For ethnic Indians, Malaysia makes changes to textbook


Kuala Lumpur : References to the Hindu caste system have been removed from a novel prescribed for school students that offended sections of Malaysia’s ethnic Indian community, says Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Support TwoCircles

Yassin told parliament Thursday that the government had agreed to make 19 amendments to the textbook, “Interlok”, replacing phrases and words deemed sensitive to the Indian community.

Of particular concern was the contentious phrase “kasta pariah” (pariah caste) which would be replaced with “golongan yang sama” (the same group).

The term “orang berkulit hitam” (a dark-skinned race) would be dropped and the word “tuhan” (god) would be replaced with “dewa” (deity).

The amendments were agreed upon by the independent panel set up by the cabinet in January to look into the matter.

The panel included representatives of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), the country’s largest Indian-based party that is also a constituent of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN).

Yassin, who is also the education minister, said the other 87 proposed amendments reviewed by the panel were found to be irrelevant to the core issue. This included putting the name of the author on the cover and altering the spelling of a word.

He said all members of the panel, including representatives of the Indian community, had agreed to insert “errata” in the textbook to correct or drop phrases that the Indian community found culturally or religiously offensive.

The minister also said the panel had agreed that Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, as the publisher, would edit the novel accordingly for the new edition.

At the same time, he said the ministry would prepare a glossary to explain phrases and concepts contained in the novel.

The minister said with the amendments, the “Interlok” issue had been resolved. This showed “the spirit of unity, acceptance and mutual respect of Malaysians, who were willing to come to a compromise,” he added.

He said “Interlok” was a creative work which attempted to depict a harmonious life in multi-racial Malaya before it gained independence.

He thanked the novel’s author Abdullah Hussein for allowing parts of his book to be amended, the New Straits Times reported.

“Interlok” was written in 1971 in Bahasa Malaysia, the language of the majority Malays, and focused on the challenges faced by three deprived families – Malay, Chinese and Indian – in eking out a living.

The inclusion of the novel as a literature textbook for the secondary school syllabus for this year had sparked a heated debate over its suitability.

A group also burnt copies of the book.

Concerned groups had called for the novel to be dropped because several parts in the book were deemed sensitive to the Indian community.

The government had ruled out withdrawing the book, as demanded by some Indian groups, but agreed to the amendments.