Proud Malaysians

One Jaffna Tamil fam­ily’s story of find­ing their place in a once for­eign land.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - PEOPLE - By CH­ERYL POO

IT’S been said that in­di­vid­u­als of mixed parent­age of­ten feel out of place and not par­tic­u­larly con­nected with their her­itage. It’s the same for those of a mi­nor­ity race in a for­eign coun­try. Some, how­ever, choose to hold a more pos­i­tive view on the mat­ter.

“The beauty of be­ing born in Malaysia is be­ing rooted in a her­itage that’s di­verse,” says Datuk Dr Deni­son Jaya­soo­ria, a for­mer Suhakam com­mis­sioner who is of Jaffna Tamil de­scent.

His grand­fa­ther was amongst the thou­sands of early In­di­ans and Cey­lonese (Sri Lankans) who mi­grated to Malaya from the late 19th to early 20th cen­tury look­ing for a fresh start. They were at­tracted by trade prospects and many came as mer­chants as well as labour­ers.

Sur­vival was com­pli­cated then as the coun­try’s plan­ta­tion econ­omy was in the pri­mary stages of devel­op­ment, and the In­dian im­mi­grants strug­gled to set­tle down.

“My grand­fa­ther, like oth­ers, faced is­sues per­tain­ing to the work en­vi­ron­ment as they, as im­mi­grants, had to set up home in ru­ral ar­eas. Pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties were scarce and it was dif­fi­cult to com­mu­ni­cate with fam­ily mem­bers many had left be­hind in Sri Lanka. But my grand­fa­ther per­se­vered for he had come for bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Jaya­soo­ria ex­plains.

Even­tu­ally, a num­ber of peo­ple from this com­mu­nity rose to im­por­tant po­si­tions in so­ci­ety, many of them ac­tive and in­flu­en­tial in cul­tural bod­ies, re­li­gious groups, wel­fare so­ci­eties and trade unions. For­tu­nate ones had fam­ily with them, which made set­tling down eas­ier.

“Af­ter his first wife passed away, my grand­fa­ther even­tu­ally mar­ried a Jaffna Tamil woman who had been liv­ing in Malaya for a long time. Af­ter many years, some opted to re­turn to their home­land, but my grand­par­ents de­cided to set­tle per­ma­nently in this coun­try and to­day, we see the fifth gen­er­a­tion of our fam­ily call Malaysia home,” says Jaya­soo­ria, 56.

There is now an es­ti­mated two mil­lion In­di­ans liv­ing in Malaysia, of which an es­ti­mated 50,000 are Jaffna Tamils, most of whom make a liv­ing as pro­fes­sion­als.

To Jaya­soo­ria, em­brac­ing a sense of one’s cit­i­zen­ship is vi­tal. This sense of pa­tri­o­tism was in­stilled in him by his fa­ther, the ‘We are not strangers in this land and we want to cel­e­brate the her­itage that we have here,’ says Datuk Dr Deni­son Jaya­soo­ria. le­gendary Daniel Jararat­nam (known in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles as Bant­ing Jaya) who served his peo­ple through com­mu­nity ser­vice and po­lit­i­cal ac­tion in the MIC back in the 50s and 60s. His phi­los­o­phy was sim­ple: help the needy.

Jaya­soo­ria watched and learnt from his fa­ther and en­tered pol­i­tics to bring about pos­i­tive changes for the Malaysian com­mu­nity, in par­tic­u­lar the In­di­ans.

“One must start cham­pi­oning change from a macro per­spec­tive,” says Jaya­soo­ria, who sought to un­der­stand more about his fa­ther when he turned 40.

A col­lec­tion of fam­ily pho­tos, letters and news­pa­per clip­pings came to­gether in a pub­li­ca­tion in 2002, au­thored by Jaya­soo­ria and en­ti­tled Pol­i­tics & Ser­vice: The Ex­pe­ri­ences Of Bant­ing Jaya.

“We may have a dif­fer­ent ori­gin but what mat­ters is that we have been born here and are Malaysians. We are not strangers in this land and we want to cel­e­brate the her­itage that we have here,” Jaya­soo­ria says. “My gen­er­a­tion is the third in this fam­ily lin­eage and while we and our chil­dren have en­tered into cross­cul­tural mar­riages, we ap­pre­ci­ate and ac­knowl­edge that we are truly Malaysians,” he says.

For Jaya­soo­ria, this week­end marks his fam­ily’s 100th year mile­stone as Malaysians. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 30 fam­i­lies within this clan, good friends and well-wish­ers from Malaysia and other coun­tries will gather in a pri­vate com­mu­nity hall in Petaling Jaya, Se­lan­gor, to cel­e­brate this mo­men­tous event. To them, it is a time of thanks­giv­ing.

“For over 100 years, God has seen us through as im­mi­grants who came as work­ers to now es­tab­lished cit­i­zens of an in­de­pen­dent Malaysia. Our iden­tity and her­itage lies in a unique com­bi­na­tion of our Malaysian cit­i­zen­ship, Jaffna Tamil an­ces­try and Chris­tian faith,” says Jaya­soo­ria.

Happy to be to­gether: Datuk Dr Deni­son Jaya­soo­ria and his fam­ily.

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