By Nasuha Badrul Huzaini
SHAH ALAM, Nov 4 — As the third largest ethnic group in Selangor, the Indian community has a crucial role to play in contributing to the social fabric of the state, along with the Malay and Chinese communities.
Undeniably, when it comes to matters close to the heart of Selangor Indians — be it religion or land ownership or the future of Tamil schools — much still needs to be addressed.
This is where Gunarajah George comes into the picture. Gunarajah, who has been the state assemblyman for the Sentosa constituency since 2018, has been appointed by Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri Amirudin Shari as a special officer responsible for elevating the status and quality of life of the community to which he belongs and knows so well.
He kicked off his political journey as a council member of the Selayang Municipal Council in 2009. While he is grateful to the Menteri Besar for honouring him with the task, Gunarajah knows that it comes with great responsibility.
In an interview with Selangor Journal recently, Gunarajah said Amirudin personally believes that the Indian community in Selangor needs a dedicated person who they can reach out to should there be problems relating to land disputes for the building of temples, Tamil school issues and other community-specific problems.
“Apart from helping the Indian community resolve issues, I am also responsible in assisting them to upgrade their socio-economic status. In Selangor, we have shown our solid commitment to help the community develop their own business by establishing the Selangor Indian Entrepreneur Development (Sitham) programme.
“Currently, Sitham has over 2,000 participants who are involved in four areas — entrepreneur development training, skills and manufacturing courses, business guidance, and business equipment assistance.
”As one of Sitham’s committee members, I have always emphasised the importance of generating a second income even if the participants already have a stable job.
“We have to admit that one income is not sufficient to make ends meet, hence, I see that it is important to educate the people to generate another income.
With the various advantages offered through the Sitham programme, we will help and train the participants who have a strong will to succeed as entrepreneurs,” he said.
Sitham was launched in September 2019, and focuses on Indian entrepreneurs who are committed to developing their own business, with the state government providing guidance, grants and the necessary equipment.
Apart from Sitham, another Selangor state initiative also serves to empower the community. Aptly named the Selangor Indian Empowerment and Entrepreneurs Development (i-Seed) programme, it aims to improve the economic status of Selangor Indians by providing equipment assistance for businesses.
“For instance, if the applicants want to start selling sugarcane juice, they can do up the paperwork to apply for any appliance or equipment needed to produce the juice. i-Seed is the brainchild of the Menteri Besar and is currently being administered by the state executive councillor for socio-economic development, V Ganabatirau,” he said.
Menteri Besar’s guarantee
Commenting on the future of ethnic Indians in Selangor, Gunarajah said they do not have to worry as the Menteri Besar is resolved and committed to take care of the community’s well being.
“If I am not mistaken, the state government has provided an allocation amounting to RM1.5 million to be spent by the temple’s committee should they need a bigger budget to run tuition classes, religious classes or childcare centres.
“As for concerns pertaining to other issues such as temple land disputes, abandoned housing projects involving estate workers as well as land ownership, suffice to say that the Menteri Besar and I are working closely to resolve them.
“The process might take some time due to technicalities and the complexity of each issue but rest assured that it has become part of the state government’s vision to help the Indian community. My appointment itself shows that the Menteri Besar is serious in helping to protect the rights and improve the fate of the community.”
Gunarajah also said that the state is not one to rest on its laurels, and that more programmes are in the pipeline that will not only prosper the Indian community but Selangor as a whole.
A community’s request
Gunarajah also said he wants to continue to be the go-between for the state government and the Indian community.
“At this point, I would like to convey a request from the Indian community — they wish for more jobs and more business opportunities.
“Actually, the matter has been brought up in the state legislative assembly whereby we have requested that the Indian community be given business opportunities with the local government agencies.
“These include being provided the opportunity to run small businesses or kiosks at local
councils’ premises, and also the right training and funding. I believe this small action can lead to a significant impact for the community as a whole,” he said.
As for the upcoming Deepavali celebration this year, Gunarajah said several plans had to be cancelled due to restrictions surrounding Covid-19.
“Nonetheless, we will celebrate the festival on a moderate scale and most importantly, the state government has allocated a budget for the distribution of Deepavali food packs across the state.”
This article first appeared in the Selangor Journal monthly November edition, published on November 1, 2021.