Interlok might only be a novel recently prescribed as a school textbook, but its impact on the Indian community at large was palpable today as the Human Rights Party (HRP) attempted to organise the biggest anti-Interlok march in Ampang, only to be scuppered by the police.
HRP, and its ally, Hindu Rights Actions Force (Hindraf), had called on all Indians to march against the inclusion of the Interlok novel as part of the national school syllabus, which it said is offensive to the Indian and Chinese communities. It was also protesting against what it described as Umno’s ‘racism’.
But swift police action at dawn, including the arrest of HRP secretary-general, P Uthayakumar, at his Pantai Hillpark residence, pre-empted the protest. Some 130 arrests were made throughout the Klang Valley.
A few individuals were even stopped from alighting from a city transit bus, with officers forcing them to stay in the bus.
Roadblocks were erected all over the Klang Valley, and apparently cars with Indians in them were being pulled over.
Officers checked cars and bags for Hindraf or HRP T-shirts. Those who were found possessing the t-Shirt were promptly arrested.
One protestor who had stood his ground at KLCC area and demanded the officer explain to him why he had to leave the area, he was arrested.
A volunteer photographer, who was helping out a Makkal Osai reporter, was arrested because he was unable to produce a press tag.
Three Malaysiakini citizen journalists (CJs), Mathavan Velayutham, Thiagarajan Marrapan and one Veeramani were arrested while shooting footage of the protest.
This was despite the CJs producing their press tags to the cops and wearing their ‘Citizen Journalist’ T-shirts.
Mathavan, Thiagarajan and Veeramani were released about five hours later, at 6pm.
Indians and 1Malaysia
“Is this what they call 1 Malaysia? Can’t we even stand here?” asked a couple of middle-aged women when met by Komunitikini at the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) bus stop early in the morning.
The women looked visibly intimidated as officers stopped almost every Indian person at the KLCC area.
“Will they arrest us too?” one of the women, who had come to witness and show solidarity to the campaign, asked.
The march was supposed to begin at 9am, beginning at the Renaissance Hotel in Jalan Ampang, before passing through KLCC and subsequently making its way to the Dang Wangi Police Headquarters.
However, the heavy clampdown by police, including arrests of key leaders, ensured that the march never took off as planned.
It wasn’t until the protestors regathered at the compound of the Kottumalai Pillayar Temple in Pudu that they suddenly seemed invigorated.
Initially a crowd of some 30 individuals chanted ‘Haramkan Interlok, jangan hina kaum India’ (Ban Interlok, don’t insult Indians), while accompanied by Kota Alam Shah assemblyperson, M Manoharan.
But when the crowd began marching to the Dang Wangi police headquarters, the crowd quickly swelled to some 200 people.
Temple-goers joined in the chant and picked up flyers condemning the novel, while most of them were heard saying, ‘We have nothing to lose now.’
Even as news of the number of arrests spread, many seemed unintimidated by the prospect of spending a night in the lock-up.
“Let them arrest, if they want to arrest us, they need to do to all of us. Let’s see how far they can go,” said one temple-goer.
Even several wheelchair-bound individuals decided to give a piece of their mind, as they dovetailed behind the crowd with a van of their own, shouting ‘Haramkan Interlok’ as they went.
The disabled individuals, numbering about ten, had earlier attempted to march to KLCC from Renaissance Hotel along with others but were stopped by the police.
After being warned, they mounted a strategic retreat to a restaurant.
Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) officers greeted the group with water cannons at the gates of the Dang Wangi police headquarters.
Ironically, a group of police officers were earlier overheard discussing the Interlok issue among themselves at the KLCC area, saying the novel had been equally offensive to all three Malay, Chinese and Indian races. Some said that the novel does not reflect the present generation of Indians.
One HRP supporter, who refused to be identified, told Komunitikini that Indians ought to show even more solidarity to the issue.
“People only care for their families [but] they don’t care about the society,” said the man.
“The book insults us by describing us as ‘pariahs’, and these people are not doing anything to try and prove otherwise,” he added, suggesting that people should get over their fear and unite for a cause.
An activist who was met later questioned why the Chinese community has not taken to the streets in a show of solidarity against the book, while some questioned the apparent absence of Pakatan Rakyat leaders.
All of those arrested were detained under Section 27 (5) of the Police Act for gathering in an illegal assembly, and under the Societies Act, said Kuala Lumpur Police Chief Zulkifli Abdullah. The demonstrators were detained at the Kuala Lumpur City Centre and in Jalan Pudu from 8am were between the ages of 18 and 66.
HRP members had earlier applied for a permit to hold the march at the Dang Wangi Police headquarters, but their application was rejected.
Bernama reports that police have since freed 101 people who were detained after completing investigations.
However, eight others, believed to be leaders of Hindraf, the banned Hindu Rights Action Force, and the Human Rights Party, were still being investigated, police said.