Combating derogatory language: Open letter on unity and respect to PMX

Dear Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim,

I HOPE this letter finds you in good health. As a concerned Malaysian, I write to address the recent resurgence of derogatory language, specifically the use of the term “Keling” in reference to Malaysians of Indian descent.

My objective is to underscore the profound impact of such incidents on the affected community and to urge immediate measures to address this issue.

It is disheartening to witness attempts to downplay the significance of derogatory language, particularly when it perpetuates racial stereotypes and fosters division among Malaysians.

Members of the Malaysian Indian descent community are fatigued by the persistent expectation that they should respond calmly and dismiss unwarranted attacks and derogatory statements. This routine – ingrained with the assumption that such incidents are trivial and commonplace – only accentuates the feelings of powerlessness against acts of aggression.

Each time the community faces such attacks and slurs, it serves as a stark reminder of the challenges and aggression they must endure. It is a plea for understanding that these words carry weight and contribute to an environment that undermines the principles of unity, respect and diversity that we aspire to uphold as a nation.



As the leader of our nation, your recent use of the term “Keling” during a public dialogue has understandably sparked backlash. While your clarification regarding its historical context is noted, the derogatory nature of the word cannot be overlooked.

As a leader, it is crucial to be sensitive to the impact of such slurs on Malaysians of Indian descent and to set an example of respect for all communities.

The term “Keling” carries deep historical wounds for many Malaysians of Indian descent, serving as a taunt, insult and a means of differentiation, thus reinforcing racial stereotypes, colourism and class distinctions. I believe the time has come for a collective effort – led by your esteemed office – to eliminate such divisive language from our society.

Use decent words

Recognising the evolving nature of the term, even though historically it positively referred to a person of the Indian subcontinent or Indian diaspora, it is essential to adapt our language to be more respectful and inclusive. Using alternative terms like India, Indian, Tamil, or Tamilian can contribute significantly to fostering unity.

Honourable Prime Minister, your pivotal role in shaping the national discourse and fostering a culture of responsibility cannot be overstated. As the leader of our diverse nation, your actions reverberate across communities, influencing the tone and direction of public discourse.

Dr Manivannan Rethinam

By taking a strong stance against derogatory language, you can set a precedent for responsible leadership that prioritises unity and respect.

Moreover, adapting language for inclusivity is not merely a linguistic change but a transformative step that can positively impact the overall social fabric of Malaysia. Embracing alternative terms reflects a commitment to a society that celebrates diversity and harmony.

It signals a collective effort to move beyond divisive language, fostering an environment where every citizen feels valued and respected.

Ban on derogatory words

Leaders across various sectors, including politics, religion, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), business and education can set an example by publicly committing to abstain from employing derogatory language.

Elected representatives – especially those in Parliament – should be the vanguard in upholding standards of conduct. Their failure to do so raises questions about the example set for the wider public.

An effective starting point for this commitment is to be mindful of language choices during speeches and debates within Parliament and to strictly enforce the standing orders, amending and improving them if not effective.

As part of the proposed draft of the ‘State and Nation Act, I urge you to consider the inclusion of a government ban on derogatory words. This Act could play a pivotal role in imposing civil penalties on those who perpetuate sentiments detrimental to the unity of our nation, including 3Rs (race, religion and royalty).

Such a measure would send a powerful message that Malaysia stands firmly against discrimination and division.

On behalf of Majlis Gagasan Malaysia, I express my willingness to collaborate with the government in finding effective solutions to combat derogatory language.

Open dialogue and cooperation between concerned citizens and the government are crucial in addressing such societal issues. Together, we can work towards a Malaysia that stands as a beacon of unity for all its citizens.

In conclusion, I appeal to your leadership to set a precedent for respect, understanding and unity. By actively challenging derogatory remarks and embracing inclusive language, we can work towards building a Malaysia that celebrates diversity and mutual respect.


Yours sincerely,

Dr Manivannan Rethinam
Majlis Gagasan Malaysia

 The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

 Main pic credit: The Smart Local

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