Malaysia's Indian Community

The Indian community in Malaysia is the smallest of the three main ethnic groups, accounting for about 10% of the country's population. Tamils, Malayalees and Telegu-speaking people make up over 85% of the people of Indian origin in the country. The Punjabis (mostly Sikhs) are also substantial in number and the people of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan origin are included in the "Indian" category for statistical purposes. Indians first came to Malaya for barter trade, especially in the former Straits Settlements of Singapore, Malacca and Penang.

However, when India came under British rule, Indian labourers were sent to Malaya to work on sugar cane and coffee plantations and later in the rubber and oil palm estates. Some of them also came to work on the construction of buildings, roads and bridges. These labourers were mostly Hindu Tamils from Southern India and they were supervised by kanganis (overseers) and mandurs (foreman) who were from the upper caste Tamils. Sri Lankan Tamils came to Malaya as white-collar workers, holding jobs like clerks and hospital assistants. As for the Punjabis from Punjab (North India), most of them joined the army in Malaya while some handled the bullock-cart services in the country. One of the main reasons the Indians willingly left their homeland for Malaya was because of the caste system being practiced in their country. Under the system, those who are born into the lower castes can never improve their standing in society.

The Indians who came to Malaysia brought with them the Hindu culture - its unique temples, delicious cuisine and colourful garments. Hindu tradition remains strong until today in the Indian community of Malaysia. There's also the Chitty community in Malacca - similar to the Babas and Nyonyas, it is the result of the assimilation between the Indian immigrants and local culture. Though they remain Hindu, the Chitties speak Bahasa Malaysia and their women dress in sarong kebayas instead of sarees. However other Indian Hindus retain their vernacular languages and dialects. The community celebrates two main festivals - Deepavali and Thaipusam - and many other smaller religious events each year. Indians in Malaysia mainly speak Tamil, Malayalam, Telegu and some Hindi.


C-Right 2014 by Langkawi Gazette