Section 23 a multiracial neighbourhood caught in a religious dispute

(The Malaysian Insider) SHAH ALAM, Aug 31 — Section 23 here is a typical Malaysian middle-class housing estate, with rows of new and identical double-storey houses which have two cars parked outside, but in recent days has been turned into ground zero of a major debate on race relations.

Last Friday, a small group of Malay-Muslims raised race tensions when they marched to the Selangor state secretariat after Friday prayers and threatened bloodshed and threw on the road a severed cow's head if plans went ahead for the construction of a new Hindu temple in Section 23.

They claimed to be residents of Section 23 which they said was a 90 per cent Muslim neighbourhood. They also claimed that the temple would disrupt their way of life and interfere in their own prayers.

But anecdotal evidence suggests that Section 23 has a fairly high number of Indian families living there.

Unsurprisingly, many of them are happy with the plans for the new temple to be relocated from its current location in Section 19, where their very few Hindus.

The proposed spot for the temple relocation sticks out in broad daylight surrounded by a zinc fence. Next to it is a children’s playground and a community hall. Some residents have apparently raised their concerns regarding the temple being extremely close to a playground.

One of the other major concerns of this predominantly “Malay-Muslim” area is that the temple is situated too close to the Surau Al-Jannah, approximately 150 metres away.

Indians in the neighbourhood are perplexed over the objections.

“I don’t think that there will be any traffic problems as some other residents have claimed if the temple were to be relocated here. As everyone is aware, there are two roads that we can use to enter the housing area,” said I. Ramasamy, 59, a retiree who thinks that the move by the state government is a logical one and should not cause any distress or tension.

“We are happy if the plan goes on and the temple is relocated from Section 19 to 23. I go to the temple in Section 19 to pray, and sometimes when it rains the place there becomes flooded. People from Section 19 who have no transport can always take the bus to the new temple as there is a bus stand nearby. This way, devotees from Section 19 and 23 both stand to gain.”

The current location in Section 19 is viewed as not conducive by Indian residents because the area is a majority Malay-Muslim area, whereas Section 23 offers a more balanced ratio between the races.

Several Section 23 Indian residents expressing their agreement to the relocation of the Hindu temple to their area.

According to another Indian resident, M. Sekar, 46, a teacher in a technical school, there are about 120 double-storey semi-detached houses in Section 23, and of that number around 30-40 are Indian families.

Taking that into account, the Indian community actually makes up about one-third of the neighbourhood population, which contradicts recent claims of 90 per cent Malay domination. There are also a number of Chinese families in the neighbourhood.

Resident R. Doraraj feels that what took place last Friday was uncalled for, and the matter should be brought out in the open and discussed in a transparent manner.

“Religious issues are always very sensitive. Maybe they felt that what happened the other day was right, but to some of us it wasn’t. The argument that our temple, our place of worship would disrupt their daily activities just doesn’t hold.

"What about the mosques and Friday prayers? As Malaysians we have no problem with Malays practising their beliefs, even if their place of worship is near us. We respect their practices, and they should respect ours,” stressed the soft-spoken Doraraj.

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