Book burning by Malaysian Indians sparks debate


Kuala Lumpur : Burning of copies of a book that refers to caste system among Malaysian Indians, allegedly by some Hindu groups, has triggered an animated debate.

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The point being made is whether the Hindus, who worship books as a symbol of knowledge, should be burning it to register a protest about its content.

A commentator has said it signifies “a gulf between reason and recklessness”, and of the “distinct lack of leadership in and among Indians in Malaysia”.

Some non-government organisations (NGOs) lodged a police complaint alleging that one of the persons behind the book burning was M. Manoharan, a legislator who was jailed for organising a protest rally in 2007 under the banner of Hindu Rights Action Front (Hindraf).

At the centre of controversy is “Interlok”, a book by Abdullah Hussain that has been made compulsory Malay literature reading for Form Five students this year. It refers to caste system among ethnic Indians.

Multi-racial Malaysia is home to 2.1 million ethnic Indians, a bulk of them Tamils.

Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), the largest Indian-based party and its nominee in the government, Human Resource Minister S. Subramaniam, has called for the book being withdrawn or at least the offending parts being deleted.

The MIC has called for the book to be taken out of the curriculum, saying that the word “pariah” used to describe the caste system was a sensitive topic among ethnic Indians.

Deputy Education Minister Puad Zarkashi, who chaired a meeting Tuesday, said: “The issue was discussed intellectually and rationally. We also explained the criteria and methods used in choosing literature text, such as the theme and plot.”

Six Indian representatives, including Malaysia Hindu Sangam president R.S. Mohan Shan, MIC education bureau chairman T. Marimuthu and Universiti Malaya’s Indian Studies Department head S. Kumaran were among those who attended the meeting.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Malay Civilisation and World Institute deputy director Teo Kok Seong said people should “refrain from jumping to conclusions”.

“While ‘pariah’ is a taboo word, we need to first look at the context in which it is used. In Interlok, it is used to simply describe a particular caste and not to malign an entire community – the whole novel in fact promotes racial unity.”