Saturday, April 03, 2010

Real Bumiputras need help. False ones want special rights & privileges.

Read this. Isn't this what any affirmative action should be targeting? Rather than ensuring rich Malay businessmen get more govt contracts, govt land or making sure millionaire Malays get big discounts when buying bungalows?

How Ketuanan Melayu has dispossessed the Orang Asli
Fri, 02 Apr 2010 22:30

By Dr Boo Cheng Hau & Helen Ang

Malaysia is the Asia-Pacific’s “best model” in dealing with the rights of indigenous peoples – or so it is claimed. Last Saturday (incidentally the same day Dr Mahathir Mohamad launched the Perkasa inaugural congress), BN MP Makcus Mojigoh said, in his paper presented at a regional conference, that the government is serious about the plight of the Orang Asli.

Really? The Orang Asli don’t think so.

Mojigoh’s comments follow on the heels of the march by more than 2,000 Orang Asli from all over the country earlier on the 17th of this month in Putrajaya. They had gathered to demand recognition of their customary rights to ancestral land – “Tanah kami, maruah kami” was the rallying cry.

The protest is not surprising as the Orang Asli have increasingly been pushed to the margins by Ketuanan Melayu – since the infamous 'Malay Dilemma' of Mahathir and long before that.

Mahathir argued in his 1970 book that the Orang Asli are not the definitive people of the peninsular as they did not form the first effective government, and moreover “at no time did they outnumber the Malays”.

Furthermore, he brushed off the notion that Orang Asli might have prior claims above “the right of the Malays to regard the Malay peninsula as their own country...” and cited his own reading of history to bolster the Malay contention.

Today, learning from school textbooks, pupils would be left with the impression that Malaysian history started from the Malaccan Sultanate, and that before the conversion to Islam of the prince Parameswara, the country was some kind of no-man’s land.

The Malay Dilemma also contended that “in fact, there are no more than a few thousand aborigines”. Contrary to Mahathir’s assertion rubbishing their numbers, in 1969 there were 52,943 Orang Asli.

Orang Asli are not a single ethnic group but collectively composed of 18 (official) tribes. The biggest grouping is classed Senoi, who are the Semai, Temiar, Jah Hut, Che Wong, Mah Meri and Semoq Beri tribes, while two other groupings are Negrito and proto-Malay. All are indigenous people.

Similar to apartheid

According to historians, Orang Asli had been victims of the slave trade by the Malays and Bataks. Despite official denials of slavery, Orang Asli oral literature has indeed recorded slave raids. The English colonial official JWW Birch had documented their enslavement since as early as 1874. fact remains the same for all Orang Asli: they are the descendants of the earliest inhabitants of the peninsula.

Totalling some 147,500 persons in 2003, Orang Asli comprise about 0.6 percent of the population, and are disenfranchised on many counts.

Commenting on the demonstration in Putrajaya, Suhakam vice-chairman Simon Sipaun said: “It is expected that the Orang Asli community would protest as they have been marginalised in a system similar to apartheid”.

Previously in South Africa, the white Afrikaner nationalists used an ideology almost identical to that propounded by Mahathir to justify their own indigenous status above the black Khoisan, whom according to the white supremacists, had never established a ‘civilised government’.

If one were to look at Article 153 of our federal constitution, it says that the ‘special position’ is extended only to Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak. Omitting mention of the Orang Asli in the said article excludes them from the guarantee of quotas.

[But] ‘We are not Malays, we will always be Orang Asli’ – declare the placards hoisted in Putrajaya on March 17. How then?

‘Refugees’ in own country

Not too long ago on Feb 24, a group of Orang Asli held a demonstration outside the Orang Asli Affairs Department (JHEOA) hospital in Gombak. Speaking to reporters, their spokesman Sokyen Man said the hospital is dominated by non-Orang Asli who are incapable of fulfilling the needs of the community.

The group submitted a petition against the hospital which said, among other things: “A lot of us have faced medical staff who are uncomfortable with the Orang Asli. Sometimes, they pass comments on our features and skin colour.” This particular complaint infers that they are considered an ‘out group’ or ‘inferior group’ (implied by the derogatory connotations of ‘sakai’) by the mainstream.

The term ‘Orang Asli’ was first used by the post-Independence federal government and means ‘the original people’. Colin Nicholas of the Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) notes, “one fact remains the same for all Orang Asli: they are the descendants of the earliest inhabitants of the peninsula.”

It is they whose fate could well be equated with that of aborigines in Australia, Maoris in New Zealand and Native Americans in the United States. This is a more compelling comparison than Utusan Malaysia’s constant, tiresome refrain that Malays are like Palestinians in their own homeland.

