Let’s face it, Deepavali in Malaysia can be quite kesian. There are no Deepavali songs, no Indian Santa Claus, and not a lot of people are even sure when Deepavali is. But we can all agree that the one-day public holiday gives us some well-deserved family time, along with the chance to eat yummy Indian food and sleep in. But over in East Malaysia, our Sarawakian machas are not so lucky, because… Deepavali is NOT a public holiday in Sarawak!
What is this controversy! Why ah the land of laksa and kolo mee don’t have holiday for Deepavali?
To be fair, there aren’t that many Indians in Sarawak to begin with
There are 2.4 million people in Sarawak. Most of them are bumiputra, and only 0.3% of the population are Indian. Math that a bit and that’s only 7000 people. So little! You’ve also gotta consider the fact that some people come from a mixed parentage, while those who are Christian and Muslim don’t even celebrate, so a Deepavali holiday wouldn’t really benefit that many people.
To add to that, 90% of the Indians there live in Kuching, leaving places like Bintulu, Sibu and many other Sarawakian cities in an Indian drought. Miri, for instance, only has about 1,000 Indians. A friend of the writer, Jewel Teo who was born in Sibu, told us that she’d never seen an Indian in her 20 years of living there.
“The only time I saw an Indian was when two Indian teachers were transferred to my school when I was in Form 4. Us students would go all the way to the staff room just to look at them.” – Jewel
So far, the only holiday there is for Deepavali is a one day school holiday for government school students and teachers (principals still have to go to school), while government servants can apply for a one day unrecorded leave, which is a leave that you can still get paid for. But this still means that not everyone is getting the holiday they deserve!
People have tried to make it a public holiday but it hasn’t really worked out. In 2010, ex-Social Development and Urbanisation Minister, Datuk Seri William Mawan Ikom, stated that a public holiday for Deepavali in Sarawak would be declared ‘soon’, but 7 years later and it’s still not a reality.
In 2012, Kuching Indian community leader T Komarusamy also tried, but tak jadi
“We had raised a suggestion to make Deepavali a public holiday in Sarawak, but it is hard to implement due to our small population.” – T Komarusamy to Bernama, emphasis added
But if we’re talking small populations, Sarawak isn’t the only state with very few Indians. Kelantan and Sabah also have an Indian population of 0.3%, and Terengganu has EVEN LESS, with only 0.2%! Our Indian friend thinks Terengganu has the least Indians in all of Malaysia because…
“Of course lah, there’s no alcohol there!” – A fellow Indian macha
Aaaanyway, even these places get a Deepavali holiday! So how come there’s no holiday for Sarawak?
Cos… Sarawak got too many public holiday
There is actually a document called the Holidays Act 1951 which details in length what holidays there are in Malaysia and how they are given out! We read through it and found that there were a few holidays which had to be public holidays in every state, and this list includes Deepavali! Check it out:
Because this Act exists, states like Terengganu and Kelantan are able to get the one-day Deepavali holiday even though they have such a small population of Indians. So how does Sarawak get away with it not being a holiday then?
That’s where the Sarawak Labour Ordinance steps in, which the state’s labour laws. Because this Ordinance has laws on holidays, the state follows these laws instead of the ones in the Holiday Act. So rebel! Hence, when it comes to public holidays, the Ordinance specifies that the state is allowed to give out 17 days of hari cuti umum, which must include:
- National Day
- Malaysia Day
- Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s birthday
- Sarawak’s Yang di-Pertua’s birthday
- Labour Day
This means that technically, the other 12 can be decided by the state authorities, granted that those holidays are, well, actual holidays. Since Deepavali isn’t a holiday there, something else has to be a holiday instead! This is why in Sarawak, there are holidays for Hari Gawai, Good Friday and Sarawak Day– holidays that the rest of us don’t get.
And the Indians there still celebrate Deepavali
We spoke to a few of our Indian friends from Sarawak, which were few and far between! Justin Raj, a doctor, was pretty surprised to find that Deepavali wasn’t a holiday in Sarawak. This year’s his first year celebrating Deepavali in Sarawak.
“There aren’t that many Indians here, so it’s not really a recognised celebration. Thankfully my boss gives all Indians in my department a one day unrecorded leave for us to celebrate, but it’s still a bit disappointing because you can’t celebrate it with your non-Indian friends.” – Justin
This year, Justin’s celebration will be a little more quiet- he’ll be heading to the only temple in Miri in the morning, and ‘pigging out with his friends‘ for the rest of the day.
Praveene Thachanamurthy, a doctor who’s lived in Miri for over two years now, will celebrate Deepavali this year at the annual Deepavali celebration held by the Miri Hindu Society– same as last year.
“For the celebration, there are performances and food, and everyone dresses up in their Deepavali baju. A lot of local Sarawakians (non-Hindus) will come to the celebration also.” – Praveene
Surprisingly, even though the Indians from Sarawak that we talked to would have preferred Deepavali to be a public holiday, many also didn’t mind the fact that it wasn’t.
“I was surprised, I didn’t know about it until I came to work here. But it isn’t a big issue, you don’t feel marginalised or anything because the people here are very very nice. True Malaysia is here lah.” – Praveene
It just goes to show that even though Deepavali isn’t a public holiday in Sarawak, not only is the Deepavali spirit strong with those who do celebrate, but that all Malaysians are willing to come together to make it a special day for those who are celebrating- which shows our true muhibbah spirit.
So happy Deepavali guys– both celebrating & not celebrating! May we continue to bond over holidays and good food :’)