Initially, seven SMK Kuala Kubu Baru students, who wanted to return the book because they were not happy with its contents, were stopped by a discipline teacher who allegedly abused them verbally.
“All seven of us were walking calmly towards the headmaster's room when our discipline teacher stopped us and started making comments which hurt our feelings,” said one of the students, who was with four others at the Human Rights Party headquarters .
According to the student, the discipline teacher said the students were purposely creating problems because of their race.
The teacher reportedly said, “Kenapa orang India garang? India memang suka rosakkan nama sekolah. Keling memang dasar pariah sejak sejarah lagi” (Why are the Indians so fierce? Indians really like to tarnish the school's name. The keling have been pariahs since historical times).
The 17-year-old students were not able to return the novel as the teacher told them to disperse immediately.
Yesterday, while the students were in school, Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) head Baktiar Md Rashid, who is a police officer, took three of the teens to the police station for questioning, without the consent of their parents.
A parent, P Gomathi, 42 (left), said she was angry that her son had been taken to the station without her presence or permission.
“My son did not commit any crime. He just wanted to return a book that he didn't enjoy reading.
"Instead he was humiliated and taken to the balai like some kind of hardcore criminal, in a patrol car,” she said, adding that the school authorities did not inform her about this.
Gomathi was informed of her son's whereabouts at 10.30am by a classmate. When she reached the station, she said, she was told that her elder son A Sanjeevkumar, 19, had also been called in for questioning as the discipline teacher had made a police report against him.
“She (the discipline teacher) said in her police report that my elder son had brought 100 Indians from Kuala Lumpur, from the Gang 36, to threaten her and her family,” Gomathi added.
She sees this as a desperate move by the teacher because Sanjeevkumar was away in Kuala Lumpur the whole week when this issue started.
Sanjeevkumar said: “I was a student in this school two years ago, and I have never been involved in any problem. No problem with the teachers or other students.
“Therefore, it is not fair for the teacher to pin it on me on the ground that I was a former student who 'turned' into a gangster to influence my younger brother.”
Gomathi yesterday lodged police reports against Baktiar and the teacher.
“I am not happy with what has happened. It was a school drama that should have ended there. Baktiar was misusing his authority.
"He should have had his PTA hat on, as the matter concerned school children in the school compound... not putting on his 'DSP police hat' and arresting the children and taking them to the balaifor questioning. After all it's just (about) a book."
'A night in jail' threat
Asked what took place at the police station, the teary-eyed student said the police threatened that he and older brother Sanjeevkumar would be spending a night in jail.
“I asked for permission to call my parents but they (the police) wouldn't let me, saying I was in only there for questioning, and that they were not going to arrest me. The other two of my friends were also not able to call their parents.”
Asked what he wants from the authorities, he said: “I want to go back to school macam biasa (as usual). Jumpa semua kawan (see all my friends).
“Sebab hari Jumaat, banyak cikgu lain yang dengar cerita ini, semuanya cakap sorry dekat kita. (Last Friday, most of the other teachers who heard of this issue, came and said sorry to us).
“So, all I want is the discipline teacher to apologise to us. That's it.”
HRP president W Sambulingam (left), who was present at the press conference, said it was unfair to put the students through such an ordeal at a tender age.
“This is what I say, harapkan pagar, pagar makan padi. The police are supposed to educate and keep the people from harm. Instead, they lock up students. And for what? For trying to return the novel.
“As we have been saying since the beginning, 'Interlok' must be removed immediately. Look at it today, see for yourself what it has done to this particular school.
“Malaysia is a beautiful country, with beautiful people, so please do not make it ugly with hidden racial agendas. Don't ever victimise the nation.”
'Interlok', written by national laureate Abdullah Hussein, made headlines recently as critics have argued that it portrays the Indian and Chinese communities in a negative light.
There have been protests since the Education Ministry's decision to use it as a literature textbook in secondary schools. This is the first case of students being taken to a police station and questioned over the book.
When contacted by Malaysiakini, Hulu Selangor district police chief Norel-Azmi Yahya Affendi confirmed the incident.
"Since last night, we have been taking statements from all parties, including our police officer, Baktiar," Norel said.
Norel also noted that the three students were taken from school to the police station solely for questioning and they were not being charged.
"This is all just a big misunderstanding and a miscommunication between the teacher and students. My understanding is, the teacher was just explaining the meaning and history of that word (pariah). There was no name calling whatsoever," Norel added.
He gave assurance that the police are taking this case seriously, as the students' parents are not happy with the teacher and Baktiar, adding that the 10-hour questioning the minors underwent was standard procedure.
"The students were at the police station for about 10 hours because we spent about three hours on each student questioning and getting clarification from them on what had happen.
"Apart from the parents, the teacher also lodged a report against one of the students elder brother for threatening her," he said adding that if found guilty, Sanjeevkumar would be charged under Section 506 of the Penal Code, which includes a maximum jail sentence of seven years or pay a fine or both.
Norel said those involved in this matter had tackled this issue wrongly.
Any form of questioning regarding 'Interlok' should be done by school authorities, in the school compound and not elsewhere, he said.
Norel also hoped that no third parties who make this issue into a racial matter.
By the way, where is that newly elected hand-kissing MIC fella?