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Home > Library > Tamil Diaspora - a Trans State Nation > The Indian Minority & Political Change in Malaya 1945-1957 Rajeswary Ampalavanar
TAMIL NATION LIBRARY
from Chapter 1:
"Large scale migration of Indians from the sub continent to Malaya followed the extension of British formal rule to the west coast Malay states in the 1870s. As early as 1901 the Indian population in the Straits Settlements and the Federated Malay States was approximately 120,000, and by 1947 it had grown to almost 600,000 for Malaya and Singapore.' At the time of Independence in 1957 it stood at a little over 820,000. In this last year Indians accounted for approximately 11 per cent of the total population of Malaya and Singapore.
The overwhelming majority of migrants from India were Tamil speakers from the south of the sub continent. In 1947 they represented approximately 77 per cent of the total Indian population in Malaya and Singapore. Other South Indians, mainly Malayalee and Telegus, formed a further 14 per cent in 1947, and the remainder of the Indian community was accounted for by North Indians, principally Punjabis, Bengalis, Gujeratis, and Sindhis.
These ethnic divisions corresponded closely to occupational specialisation. For example the South Indian Tamils were predominantly labourers, the majority being employed on rubber estates, though a significant minority worked in Government public works departments. The Telegus were also mainly labourers on the estates, whilst the Malayalee community was divided into those who occupied relatively more skilled labouring positions on the estates and those who were white collar workers or professionals. The North Indians, with the exception of the Sikhs, were mainly merchants and businessmen. For example, the Gujeratis and Sindhis owned some of the most important textile firms in Malaya and Singapore. The Sikhs were either in the police or employed as watchmen.
There were, in addition, three further ethnic and religious groups whose political and economic importance in Malaya far exceeded their numerical strength. Two were important business communities the Chettiars, a money lending caste from Madras, and the South Indian Muslims (Moplahs and Marakkayars) who were mainly wholesalers. The third group were the Ceylonese Tamils who were employed principally in the lower levels of the Civil Service and in the professions.
The close correspondence between the ethnic and occupational divisions of the Indian community was inevitably reflected in the community's geographical distribution in Malaya. The South Indian Tamils were concentrated mainly in Perak, Selangor, and Negri Sembilan, on the rubber estates and railways, though a significant proportion found employment on the docks in Penang and Singapore The Telegus were mainly on the rubber estates of Lower Perak and parts of Selangor, while the Malayalees were located predominantly in Lower Perak, Kuala Lumpur, parts of Negri Sembilan, and Johore Bahru. The business communities, the Gujeratis, Sindhis, Chettiars, and South Indian Muslims, were concentrated in the urban areas, principally Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh, and Singapore. The Ceylon Tamils were also mainly an urban community, though some were found in rural areas working as subordinate staff on the estates...."