Providing a playground for Indian voices

  • 18 Aug 2019

By V. Shuman
The Malaysian Indian community is a fragmented lot.
While they account to only about 7 percent (2 million) of the total Malaysian population, the community is still divided by different religions, sub-ethnic groups, clans, and even political leanings.
But what if there is a single platform that can serve as a "voice" to relay the Malaysian Indian narrative by sharing the diversified live experiences of the community?
That's the role the Malaysian Indian Anthology Facebook group, or MA/IN/AN, aims to play.
Astro Ulagam recently spoke to Roshinee Mookaiah, the founder and curator of the account, established earlier this year.
According to her, she has always been aware of the lack of representation of Malaysian Indians in the larger media settings, but recalled a certain incident involving her partner Kula Manter, which left an indelible impact on her, and eventually put the plan to set up the platform into motion.
"Kula recalled an incident to me when he first started working as a teacher trainee in 2017, where the young Indian students in his school were constantly clinging to him.
"When pressed further, the students revealed that they rarely saw someone like him, a professional Indian man. I reflected on this for a long time, but it was only earlier this year when thinking about it again that I finally had the idea to create MA/IN/AN, a platform that can increase positive and nuanced representation of Malaysian Indian people, the same way Kula was to his students," said Roshinee, a full-time fundraiser for Teach for Malaysia.
Kula is a 2018 Teach for Malaysia Fellow and a moderator for MA/IN/AN.
Although Roshinee got the idea for MA/IN/AN in February this year, it only gained traction after she obtained a grant from the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) to run a nationwide short story competition in June. The YSEALI is a US government program to strengthen leadership development and networking in Southeast Asia.

'Overwhelmingly positive response'

It was initially "tricky" to get people to submit stories as they believed their stories were not "important enough" to share, she recalled.
The grant allowed the gifting of cash incentives for people to write and share their stories.
"I am glad to say that since then, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Most of the stories presented are short, candid and immersive, which gives a good insight to the various lives of Malaysian Indians. So there’s always something to resonate with if you are Indian, and something to learn about if you are a non-Indian.
"Readers find it refreshing and are motivated to submit their stories now, unprompted," she said.
Some stories highlighted on the page tend to hit a nerve, she pointed out, at which points close scrutiny and moderation is required.
"Some people accuse us of making up some of the posts or invalidate the storyteller because the commenters themselves had never experienced the struggles.
"Since then, I have set up a Comments Policy on all our social media pages to ensure a moderate and positive environment for our storytellers and readers. I never want my storytellers, who had taken the time and courage to share their life stories, to feel invalidated by trolls or ignorant people," she said, adding that she had roped in some friends to moderate the page by deleting offensive comments or blocking hateful commenters.

What next?

Now that MA/IN/AN is growing "faster than expected", Roshinee hopes to interview and archive stories from successful and prolific Indian people on the page.
"I do think it is important for more high profile Malaysian Indians with the relevant resources to model and champion such conversations/initiatives in a larger and public scale as well.
"I simply hope that through this platform and the stories we share, we are able to redefine the narrative of what it means to be a Malaysian Indian, beyond the cliches, beyond the stereotypes."
What saddens Roshinee is the division within the Indian community today, for various reasons.
"When we are distracted by our differences instead of using them to complement each other, we miss the chance of driving this community forward.
"This is our collective responsibility. Within my own capacity, MA/IN/AN is my contribution that serves as an accessible platform to highlight those differences and facilitate dialogues about this community."
Roshinee also hopes to one day, organise events, such as an open mic session for local Indians of all ages and backgrounds to share their respective stories.
Editor's note: Astro Ulagam will collaborate with MA/IN/AN and run stories by its writers from next week onwards.

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