PETALING JAYA - Datuk S. Ambiga has told Pakatan Harapan chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad not to use the term "keling" as it is derogatory to Indians.
The National Human Rights Society (Hakam) chairperson said that while the term had roots in the historical Kalinga region in India, it is considered derogatory to Malaysians of Indian ethnicity.
"Whilst it might have been commonly used in Kedah and not considered derogatory there, I think in today's Malaysia, it is unacceptable and hurtful to the Indian Malaysian community," she told a local news portal on Monday (April 9).
Dr Mahathir had refused to apologise for using the term at an event on Saturday (April 7), saying that it did not have a derogatory connotation in Kedah, where he was born and raised.
"I've used the word 'keling' since I was little, there is no problem," he told reporters on Sunday (April 8).
"My 'keling' friends never scolded me, so why is MIC angry?" he asked.
Prof Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, a principal research fellow of UKM's Institute of Ethnic Studies (Kita), said that in Malaysia, one should be sensitive to the different terms and concepts that might be deemed offensive.
At the same time, however, he felt the issue was being politicised and he cautioned not to blow it out of proportion. "I think there should be more focus on substantive issues such as the different manifestos and the track records of the state governments," he told The Star Online.