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Accord Orang Asli their rightful place in society

Orang Asli demanding their rights - File photo courtesy of Komas

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The Orang Asli serve as a bulwark against aggressive and cavalier intrusions into virgin jungle and consequent environmental destruction, writes Mustafa K Anuar.

The destruction of the Orang Asli’s Kaleg blockade in Gua Musang by individuals allegedly associated with a durian plantation company is indeed disturbing.

It was a brazen display of defiance, happening only a few days after Deputy Rural Development Minister Sivarasa Rasiah voiced support for the Orang Asli’s claim to their ancestral land.

Sivarasa’s intervention in the ongoing conflict between Gua Musang’s Temiar tribe and logging and plantation companies in Kelantan’s south is a step in the right direction.

The mediation came about after the tribe received threats from the companies, following blockades set up by the Orang Asli over the last five months. It does not help to know that the Kelantan government has so far, as on many other occasions, refused to address the Orang Asli’s claim to their tribal land.

The tribe can no longer be left in a vulnerable position, in the face of parties hell-bent on getting what they want. We should be mindful that the forest in Gua Musang, which is being logged and cleared, has always been home to the Orang Asli. It is where they hunt animals for food, seek plants of medicinal value, and derive spiritual solace.

Unfortunately, it is a notion that pursuers of commercial profit and creators of the concrete jungle generally cannot, or refuse to, understand and appreciate.

To be sure, the Gua Musang conflict afflicting the Orang Asli is not an isolated case. There have been similar instances previously, where the rights of the Orang Asli were trampled on by the powers that be.

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The Orang Asli have often been on the receiving end of so-called “development” that results in the destruction of their livelihood, culture and dignity. They often get brow-beaten into accepting the ravages that come with the development projects relentlessly pursued by the state and/or private entities.

The cumulative effect of all this is that their rights to self-determination, and to access and manage their own natural resources within their ancestral realm, are either quietly ignored or unabashedly transgressed by the powers that be.

This is why the plan by Sivarasa to include Orang Asli representation in talks with the Kelantan government and Putrajaya on the Gua Musang customary land issue is politically significant. It suggests a vital shift in the way the federal government looks at the Orang Asli and their plight.

A new government that is supposed to foster a sense of inclusiveness should take recognise that the Orang Asli – indigenous, at that – are indeed citizens of this country whose fundamental rights should be respected and protected.

The desecration of their burial grounds by people in pursuit of “development” in the past, for example, is not only sacrilegious, but also contemptuous of their rights.

Besides, there are things that many of us who pride ourselves as being cultured and civilised can learn from the Orang Asli, such as a deep appreciation for plant diversity, and love and respect for Mother Nature, which, if ill-treated, will come back at you with a vengeance in the form of landslides and floods, among other horrendous things. You cannot dictate nature according to your whims and fancies.

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In a sense, the Orang Asli serve as a bulwark against aggressive and cavalier intrusions into virgin jungle and the consequent environmental destruction as well as the wanton depletion of natural resources.

The Orang Asli may be out of sight for many of us, particularly those living in Kuala Lumpur and other urban centres, but they should not be out of our mind.

Source: The Malaysian Insight

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