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Malaysia arrests Indian activists over book ban

Malaysian police arrested 65 members of a Indian rights group who want the government to drop a textbook from the school curriculum over a reference to the caste system, an activist said on Monday.

world Updated: Feb 14, 2011 13:01 IST

Malaysian police arrested 65 members of a Indian rights group who want the government to drop a textbook from the school curriculum over a reference to the caste system, an activist said on Monday.

"Sixty-five people were arrested on Sunday in three states for demonstrating and handing out pamphlets against the use of the book "Interlok," S Jayathas, from the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) said.

"We were detained unlawfully," he said, adding that police had freed most of the protestors Sunday but were still holding 28 in the southern Negeri Sembilan state.

Jayathas said the arrests will not deter Hindraf from organising a February 27 rally outside the iconic Petronas Twin Towers to demand the textbook is dropped from the curriculum.

A police spokesman said that 59 people were arrested for taking part in an illegal assembly and all had been released on Sunday.

The book is now compulsory reading for high school students in multiracial but predominantly Muslim Malaysia.

The Malay-language novel has prompted angry protests from elements of the nation's Indian community, who say it is offensive.

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in January moved to end the row, saying the book will be used in schools but with amendments so as not to hurt the feelings of the Indian community.

But the controversy stirred by the book points to the country's strained race relations.

"Interlok", written by a national laureate, covers the history of relations between of Malaysia's three main ethnic groups -- Malays, Chinese and Indians -- from the 1900s until independence in 1957.

The Malaysian Indian Congress party, the third largest component party in the ruling coalition, has called for the novel to be withdrawn or to remove the passages touching on the caste system and other areas deemed offensive.

The caste system divides Hindus into four main groups according to their work and social status and is banned in India but still pervades many aspects of daily life, especially outside the cities.

Ethnic Indians make up less than 10 percent of Malaysia's 28 million population and have long complained that they are disadvantaged by policies helping majority Muslim Malays.