Friday, January 21, 2011

Nine arrested at 'Interlok' demo at Batu Caves

(Malaysiakini) A protest by the Human Rights Party (HRP) urging the government to ban the controversial Malay literature textbook Interlok, turned rowdy after nine were arrested, including the party's information chief S Jayathas.

NONESome 20 HRP members demonstrated outside the Batu Caves Temple complex just as an announcement on the arrival of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak for the Thaipusam festivities was made.

About two dozen uniformed police, a riot squad and several plainclothes police personnel immediately moved in to stop the protesters as Jayathas was handing out a press statement to the crowd.

He had moments before informed the police that the protestors would disperse once he read out his press statement. 

NONEThe scuffle broke out when a man believed to be a plainclothes police officer started yelling and pushing the protestors.

The man (right), dressed in a dark blue shirt with the word 'narkotik' printed on the back and what looked like the police emblem on the front, also tried to stop bystanders from taking photos of him. He was later seen standing with uniformed officers. 

This provoked the demonstrators who were about to disperse, and they began trying to push through the riot squad human barricade set up at the Batu Caves temple's main gate. 

NONETwo of the protestors were dragged away by their shirts and they were later pinned to the ground by eight officers, mostly in plainclothes. 

Some of the police officers also stepped on the two protestors to prevent them from getting up.
The HRP duo, later identified as D Rajothman and M Arjunan, taken to the Selayang General Hospital at 6.45pm for head injuries sustained during the arrest.
According to Jayathas, who was speaking from the Selayang district police station, Arjunan has a heart ailment and has difficulties breathing. 

Bystanders and journalists were prevented from recording the incident.

Other individuals who were arrested includes Selangor HRP chief T Selvam, T Samy and CF Mani. According to Hindraf officials eight HRP members and one unidentified Malay man were taken in.
NONEThere were also attempts to handcuff several others who tried to enter the Batu Caves temple compounds.
It is unclear, however, if those whom the police tried to handcuff were part of the protest.

They appeared to have just had their heads shaved but were not wearing orange shirts like the other protestors, and they repeatedly told the officers that they wanted to go into the temple to pray. 

'Don't bully Indians'

NONEPrior to the scuffle, demonstrators had distributed flyers to devotees and held up placards with slogans such as "Tamil youngsters, do not support BN" and "Interlok was written by a disrespectful man".

The group also chanted "We want justice", "Revoke Interlok" and "Don't bully Indians". 

In his press statement, Jayathas said that HRP wants Interlok withdrawn from the SPM curriculum as it "casts sweeping aspersions on the ways of the Indian community". 

NONE"The problems emanating from oppressive poverty - first caused by the British, then perpetuated by the Malaysian elites - are portrayed as mere ethnic Indian characteristics (and is a) subtle and mischievous attempt to negatively stereotype the Indian community and keep them oppressed and subservient," he said. 

HRP is also seeking an inquiry into the manner the book was chosen, and for the government to explain how this can be prevented in future. 

"There are many lies in the book, so it does not even fit into the category of serious literature... This cannot go on - 1Malaysia or not," said Jayathas.
NONEGombak district police chief Abdul Rahim Abdullah confirmed the arrests, saying the nine were detained for "obstructing the police in discharging their duty". He said they will be remanded until tomorrow for questioning.
However, all those arrested were released on police bail of RM5,000 at 11.30pm.
Interlok, written by national laureate Abdullah Hussain, was set in pre-independence Malaya and features the character Maniam, who was described to be from the pariah caste and had found relief from the caste system when he moved from his homeland in India. 

NONEHRP's protest comes at the back of rising pressure by other Indian political parties and NGOs for the government to remove 'Interlok' from the SPM syllabus.

Asked about this when he was in Tenang to announce BN's by-election candidate yesterday, Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that he will make an announcement on the matter soon.
The arrests come as the huge crowd of worshippers and tourists flocked to the Batu Caves temple, a spectacular limestone cavern and the centrepiece of the three-day Thaipusam festival of thanksgiving and penance.
NONEDevotees do penance by carrying heavy, ornate structures called kavadis as they walk barefoot up 272 steps to the Batu Caves temple, while others have their tongues, cheeks and backs pierced with hooks and skewers.
Thaipusam commemorates the day when the Hindu Goddess Pavarthi gave her son Lord Muruga an invincible lance with which he destroyed evil demons.