"Interlok" will cause loss of votes to the BN

The Ministry should drop the “Interlok” novel from the upper secondary syllabus. That’s the view of the Indian community in the country. Writings that offend the sensitivities of any group of people in Malaysia should not be part of the school syllabus.

The novel “Interlok” written by national laureate Datuk Abdullah Hussain in 1971, archives the struggles of the Malays, Chinese and Indians in pre-independence Malaya. The intrinsic message is well understood though, as the book reflects the realities Malaysians of various races who went through unique ways to become the people of this country.

This book could be safely sold if put on the shelves of a book store. Most controversial books are safely sold in the market and people are not too concerned with the contents. As “Interlok” contains a pejorative demeaning to Indians it may not be suitable to be used as a literature text at the school level. Its contents on the Indian caste system and the use of the word “pariah” are distasteful to not only the Indians but also to those Malaysians who have Indian blood in them. It has no doubt disparaged this group of people in the country. Parents and students would not want this kind of book used as a textbook in school.

The book no doubt has caused hullabaloo of late. Like many other controversial books we have read or heard of – “Interlok” would not have been turned into an out-and-out issue if it has not been chosen to be used as a literature text for Form 5 students. Putting footnotes, glossaries and guidelines to attenuate or water down the contents and issues is not going to help resolve the matter. School children are not matured enough not to be offended by the allusion found in this book.

History has shown that Indians were massively brought into Malaya by the British in the 18th and early 19th centuries and many others came to the country because of the “push factor” back then in India. Many inter-married with the local people. There is a significant percentage of locals who have Indian blood through intermarriage in the country.

“Interlok” used as a text book is going to strike a bad chord among this people and would affect racial harmony in the country. Not only are those Malaysians of pure Indian ethnic who feel irate about this matter but also those locals of Indian descent – 38 percent of the population in Peninsular Malaysia.

Why must the Ministry of Education find it so difficult to drop this book from the school syllabus? “Interlok” has now become a sensitive issue just like how the book “Satanic Verses” contributed to brouhaha among Muslims all over the world. The “Satanic Verses” was not sold in some countries and in some countries they even refused to put the book on their library shelf. The author, Salman Rushdie, had to go into hiding then because of people’s anger against him. That much was the repercussion by some people over a book perceived to have besmirched a religion.

Malaysia is multi-racial and any issues affecting race and religion can be very sensitive. No race can tolerate if its people are degraded in the eyes of other races – worse still when this happens in school. It’s natural for every person to have pride in his or her race or religion, so why must we get on the nerves of one another by proposing a controversial book to be used by students in school? Could there be a hidden agenda to all this? A political manoeuvre of sort?

If only there is a political will to act on this controversial book, the matter would not be resolved. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education is dragging its feet when it comes to such a serious issue affecting a minority race. This does not bode well for the country.

The Ministry now has no choice but to immediately withdraw the book from the list of books found in the school syllabus. The country does no lack well-written literature books.

A simple book like “Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan” by Shahnon Ahmad was a hit at one time and read by most Malaysians. The book was used as a literature text in school then. The contents of the book made Malaysians understand better the plight of the poor farmers in the country who were then mostly Malays. The book made people of other races empathise with the poor Malays living as traditional farmers. The strong message derived from the book is for all Malaysians to empathise with those who are less fortunate in our society. This is what nation building is all about and message of this nature is what our school children need.

“Interlok” therefore is not fit to be used as a literature text for students. If the government does not react swiftly to the many protests, people’s anger would be translated into votes for an alternative government. The “Interlok “fever has spread to Tenang now and it will spread further well into the next general election.

Wisdom has to prevail among our leaders. Race, religion and culture are tools that some politicians make use of to win votes and stay in power. This however should not be done at the expense of the minorities. - Malaysia Chronicle

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