• No results found

The Rise of the Modern Malaysian State

In 1955, in preparation for the elections, an alliance between the three ethnic groups (Malays, Chinese and Indian) and between Singapore and Malaya was finally created.

The new Merdeka Constitution (Independence) that followed struck an historical bargain between the ruling-classes and the educated and moneyed elites from the three groups. In 1961, the Malayan Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Raman, endorsed the British plan to create Malaysia, incorporating the eleven states including Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak.

Malaysia was formed in 1963 but this caused problems, as the inclusion of Singapore meant the Chinese had significant political as well as economic power in Malaysia.11 The ruling-class Malay leadership was prepared to include the Chinese in the politics of the country, but they did not represent the wishes of the wider Malay ‘modern minded’

government, especially those who resided in the lesser ‘developed’ states in the east.12 These Malays were against concessions to the Chinese. In their eyes, Malaya should be governed by Malays. These concerns caused tensions which eventually led to Singapore’s expulsion from the union in 196513 and following the political and geographical separation of Malaya and Singapore, the new nation state of Malaysia, (including Sabah and Sarawak), was born.14 The ruling class elite who had organised Malayan Independence led the new government under the leadership of Tunku Abdul Rahman.

11 After British Malaya was declared independent, the fear of Chinese economic power produced a range of responses from the Malay population. Discourses about Chinese greed and business prowess portrayed them as far superior to Malays in their business dealings with others. The rich Chinese, who were largely represented in the urban setting, were a constant reminder to the Malays of their own economic situation.

The communist threat to Malaysia added another dimension to the Chinese character. These left-wing, militant working-classes were viewed as dangerous, furtive characters and were seen to be undermining the unification of Malaysia. For further information on the ‘orientalist’ version of the Chinese Communist in Malaya see W L Blythe, The Impact of Chinese Secret Societies in Malaya (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1969). For scholarly debate on Chinese Communism in Malaya see Martin Rudner, "Labour Policy and the Dilemmas of Trade Unionism in Post-War Malaya," RIMA 16, no. 1 (1982).

12 In the state of Kelantan, one of the UMS, Malays represented 98 per cent of the population and all the state and national political representatives were Malay. For further information on the state of Kelantan during the colonial period see Clive Kessler, Islam and Politics in a Malay State Kelantan 1838-1969 (London: Cornell University Press, 1978).

13 Jomo K S, Growth and Structural Change in the Malaysian Economy (London: MacMillan Press Ltd, 1990), 8-9.

14 The inclusion of Sarawak and Sabah ensured the delicate balance between Malays and non-Malays was not upset. In addition, Muslims from neighbouring countries were allowed into these two states to increase the numbers of Malays over non-Malays. For further information on this period in Malaysia’s history see Barbara Watson Andaya and Leonard Andaya, A History of Malaysia (London: MacMillan, 1982). For an overall view of Muslim immigrants in Sabah see Bilson Karus, "Migrant Labour: The Sabah Experience,"

Asian and Pacific Migration Journal 7, no. 2-3 (1998).

Nonetheless, political agitation continued − poverty and unemployment of rural Malays led to increasing resistance against the national leadership and the development of a grassroots Islamic party. The Party Islam (PI), which was founded in 1951, was perceived by many Malays in the under-developed states to be more supportive of their needs than the urban-based national leadership.15 The political contestation between the ruling elites, the modernists and the Islamic political parties originated in the colonial period and was the result of colonial government policies regarding education and religion.16

After Merdeka (Independence) the government wanted to strengthen Malaysian nationalism in order to overcome ethnic divisions.17 But at the same time, Article 153 of the Constitution provided Malays with ‘special rights’ to improve their economic position in exchange for political rights to the non-Malays.18 Malay culture − heritage, language and religion − were elevated above other ethnic cultures and, in 1969, the National Language Act was passed which recognised Malay as the national language, with English retained as an ‘official’ language.19 Malays were also given government support through scholarships and quotas so larger numbers of Malay students could enter universities and colleges. The government also offered Malays employment preference over non-Malays in the Civil Service.20 However, these policies did little to change the divisions between Malays and non-Malays until the 1980s.

