PMX could have avoided the offending K-word instead of apologising over it

PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim continues to get into trouble with the Indian community – the latest being the uttering of the word Keling when he referenced a Maly epic about Hang Tuah being fluent in various languages including Bahasa Keling (Tamil).

He could have easily used the word ‘Tamil’ instead of literally following what was written in the book knowing well the sensitivities of the Indian community on usage of this word.

It is important for the PM to be politically correct as Malaysia is multi-racial. The word did not have any negative connotation during Hang Tuah’s time as Indian traders were a much-esteemed community by virtue of their bringing much commerce and wealth to the Melaka Sultanate.

Many of them married Malay royalty and the nobility s well as enjoyed a high position in local society. In fact, many regions in Southeast Asia were under Indian rule and their various influence continues today.

Although the traders came from various parts of Eastern India, the Kalinga Empire was fresh in the mind of the Malay royalty, hence the common usage of the K-word. However, one needs to consider the people at that time who were simple minded and innocent.

The then Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad apologising for using the term “Keling” to refer to Indians (Pic credit: Malaysiakini, April 10, 2018)

Negative connotations abound

When the Portuguese arrived, they were referred to as the ‘White Bengalis’ as the Melaka folks had never seen Europeans who had beards that resembled the Bengalis (the main difference being their fairer skin).

The K-word assumed negative connotations when Indians were brought in by the British colonialists for various usually manual and menial work in Malaya. Unlike the rich Indian traders of the Melaka past, this new group of Indians were subservient and poor.

Despite their feelings of superiority, the British did not use this word for Indians. Despite their high number of inter-marriages with Tamil and Malabari Muslims, the Malays continued to use the K-word and soon the Chinese migrants, too, began aping the Malays by using the word.

In fact, the Chinese community uses this word more than the Malays. Most Malays don’t use this word as they feel it is disrespectful from an Islamic perspective and due to the government’s stand on the matter.

However, the Chinese in West Malaysia profusely use the word to mean Indian, possibly because they have no alternative word to describe people of Indian origin. The East Malaysian ethnic groups do not use this word when interacting with Indians. I do not know the situation in Singapore which is an urban and educated society.

No excuse for PM

Poor people are denigrated the world over and even Europeans use negative words on even other European nationalities who come to work in their prosperous nations. At one time, the word “Jap” referring to the Japanese was used negatively especially when the US was at war with Japan.

However, negative usage of the word disappeared by the mid-1970s as Japan prospered economically with their achievement and management style being lauded the world over. Japan was even poised to become the #1 economic superpower.

Indians must take this in their stride by striving to improve themselves socio-economically to a level whereby they will be respected. The rich and influential – very much like the ancient Indian traders in Melaka – are not taunted but respected.

However, this is no excuse for PM Anwar to utter/cite the K-word. He could have easily replaced the word with Tamil as he did not have to strictly follow what was written in the book.

Nobody will question him why he did not follow the exact text. Even if he was questioned on this, he could have proudly said that he had to avoid the word with a replacement as he is the PM of a diverse country and need to do what was politically correct.

This could have endeared him to his loyal Indian community which has been serially disappointed for the last 13 months. This latest episode has become another disappointment! – Dec 26, 2023


V. Thomas is a reader of FocusM.

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

Main pic credit: Anak-Anak Pasir Puteh Facebook

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