Since the 1960s, there have been many ethnographic studies conducted on the Malays, a lesser number on the Chinese, and only a few on the Indians. Most of these studies were undertaken in the 1960s and 1970s at a time when urbanisation had only begun to affect communities and at a time when Malaysia was transiting from a predominantly agricultural to an urban industrial economy in the 1980s and 1990s.
More than two-thirds of Malaysians in the Peninsula now live in urban areas. Urbanisation has transformed the social structure of Malaysian society since the 1970s. The Malays, a rural and peasant-based society in the 1950s, are now an integral part of urban society and constitute significant parts of the middle and working classes. The Indians, semi-rural and semi-urban in the past, are now a full-blown urban proletariat.
There are few, if any, concerted efforts to document the changes that have occurred in these communities as a consequence of urbanisation. This case study is the first attempt to examine the socio-economic and political consequences of two ethnic groups of rural origins – one peasant and the other a plantation economy – now incorporated into an industrial economy and constituting an urban proletariat. This urban working class, neglected by the government in the past, has gained in importance over the years and has emerged as a politically significant influence in Malaysian politics – particularly in urban multi-ethnic constituencies.
This case study provides a snapshot of the state of Malays and Indians in an urban neighbourhood in the Klang parliamentary constituency.