Fearing own past: Leave Abdullah Hussain’s work alone


Abdullah Hussain: A nationalist & national laureate

History is a very important and integral component of a civilisation to understand their past and learn, so that they can move forward and achieve greater heights. History is very much the soul of a civilisation and its race. Philosopher George Santayana once quipped the failure to recognise history as:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

The enrichment of any ethnic legacy and history is by far should not be demeaned on how, why, where, what and when the history or historical legacies and heritage did happen itself. It could be shameful or even a heritage embarrassment but it only serves as a reminder what should or should not be done or avoided. Nor should it be latched for an indefinite punishment for the descendants.

Lately, the controversy raised by MIC President Dato’ Murugiah on the novel “Interlok” by national laureatte Dato’ Abdullah Hussain really got a lot of the Malaysian Indians stirred up when the word ‘pariah’ is used to depict an Indian immigrant character ‘Maniam’ in the book. In the book, Maniam found that he is no longer treated as a ‘pariah’ when he found his new livelihood here in Malayan Peninsular, which is much different from his motherland, the Indian sub-continent.

MIC wants offensive word dropped from novel

KUALA LUMPUR (Jan 15, 2011):
The ‘Interlok’ issue on the word, ‘pariah’ should be “locked”, said MIC president Datuk G. Palanivel.

Palanivel (centre) and Devamany (left) at the
Ponggal celebrations. At right is MIC Youth
Chief T. Mohan.

While it was not a political issue, it was nevertheless, a sensitive one to the Indian community in the country, he said, adding that the party was adamant in wanting the offensive word dropped from the novel.

‘Interlok’, written by National Laureate Datuk Abdullah Hussein, is currently used as a literature textbook for Form Five, beginning this year.

Palanivel hoped the five-man panel shortlisted by the party to have discussions with the education ministry over the usage of the word in the novel, would be able to bring closure to the sensitive issue.

He was speaking to Bernama after attending the 1Malaysia Ponggal celebrations at the MIC headquarters here today.

The MIC has selected Hindu Sangam president R. S. Mohan Shan, Universiti Malaya’s former head of Indian Studies Department Dr S. Singaravelu, the department’s current head, Associate Professor Dr S. Kumaran, MIC education bureau chairman Datuk Dr T. Marimuthu and former education ministry official G. Krishnabagwan to be in the panel.

MIC vice-president Datuk S. K. Devamany hoped the issue, which he described as “just a small issue”, should not be blown out of proportion and taken advantage of, by certain groups out to get political mileage.

However, the deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department disagreed over the usage of the novel as a text book for Form Five students whom he felt were too young to understand the caste system as portrayed in the novel.

“We don’t want this issue to create disharmony between teachers and students,” he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk T. Murugiah said the public complaints bureau under his supervision had received 27 complaints against the novel.

MIC Youth secretary C. Sivarraajh said the movement, in cooperation with Koperasi Buku Malaysia Berhad, was planning to organise a debate on the subject at Rumah University, University Malaya on Jan 26.

Representatives from the party, teaching profession and the national writers association are expected to take part in the discussion.–Bernama


It was politicized to a point of an ultimatum issued, at the juncture where BN is facing a by-election. It should be seen as a political black-mail, since the Indian ethnic form a very crucial ‘deciding factor’ in the N 05 Tenang by-election where no single race form the majority of the constituency.

A discourse was actually held on Wednesday to dislodge the ‘stand-off’. Despite its well representation of the Indian ethnic community, the discourse did not achieve anything. Some quarters felt that the issue was blown way out of proportions by quarters with ulterior motives.

The controversy created a polemic to the point where Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Tan Sri Muhyiddin Mohd. Yassin had to explain that ‘Interlok’ is a work of fiction and not a historical document, where “Words can be changed”.

‘Interlok’ stays

By V. Shankar Ganesh

KUALA LUMPUR: Interlok will be retained as a literature textbook but sections deemed sensitive to the Indian community will be amended.

Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the decision was reached following discussions yesterday between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, MIC president Datuk G. Palanivel, MIC deputy president Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam and himself.

He said in a statement they had come to an agreement to continue using the novel for the literature component of the Bahasa Malaysia subject for Form Five students. The novel will continue to be used in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Selangor and Negri Sembilan.

Muhyiddin, who is also deputy prime minister, said an independent panel would be set up to study what amendments were needed and it would then submit recommendations to the government. He said the panel would comprise linguists, academicians, literary figures and representatives from Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka and the Indian community.

Muhyiddin said the novel would be used nationwide only after the amendments had been made and pending that, the Education Ministry would direct teachers to continue teaching the subject using the existing syllabus. “I believe we have enough time to make the detailed amendments so that there will not be any more disputes over the novel.” Muhyiddin said the decision was made after taking into account the views of various parties that Interlok was a good novel to nurture and strengthen unity among the multireligious and multicultural population in Malaysia.

“As such, the decision to retain the novel with amendments is the best solution. We will ensure that any amendments made will not affect the storyline of the novel and the noble message that the author wants to convey.” Palanivel, meanwhile, said he wanted independent panellists to have a careful look at what was being edited so that no further dispute would arise.

Federation of National Writers Association (Gapena) executive secretary Abdul Aziz Mohd Ali said the body supported the ministry’s decision to use Interlok as a textbook. He said the only acceptable change that could be made to the novel was to add a glossary for the word “pariah” to better explain it.

The move to adopt the novel, written in 1971, as a literature text for Form Five students from this year, had sparked a heated debate over its suitability, in particular between Indian community leaders and Malay literary enthusiasts and academicians.

The former has called for the word “pariah” to be removed from the novel or for its withdrawal altogether from the syllabus.

The latter, on the other hand, insists that the value of the book lies in its overall theme of unity and ethnic integration.

The novel is set in Malaya between the early 1900s and the country’s independence from Britain. It focuses on the challenges faced by three deprived families — Malay, Chinese and Indian — in eking out a living.


The word ‘pariah’ which was used one a single page in the novel was made to stir up sensitivities of the Malaysian Indians is about a social stratification system known as the ‘caste system’. Lets ask these questions:

1. Why is the word “pariah” be ‘offensive’?

2. Isn’t that part of the ‘caste system’?

3. Didn’t Indians of the Hindu faith practice in the Indian sub-continent practice the ‘caste system’?

4. Did Indians immigrants in Malaysia (then Malaya) practice the same ‘caste system’ or any of it derivatives?

5. Where there ever any non Indian ethnic impose this ‘caste system’ onto the Indians?

If any if not all the answers to questions is a ‘yes’, then what is the problem with the novel “Interlok”? Abdullah Hussein did not make up the ingredients in his novel. Neither did he attempt to manipulate the circumstance relating to how the word was used in his novel.

The over-zealot in the sensitivities of the issue is seen as very much an effort to harp on something very trivial. Then again, Murugiah is a champion of controversies. Why he is still having a Deputy Minister’s position is still baffling. Not so long ago, he was expelled from PPP for the controversies that he created.

By the way, this ‘pariah’ issue is a very much a BN-raised issue. This is because it is apparent that MIC is the only viable champion of the Malaysian Indians. DAP is very much a Chinese Chauvinist party where they could not care less about the Indian ethnic (as per the Kg Buah Pala episode). Despite harping on the emotions and sentiments of the Malaysian Indians (as per the HINDRAF episode November 2007), PKR actually lost its relevance to ‘defend’ the interest of the Malaysian Indians when the Deputy President candidate and darling of party Supremo Azmin Ali called Gobalakrishnan as ‘pariah’.

A reminder what happened three months ago entrenched deep within the PKR virtuoso of deceit:


Azmin called Gobala a pariah and Anwar says nothing.

KUALA LUMPUR: The PKR party election saga has taken a new twist with Padang Serai MP N. Gobalakrishan threatening to quit the party unless election irregularities are addressed.

