By Siti Salwa Shaari
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 16 (Bernama) -- Every morning Saiful Na'aim Harun would drop by at V. Jeganathan's house, located about 500 metres away, on his way to school.
That was five years ago and as they got older, the two friends drifted apart and their relationship became strained when they entered secondary school, where they became more comfortable to be among their own race.
This is a reality which is common among our children and according to 1Malaysia Foundation chairman Professor Dr Chandra Muzaffar, this happens because children became more aware of their identity when they became teenagers.
Hence, he said it was important to ensure racial interaction among children when they were still in nurseries and kindergartens.
"That is why we have to instil the concept of a more Malaysian identity among primary school children so that when they become teenagers, they will not be orientated to their own race," he told Bernama.
A trustee of the 1Malaysia Foundation, Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, who concurred with Chandra on the matter, said children were colour blind as they did not look at the colour of their friends' skin when they play.
Adults, he said, should learn to be colour blind to maintain unity among the people of races and ethnics in the country.
On relations among the ethnic groups, Lee said he was amazed with the Sabah and Sarawak people who were able to live in harmony despite the various ethnics found in the two states.
"The people of Sabah and Sarawak live based on the concept of mutual respect' for each others culture, tradition, religion and belief and the relationship is strengthened with inter-marriages among them.
Elaborating on harmonious living, Chandra said it happened through social interaction because there was no majority race or ethnic in the two states.
"All the races are a minority and in such an environment, toleration and cooperation can happen easily.
"Apart from that, religion also cannot be linked to race in Sabah or Sarawak, because there are also Kadazans who are Muslims and there are also those who are Christians," he added.
However, Chandra said racial polarisation was showing with the development in partisan politics.
Hence, he expressed the need for all political parties to handle political and economic issues from a wider perspective and not confined to certain races, as well as to not manipulate racial sentiment that could jeopardise racial unity.
He said the key to racial and religious harmony in Malaysia was justice which had to be comprehensive and balanced.
"That can be achieved if there is understanding and empathy among the races which have to be instilled through family, education system, religious institution and culture, as well as the media," he added.
Meanwhile, a lecturer at the Centre of Social Science Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Dr Sivamurugan Pandian, said the value which all Malaysians had to possess was moderation so that issues that could jeopardize unity could be tackled wisely.
"We cannot be over-sensitive or be radical, but to be mature because the harmony that we are enjoying now does not happen in one or two years, but takes a very long time and the result of the struggle by previous fighters," he added.