In 2006 dejected members of the Bukit Jalil Estate community faced eviction from their homes in Kuala Lumpur where they had lived for generations. City officials classified plantation residents as squatters and, unaware of years of toil, attachment to the land, and past official promises, questioned any right they might have to stay, wondering “How can there be a plantation in Kuala Lumpur?”
This story epitomizes the dilemma faced by Malaysian Tamils in recent years as they confront the moment when the plantation system where they have lived and worked for generations finally collapses. Foreign workers from Indonesia and Bangladesh have been brought in to replace Tamil workers to cut labor costs. With the introduction of new migrant workers, the community structures—schools, temples, churches, community halls, recreational fields—need no longer be sustained, allowing more land to be converted to mechanized palm oil production or lucrative housing developments and replacing the old, long-term community-based model of rubber plantation production introduced by British and French companies in colonial Malaya.