The issue of indigenous rights is something every country tries to work on improving, and this recent case shows just how much more effort is needed to protect indigenous Malaysians’ rights.
Earlier in July, reports of a blockade in Gua Musang, Kelantan being violently destroyed by men hired by a local durian plantation company surfaced, alarming many Malaysians. This incident reportedly happened right after Rural Development Deputy Minister R. Sivarasa visited the residents to assure them that the land would be gazetted for the Orang Asli community.
Now, more areas occupied by Kelantan’s Orang Asli community have been broken into, allegedly by private logging companies, once again. Here’s what’s been happening so far;
1. Men appointed by companies violently broke into Orang Asli settlements
On the 4th of August, it was reported that a group of men allegedly appointed by private logging companies had violently broken down a blockade set up by the Temiar group, according to The Sun Daily.
The settlements that were broken into are located in Pos Tohoi and Pos Gob, where the men reportedly planted fruits. The Temiars had set up the blockade to protect their land, forest, families, and homes.
Then, more recently on Friday and Saturday (17th & 18th August), blockades in Pos Tohoi were broken down once again by a group of vandals who came in tractors and four-wheel drives.
[BREAKING] Samseng Melayu didakwa dari syarikat Musang King menyerang blockade Orang Asli Pos Kaleeg Gua Musang sekitar jam 4.40pm hari ini. pic.twitter.com/ZrRgvfwH2d
— Hafiz Zainuddin (@hafizroche) August 17, 2018
According to Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto, the Kelantan government reportedly gave private companies the power to invade these communities’ native land to help increase state revenue, ignoring their rights as protectors of the forest.
In January 2017, the Temiars won a court battle in which a magistrate court ruled that loggers could not encroach on land surrounding Pos Balar. However, activists have stated that this ruling had just led companies to encroach on other villages in the Gua Musang area.
2. The Kota Bharu MP claims Orang Asli land belongs to the Kelantan government
In spite of the outrage surrounding this violation of Orang Asli rights, Kota Bharu MP Takiyuddin Hassan recently stated that indigenous land actually belongs to Kelantan’s government.
According to Malaysiakini, he told reporters at a press conference,
“The problem now is that state government land is for logging, with permits issued by the Forestry Department, but some Orang Asli backed up by several NGOs claim that is Orang Asli land, when in fact it is state land, which is why they set up blockades to stop loggers.”
“In Kelantan, there is no ancestral land for the Orang Asli, there has never been (a provision) in Kelantan’s land laws and it has never been gazetted. (However) the state government has gazetted the Orang Asli’s ‘kawasan rayau’ where they can farm, rear animals, and so on.”
“The government will not give permission to companies for logging and such in areas classified as ‘kawasan rayau’.”
3. Kelantan used a memorandum from Orang Asli chiefs allegedly planted by the state government
According to The Star, the plot thickened even further when news of 10 Orang Asli village chiefs issuing a memorandum to the Kelantan government surfaced.
The controversial memorandum had reportedly urged the state government to remove the blockades and designate land for Orang Asli to carry out agricultural activities. On top of that, they even wanted stern action to be taken against those “instigating” the Orang Asli community to “attack” the durian plantation workers.
Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Kelantan (Jaringan) president Mustafa Along, however, revealed that the village chiefs who issued this memorandum were appointed by the state government, and they weren’t even living in the affected areas. One of them is even from a completely different state! Mustafa told the daily,
“Therefore, how can a memorandum submitted by such village chiefs, who have no locus standi (legal standing), be used to represent the voice of the local community who are mostly against activities that bring about destruction of the forest?”
4. Similar cases have happened in other parts of Malaysia
Although this particular case in Kelantan has caught national attention, many state governments, including Kelantan, have also been taking land that was originally meant for the Orang Asli community since independence.
According to the Malaysian Insight, lawyer and head of the Malaysian Bar’s Orang Asli committee Siti Kasim, the government has been claiming Orang Asli land based on old maps the British had given to village chiefs. She told the daily,
“The areas were marked as the domain of the sakai, which refers to the Orang Asli. Those lands, however, were silently converted to government land and gazetted as Malay reserve (land) by the state government.”
5. The Prime Minister assured the Orang Asli community that this issue would be settled
In light of this conflict, 220 Temiars from 17 different settlements in Gua Musang met Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad earlier this month (10th August).
According to The Sun Daily, five spokesmen of the community handed a memorandum and explained their situation to the Prime Minister.
“I listened to their problem. The Pakatan Harapan government sympathises with them and is prepared to help find a solution to the issue. I can only say that I will help them by negotiating with the Kelantan PAS government because land comes under the jurisdiction of the state government,” Tun Dr Mahathir told reporters.
He added that the government will also try looking at this from a legal standpoint to find an immediate solution.
Let’s hope our federal government finds a better and more foolproof solution to this issue. We hope that this will help protect our country’s indigenous community more effectively, too.
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