Malaysian PM disapproves of protests by ethnic Indian group

Monday, February 28, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has criticised a banned organisation of Indians whose supporters courted arrest to demand withdrawal of a school book they say makes racist references to ethnic Indians.

The demonstration Sunday by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) was “a deliberate move to create bad publicity for Malaysia in the international media”, Najib said.

“We do not want to be hard on them but they are hoping the police will use violence against them and it will be good stuff for the international media to exploit,” the prime minister was quoted as saying by The Star.

He justified the arrest of leaders of the Human Rights Party (HRP) as they had organised “an illegal gathering” to protest.

“The government is in the midst of helping them and a lot has been done,” he said.

The two organisations of ethnic Indians have been protesting “Interlok”, a 1970 novel prescribed as text book for form five school students. They allege it makes “racist” references to the Indian community and its caste system.

The references, they say, do not truly reflect the conditions among Malaysia’s 2.1 million ethnic Indians who form eight percent of the country’s 28 million population.

Following objections by the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), the government has formed a committee to review the book. The protests have continued while a final report is awaited.

In Ipoh, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said most people had stayed away from the Hindraf gathering in Kuala Lumpur.

“This was because they were aware that the gathering had not received a police permit,” he said.

He also denied reports that thousands of people had gathered at the Batu Caves temple to participate in similar protests. “They were there to take part in religious ceremonies,” he said.

Batu Caves near the national capital have Malaysia’s largest Hindu temple and is the venue of several religious congregations.

The police said they have warned the organisers against holding the protests.

Police official Zulkifli Abdullah said among those arrested were eight people believed to be leaders of the banned Hindraf, leaders of the Human Rights Party, including pro-tem secretary-general P. Uthayakumar, and eight women.

The organisations have said they plan to continue their protests, including candle light vigils.

HRP legal adviser M. Manoharan said the party would continue to hold rallies until the government took “Interlok” out of schools.

He said the government’s decision to amend parts of the book was not acceptable. “You cannot amend or delete parts of a novel that has already been written.”

In an editorial Monday, the New Straits Times said: “Now that some protesters against the decision to retain a revised version of Interlok as a school textbook have been detained, this will no doubt be seen as further evidence of a denial of the freedom of expression. But as some anti-Interlok activists have not been averse to burning books in the tradition of the Nazis, they are closer to being closet fascists rather than the proponents of free speech that they are imagined to be.”

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