15 See Kessler, Islam and Politics in a Malay State Kelantan 1838-1969.

16 The word ‘modernist’ is employed to represent the educated elite who were different from the ruling-class (Sultans/Rajas) elite. While in many cases there was a thin line between the two, Milner et al. draw attention to the distinct divisions between the ruling class, the modernists and religious political groups in both Malayan history and in recent times. For further intellectual information on this topic see Anthony Milner, The Invention of Politics in Colonial Malaya (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); A Milner, "Islam and the Malay States," in Islam in Southeast Asia, ed. M Hooker (Leiden: E J Brill, 1988);

Anthony Milner, "Islamic Debate in the Public Sphere," in The Making of an Islamic Political Discourse in Southeast Asia, ed. Anthony Reid (Victoria: Monash University, 1993); Anthony Milner, "Rethinking Islamic Fundamentalism in Malaysia," RIMA 20, no. 2, Summer (1986).

17 Like Milner, Hooker’s study also argued that Malays did not see themselves as a community of people.

Hooker, Writing a New Society, xv.

18 H Osman-Rani, "Malaysia: Economic Development and Ethnic Integration," Sojourn 5, no. 1 (1990): 1.

19 Hooker, Writing a New Society, 309.

20 Mahathir, The Malay Dilemma, 73.

During this period, welfare workers became increasingly aware of the growing division between rich and poor in Malaysia. Many poor families, particularly households headed by women, were in need of welfare support. Malay unemployment figures increased due to the exodus of rural peoples from the country to the cities in search of work. From 1947 to 1957 the Malay population increased (especially in the rural areas) by about 2.5 per cent per year, which added further pressure on the government to take action with regard to the numbers of poverty-stricken families.21

Land Reform and Family Planning 1965 -1970

The majority of Malays living in rural areas at this time were experiencing increasing land alienation created by earlier colonial policies, the Japanese invasion, and the Malayan Emergency.22 Under the government’s Rural Industrial Development Authority (RIDA now Majlis Amaah Rakyat (Council of Trust for the People) MARA) established in 1951 and Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) introduced in 1956,23 land reform provided some relief to poor villages but overall there was little improvement in the lives of the rural poor before the 1970s.24 The first few years were taken up with the design and organisation of the land-reform schemes.25 There were numerous reports in the local newspapers regarding the necessity of land reforms which women took a role in.26 In the 1960s, land reform was accompanied by health and welfare policies but while

21 Donald M Nonini, British Colonial Rule and the Resistance of the Malay Peasantry, 1900-1957 (New Haven: Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, 1992), 153-4.

22 As Nonini has argued, colonial policies created land alienation among Malay peasants that carried into the post-colonial period. Ibid.

23 Rokiah Talib, "Women's Participation in FELDA Schemes," in Women and Employment in Malaysia, ed. Hing Ai Yun and Rokiah Talib (Kuala Lumpur: Department of Anthropology and Sociology, University of Malaysia (Women's Association) and the Asia Pacific Development Centre, 1986).

24 Even though development plans introduced by the government such as Malaya’s First Year Plan 1955-1965, the Second Five Year Plan 1961-65, followed by the First Malaysia Plan 1966-1970, focused on rural development, according to Rokiah Talib, FELDA land reforms were not sucessful before the 1970s.

Government of Malaya, The Second Malaya Five Year Plan 1961-1965 (Kuala Lumpur: Government Publications, 1961); Talib, "Women's Participation in FELDA Schemes." Government of Malaysia, The First Malaysian Plan 1966-1970 (Kuala Lumpur: Government Printers, 1966).

