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Visiting Indian Diaspora in Malaysia

Indian Diaspora in Malaysia

Alok Rai

Indian Diaspora in MalaysiaIndian Disaspora holds a strong presence in Malaysia. The Malaysian Indians or Indian Malaysians consists of people of full or partial Indian descent who were born in or immigrated to Malaysia. In 2010, there were nearly 2,700,000 people self-identifying as “Indian” who hold Malaysian nationality including Malaysian-born and foreign-born people of Indian descent (about 8 percent of Malaysia’s population).

The overwhelming numbers are Tamil speaking, with significant people speaking Telugu, Malayalam and Punjabi also. The Malaysian Indian Congress is the dominant political organization of the PIOs since pre-independence, and a member of the ruling coalition since independence, but of late several other political organizations have also emerged. Today there are good number of Members of Parliament and Ministers of the State Governments of Indian origin from both the ruling and opposition parties.


Probably 99 percent are descendants from those who migrated from India during the British colonisation of Malaya. In modern Malaysia, Indian is wrongly termed as a “race” in Malaysia, thanks to the British colonial legacy, that often lumped various ethnic groups of the Indian subcontinent into one category, overlooking the mass racial diversity that exists within the South Asian population.

There is possibility that the first wave of Indians migration towards Southeast Asia happened when the Asoka’s invasion towards Kalinga andSamudragupta’s expedition towards the South. Today, they form the third largest ethnic group in Malaysia after the Malays and theChinese.

Economci State of Malaysian Indians

A substantial part of the Malaysian working class, there also exists a large group of educated upper middle class professionals.

Indians are well represented in Malaysian medical and legal fraternities. Indians also form a large portion of English language teachers in Malaysia. Law and medicine have traditionally been the preferred career choices in Indian families although more young Indian Malaysians are now venturing into other fields such as engineering, finance and entrepreneurship. Ananda Krishnan and Tony Fernandes are examples of notable Malaysian tycoons of Indian heritage.

There are about 150,000 Indian workers in Malaysia in both the skilled and semi-skilled category. This includes about 10,000 expatriates who are employed in IT, manufacturing, banking, etc.

There are major Indian business districts in Kuala Lumpur (Brickfields, Jalan Ampang and Jalan Masjid India); (Lebuh Pasar) in George Town, Penang; Jalan Tengku Kelana in Klang, Selangor; and Ipoh, Perak. Tamil primary schools are funded by the Federal Government and use Tamil as the medium of instruction while Malay and English are taught as compulsory subjects.

Contribution to Malaysia

Indian Diaspora MalaysiaIndians have contributed significantly to the building of Malaysia since the 19th century. The Indian workforce was instrumental in the clearing of land for infrastructure, established rubber plantations, built the roads, set up transmission lines as well as managed early Malayan railways, ports and airports. Indian doctors, chemists and veterinarians formed the bulk of medical personnel in Malaysia – their contributions still persist to present day.
Indian civil servants formed the core of the civil service both pre- and post-independence. Indian teachers who were particularly fluent in the English language formed the backbone of Malaysian education, particularly in missionary schools. Indians also pioneered private education in Malaysia.

Education & Cultural Cooperation

About 2000 Indian students are studying in Malaysia, while an estimated 3000 Malaysian students are studying in India. An MOU on Higher Education was signed on 20 January 2010 during Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib’s visit to India. India offers about 30 slots under ITEC and 25 under the Colombo Plan. A new Indian Cultural Centre (ICC) has been opened in Kuala Lumpur on 10 February 2010 to promote cultural relations with Malaysia. A Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP) for 2010-13 was signed on 27 October 2010 during the visit of then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to Malaysia.