Malaysia to keep controversial textbook

(AFP) – Malaysia on Thursday decided to keep a school literature text which has sparked anger among the ethnic Indian minority over references to the caste system which they said were racially insensitive.

The Malay-language novel, “Interlok”, has prompted angry protests and the arrest of nine activists last week after they urged the government to withdraw the book they said was offensive to the Indian community.

The book is to become compulsory literature reading for high school students in multiracial and mainly Muslim Malaysia.

The government has set up a special panel to review the novel and decided Thursday that “Interlok” would remain as a text but would make amendments to several aspects considered sensitive by the Indian community.

“The decision to continue using the novel, with amendments so as not to hurt the feelings of the Indian community, is the best solution,” Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said according to state media.

Muhyiddin, who is also the education minister, said another panel comprising linguists and academicians would be set up to decide on the amendments.

Deputy Education Minister Wee Ka Siong told AFP there were no immediate details available on which parts would be amended.

“Interlok”, written by a national laureate, covers the history of relations between of Malaysia’s three main ethnic groups — Malays, Chinese and Indians — from the 1900s until independence in 1957.

The Malaysian Indian Congress party, the third largest component party in the ruling coalition, has called for the novel to be withdrawn or to remove the passages touching on the caste system.

The caste system divides Hindus into four main groups according to their work and social status.

Caste discrimination is banned in India but still pervades many aspects of daily life, especially outside the cities.

Ethnic Indians make up less than 10 percent of Malaysia’s 28 million population and have long complained that they are disadvantaged by policies helping majority Muslim Malays.