25 Talib, "Women's Participation in FELDA Schemes."

26 "Economic Experts Calls for Land Reform in Malaya," Straits Times, Friday, July 24, 1958.

land reform centred on male workers and the family, welfare polices were largely concerned with women’s welfare, childbirth and family planning. The new ‘women centred’ policies, part of the package of policies put together for developing countries, were largely introduced under the guidance of Western development experts.27 The experts believed that women in ‘third world’ countries, as a result of traditional cultural practices, had large numbers of children and put their own health as well as that of their babies at risk.28

Dr Frazer, a Western expert working with the Malaysian government, stressed that ‘the current birth rates throughout the world [are] seriously crippling development efforts’.29 The reason given was that the governments of developing countries had to divert a large proportion of funds into maintaining a ‘low level’ existence, whereby capital could be used and directed into production investment which would create improved standards of living in the long run. Frazer argued that the average birth rate for developing countries at the time was 40-45 per 1000 head of population. In order to reduce this to 17-20 per 1000, a rate that was common in contemporary Europe, it would require a decrease in the developing world of some 50 million births a year. So, while birth control was part of the government’s strategy to alleviate poverty in the rural areas, it was also part of the international community’s answer to the perceived looming ecological disaster.30

27 Malaysia’s development policies, promoted by international development agencies, were modelled on the prevailing economic and scientific theories, most importantly Rostow’s stages of growth and population explosion theory. "Family Planning," Malay Mail, Thursday, November 19, 1959.

28 Ibid. Mahathir, The Malay Dilemma.

29 John Fernandez, "Abortion: Answer to Family Planning," Malay Mail, Friday, July 17, 1970.

30 During this period there was also international focus on the amount of food needed for the rising numbers of children born in the world. So while reducing the numbers of babies born throughout the third world was seen as an important first step, increasing the production of rice and grain around the world was also seen as a significant step in managing poverty and development in third world countries. The ‘Green Revolution’ prescribed by development experts became synonymous with ‘progress and development’. As one development officer put it, ‘it was time for a revolution based on agriculture technology, a revolution based on new seeds, hybrid strains, fertilizers and the use of natural resources. Ibid.

In 1965, after a government report was tabled, family planning was incorporated into a national development plan.31 The government established a National Family Planning Board (NFPB) to focus on reducing the numbers of babies born in Malaysia.32 From this period onwards, the state became a major player in the politics of reproduction.

Mothering, maternity and family planning became part of official government policy.33 According to the newspapers, the introduction of family planning would cover a rural population of 8.3 million.34

The Family Planning Department put forth a proposal to stop maternity benefits to women who gave birth to more than three children. While the unions and other concerned parties saw this move as the penalisation of poor women, Dr Ariffin Ngah Marzuki, Director of the NFPB, argued that the government would grant ‘maternity privileges only thrice, the parents not the government must support the child from birth to adulthood’.35 This new proposal was a clear signal to women that large families were costly to both the parents and the government, and women who had large families would not be supported by the government.

The Malaysian government was stringent in its efforts to introduce contraceptives and limit the numbers of babies born in the country. While women in the United States fought to stop the contraceptive pill from mainstream circulation until its side effects were known,36 the NFPB promoted it arguing that pregnancy was more risky than the pill,

31 "Government Awaits Report on Planned Families," Malay Mail, Friday, July 12, 1965.

32 The NFPB was inaugurated in 1966. During the period 1970 to 1980, the NFPB established 76 static clinics, 383 satelite clinics and 40 estate clinics. The clinics were run by the government and the services were subsidised by the government’s budgetary allocation. Users of the pill only had to pay a minimal fee.

Jomo K S and Tan Pek Leng, "Not the Better Half: Malaysian Women and Development Planning," in Missing Women in Development and Planning in Asia and the Pacific, ed. Noeleen Heyzer (Kuala Lumpur:

Asia Pacific Development Centre (APDC), 1985), 15.

33 For evidence see Ibid.

34 Lakshmi Natarajan, "Health Work in Rural Areas to Include Family Planning Services," Malay Mail, Tuesday, July 14, 1970.

35 "Proposal to Limit Maternity Benefits 'Not Penalisation'," Malay Mail, Monday, January 19, 1970.