It is the Orang Asli who are akin to displaced refugees!

Most destitute group

Going by any socio-economic indicator, the Orang Asli are the worst off among all the local ethnic groups. About half live below the poverty line – according to the government’s most recent statistics. Relative to the other races, their children are malnourished and have high infant mortality rate; and Orang Asli have a lower life expectancy.

A bitter irony is that the authorities insist on perpetuating the myth that Orang Asli are ‘nomadic’. According to Robert Dentan, most of the Orang Asli have in fact settled in stable lifestyles although a small number remain semi-nomadic.

There are about 870 Orang Asli settlements (as at December 2003) mainly in Pahang, Perak and Kelantan. More than 500 of these villages are considered to be located in the fringe and 323 in the interior. About 400 villages are categorized as ‘backward’.

If at all Orang Asli can be regarded as nomadic foragers roaming in the forest or “tanah rayau” – a dismissive phraseology adopted by the government – it is this very government that is forcing them to move from place to place.

The Temuans in Sepang and Bangi had their land taken from them to build KLIA and UKM respectively. In Stulang Laut in Johor, the Orang Seletar were relocated to make way for a commercial and customs complex.

The “regroupment” – an euphemistic official doublespeak – of Orang Asli settlements has resulted in even their resettlements again giving way to logging, mining concessions, highway projects, industrial parks and golf courses.

National Land Act

The federal government expects to table amendments to the National Land Act in Parliament by June. It is learned that the new legislation will give the Orang Asli only 50,000 hectares of the 128,000-ha land they live on, which ultimately amounts to “a policy of planned poverty”.

The Bar Council has recommended the following legal measures on the Orang Asli land issues to empower the community:

1. the issuance of individual land titles to every indigenous family;
2. the gazetting of communal land parcels by the state governments under Section 62 of the National Land Code 1965;
3. the gazetting of communal land parcels under the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954 with perpetual and unlimited foraging rights extending beyond the gazetted communal land parcels; and
4. in exceptional cases of certain semi-nomadic indigenous communities, who are the most vulnerable of indigenous peoples, perpetual and unlimited foraging rights (with concomitant and greater opportunities for education and vocational training towards sustaining their livelihood).

The authorities tend to take a narrow reading of the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954 (revised 1974) and regard the Orang Asli’s rights to their land as being one of ‘tenant-at-will’. And that their right to remain in a particular area is at the pleasure of the state authority which can, if it so wishes, remove the Orang Asli from their lands without having to pay compensation for it.

The courts, especially in the Sagong Tasi case, have however deemed such thinking as archaic and unconstitutional. The Orang Asli do exercise native title rights over their traditional lands under common law. But it appears the government is not about to accept this legal precedent.

Writing in Aliran, Yogeswaran Subramaniam observes, “If past records are anything to go by, the states’ performance for gazetting Orang Asli reserves has been nothing short of dismal”.

Changing the face of Orang Asli

The policy that the government is now putting on the table does not recognise customary lands but instead proposes to change the face of Orang Asli land into plantations.

Orang Asli who accept the government’s deal offering 50,000 ha (amounting to just over one hectare per household and with no forests) will not be able to bring any claims later to the courts for customary lands or loss of such lands.

The Aliran article calculated that even assuming Orang Asli want to operate oil palm smallholdings at one hectare, each household will only be able to produce around 15 tonnes annually.

The cash crop sold at RM500 a tonne would bring net earnings of RM5,000 a year, or average income of just over RM400 a month – a poverty level income!

The Orang Asli are a vulnerable minority who have been physically removed from their traditional source of livelihood in the forests. Government coercion has additionally caused the erosion of their traditions, customs and values – and its attendant side-effect of mental stress.

They did not venture to the swanky Putrajaya for “school-holiday sightseeing” as gibed by the condescending Rural Development Minister Shafie Apdal. The Orang Asli descended on the administrative capital because the community has reached a crisis level.

Related stories:

Orang Asli in protest march over land rights

1Malaysia - politics first, people later

Dr Boo Cheng Hau is the Johor DAP chairman and the state assemblyman for Skudai while Helen Ang is an online media columnist. This article first appeared at the Centre For Policy Initiatives' website.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I do not think that it is advisable for government to run this MEB without a sun set clause.You see the population growth is out strippig economic growth. This means that these two line will never meet on the graph. Hence the MEP the successor to NEP wil go on for ever. And there will come a time , as many Third World Countries have found out, when there will be no more money to finance this expenditure.Ramalx