Monday, January 17, 2011

Interlok the Novel and the taboo word 'Pariah'

pariah, member of a low-caste group of Hindu India, formerly known as “untouchables” but now called Dalits. The word pariah—originally derived from Tamil paṛaiyar, “drummer”—once referred to the Paraiyan, a Tamil caste group of labourers and village servants of low status, but the meaning was extended to embrace many groups outside the so-called clean caste groups, with widely varying degrees of status. See also untouchable. 

Below are samples of comments  picked up from another blog in response to the controversy surrounding the Interlok Novel and its flaunting the Pariah word.

Some things are better left not talked about, it may be very true, lets take it easy….each race has its own unique culture and practices which may not be acceptable to many.
What can we do…they refuse to change and refuse to let GO…that is the world we all live IN !

Interlok is a fiction and any resemblance to the real thing is purely coincidental. It is not a historical novel like that by Michener or Hailey.
James Albert Michener is a novelist of sweeping sagas, covering the lives of many generations ,in particular geographic locales and incorporating historical facts into the stories. Jim Michener was known for the meticulous research behind his work. Arthur Hailey is of the same genre. Each of Hailey’s novels has a different industrial or commercial setting and includes, in addition to dramatic human conflict, carefully researched information about the way that particular environment and system functions and how these affect society and its inhabitants.
Abdullah Hussain is neither a Michener nor a Hailey type.To be fair, he never claimed to be like them. He is simple man who became a laureate in Malaysian literature. That is an achievement. I could never be one. Interlok is also not a political novel. It is written to express Abdullah’s own concerns about his society and developments around it as he saw them. There is no political agenda.

I agree with you, Komando, about respecting different cultures in our rich tapestry of cultures and traditions. I also share the view expressed by HarisZ in the last paragraph of his essay. But I am only concerned about how teachers will treat the novel and their interpretations when they teach Malay literature to our kids.
If an enlightened approach is adopted, then Interlok might not be as “dangerous” or “damaging” as some of us think it is. As a keen reader, I am against censorship and the burning of books like Mao did during the Cultural Revolution.–Din Merican

One has to be an Indian to be sensitive to the word ‘pariah’. The other races will NEVER understand how derogatory this term is.
So don’t justify something you don’t know about. A novel too must conform to sensitivity of an entire community.
Can I then write a novel in derogatory terms about a Malay character in my story?


“Can I then write a novel in derogatory terms about a Malay character in my story?” Lawyer
This will be the likely scenario:
Umno lackeys will burn your effigy along with your books. Eventually you’ll be ISA-ed. End of cerita…
Tok Cik

Why should the Indians be concerned about the word “pariah”. It refers to the UMNO Malays whose Untuk Bangsa dan Agama crap became the cause of the racial divisions in the country.
Ask any communication expert, words are neutral meanings are not located in the words. Meanings of words lie with people not with the words.
When I say “pariah”, who do I mean” Of course, not the Indians, it is the UMNO Malays. There you see?
It is a all storm in the teacup about the word pariah in the novel. For crying out loud. It is only novel.
But I agree, if a community feels insulted, then that novel should be removed from the literature book for schools. These are young minds which we should be sensitive to.


Good of you to say that. In an earlier posting on the same issue, I did mention what’s wrong with it. It is Frank’s favorite word.
We don't have to be sensitive to the word Pariah because it’s already acknowledged as a word used in all dictionaries.
It is a caste which is untouchables in India.I don't know whether they want it to be replaced by Harijans.
Today there’s a good interview with the writer on Star’s Malay paper M2 which comes with the Sunday Star.
In it he asked everyone to read it from start to finish as he depicted on the ties between the three races which led to the formation of bangsa Malaysia.
The book was written 40 years ago. Take it in the context it is written.

Same as us Malays accepting what British colonial writers like Wnsted wrote about us.
There’s a nice picture of him with a cute grandson named Zakaria Matthew Basring who obviously has a Mat Salleh father.


It’s expected Tok Chik will reply to you in that vein.
I really don’t think so because so many books have been written about Malays especially with regard to amok, which is a Malay characteristic and also a dictionary accepted word.

Pak Abu

“Interlok is a fiction and any resemblance to the real thing is purely coincidental -  Din Merican

So is ‘The Satanic Verses’ by Salman Rushdie.
Mr Bean

Comments by Danil Daud

Fiction is about The Star Wars epic or fairy tales of Alice In Wonderland or Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs 
This is racist to the core.

The Indian community should seek council from that half-baked Ramon Navaratnam fella before they decide on their next course of action.

Flouting the pariah word typifies the Malay Malayan’s total disregard for the largely Malayan Indian -Tamil community.

And they seek to promote this word in schools by coming up with despicable  reasons such as , that the word ‘pariah’ has found its way in the dictionary .If that is the case , somebody ought to whisper in Obama’s ear  since Ab Lincoln had denounced slavery a long time ago it should be alright for American kindergarten kids to sing ini-mini-minor-more catch the Nigger by his toe

When I say “pariah”, who do I mean” Of course, not the Indians, it is the UMNO Malays. There you see?- Frank

Yup! but unfortunately ‘ Pariah’ the word , in the Malaysian context is a synonymous term which refers to a member of a low caste of southern India where the bulk of Malaysian Indians originated from.

Prime Minister Najib when asked about the Interlok novel, to be used as a literature book for the Form Five Bahasa Malaysia subject, said to have contents offensive to the Indian community, have said the matter was discussed at today's Cabinet meeting but no decision was taken.

He said prior discussions should be held to calm the situation.

"We ask the Indian community to appoint several people to have a dialogue with the Education Ministry so that we can determine how to calm the situation," he said.

Last Saturday, a group of Indians set fire to copies of the novel and there has been pressure from some quarters to withdraw the novel from being used as a literature book.

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