36 "Women Break up US Hearing on the Safety of the Pill," Malay Mail, Saturday, January 24, 1970.

particularly for women aged over forty.37 Ariffin argued that the mortality rate among women giving birth to large numbers of babies was higher than those who may suffer the side effects of the pill. As far as the issue of abortion was concerned, Ariffin pointed out that it would not be a problem in Malaysia as the focus would be on preventative methods.38 Women were lectured on the benefits of birth control over the consequences of abortion.

Focus was also placed on reducing the infant mortality rate in Malaysia. The Minister of Social Health and Welfare, Dato Ong Yoke Lin, hoping to reduce the infant mortality rate of 66 per thousand births, pushed for legislation to control nursing and maternity homes.

From here on the government sought to monitor the numbers of babies born and the maternity institutions where women had their babies. The homes had to be registered and the number of births, abnormalities and deaths recorded. The management also had to employ trained staff and maintain minimum standards of accommodation, water and equipment.39 While this was largely applicable to estate (rubber plantation) hospitals and urban-based reproduction units, Malay women in rural areas who had their babies at home were also starting to become more closely monitored.40

By the 1970s, the NFPB was extended and provided family-planning education to school children as well as women in the form of family life education. Valentine Shiva, the regional information officer of the NFPB for Selangor and West Pahang, stressed that women must plan their families because ‘if a mother continues to have one baby after another the children will grow up weak’.41 The Board, he said, was trying to reduce the

37 "Pregnancy More Risky Than the Pill," Malay Mail, Tuesday, January 20, 1970.

38 "No Maternity Rights After the Third Child 'Inhuman'," Malay Mail, Saturday, January 17, 1970.

39 "Maternity and Nursing Homes to be Controlled," Straits Times, Thursday, May 4, 1961.

40 During an earlier period, the Malay Mail reported the introduction of the contraceptive pill and the debate surrounding abortion. There was considerable local debate taking place between religious organisations and those promoting contraception. While the heads of the Anglican and Methodist churches welcomed family planning as ‘right and proper’, the Catholic Bishop of Kuala Lumpur considered birth control to be ‘an evil thing’. "Bishop of KL Hits Out," Malay Mail, Tuesday, October 13, 1959.

41 Hannah Abigheganaden, "Abortion? Babies Can Be Avoided, Women Told," Malay Mail, Thursday, July 23, 1970.

population growth rate of 2.9 per cent per year down to 2 per cent by 1985, which could be achieved provided there were 450,000 women willing to accept birth control. Shiva argued that ‘it was vital to slow down the population growth to make it compatible with economic growth.’42 The international development agency stressed that Family Planning was the method that would reduce the numbers of babies born in third world countries.43 To this end social welfare policies were aimed at liberating poor women and building healthy families in rural areas.44

Images of Women 1945 –1970: Nationalism and Development

While the government focused on rural development and progress, Malays had to find the means to survive in a changing social, economic and political world that increasingly impinged on their religious and cultural freedoms.45 One forum for dissent was Malay fictional literature in these texts writers tracked the tensions existing in society. Virginia Hooker’s work, Writing a New Society, based on her close reading of 26 Malay works written between the 1920s and the 1970s, is used here to show that Malay authors were well aware of the Malay situation and strove to guide Malays to understand their social, economic and political condition under the colonial government and the Malaysian government.46

42 Ibid.

43 During 1959, according to the Malay Mail, family planning was catching on and more clinics were needed in Selangor. "Family Planning."

44 Ibid; Fernandez, "Abortion: Answer to Family Planning."; Natarajan, "Health Work in Rural Areas to Include Family Planning Services."; "Pregnancy More Risky Than the Pill."; "Proposal to Limit Maternity Benefits 'Not Penalisation'."; "Village Leaders Taught about Family Planning," Malay Mail, Monday, September 14, 1959.

