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India in touch with Malaysia over plight of ethnic Indians

"I am in touch with the Malaysian government. We are going to take up the issue with them," said External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

india Updated: Nov 30, 2007 18:52 IST

India on Friday said it was in touch with the Malaysian authorities over the alleged harassment of ethnic Indians who were part of a protest rally and underlined its deep concern for the welfare of the large Indian community in the Southeast Asian country.

"The government remains deeply solicitous for the welfare of people of Indian origin living abroad. We have friendly relations with Malaysia and we are in touch with the Malaysian authorities in the related matter," External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in the Lok Sabha.

He was making a suo moto statement on the massive protests led by a Hindu body in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday and stressed that the people of Indian origin in Malaysia are citizens of that country.

"During the morning session, some members expressed their concern regarding the alleged harassment of participants of the rally organized by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 25 and subsequent related matters," Mukherjee said.

"The stated purpose of the rally was to handover a petition to the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur seeking the support of Queen Elizabeth II for a class action suit filed in the UK for the exploitation of Indians who were brought to Malaysia as indentured labour," the minister said.

"I am in touch with the Malaysian government. We are going to take up the issue with them," Mukherjee said in response to a question.

Earlier, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told reporters at a joint press conference with leaders of the European Union: "Whenever Indian citizens abroad or people of Indian origin are adversely affected, it's a cause of concern."

He was replying to a question on whether his government was planning to take up the issue of alleged victimisation of protesters with the Malaysian government. The prime minister refused to comment further as Pranab Mukherjee was making a statement on the issue in parliament.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Suresh Pachouri told the Rajya Sabha during Zero Hour that the matter was being taken up through diplomatic channels.

He was responding to the members who objected to a senior Malaysian minister asking Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi to "lay off" from the internal affairs of that country.

R Shanmugasundaram of the DMK asked the government to take up the issue of the Malaysian minister's "offensive remarks".

"This is highly condemnable as the Malaysian minister has no business to talk like this. The government of India should take appropriate action," he demanded.

At least 80 ethnic Indians were charged for taking part in the rally attended by about 10,000 people of Indian origin in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday to demand equal rights. The rally, the largest ever demonstration by the Indian community, marred Malaysia's reputation as being a stable, multi-cultural country that is home to Malays, Chinese and Indians.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protesters. Around 250 people were arrested and three protest organisers charged with sedition.

The people of Indian origin, mostly Tamils, comprise eight percent of Malaysia's population of 27 million. They allege that an affirmative action policy favouring Malays in government jobs has led to their marginalisation and made them more vulnerable to exploitation.

The Malaysian government has said it will set up a telephone hotline for ethnic Indians following the massive protests by the community demanding equal treatment, the Malaysian Indian Congress leader (MIC) S Samy Vellu was quoted as saying by the Star newspaper on Friday.