He also accused deputy president aspirant Azmin Ali of manipulation and criticised the election committee, calling it spineless.

He said the committee was not independent and would only make decisions after consulting certain people.

“If the party fails in ensuring democracy and transparency, it is pointless for me to continue,” he told a press conference at the Parliament lobby yesterday.

Asked if Azmin was the power behind the election committee, Gobalakrishnan said: “I think there is no one else but him.”
He claimed that Azmin had been manipulating the party election results and that his working relationship with Kedah and Selangor had suffered because of Azmin.

Gobalakrishnan also accused Selangor executive councillor Xavier Jayakumar of teaming up with Azmin.

He claimed that Xavier’s family members were involved in manipulating the elections in several divisions, including Kelana Jaya and Hulu Selangor.

“Yet, no action has been taken against him. Is it because Azmin had taken him along to Jakarta for a meeting?” he asked.


Whether or not Gobalakrishann is a ‘pariah’ is not the concern at the moment. That matter will probably be looked into at another juncture, when the appropriateness is established.

Since the ‘caste system’ is very much exclusively an Indian trait, then the Malaysian Indians should do more to educate their own of their dark past in the effort to move forward and not do the mistakes of the past. We are tired of being blamed for the etymological embarrassing mistakes of one of Asia’s great civilisations.

MIC should be more productive in their approach to win the hearts of the Malaysian Indian ethnic. The Federal Government have been very generous in the concessions made towards the Malaysian Indians. MIC Leaders should be careful on the sensitivities that they intend to pick on and harp for the wrong reasons.

They are in a very precarious political patronage position where their ‘power’ is on the strength of the Malay majority vote. The Malays revere their sense of literary works very close to their hearts. In fact, literature is part of the defining traits of the Malay identity. The ability to command the imagination and resolve of the Malays via literary works was one of powerful tool to harness the cohesive and overwhelming support that managed to solidify an intense political pressure seen in the failure of The Malayan Union in mid 1946.

Dato’ Abdullah Hussain is a very respected laureate. His works of literary art defines and colours the typical Malaysian life. He is the 8th National Laureate, an award invested by the grace of His Majesty Seri Paduka Baginda Yang DiPertuan Agong in 1996. Even Negara Brunei Darussalam recognised his literary expertise.

By far, it is sacrilegious to even think of amending a national laureate”s work. More over when the call comes only 40 years later, for mentions on the subject of ‘pariah’ was just a passing description at the times where the ‘caste system’ was still very much a practice within pockets of Malaysian Indians, throughout this nation.

The Malays consider literary works as part of their much protected culture. Amending great literary works should be considered as ‘adulteration’ or worse still, ‘molestation’ of one of the defining traits to the race. Malay linguists may take this very far that would adversely affect the Indians via MIC politically.

In short, leave Abdullah Hussain’s 40 year old novel alone. Its a masterpiece as is.



Published in: on January 29, 2011 at 00:34  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. while we are on the subject of an offensive, I always wonder why that other word is also offensive? You know,the one thats supposedly is derive from sounds of anklet bells.
    I for one, believe it is because Indians set sail from the port of Kalinga.. or there abouts. show how illiterate the really are when it comes to their own history..

    • I’ve already pelangkong one of the ice cream seller, why? because he use the bells that produce sound which is RACIST!

      1Malaysia maa – even cows/cat that uses the necklace producing the same sound should be jailed or katok!

  2. it’s like removing the word ‘nigger’ from ‘to kill a mockingbird’ … what are lit teachers for if not to explain the meaning of the word within its context then?

  3. The Malays have been accomodating for far too long. Tak mahu cakap pendatang, tak cakap. Tak mahu cakap Keling tak cakap. It’s high time we assert ourselves. Good that the Government retain the book in the education system.

    We must maintain our maruah. Tun Tan Siew Sin said we have been “generous enough” on two occasions already – agreed on non-Malay citizenship right at Merdeka, relaxed the rules for the issue of citizenship certificate after Merdeka.

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