What causes Marginalisation?

By Naragan

What I am writing here is happening here in the 21st century WIMAX City of Penang. There is one little Tamil school sitting up on a ledge at the edge of the city with about 100 pupils – with nothing other than a few classrooms, a small canteen and an office.

There is this little girl, Darshini who has been given a week to produce her birth certificate or to leave school by her new school Headmaster.

She is 11 and is in Standard 5 and does not have a Birth Certificate. Her parents’ marriage is not registered, they were married in a temple, married in 1996 or so, she is the second child –. She has seven other sisters and brothers. All her siblings have their birth documents in order except for her – because when she was born her father was working away from Penang for an extended period. Finally when they did get around to applying for a delayed Birth Certificate, the system just overwhelmed them and as the mother put it, she just stopped trying. The procedures are very many, they involve knowing exactly how the system works. There was no assistance available to them, especially to the mother, because here husband just could not take time off from his work, plus I suspect, he was equally vulnerable on this count. Their financial resources were extremely limited. . 

Because of the inability to raise this large a family 3 of her brothers and sisters have been given away for adoption. Her father is a crane operator earning about RM900. The flat that they live in again is at the very edge and on top of a hill near Paya Terubong.To get to the main road from where they live, where they could take a bus was a couple of kilometers away. Then with so many little children to take care of and no other support from anyone else, they just could not stay on to fulfill all the requirements of the procedure for the Birth Certificate long enough to get it done. Each time, a visit to the registration department was a major chore for the mother. Several hours of waiting only to be told of more things to do, or things that were not done to the satisfaction of the officers concerned. At the hospital, they were told the Doctor who signed the original birth notification document was not there anymore and therefore they could not get the Doctors attestation, one of the many requirements for the issue of a delayed birth certificate. That really stopped them – until this incident at school when it brought this whole thing up again in an uglier form.  

As I was thinking about all of this, the thought keeps cropping up, just how does all of this happen, now and here. The answer I can come up with is just this. Our social , economic and political system works in such a way that marginalization of the poor and the weak, at the periphery of the system, that we see above, is a natural outcome, it is unavoidable. It is so self reinforcing. Poor means ignorance, ignorance means poor and both mean abandonment. Everything above is about the poor and the weakest at the periphery experiencing total  abandonment and dispossession. The system seems to operate to do this.  

As the Headmaster of the school said, he is frustrated, as the problem keeps on happening. What he was saying is explained best by the following – you can stop one or two old men from dying. But the young keep on becoming old. Stopping one or two from dying does nothing to the problem, the young just keep getting old. What we need to do to have an effect is to stop the young from becoming old. And unless we approach the problem in that way, we are effectively doing nothing. We need a totally different approach to the way this system operates. We have to change the way this system operates if we are to make an impact to this state of affairs. No more political bullshit, we need action with true knowledge and appropriate intent.  

We need a system which seeks to realize the full potential of each and every citizen and we need true leadership if we are going to root out this endemic problem of marginalization.