Being stateless: Malah Karuppayah's long road to citizenship


MALAH KARUPPAYAH, 49, was a stateless child. Born in Negri Sembilan to a Malaysian mother and an Indian father, she eventually obtained her Malaysian citizenship following a life-changing journey.

Here is her story.

“I was born in a rubber estate in Negri Sembilan. My father was from Kerala, India, while my mother was a Malaysian citizen.

“My mother passed away while giving birth to me, while my father passed away several years later due to illness.

“I was put under the care of my relatives. I moved with them to another rubber estate in Pahang, where I grew up.

“I never asked about my nationality until I was 11. I wondered why I was not allowed to go to school like my friends in the estate.

“My relatives told me that I did not have a birth certificate, but unknown to me, the government clinic where I was born had kept a record of my birth. And so, I never had the chance to go to school.

“When I was 16, I decided to leave the estate. I hitched a ride from a lorry driver, who was transporting oil palm from the nearby estate, to Kuala Lumpur.

“I had nothing but a bag of clothes. By the time I reached the capital, it was night time and he dropped me off in front of the Puduraya bus terminal.

“Without any money, I found shelter in a nearby Hindu temple.

“The following morning, a man who came to pray at the temple asked me what I was doing there all by myself.

“I told him my story and he offered me a job as a helper at his banana leaf restaurant near Petaling Street.

“I accepted the offer and was given lodging in a dormitory for workers, who were mostly foreigners, above the restaurant.

“I worked hard, ate simple but satisfying meals and saved some money, which I could not keep in the bank.

“Being a stateless person, things such as opening a bank account , which many people take for granted, was something I had been dreaming of.

“There had been people who offered to help me get my citizenship, but all they did was take my money.

“In 1996, a patron at the restaurant offered to help me. He had been a regular customer but I never knew who he was then.

“On that day, we had a small chat at the restaurant and he was surprised to discover that I had no identity card.

“So, he got his people to help me. That’s when I learned that the good Samaritan was (former MIC president and works minister) Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu.

“Five years later, I got my MyKad and birth certificate from the National Registration Department (NRD). But there was one more hurdle to overcome.

“A year prior to getting my citizenship, I gave birth to my daughter in a government hospital (Malah got married in 2000).

“As I was stateless, I was worried that the hospital would not allow me to deliver her, so I gave an alias for my daughter’s birth certificate.

“As I could not prove my citizenship, my daughter was given a red birth certificate (for non-citizens).

“After receiving my citizenship, the first thing I did was register my marriage. Next, I applied for a green birth certificate (for citizens) for my daughter, but it was rejected by NRD.

“I was told that the reason for the rejection was because my name on my identity card was different from what was stated on my daughter’s birth certificate.

“My husband, a lorry driver, didn’t know what to do, since we are both illiterate.

“In 2007, we enrolled our daughter in a school and found out that we had to pay higher school fees.

“Since she was not a citizen, she was not allowed to represent her school in sports although she was a good badminton player.

“When she fell sick, we could only take her to private clinics.

“She had to get special approval from the Education Ministry before she could sit the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah examination.

“My husband and I knew we had to do something. We didn’t want her to suffer like me.

“It was not easy. We wasted a lot of time and resources, travelling to and fro government offices in Klang and Putrajaya.

“One day, I heard from the
radio that a non-governmental organisation called Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (DHRRA) helps stateless people.

“I went to their office in Sungai Way, where my daughter and I had a DNA test.

“The test cost RM1,600 and was sponsored by DHRRA, which I was thankful for.

“My daughter, Mogana Thiaggu, finally got her MyKad this year at the age of 16.

“For those who are waiting to get their citizenship, I hope they continue to persevere and not give up.”