The father of a non-Muslim student studying in Sekolah Kebangsaan Seri Mega in Kuala Lumpur said today that the school should withdraw a circular prohibiting students from bringing non-halal food into school and to allow students to eat food freely.
"Things should be allowed to be like it was before when there were no restrictions on a student's right to use the canteen utensils. It's a common canteen and students must be allowed to use the utensils there and throw food in the rubbish bins," he told malaysiakini in a telephone interview.
His son, a standard four student, is still eating his home-cooked food in the canteen but is using utensils brought from home.
SK Seri Mega, located in Taman Overseas Union and whose student population is 60 percent non-Muslim, released a letter dated July 14 to parents and guardians requesting their children to stop bringing non-halal food into the school.
The letter from headmaster Zainal Abidin Senapi also stated that non-Muslim students are forbidden from using utensils in the canteen and dumping food into waste bins.
Signs of differences
The parent who wished to remain anonymous in order to ensure that his son does not bear the brunt of his comments is not satisfied with the situation, branding it "discriminatory".
"These kids are being brought up with clear signs of differences among them. They're innocent children and should not be made to feel discriminated by disallowing them to use things like cutlery in a canteen," said the father, a lawyer by profession.
"At the same time there has to be a clear definition of what the school and these canteen rules mean by non-halal food. Do they just mean pork?."
"If the school is very particular about food that offends a certain religion, then is the canteen going to stop serving beef and ban it from the school as well, out of respect for Hindus?," he asked.
Contacted today, the headmaster claimed that the two sets of regulations for schools, "Buku panduan disiplin sekolah" (School discipline guidebook) and "Buku panduan pengusahaan kantin sekolah" (School canteen operation guide 2004) stipulate that non-halal food cannot be brought into the school.
Contrary to his assertion when malaysiakini spoke to him last Friday, Zainal said his circular was meant for students not to bring non-halal food into the canteen premises.
However, he was unable to clarify today whether the regulations are meant just to cover the canteen or the entire school altogether.
He said he has been contacted by the Wilayah Persekutuan, Kuala Lumpur education department on the matter and was not prepared to discuss with the press whether a new letter was required to clarify the matter with parents.
Sounding annoyed that the issue has generated so much publicity, Zainal also said that even the police have been to the school to observe the situation.
Stipulated in guidelines
Meanwhile, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur education department director Noor Rezan Bapoo Hashim explained this afternoon that "it's stipulated in the canteen guidelines issued by the Education Ministry's school division that non-halal food cannot be brought within the confines of the school canteen."
"A logical rational for this is that we don't want young children who are ignorant to what their friends are eating, to share their food which may be non halal," she said, adding that forks and spoons are not allowed to be used for non-halal food.
Noor also said she would suggest to headmasters to get canteen operators to label food like beef so that Hindu students will not unknowingly consume it.
"It's only fair to do so, in respecting the different religions. I'll suggest to headmasters to make announcements during school assemblies to highlight the issue of beef being served in canteens and the compliance of the non-halal food ruling," she added.
She stressed, however, that she would only be sending out letters to the schools on the matter when the "green light" is obtained from the ministry.