Does interlock bonds or drives away the Malaysian Indians in Malaysia
Ever since the induction of Interlock novel as a compulsory text in SPM Malay literature paper, a large section of Malaysian Indians have voiced their strong disapproval. They feel insulted and disparaged by the statement in the novel that all Malaysian Indians who came to Malaysia during the colonial period belong to the pariah caste. The novel further says that the different linguistic and ethnic groups that came from south India are able get along well among themselves because they all belong to the pariah caste and that they spoke Tamil. Indian Muslims and Christians also were implicated because they too were among those who made the crowded and packed journey from India.
UMNO hardliners are standing firmly with the decision to introduce Interlock as a compulsory text because they feel that the Malaysian Indians have no right to question the decision of the Ministry of Education. There are a small section of Indians who don’t mind the novel Interlock as a compulsory text in the SPM Malay literature subject.
The different forums and groups among the Indian community are of the opinion that there are two issues here. Most of the groups accept interlock as a novel because they believe in freedom of expression, but introducing the novel as a compulsory text for the Form 5 students is insensitive and derogatory. They agree that the author has no intention to defile and demean any community. Why and what is it that the Indian community is discontented about in this novel is the issue that this paper wants to address.
Indian society was classified more structurally in terms of profession and trade. Those who were scholarly and knowledge oriented were classified as Brahmins, those who were valorous classified as Kshatriyas, merchants and businessman were labeled as Vaisyas and those without any skill and general workers are labeled as Shudras. These classifications were horizontal and not vertical in meaning that is no caste is superior to the other. Even in the great Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, the god incarnations Rama and Krishnan were depicted as belonging to Kshatriyas. Lord Buddha was a Kshatriya. Many Hindu saints and sages who were praised as godly people belong to all four classes. There was a flexible caste system where when a person’s character, trait and profession changes his caste too becomes different. The word ‘pariah’ means drummer. In those days there were drummers who went around the towns and villages spreading the royal message to commoners. They were like messenger boys passing the royal or establishment message to commoners. This must be the most unskilled job that involves more brawn than brain therefore they must have belonged to the Shudra category.
With the advent of foreign invaders, traders, religions and religious missionaries and India being ruled by foreigners for 1000 years, the practice of caste system has deviated from its original intent and changed so much that Indians themselves consider caste as an evil and social disease that needed to be discarded. Indian political and community leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Subramanyar Bharathi and many more have vehemently spoken against this social disease and the Indian government has introduced laws with severe punishment to prohibit caste practice. Swami Vivekananda once said caste ridden society is a lunatic asylum. Indian based parties in Malaysia have been practicing caste politics for the past 50 years as vote bank. Caste is a bane to Malaysian Indians but a boon to ruthless politicians and evil religious leaders. In a democratic society, the caste system is always exploited by some groups for their own purpose.
Foreigners and outsiders to Indian tradition don’t understand the psychological phobia and earnestness of Indians to get rid of caste practices. Well meaning Indians and community leaders consider caste practices that refuse to go away as a real curse. It creates mental limitations to move forward. But the non-Indians and the opportunistic Indians keep using the caste labels again and again to the embarrassment and irritation of Indians in general. Caste names and tags is being constantly re-awakened and reminded again and again so much so that Indians themselves are learning to accept it. Now that the novel Interlock is being introduced as a compulsory text for form five students, it irks the feeling of Malaysian Indians.
The study of this novel by Malaysian students of all races will further reinforce and strengthen the very social evil disease that the Indian community wants to get rid of. To the author and many educationists the novel may be a good literary work that portrays a shared mystery and a shared caste. But this shared caste is not the making of Indians themselves but a malice that has distorted the origin of the Indian caste system and survived and refused to go away despite every gigantic effort. When Malay, Chinese and other students read this novel which will be taught by teachers who have no clue about the distorted historical baggage, it will further reinforce the caste system in the minds of all Malaysians that the Indians want to get rid of. The repercussion of including Indian caste practices in the education system is interpreted as one more step to suppress the marginalized community.
Although, the great grandfathers of the Tamils, Telugus, Malayalis and the others who came in the dreaded journey from India may not be drummers (pariahs), they could have been in any other professional and/or business class. Many second generation Indians whose parents or one of the parents or their grandfathers who came to Malaya in crowed ships like goats and sheep, have been senior civil servants, successful professionals and businessmen. Some from the second generation have also become politicians who continue the caste practices for vote bank purpose.
Unfortunately, the Malay literature students will learn the word pariah and its derogatory meanings. They will miss the historical distortions and the reason for the continued existence of caste. Whether Interlock links the various ethnic groups or offends any ethnic group is to be carefully thought of.
Senator Dr. S. Ramakrishnan