45 Hooker argues for her study that although there are studies on individual workers, there is no other study, which focuses exclusively on Malay novels from its beginnings until recent times. Hooker has divided the novels according to the time of publishing, such as the colonial period, the Japanese Invasion of Malaya, Malays’s Independence, the NEP development period, the New Malay and Vision 2020. Hooker, Writing a New Society, xv, 275. Hooker’s translations are employed here because her understanding of Malay literature is of a higher standard than that of the author of this thesis.

46 Hooker’s book is a study of the relationship between social change and literary practice which provides insights into the thoughts of individual authors concerning the modern issues of the time. The earlier fictional texts were called the ‘new Hikayat’ but by the 1940s fiction was referred to as the novel. Ibid., xv.

According to Hooker’s analysis, the texts written during World War 11 and after Independence highlighted the effects of war and poverty, as these stories contain themes and topics concerning violence and alienation experienced by the Malays during the war and the Communist Insurgency.47 In the novel, Salina, by Samad Said, women are often portrayed as the victims of male alienation and subjected to rape and domestic violence.48 However, unlike in the colonial texts, women’s sexuality is not perceived in an erotic manner. Rather, it is linked with morality and the breakdown of social and religious values. The texts also highlight women’s rejuvenation as they become aware of their own vulnerability and strive to survive and change the direction of their lives.49 The novels that follow Salina move to a post-war period and they draw attention to the predicament Malays and their leaders face after Independence.50

Women’s role in marriage and society is a recurring theme in many of the novels in Hooker’s study.51 In novels such as Faridah Hanom, by Syed Syekh al-Hadi, Melor Kuala Lumpur by Harun Aminurrashid, 1964, and Mata Intan by Wijaya Mala, 1951, women’s role of mother and teacher are presented as their natural role in life. In these texts the mother is the child’s first teacher and she must be well educated to fulfil this role.52 In Melor, the protagonist’s mother draws attention to the fact that ‘the smooth running of a household is like maintaining peace in a country, and that ultimately the characteristics of being a woman determine everything’.53 In Faridah Hanom the female protagonist guides her lover through lessons in Islam. Faridah is a middle-class woman whose central role as the main character is to teach members of her family, especially her newly wed husband, how to be modern Muslims. Within the religious and cultural mores

47 Ibid., 269- 94.

48 Ibid., 221-49.

49 Ibid.

50 Ibid., 294-311.

51 Ibid., 171.

52 Melor Kuala Lumpur (Harun Aminurrashid, 1964) and Mata Intan (Wijaya Mala, 1951) Ibid., 167-73.

53 Ibid., 171.

of Islam, women are valued as wives and teachers.54 The author promotes a modernist understanding of Islam, in which women’s education is important in order for them to fulfil their role as teachers, a position which suits their traditional feminine role in Malay society. Malay culture and religion are also viewed as important for Malay men and women living in a changing modern world.55 Women must follow the rules of Islam which apply to their chastity but these rules are not to be confused with fundamentalist Islam which is cruel to women. Malay women’s natural role as mother and wife is also enhanced by education.56 In the novel, Desa Pingitan (Isolated Village) by Ibrahim Omar, 1964, the male protagonist intends to send his wife, after they marry, to study

‘how to run a household and raise children’.57 It appears that the author believes that women do not inherently know how to be a good mother. He reaffirms this when he later asserts that after his wife graduates he would also like her to go and teach other wives and mothers about good mothering and housekeeping skills so that the village will have educated women who will help build a nation of good families. Hooker draws attention to the fact that as women have always considered it their responsibility to raise their daughters to be good mothers and wives and organise the family, it would seem very strange to them to have to learn how to do it.58 Nevertheless it appears that the educated Malay male’s ideal of the modern women is a woman educated in home economics and mothering. In Hooker’s analysis it is possible to see that the representation of women and the perceived role of women, therefore, is totally at variance with the exotic woman in colonial literature but follows official colonial rhetoric in terms of the importance of women’s role of mother.

54 Ibid., 18-50.

55 Ibid., 172.

56 Ibid., 171-4.

57 Ibid., 253-69.

58 Ibid., 258.