think being an Indian makes me any different from the others.

I felt the same anguish when we lost our heroes in Lahad Datu, I’m still reeling over the fate of those on-board MH370.

I sure do hate it when our champ Datuk Lee Chong Wei or when our footballers lose matches.

I’m sure you feel the same way too.

The point is, do we really need tragedy and sports to be a nation?

Are these the only reasons we unite as one?

Our country has long been the envy of other nations, for maintaining a harmonious relationship among the various religions, races and ethnicities.

I know this because I have fond memories of teachers in school speaking about how we were a model for other countries for being able to live in harmony and I take pride in that.

Which is why back in school, I made sure I made friends with people of all races.

In fact my parents often advised me to choose my friends not based on their skin colour but based on their character.

I have stayed true to that advice and I have no regrets.

I may be an only child but I have sisters from different parents in the form of best friends.

I am proud to say that my best friends are Chinese and Malay.

When we are together, we don’t see our races. We are three women who have grown together and formed an inseparable bond.

We often joke we’ve fulfilled the 1Malaysia quota (at least on the peninsula side of the country).

I’m sure my friendship is not unique and I believe there are many out there with such bonds.

I believe one reason it has been so easy for me to form such a bond with others is because I’m a product of Sekolah Kebangsaan (national school).

I’m aware of the many hiccups surrounding national schools but that is a debate for another day.

I am a firm believer in national schools.

I believe the Government should make it compulsory to have students master Bahasa Malaysia, English and also take up their own mother tongue.

This would be my ideal national school model.

I remember a few years ago, Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, the present Kedah Mentri Besar, got into hot water for calling on the Government to abolish the vernacular school system as a means to enhance unity among people of various races.

He said a single school system was the way to contain racial polarisation that was getting out of control in the country.

That statement did not go down well with a lot of people and it became a full-blown controversy, sadly.

Schools are the foundation for people to build and mould their individuality.

I believe more should be done to foster and help fortify the concept of a race-less society so why not let such efforts begin in schools?

I think we owe it to ourselves to ensure that racism does not rear its ugly head in our country.

The many turn of events of late has tested our unity and what’s disheartening was the way people responded, regardless if they were politicians or laymen.

Truth be told, I miss the Malaysia I grew up in, when things were simpler and people were not racially polarised.

I remember jokes and stories my parents told me when they were growing up.

The good ol’ days certainly seem appealing given what we face today.

I would love to give an A for this country that does not see race or skin colour and I sure do hope I can give that grade sometime soon.

As far as I am concerned, I am human first, Malaysian next. Period.


> Hemananthani Sivanandam has practised the concept of 1Malaysia even before it was made famous. She can be reached at

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