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‘Keling’ offensive when uttered – but not so when displayed?

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P Ramakrishnan points to the lack of consistency of the ‘champions of the Indians’ who have taken umbrage with Mahathir’s use of the word.

There has been so much hullabaloo regarding the usage of the word keling.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad was taken to task for saying, “I want to use a ‘keling’ word. The ‘keling’ say podah (get lost).” He had clarified that it wasn’t used in a derogatory manner.

MIC treasurer general S Vell Paari was vocal in his criticism. Vell Paari said everyone knows that the word used was derogatory for the Indian community. “Why I am not surprised with Mahathir using this word? Being a black-hearted racist is the innate nature of Mahathir.

“Over and over during and after his premiership he has always demonstrated that he has no respect for the Indian community in this country,” said Vell Paari in a statement.

Not to be outdone Makkal Sakti president RS Thanenthiran got into the act as well. He took objection to the use of the word keling by Mahathir. His party lodged four police reports in Butterworth against Mahathir for uttering the derogatory term.

Mahathir uttered the word once a few days ago, and these guys are up in arms against him. But they seem dumbstruck when the word stares at them every day for so many years in Penang. How come they seem to have accepted this word quite calmly and have tolerated this word staring at them daily without a whimper, without a protest!

I am referring to the name of the road which formerly used to be named Pitt Street. Captain Francis Light was reported to have given the name to this street.

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That road was renamed in the early 1990s as Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling.

How come no one seems to be upset? Isn’t the word keling prominently displayed on the road sign? It is a permanent feature in Penang. Yet why didn’t Vell Paari and Thanenthiran get upset? Why were no police reports made?

Even the famous mosque along this road was named Masjid Kapitan Keling.

Would these visibly upset champions of the Indians now campaign for the removable of these names for the road and the mosque?

Let them prove their sincerity and consistency. Are they genuinely aggrieved or are they trying to gain some political mileage?

Over to you, Vell Paari and Thanenthiran!

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Ida N
Ida N
10 Sep 2018 12.10pm

I just heard the term “keling karam” this morning for the first time in my life, and I’m quite ancient myself. Had to google it straight away. I grew up in malay communities and I realized that the term might not be used in mine since we have another team for it, (kecoh). I can see why keling karam would be derogatory since it’s not at all descriptive and is basically a stereotyping of all drowning indians. I was baffled when I heard the word used by my neighbor to refer to our indian neighbor (who’s being discussed due to various anti social behavior). As for keling mabuk todi, I’d prefer to use orang mabuk bergaduh. It”s a nightly occurence in our neighborhood recently and when our HOA boss made a police report in regards to a fight between the Indian family (the husband and wife), he said the police asked if the keling mabuk todi. Personally I think “keling” should not be used in conversation but to censor the word in history books or places name is unnecessary. Discussion is important and I’m glad I’ve… Read more »

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
12 Apr 2018 1.04am

“Would these visibly upset champions of the Indians now campaign for the removable of these names for the road and the mosque?”

Historical, academic and intellectual debates as well as one-sided politicking aside; if most Indians are indeed offended by being referred to as “keling” and assuming that Pakatan holds Penang state in GE14, then changing the names of roads with the word “keling” in them should be made a priority, if not also [other places] as well, if these are within state government jurisdiction to do so.

If the Pakatan wins the federal government, this should be done nationwide.

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
11 Apr 2018 12.40pm

Veronica Elankovan provides an answer to my questions somewhat.

Basically, “keling” was not derogatory in the historical past but has become so due to its usage such as in “keling mabuk” and “keling karam” more recently.

So is the use of “Mamak” to refer to a Tamil Muslim, “Kaka” to refer to a Malayalee Muslim (such as Mahathir) or “Kutty” to refer to a Malayalee insulting?

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
11 Apr 2018 12.19pm

It’s said that the use of “Keling” to mean ethnic Indians derives mistakenly or otherwise from the Kalinga people and the words “Kling”, “Cling” or “Keling” were used to mean Indians during the colonial times but not in a derogatory sense. Sabri Zain provides a perspective on this.


As he points out, many Indians are not ethnic Kalinga, just as most Sikhs are Punjabis, not “Bengalis”.

The word “Negro” was used to describe dark skinned people in Latin America and “negro” means “black” in Spanish and now, Negros are called Blacks in the U.S.

So since when and why has the word “Keling” become regarded as having a derogatory meaning?

Not that I disagree but would like to know why.

Faisal Ooi
Faisal Ooi
11 Apr 2018 9.41am

When I was a little boy growing up in Penang, my mom will refer to our Indian neighbours in Hokkien as “Kelinga” …so we grow up referring to Indian as “Kelinga”..we did not even know it is derogatory as it was meant to refer to a certain race as in Kelinga in Hokkien means Indian… now that we know… apologies to all my Indian friends for the offensive word used all these years..

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
11 Apr 2018 4.45am

You have a point. When I was around 4 years old (in 1958), my father was posted to serve in Malacca and we first stayed in a government chalet facing the beach in Tanjung Kling.

However, when I began mimicking other children in using the word “Kling” or “Keling” to refer to Indians, my father told me that it was offensive and to say “orang India” instead and I have done so since.

Anyway, kicking race, religion, “God”, “Allah” around like a political football is par for the course in Malaysian politics, such that for some sanity, I access international sites, such as on Russia Today, Telsur, The People’s Daily, New Eastern Outlook, Vitchek’s world, SHTF Plan, Economic Collapse, Zero Hedge, etc. instead.

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