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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Interlok: Indians 1 Chinese 0

Commentary

niat-hartalIntroduction by CPI

Many Malaysians are not aware of NIAT and Hartal MSM, among two NGOs that have been in the forefront of civil society opposition to the use of Interlok as a compulsory Bahasa Melayu SPM text. Through a combination of hard research and public consciousness-raising actions, these two civil society organizations have shown the way forward in challenging various government policies that are not in the public interest.

There is a need for other civil society organizations in the country to emulate the example set by NIAT and Hartal MSM. There is a need to learn from and be inspired by their commitment to ensuring that racism does not become embedded in our society.

Their determination to stand up against the powerful political and bureaucratic forces working to undermine our liberal and democratic way of life is especially admirable. Their struggle is one against an entrenched and authoritarian system that is all too ready to employ the state apparatus in all its permutations to coerce or co-opt dissident voices into silence and passivity.

CPI is sharing with our readers excerpts from their various postings. We hope that you will not only visit their websites but also support the cause too.

NIAT, which represents the Indian NGOs, is giving a briefing to the Backbenchers Club in Parliament today. They had earlier on March 21 briefed Pakatan Rakyat MPs. The Chinese ground however remains woefully ignorant about the repercussions ofInterlok remaining in the syllabus.

NIAT (National Interlok Action Team)

Chairman

Dato’ Thasleem Mohamed Ibrahim Al-Haj
(Religious, Social & Language Activist)

Secretariat

Mr Arun Dorasamy
Asst: Mr Krishna Subramaniam & Mr Tanabalan Egamaran
Malaysia Hindu Sangam

Leaders

Dr Suppiah

President, Federation of Indian NGOs
(Representing more than 150 Indian NGOs)

Dr Bala Tharmalingam

Deputy President, Malaysia Hindu Sangam

Rev. Henry Sandanam

President, Association of Tamil Pastors and Christians Fellowship of Malaysia (TPCFM)

Mr Rajaretnam Armuggan

President, Persatuan Progressif India Malaysia (MIPAS)

Mr Kishur Goonasaran

President, Malaysian Indian Student Association (MISA)

Mr Barathidasan Saminathan

Secretary General, Persatuan Progressif India Malaysia (MIPAS)

Mr A. Murali

Chairman, Tamilan Uthavum Karangal

Mr Alegesan Batumalai

Vice President, Malaysian Indian Youth Council (MIYC)

Mr S. Gobi Krishnan

Secretary General, Malaysian Indian Arts, Culture and Heritage Organization (MIACHO)

Mr Uthaya Sankar SB

Presiden, Kumpulan Sasterawan Kayvan

Footnote: NIAT represents more then half a million Malaysian actively and millions more silently.

Executive summary

NIAT (National Interlok Action Team): Withdraw Interlok from the schools based on our 900 man-hours research findings and the public outcry against the novel’s content which touches the sensitivity of ALL Malaysians in many respects.

This report is filed under five main classifications.

Interlok is against:

  • Islam & other religious teachings

  • the Ministry’s technical guidelines (falsafah pendidikan negara, BBT, DBP)

  • racial integration: Insults Malay, Chinese & Indians

  • 1Malaysia policy of the Prime Minister

  • human rights & the UN Charter

NIAT has compared Interlok’s core content, literal meaning (maksud tersurat), implied meaning (maksud tersirat) and literary value against the current philosophy and other ministerial guidelines as illustrated below:

  • Panduan Penulisan Buku Teks KBSM is a detailed guideline for textbooks. Interlok failed to meet the criteria set forth by the bureau. It came to our knowledge that the Education Ministry’s textbook bureau advised the curriculum development department (BPK) to further edit the book to comply with guidelines. However, at this point we are unable to corroborate the information with written evidence. (Refer to Page 8 of our report)

Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka’s literature department has its criteria to assist the selection of literature deemed to reflect Malaysia’s history and modern societies. Interlok failed to meet five criteria out of six set by DBP. The agency’s selection process is the first level of filtration before any novel is shortlisted to be used as educational material. (Ref. p.7)

Falsafah Pendidikan Negara is the vision of our late premier Tun Abdul Razak through his national education philosophy contained in Penyata Razak. Interlok fails to meet his aspiration. (Ref. p.10)

