‘What will Umno lose by banning Interlok?’

By B Nantha Kumar, FMT

KUALA LUMPUR: Over 200 non-governmental organisations have banded together to form the National Interlok Action Team (NIAT) to urge the government to withdraw the book from the secondary school compulsory reading list.

NIAT council member, A Rajaretnam, said that the new coalition, under the leadership of Mohammad Haji Tasleem, was founded on the premise that the Interlok novel cannot, under any circumstances, be used as an educational material in schools.

He said that the book has to be withdrawn from schools with immediate effect and replaced with other books from the other zones.

He also said that all the negotiations on the amendments to Interlok were secondary and subject to approval by the Indian community.

“We will have a nationwide forum to explain to the people about the real issue in the book,” he told FMT after last night’s emergency meeting which saw more than 200 NGOs in attendance.

Rajaretnam said that there was no plausible reason why the government cannot remove the book from the list of compulsory readings in school.

“We want to know what has Umno got to lose if the book is removed and banned. The book is hurting us, not them (Umno),” he said.

Rajaretnam also chastised the government for seeking only MIC views and not taking the issue directly to the people.

“He (Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin) can refer to MIC which secretly supports the book, but do not forget that at some point the government will still have to come back to us for votes. We will remember this,” he said.

On NIAT’s next move now that Muhyiddin has declared that the book stays on the authorised list of reading material, Rajaretnam said that a hunger strike would be held in Brickfield on Sunday.

He said that some 50 university students and youths would take part in the one-day strike.

Inept MIC

Meanwhile, an MIC member today hammered the party for its poor handling of the issue.

Calling MIC a “traitor to Indians”, the source said that the party leadership, the Education Ministry and the Cabinet had already decided to only remove the word “pariah” and keep the book.

“It’s all a drama… they have already decided to remove the ‘pariah’ word from Interlok. They (government and MIC) had no plans to ban the book.

“This is MIC manipulating the situation. It played along with Umno to divert the community’s attention from the other hidden issue in the book.

“We think the federal government directed the school to use the novel as literature book although it is aware that it was a derogatory depiction of the Indian community,” the member, who did not want to be named, he said.

He said that the real issue within Interlok was not the word “pariah” but the “idea and nuances” perpetuated by the book’s content.

“The whole ‘pariah’ word issue is simply a distraction. If you read the book, you will understand that the book aims to stress the fact that Chinese and Indians came to this country as immigrants searching for a life which was better that their homeland.

“Life was hard for them back home. In contrast, Malaya was paradise. So don’t question Malay rights and privileges.

“Interlok simply wants the Chinese and Indians to accept their lot and be thankful to the Malays,” he said.