Malaysian police yesterday arrested more than 100 Indian activists as they tried to hold an anti-government rally over alleged discrimination against their ethnic minority.
Members from the Human Rights Party were to have gathered at the iconic Petronas Twin Towers for the “anti-racism rally,” but it was aborted after 109 people were held, including the group’s leader.
The 109, including eight women, were picked up at various locations around Kuala Lumpur as they tried to march to the Twin Towers, which had been cordoned off and where at least 10 police trucks and water cannon vehicles were on standby.
Police were also seen telling ethnic Indians, suspected to be demonstrators, to leave the vicinity.
“We are investigating the 109 detainees for participating in an illegal assembly,” Kuala Lumpur city police chief Zulkifli Abdullah told reporters.
“We have made it very clear that this rally is illegal and we have repeatedly warned them not to do this but they came,” he said.
S. Indradevi, wife of the group’s leader P. Uthayakumar, said her husband was arrested in their apartment car park about 90 minutes before the rally was to start.
The rally was sparked by anger over the government’s refusal to drop a school textbook that contains references to the traditional Hindu caste system which the protesters said were racially insensitive to ethnic Indians.
The Malay-language novel Interlok was assigned as a literature textbook for 17-year-old students this year. First published in 1971, it tells the stories of three families — Malay, Chinese and Indian, reflecting Malaysia’s main ethnic groups — in British colonial times.
Some Indians complained about a portion of the book involving a poor man from India’s “Pariah caste” who migrates to the country to find work and is surprised at the absence of a caste system. They say it unfairly depicts Indians, who make up about 8 percent of Malaysia’s 28 million people, as coming from inferior communities and contributes to ethnic tension and discrimination.
The government has set up a panel to look into the complaint and said the book would continue to be used, but amendments would be made to several aspects considered sensitive by the Indian community.
About 50 protesters who managed to escape the police dragnet gathered at a temple in the city, holding banners and shouting “Ban Interlok” and “Don’t insult the Indian community” before dispersing.