  • NIAT researched Interlok based on four classifications – (i) Derogatory words/phrases and passages, (ii) Factual errors, (iii) Wrong portrayal of religion and (iv) Wrong portrayal of culture

Derogatory portrayal

The characterization, incidents, choice of words and storyline are very derogatory (explicitly and implicitly) of the Malay (bangsa malas), Chinese (will do anything for money), Indian (low-caste community) and Caucasian (syaitan putih). Interlok’s metaphors comparing the certain characters to babi, anjing, kambing, its name calling Cina Panjang, Indo kuai, Malai kuai and its use of the word ‘pariah’ is unacceptable. (Refer to Page 13 of our report for details)

Factual errors

Interlok contains many obvious and arguably factual errors on the basis of historical reflection, sociological facts and geographical references. (Ref. p.15)

Religious deviance

Interlok has a Muslim family believing in tangkal, dukun, chanting mantera and indulging in spirit worship. As to the Hindus, the author misrepresents the circumambulation seven times around fire at the Indian wedding ceremony, associates caste with Hinduism and confuses Brahma-Trinity God with Brahman/Brahmin. (Ref. p.19)

Cultural misquotes

Indian wedding culture: Nalangu ceremony, thali, disrespectfully calling a husband by his personal name, “sucikan wang dengan air suci” as if money is received from lower-caste people is tainted, ‘Lembu Tua’ as sign of good luck. (Ref. p.20)

Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. has wisely reminded mankind that no one is superior or inferior because of his ethnic or ancestral background. Yet Interlok concludes that:

  • Malays are lazy and backward

  • Chinese are materialistic, liars, will do anything for money or to get rich, hate Malays

  • Indians are low caste, have no culture, an inferior race, coolies

Do we want our children to learn such stereotypes? Do we really need this novel in schools? Tepuk dada tanya selera.

Website:www.myniat.com/ e-mail: Niat.secretariat@gmail.com

****************************************************

Hartal MSM


Thanks to NIAT’s good work and Hindraf’s dogged determination, non-Indians were alerted to Interlok’s potential pitfalls, resulting in a slow trickle of other Malaysian voices protesting its use in school.

However, last Saturday, the Star reported that the Ministry of Education had accepted all 106 proposed changes to the student edition of Interlok recommended by the Indian panellists reviewing the book.

Congratulations to the Indian panellists and community for gaining this ground. They have spoken loudly and Indians finally been heard. But their small victory actually brings into sharp relief the bigger schism in our race relations.

Several questions arise:

  1. Why were the Malays and Chinese not concerned with the Indian sensitivities?

  2. Why were the Chinese so late in realizing what the novel had said about their community? Was it because when the Indians complain, hardly anyone listens?

  3. Are Chinese are not interested in Malay literature and unable to read the language?

  4. Or are the Chinese so incredibly thick-skinned? Sticks and stones can’t break their bones, and words don’t hurt them?


Interlok – ‘historical fact’?

The real problem with Interlok is not with specific words and depiction of characters. The problem is the official position thatInterlok is a work of fiction based on historical fact. On this premise, the novel has been heavily promoted as an accurate representation of the main races and a race relations module for SPM students.

The historicity of the novel has been stridently defended by academicians, intellectuals, writers, teachers, DBP (the publisher), Umno, Perkasa and even the Education Minister himself. These views received wide coverage in the media and were written up inopinion-editorials and in the blogs.

The Ministry’s study guide for Interlok also reveals a highly ideological bias – one which resonates with Biro Tata Negara-style brainwashing. Even if Malaysians were to accept the hijacking of BM lesson to teach the BN government’s version of race relations, can parents accept their children being taught propaganda?

Interlok is spiritual guru to the BTN song about the poor, naïve Malays cheated of their land and birthright. Only Interlok spells it out that it the Chinese who are the predators.


Racial integration or indoctrination?

Regarding vernacular schools as described in Interlok, the reality is that the Chinese have always placed a premium on education as the ticket to a better life. Stories abound of Chinese parents selling their property, working several jobs and taking on crushing loans to finance their children’s education.

Since there were almost no government-built schools for Chinese children during the period in which the novel is set, concerned educationists and philanthropists generously established Chinese private schools. However, the Ministry’s Interlok study guide views vernacular schools as cultural/political indoctrination centres.

