Ethnic Diversity Not An Obstacle To Unity

ocial media influencer Dr Malar Santhi Santherasegapan, better known as Dr Malar among her followers, has never felt like a stepchild in the country where she was born and raised.

The 40-year-old medical doctor – who gained fame during the COVID-19 pandemic for sharing information on vaccines and other health-related issues in fluent Bahasa Melayu via videos posted on her ‘Celoteh Dr Malar’ Facebook and TikTok accounts ­– says no Malaysian should allow allegations of marginalisation to impede their progress in life.    

“I’m an Indian but I’ve never felt alienated (from others) in this country. For example, my three siblings and I received offers to continue our studies at local universities, namely Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia and Universiti Malaysia Pahang. However, I chose to study medicine at Crimea State Medical University in Ukraine. We are all graduates now and serving the nation,” she told Bernama.

Malaysia has proven to the world that people can live in harmony in a multiracial setting. There is no reason for any group to feel marginalised as every person has the opportunity to develop their potential, even to the extent of attaining iconic status in certain fields.


Kuantan-born Dr Malar said Malaysians must show their appreciation for the nation’s independence and the progress it has charted by staying united no matter what obstacles they face.

“The freedom we enjoy now was made possible by the unity forged by our forefathers (who fought for independence) for the benefit of the nation’s future generations,” added the mother of two children aged six and nine.

She said in 2020 when the pandemic set in, Malaysians of all races and religions played a role in handling the unprecedented health crisis effectively.

Dr Malar Santhi Santherasegapan

“We healthcare workers, for example, had no experience whatsoever in handling a pandemic but to save lives, we as the frontliners carried out our duties tirelessly, even putting our own health at risk.

“Through our joint efforts and cooperation, we steered our nation into the endemic phase. Life is now back to normal. One of the takeaways (from the pandemic) is the importance of taking care of the welfare of the people around us because we all belong to one huge multiethnic family,” said Dr Malar who received the Employee of the Year Award in conjunction with this year’s Labour Day celebrations in Putrajaya.

The award, presented to her by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, came as a surprise to her, she said, dedicating it to all the employees in the healthcare sector who worked indefatigably to save as many lives as possible during the pandemic. 

“I also hope this award will inspire everyone to strive to excel in their respective careers, thereby helping the nation to progress further,” added Dr Malar who became active on social media at the height of the pandemic in 2021 in order to share useful health tips so as to ease the congestion at government hospitals.   


As in the case of Dr Malar, the word ‘marginalisation’ does not exist in actress Angeline Tan’s dictionary either.

Tan, 56, who is well-known for her role as Lucy in ‘Pi Mai Pi Mai Tang Tu’ which was a popular sitcom aired on a local television channel during the 1980s and 1990s, said she had been involved in the local creative industry as a movie and drama actress since 1986 and did not face any discrimination at work.

“When I was first cast as Lucy in ‘Pi Mai Pi Mai Tang Tu’, I was not that fluent in Malay but the rest of the cast (and film crew) guided me. No one laughed at me. I can still recollect vividly how I used to rehearse each episode for three hours a day, for nine days before shooting began,” she said.

She added even though the sitcom had a multiracial cast, she did not feel awkward working with them, thanks to the spirit of togetherness that has existed in Malaysia’s plural society for a long time.  

Angeline Tan

“Our close cooperation during the filming sessions proved we can live together regardless of our different racial backgrounds. We are all Malaysians and must always endeavour to understand each other better,” said Tan, who still keeps in touch with her ‘Pi Mai Pi Mai Tang Tu’ castmates such as Sabri Yunus, Imuda, Sathia and Khatijah Tan and treats them like family.

Describing Malaysia’s racial unity as something unique that is hard for other countries to match, Tan said the sitcom’s episodes, in fact, reflected the goings-on in Malaysian society.

“Pi Mai Pi Mai Tang Tu narrates the daily lives and conflicts of the residents of the (fictional) Seri Wangi flats. In one episode titled ‘Penyakit’ (Illness), Mat Deris (a character played by Ahmad Busu) suffers from an illness but Budin (played by Imuda) and two other friends laugh at him. Mak Ngah (Khatijah Tan) tells them off for laughing at someone who is sick and urges them to find ways to help their friend,” Tan related.

She also advised today’s young generation to watch a rerun of the series as the messages it conveys remain relevant through the ages.

Other Malay movies and dramas Tan has starred in include ‘Yes, Tuan’; ‘KL Gangster’; ‘KL Gangster  2’; ‘Pontianak Menjerit’; ‘Redha’; ‘Duan Nago Bogho’; ‘Kerana Aku Seorang Ibu’; and ‘Pok Ya Cong Codei: Memburu Siti’.


Meanwhile, senior research fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Associate Prof Dr Zaini Othman said although various challenges have emerged to test the stability of the nation, the people, however, staved them off by working together as one social entity.

He opined that unity among the various races in this country currently stood at a good and stable level, reminding that it should be protected against “forces out to cause division and strive”.

“Our nation comprises people from various backgrounds and is fraught with sentiments deemed as sensitive and fragile or what we call social deficit which is also viewed as social inequality that can threaten the integrity of the country.

The diversity in Malaysian society in terms of race, culture and religion should be raised as an advantage that should be celebrated by every citizen of this country. --fotoBERNAMA (2023) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

“The reality is that social deficit is difficult to eradicate as it is an organic thing, especially in matters related to religion and culture. When chaos erupts, it can bring about anomie or social disorder.

“To prevent this, what we (different racial groups) must do is get to know one another better. I think this issue of getting to know one another better needs to be fortified in the context of our plural society. If this is done systematically, I believe it can contribute to strengthening cohesion within our society,” he added.


Translated by Rema Nambiar



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