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Why Interlok must go

February 7, 2011

FMT LETTER

From Naragan, via e-mail

You wake up in 2011 from a deep slumber beginning in 1957 and look around and see. You are appalled by what’s before you. What had been the natural order of things while you were deep in slumber now begins to look like a terrible scheme to deprive you of your dignity, your pride, your identity, your everything. You are appalled. You have to stand up and say NO! For if you do not the future is lost.

What is this so-called natural order of things of the appalling past:

1 The Indian in this country is the dark, scraggy, oily, drunk and most likely a criminal Indian.

2 The Indian is unavoidable baggage to be carried by the nation. They do not exist but for the profits they produce.

3 They do not possess anything material or moral, of any value to the nation.

4 They are the filth of this country, and they came from the filth of India.

5 Call them filth, call them pariahs, call them Indians , call them anything, it does not matter, they do not matter.

6 They should be grateful for what they have got in this country – a 1,000 times more than they could have got in India.

7 The ordinary Indians can be bought for a little rice and samsu and their leaders for a bagful of money and some meaningless Datukship.

Ask any Umno Malay – Muhyiddin Yassin, Ibrahim Ali, Asri the Mufti of Perlis, ask any Umno civil servant . Ask ex Umno stalwart – Anwar Ibrahim, ask the scion of the Chinese rich Chua Soi Lek, they will tell you, “This is after all the natural order of things, nothing amiss here. What’s all the fuss about?”

Only when something is a natural order, do we not sense something amiss despite the emphatic noises around. Therein is the crux of the issue. It is this nonchalance resulting from the worldview of this natural order of things that characterises the rot in our system. That is just the way the system has to work in Malaysia we are told.

The disgust of the Indians about the Interlok novel is not just about one word or a few words, as so many would have us believe. It is about that deep rot in our system – the rot of racism. It is about something totally and fundamentally wrong with our system.

Certainly , it is about those few words. But it is as much about the novel, and it is about the way the whole Interlok episode has been handled after it erupted. It is about the way this book was chosen and prescribed as compulsory text for all our Malaysian young in the name of national unity .

It is about the way Umno’s racist policies are perpetuated. It is about the continuing exclusion of minorities. It is about that which has become the natural order of things for the ketuanan Melayu Umno Malays.

This novel is only the tip of that iceberg.

What began optimistically as a government of the Malayan people in 1957 has in the passage of time transformed into a subtle, systematic and pervasive ketuanan Melayu racist Malaysia – a very well reinforced regime of racism.

To most of us uninitiated, this claim of a systematic and pervasive racism may look excessive. That is exactly why we say racism in Malaysia is subtle, very subtle. The pervasive racism that we talk about is not an overtly visible phenomenon.

There is a saying that you can kill by a deep cut across the middle or you can kill with a thousand small cuts, in which case the killing becomes slow and subtle. That is the brand of racism we have in Malaysia. A slow and subtle killing off. What we are looking at is the potential death of the Indian minority community by a thousand cuts.

This Interlok episode is not an isolated incident. It is just one in a big picture of many other what look like innocuous isolated occurrences. The racist scheme is not seen so readily when these are seen as isolated ocurrences.

But put them all together, along with what is happening to the other minorities and you immediately see the unmistakeable ketuanan Melayu racist scheme.  And I can see the potential demise of the Indian minority community as a proud and identifiable community in all of this some time out  in the future.

Barn like primary schools for the half the Indian children in Malaysia, problematic student years for the Indian young because of a combination of circumstances mainly relating to poverty, 40% of them involved in crime and a large number in prisons or in the Simpang Renggam detention centre.

Rampant alcoholism to drown out the miserable and hopeless lives offered by this racist system. Then top it all up by stereotyping storytelling of a past like this from novels like Interlok,

“Di dalam kapal ini dia tidak susah. Sebahagian besar daripada penumpang dek yang bersama-samanya itu dapat bercakap dalam satu bahasa sahaja, Tamil. Mereka yang dari arah ke utara sedikit bercakap bahasa Malayalam atau Telugu, tetapi hampir semuanya tahu bahasa Tamil.

“Malayalam dan Telugu pun berasal dari satu rumpun bahasa Dravidia. Satu perkara besar yang membuatkan mereka senang berkaul adalah kerana mereka tergolong dalam satu kasta Paria.” (pp 211).

“Di sini dia tidak sahaja bebas bercampur gaul dengan orang lain sama sebangsanya, malah dia tidak takut dengan pantang larang yang terdapat di negaranya apabila seorang India daripada kasta rendah menyentuh orang India daripada kasta tinggi.” (pp 218 – 219).

All this then seems to justify the natural order of things. The low life they belong to just perpetuates itself till this day. The storytelling in Interlok of 1910 fits in with the low life experienced by the Indians in 2010 and caused by their low ways and background  as in the story one hundred years ago.

The Indian becomes permanently relegated to this serf like status, devoid of dignity, of pride and having their past of extreme poverty and dispossession thrust into their faces at every turn as the reasons for their continuing poverty and dispossession. They are subtly and constantly reminded that they have nobody to blame but their past.

Anyway this life in this golden land of Malaysia is a thousand times better than anything they could have had in India. Something they are constantly being reminded of as part of the ketuanan Melayu philosophy.

That is the real issue!

Interlok is just a trigger for all of that. It is, as I have said , the tip of the iceberg. This Umno government does not care, they want to go right ahead and institutionalise such material into the educational curriculum because they must push their ketuanan philosophy on for them to succeed. Ask Mahathir about the logic of it all. He is the author of that ketuanan philosophy.

So, for our part as proud Indians who will not compromise dignity, we now have to take the bull by the horns. We just have no choice. We say the book must be withdrawn – or the Umno government must face the wrath of the entire Indian community.

This book represents for us an opportunity to turn back, stand up and say no to racism. We all have to say no, not just to the inclusion of the Interlok novel into the curriculum in schools but to the whole fabric of ketuanan Melayu racism that is the root cause of all of this.

This is a matter of great significance to the future of all the minority communities in the country. Let us all democracy and justice-minded Malaysians stand up. We need to eliminate this ketuanan Melayu racist system and that can only come when we all stand up. We, the minorities can live with dignity and pride in this country only when we eliminate this ketuanan Melayu racist system.

Look at what the people of Egypt and Tunisia have just done. They have stood up and said No! Let us stand and say NO! NO! NO!


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