Stop pitting Orang Asli against Malays, says activist

Orang Asli in Kampung Tasik Cunex, Grik, protesting against logging activities.

PETALING JAYA: A lawyer fighting for Orang Asli land rights has urged the public to refrain from causing antagonism between the aboriginal communities and the Malays by comparing and evaluating their claims to be the original inhabitants of the country.

Yogeswaran Subramaniam, a member of the Malaysian Bar’s committee on Orang Asli rights, said the agenda of those concerned over the treatment of Orang Asli would be better served if their supporters were to focus sharply on the issue of protection of rights.

“In your Facebook comments, do not pit the Orang Asli against the Malays,” he said. “Do not keep saying they are the first people because you can get some people worked up.”

He said the question of competing claims to indigeneity had no effect on Malay rights. “You can say Orang Asli are indigenous and you can still have special privileges for Malays. It is allowed.”

Yogeswaran made his remarks at a recent forum on Orang Asli land rights.

He said Orang Asli interests could even be hurt if other Malaysians kept pointing out they had a better claim than the Malays to being the country’s original inhabitants. “You might be spooking some leaders,” he added.

He urged Malaysians to speak out instead on the pressing need of the Orang Asli to have their land rights recognised and respected.

Because the Orang Asli communities made up a minority population, he said, “the majority of us” must call for the protection of their rights and try to turn the matters that concern them into mainstream issues.

“Give the Orang Asli their place in the Malaysian context, just like we have our place,” he added.

He also called for an end to cultural discrimination against the Orang Asli, noting that even some well-meaning Malaysians were known to have made condescending statements about them.