The problems afflicting the Orang Asli speak volumes of the way we, so-called modernised beings, take Mother Nature for granted, says Mustafa K Anuar.
The reported deaths and illnesses of Orang Asli in Kampung Kuala Koh in Gua Musang are yet another grim reminder of how the lives of indigenous people are made cheaper by the reckless intrusion of so-called modernisation and progress as well as administrative neglect.
It was said that a pond near their settlement, which has been their water source for so long, has been contaminated due to mining, logging and plantation activities in the vicinity.
Equally troubling is that their sources of food have decreased over the years owing to logging activities by a company that has been given a concession by the Kelantan state government.
The scarcity of food has brought about malnourishment of some members of the Batek tribe, which renders them too weak to fight against illnesses.
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Surely in this context, the Islamic concept of rahmatan lil ‘alamin (blessing for the whole world and its content) should also be applied to the wellbeing of the Orang Asli by the supposedly Islam-driven Kelantan government.
In urban living terms, the contamination of the pond is equivalent to having your water reservoir polluted by nearby logging or chemical factory activities. Unlike in the case of the Orang Asli, the authorities concerned would have to take notice and swiftly execute remedial measures in the face of affected urban dwellers who would be up in arms if their piped water was polluted.
The apparent slow response of the authorities to attend to the grievances of the tribe could be due to their geographical remotenes, which makes access difficult.
But, as in the case of other tribes of the Orang Asli in the peninsula over the years, it could also be due to an overriding attitude among certain quarters in government agencies that still consider Orang Asli as second-class citizens, and hence, only worthy of delayed or scant action.
For the record, Orang Asli (as well as fishermen) in the Sungai Buloh area recently also encountered pollution of their river, which is also essential for their survival.
Similarly, the Orang Asli of Kampung Tasik Cunex in Grik, Perak had to put up a blockade against the encroachment of a logging company into their land, which affects them in various harmful ways.
The various kinds of suffering that Orang Asli as a collective have been subjected to must stop. If need be, a moratorium on activities, such as logging, must be put in place before a comprehensive study is conducted to ascertain their impact on the Orang Asli.
If certain steps have been taken by the authorities to improve the lives of the Orang Asli over the years, more certainly needs to be done in a systematic manner.
There must be respect for the collective dignity of the Orang Asli, and this can be done by promoting and protecting their rights as citizens of this country.
They have the right to practise their way of life, their tradition, their belief system. For lack of a better comparison, the jungle is vital to their livelihood and lifestyle just as the concrete jungle – especially where shopping malls are located – has become an important part of the life of most urban dwellers.
Thus, the destruction of the environment by urban-based groups is an affront to, if not desecration of, their collective identity as well as traditional practices.
In a sense, the problems afflicting the Orang Asli speak volumes of the way we, so-called modernised beings, take Mother Nature for granted. Just look at the way we treat our rivers and sea as if they are sustainable dumping sites.
We have a lot to learn from the Orang Asli, who in many ways function as custodians of Mother Nature in the face of relentless threats, especially from those who pursue immense profit out of the environment.
The lives of the Orang Asli are as precious as ours. To neglect theirs is to subject ourselves to indignity.