Malaysian govt panel looks into controversial book

A Malaysian governmental appointed panel today began to look into amendments to a controversial high school literature book which refers to the Indian caste system in `unacceptable terms`.

Last Updated: Feb 16, 2011, 22:29 PM IST

Kuala Lumpur: A Malaysian governmental
appointed panel today began to look into amendments to a
controversial high school literature book which refers to the
Indian caste system in `unacceptable terms`.

The novel `Interlok`, which has become controversial
after the minority ethnic Indian community took offence to
some of the words used in the book, which is to be a part of
school curriculum for senior students.

The reference to the caste system in the book was not
acceptable to many ethnic Indians, who form eight per cent of
the country`s population of 27 million people.

The independent panel will try and find a balance to
address the concerns of the Indian community and retain the
nove`l`s essence of unity.

Panel chairman Professor Shamsul Amri Baharuddin said
many meetings were expected before the panel could finalise
any amendment and submit them to the government for approval.
"The panel will not be prejudiced against anyone.

We will be open to all input," said the professor of
social anthropology in University Kebangsaan Malaysia.

"One of the main things we will discuss is the
definition of a novel. We have to clarify this before moving
on," he told the New Straits Times.

The meeting, he added, would "go beyond personal and
group opinions".

The ethnic Indian community has taken offence to words
like "pariah" used in the book saying that the word connoted a
caste system which did not exist in Malaysia.

The panel will include representatives from the
Malaysian Indian congress (MIC), Federation of Malaysian
National Writers Association (Gapena), Dewan Bahasa dan
Pustaka (DBP) and officials from the Education Ministry.

The author of the novel, national laureate Abdullah
Hussein, will be represented by his wife.

The hotly debated novel was approved for use as a
literature component of the Bahasa Malaysia subject for senior
students students this year.

However, leaders from the Indian community protested
over the use of the book, saying it contained derogatory words
and factual errors on geographical, sociological and
historical issues.

They also claimed it contained religious
misinterpretations and cultural errors.

The Interlok novel was written in 1967 and published
in 1971. According to the National Interlok Action Team
(NIAT), comprising some 140 Indian-based NGOs, the original
work contained 123,550 words but had been edited and reduced
by 20 per cent for textbook purposes.

The edited version was published in 2005 as an
optional reading material for secondary schools and last year,
it was further edited before being made compulsory reading
material.

The copyright of the book is now with the DBP.
However, amendments will be made to the text deemed
offensive and factually wrong by the panel. Its use in schools
was also suspended until the amendments were incorporated into
the novel.

Other Malay literary enthusiasts and academicians
said the value of the book lies in its overall theme of unity
and ethnic integration as the novel was set in Malaya between
the early 1900s and the country`s independence.

It focuses on the challenges faced by three deprived
families -- Malay, Chinese, Indian -- on their daily
struggles. They also questioned why only after 40 years, the
Indians were protesting over the book.

However, Indian community leaders responded that the
concerns only arose after the novel was made as compulsory
textbook for students.

Indian leaders have also called on the ministry to
realise that the issue was not just the "pariah" word as there
were more than 20 passage

s in the novel that they claim are
derogative of Indians.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Malaysian Indian
Congress, G Palanivel, said he would not comment on the
Interlok issue until he read the edited version of the
textbook.

MIC has come under heavy criticism from various
quarters for not getting the government to remove the novel
from schools.

The banned Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf)
political wing, the Human Rights Party, has also joined in the
fray. It is planning a rally in Kuala Lumpur on February 27.

On Sunday, 58 Human Rights Party supporters were
arrested in Selangor, Perak, Negri Sembilan and here, where
they distributed flyers condemning the controversial Interlok
novel.

They are currently being investigated under the
Sedition Act, Printing Presses and Publications Act, and for
staging illegal assemblies and preventing police from carrying
out their duties.

Asked to comment on the demonstration and protests
by the banned Hindraf supporters, Palanivel said that in a
democratic country, there would be people who disagreed and
had different views.

"We accept their views, but we have to find a
solution. We can`t go on fighting," he said.

PTI