Fury at Malaysian school's canteen in a toilet
Non-Muslim students were forced to have their lunch in a change room while classmates fasted during Ramadan, sparking outrage all round
Amy Chew in Kuala Lumpur
Photos of non-Muslim students in Malaysia being forced to eat in a toilet area to segregate them from Muslims fasting for Ramadan has raised a public outcry in this Muslim-majority nation.
Pictures of Indian and Chinese primary school children eating in the "toilet canteen" were posted on Facebook by a mother, Guneswari Kelly. They went viral, prompting the government to order an investigation.
"I have ordered the ministry to investigate the issue of non-Muslim pupils being asked to eat in the toilet. Stern action will be taken if there is basis [for the allegation]," Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also education minister, said on Twitter.
Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan asked the school to stop using the change area as an eating place.
"It has been done now," Kamalanathan said later.
The school in question is the Seri Pristana primary school in suburban Kuala Lumpur.
Guneswari claimed on her Facebook page that the staff told the children they could not use the canteen. They were told to use the shower and toilet area as a makeshift dining room.
She complained that the area was full of bacteria and the toilet next door had a "horrible smell".
"Is it fair for national school Seri Pristana to treat our non-Muslim children like this during fasting month?" Guneswari asked.
"As a mother, I am in tears and sad. Please, someone help me please. I need to help my child who is suffering whenever she is on her break."
Some reports said the canteen was closed for renovations.
The incident is the latest in a series of racial and religious rows that have roiled the country in recent times.
It comes after a young Chinese couple were charged with sedition for posting a Ramadan greeting that showed them eating pork, which is forbidden in Islam, drawing condemnation from Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
After the "toilet canteen" incident, Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin tweeted: "Whether it is a changing room or a toilet, both of them are not appropriate to be used as place for eating, no matter what the excuse is."
The school authorities could not be contacted despite repeated calls.
A Muslim mother of two said she was "appalled" at the incident and said there was no requirement under Islam to segregate non-Muslim children during Ramadan fasting time.
"I was looking for a reason for segregating children who are fasting and not fasting. The religion does not dictate this," lawyer Jehan Bakar said.
Jehan has two children, a girl 10 and a boy 15. Both of them have fasted during Ramadan since they were six.
"They have got non-Muslim relatives who do not observe the fast, but both of them understand that our religion is about acting out our faith and not comparing themselves to others," Jehan said.
"It is sad when the Malays try to monopolise the religion and try to make it reign 'supreme'. Segregating non-Muslim children's eating quarters from the fasting Muslim students will only help to keep them away from the real world."
In 2010, a headmistress in Kedah state accused Chinese students of being insensitive towards their fellow Muslim classmates by eating in the school compound during Ramadan.
The National Secondary School of Selambau Hill headmistress Siti Inshah Mansor told the Chinese students to "return to China" if they could not respect the culture of other races.