Of the other six ‘values’ assigned by the guide, several are tainted with Ketuanan Melayu racial bias. For instance, does the Education Ministry view a Chinese parent’s love so cheaply? Is child trafficking so commonplace among Chinese that they are portrayed as traditionally having little or no compunction bundling their kids off for a tidy profit?

These points are not isolated. The same points are repeated almost word-for-word in the Pengajaran (Morality) section of the Ministry’s study guide. Other learning points with similar flavour are scattered throughout the guide as well.

Racial profiling in the classroom

A further indication of the BTN-esque insidious agenda can be seen in the classroom lesson plan, where students are taught that negative traits of individual characters are actually the “social background” of entire communities.

For example, students are required to read an excerpt of the novel describing an Indian character’s murderous pursuit of another Indian character. No context is given as to why this was happening. The 15 short sentences merely describe the chase, the desperate thoughts of the victim and the murderous thoughts of the pursuer.

Students are then required to describe the Indian social setting in the novel, complete with example. The sample answer given by the Ministry states: “A society that acts beyond limits.” The required example is the description of the pursuit above.

Another excerpt that students are required to read:

In that meeting, Cing Huat contributed five hundred ringgit. No other tauke could match that figure. But Cing Huat who was already skilled in business knew all the lies and dirty tricks of business people. To make money, they will go all out in order to gain more and more, but to put money out for a donation, they will try their best to give as little as possible. Cing Huat didn’t care about that so much because
he knew, whoever worked hard, he would be the one who accumulates great wealth.”

What is the point of this elected excerpt? There is no context as to what Cing Huat is contributing to, what the meeting was about and who attended the meeting. How is the student to make head or tail of it?

We showed a teacher this “floating” passage, and the only conclusion he could make out was: “The Chinese are unscrupulous, greedy, stingy businessmen.”

Promoting the Ketuanan Melayu doctrine

Indians – a society that acts beyond limits
Chinese – a society obsessed with money and a people who would do anything to
acquire wealth

These are just a few of the stereotypes being attributed to entire races that the Ministry wants to be taught to SPM students! The worksheets ask leading questions that invariably require prejudiced answers. Very few positive traits are attributed to the non-Malay communities and almost none at all to the Chinese.

In contrast, the Malays are portrayed as a devout, helpful and close-knit community. You can hardly find a pejorative portrayal of a Malay character in the lesson plan.

Now, of course, it is the novelist’s artistic license to create whatever villainous characters and nasty scenarios that he likes, and regular adult readers have the freedom to critique his work.

However, Interlok is not a novel to be reviewed in free will by those who have the luxury of forming their own judgement. This is a compulsory school text, to be studied along the track of the prescribed guide and lesson plan. You can imagine that only officially sanctioned answers are allowed, else you fail.

Given the obvious bias shown by the Ministry, we fail to see how racial harmony and integration can be fostered when students are forced to absorb these lesson plans and then regurgitate propaganda in their answer script.

Chinese gave a walkover

The outcome of the review commissioned on Interlok has been made public. Indians have won their part of the battle; they had three robust players in the eight-member review team.

The Chinese had only one mousy representative – Assoc. Prof. Lim Swee Tin (left) of UPM – because they gave not the slightest indication earlier that they were upset with Interlok.

The Indian story comes in Part 3 of the book; Part 1 is about the Malay protagonist, Pt 2 (Chinese) and Pt 4 (their lives intersect).

Considering the Indian panellists found 106 things that needed to be amended, it’s shocking that Lim, the flagbearer for the Chinese community in the Interlok review process, finds nothing to object about how the Chinese are depicted.

While the Education Ministry has reportedly agreed to the tons of amendments requested by the Indian representatives, Lim – through his silence and acquiescence – appears to endorse the position that the novel’s pronouncements about the cunning, conniving, cheating Chinese are ‘historical fact’.

Lim has identified only the smallest handful (if any at all) flaws in Interlok. On the other hand, we at Hartal MSM found a whole lot that is disgusting and despicable in how Abdullah portrayed the Chinese community.

If the criminally apathetic parents and community leaders continue to sit on their hands, then our 16-year-olds in Bahasa Melayu class taking their SPM will rightly be taught that the Chinese are indeed as Abdullah Hussain describes them.

Website: www. hartalmsm.wordpress.com / e-mail: hartalmsm@gmail.com

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