The BN government is responsible for the unhappiness and controversy over Interlok, observes Rani Rasiah. If it had been just left on the shelves of bookshops, available to all who care to read it, there would have been none of this controversy.
Imagine if Zunar’s recent caricatures on the power structure in the PM’s office were not banned, if Amir Mohamad’s The Last Communist was sold in bookshops, if ‘cross’ structures were allowed to be, if history wasn’t grossly distorted to conform to official views…
Imagine if we lived in a social environment where our multi-ethnicity was not exploited by the ruling elite to divide and rule us, if our leaders’ brand of self-serving politics didn’t require them to sow hostility and distrust among the racial groups, if there were no such slogans as Ketuanan Melayu, if we were Malaysians first and not Malays, Indians and Chinese even after 54 years of independence, if there was no BTN to corrupt our minds about the other…
Imagine if we lived in a place where all the different ethnic groups were not busy labelling each other ‘pendatang’, where at the slightest provocation we were not told to ‘balik China’ or ‘balik India’ or ‘Balik Indonesia’…
If the novel Interlok were introduced into such a place I believe there would be no controversy.
But we don’t live in an environment like that. The reactions to the book are predictable, being the result of decades and decades of conditioning through racial divide-and-rule politics, and the blatant racial and religious chauvinism of those leading the country. So it’s highly hypocritical when the ruling elite act surprised at the outrage expressed by mainly the Indian community, and now the Chinese community. That is exactly the way the government has groomed us to react in a situation like Interlok.
Like good students of divide-and-rule government, the three communities stand disunited and apart in their reaction to the same issue. The Indian community has taken offence to the use of the word, ‘pariah’ and to a number of statements regarding the Indian characters that it sees as insulting and untrue. It has organised itself into Indian groups to demand the withdrawal of the book. The Malay community, specifically the Malay writers association, representing the Malay author, have predictably come to his defence. The Chinese community, not directly implicated in the long-drawn Indian controversy, stayed out of the fray – until recently when Chinese groups began to make known their unhappiness at what they see as negative stereotyping of their community. Well done, BN!
After dragging the issue in the media for weeks and weeks and introducing the word ‘pariah’ , the very word at the root of the controversy, to the entire Malaysian population during that period, the government has decided to retain the book for use in schools, with a promise that some changes will be made. For a government that boasts of being sensitive to the people and claims to listen to them, it deserves zero marks in this instance for its total insensitivity.
The BN government is responsible for the unhappiness and controversy over Interlok. If it had been just left on the shelves of bookshops, available to all who care to read it, there would have been none of this controversy. But it was mindlessly(?) introduced as compulsory text for Form Five students – but even at that stage, the problem was not nipped in the bud.
Rani Rasiah, an Aliran member, is coordinator of the Oppressed People’s Network (Jerit)