By Zaizul Zaman
I am grateful to admit that I am one of the beneficiaries of the affirmative action.
I was raised in a rural area in the east coast of peninsular Malaysia, surrounded by oil palm plantation where about 80% of the populations are Felda settlers. Life was simple back then. After my primary school, based on the 4A’s result in the UPSR, I was offered a place in a boarding school in Pengkalan Chepa, Kelantan.
The boarding school experiences really changed me as a person. It was then that I discovered my potential, explored my abilities and exposed to the reality that I was facing and shaped my ambition. I managed to get 10 A’s in the SPM, which was quite an achievement back then. When I collected the result, a classmate whom I will forever be indebted for gave me a crumpled newpaper advertisement of a convertible study loan program offered by Petronas, in which his result did not make the minimum requirement.
I filled in the crumpled newspaper advertisement and sent it via snail mail through the small post office (it was called “wakil pos” those time) in my home town where the postal service was not very reliable. I was called to the structured interviews few months later and soon found my way to KDU for my foundation studies.
My KDU experience was a cultural shock for a kampung boy. Most of the students and lecturers were Chinese and the environment was very different to my upbringing. The short six months passed very soon and with the intensive nature of the course, there were not much interaction with other people around me.
Time flies and my foundation studies result enabled me to study Chemical Engineering at University of Melbourne. My experiences living abroad enabled me to see Malaysia from a third party perspective. It was then that I got to know many Chinese friends who were being sponsored by their parents, and made me reflect that I would never be able to study abroad using my parent’s money, since we struggled to meet ends need all the while. It was then that I was really impressed with a Malaysian Chinese friend who had to work hard to earn a living, while also studying. I was impressed to know that his parents owned a small sundry shop in a village in Johore and was able to send their son overseas for study.
At the same time, I got to know some friends whom happened to be a sons or daughters of ministers, MPs, Datuks and other professionals whom are studying abroad on scholarship. How unfair those things were.
I went back to join Petronas as an engineer. It was an enriching experience in which I felt very accomplished, that I came a long way from a kampung boy from a rural area to now working with Fortune 500 Company in a high tech Oil & Gas facility, and later moved to KLCC. I worked with people from various backgrounds and nationalities and the feeling that we can compete at the highest level, giving instructions to the “Mat Saleh” was an accomplishment. It was like living in my own world, far away from the reality.
I was brought back to reality when later I joined Felda, which enabled me to see what is really happening on the ground. That was the time that I realised that I was living in an exclusive world, whereas many of the people especially Malays are still living just as what I saw when I was a kid in my rural hometown. Not much have changed for them. Many of my friends, whom I considered bright, whom I used to compete with in my primary school, never reached SPM. Many dropped out, whilst some struggled to make a living.
Living those experiences, really make me reflect on myself when I was faced with the question of should the Malaysian government policy that favour the bumiputera over others should really stays. On one hand, I realised that the system was there for so long that abuse are rampant. On the other hand, removing all those benefits will mean that people like me will never be who I am today. For a rural kid like me, access to facilities and opportunities will never be equivalent to those living in the city from wealthy families where opportunities can be created with the money in hand.
At the time that people including those whom were the beneficiaries of this policy are calling for absolute equalities, doing away with the racial-based policy, I am convinced that there is a need for change in the implementation of such policy; however, scrapping away all those affirmative action for me is never an option.
I would like to call other beneficiaries of the affirmative action like me to really reflect whether:
Is it fair that after all that you have got through this policy, then you say that it can be scrapped now?
Is it fair that after the policy brought so much change to you, you don’t even recognize the policy and condemn the affirmative action as unjust and unfair?
Is it fair after all those help being extended to you, you just live for your own sake, and never bother to extend your hand to help your own race?
Is it fair that after you have been helped, then you expect your daughters and sons to be continued to be helped later in their life?
Whatever happened after PRU13, I pray that the Malays and Bumiputeras especially those in dire need will continue to be assisted so that one day, the nation’s wealth can be trully shared and enjoyed. The assistance may not only be in material form, but more on instilling the self-belief, motivation and sense of purpose.
I pray that the Malay would not be marginalised in our own land.