Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pariahs and Niggers

A work of fiction which became compulsory Malay literature reading for Form Five students this year was caught in a tricky web of controversy because some quarters have alleged that the book contains material that is offensive to the Indian community. The Abdullah Hussain novel Interlok had carried the word “pariah” to describe the caste system and MIC had vehemently objected.

To me, it is just a word that resides in the said novel. Even if the word is inappropriate, in today's world, one should look at the context in which it is used. According to the many sources that I have researched, Interlok does not malign the Indian community. It attempts to relate through fiction the trials and tribulations of individuals in the community as they interacted with the Malays and the Chinese in the early years of the twentieth century. I don’t think this MIC-led opposition to the usage of the word “pariah” has to do with anything other than the desperate need to gain some political mileage for a political party that has long ago written its own epitaph.

Of course, “pariah” is inherently pejorative; even Mahatma Gandhi replaced it with “harijan” (children of God) in the midst of the Indian struggle for Independence from British rule. It is the same with the word “nigger” – a common ethnic slur that is now no longer in active use.

The word “nigger” is liberally found in Mark Twain’s literary works. Alan Gribben's whitewashed reworking of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, means that in these new versions, Gribben changed the word "nigger" to "slave" 219 times in Huck Finn, and four times in Tom Sawyer. But really, will the replacement of one word help? Isn’t the word “slave” just as objectionable?

To me, the question isn't to censor or not to censor. For those of us who cannot stomach this kind of language, we can always read the abridged and expurgated versions. Admittedly, we must also cater to those who are still juvenile in their thinking, and I am not at all referring to high school students!


Personally, I prefer the non-sanitized version. It's up to the individual, I guess.


Arsenal played superbly to produce a classy 3-1 win over Leeds to book their place in the FA Cup fourth round. The Gunners took the lead when Samir Nasri slotted in from Andrey Arshavin's pass (5) and Bacary Sagna thumped home a second (35). Although Bradley Johnson's screamer (37) gave hope to Leeds, Robin van Persie squashed it when he headed in a superb Nicklas Bendtner cross (76) to finish off Leeds once and for all. Indeed, the Gunners were impressive throughout. If they keep this up, they will surely win trophies!

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