Don’t let Kuala Koh tragedy happen to us too, plead Perak Orang Asli

A Temiar representative handing over a memo to Jakoa director-general Juli Edo, urging the government to respect their rights to ancestral lands and freedom to choose their religion.

KUALA LUMPUR: A group of 40 Temiar Orang Asli from Perak today visited Parliament to observe proceedings before handing over a memorandum to the prime minister.

Their message was simple: they do not want what happened to the Orang Asli in Kuala Koh, Kelantan, to happen to them.

They also want their basic rights to be respected and to be treated more humanely.

Zimah Omar, from Kampung Tasek Cunex, said: “We prioritise protecting the forests in our traditional lands because we don’t want the same incident that happened at Kuala Koh to happen to our community.”

She was referring to the deaths of 15 Batek Orang Asli in Kuala Koh, Gua Musang, within a span of two months. More than 100 others needed treatment for various ailments.

She said medical experts and academics had pointed to the effects of the degraded environment where oil palm plantations and mining had replaced the forests, affecting the health of the Orang Asli.

“Our blockade (against logging) are demolished every day by the loggers. Our daily life is disrupted. We can’t focus on farming or improving our lives because we spend every day manning and rebuilding our blockades,” Zimah said.

The villagers of Kampung Tasik Asal Cunex in Gerik were in the news recently for erecting a blockade on the logging trail leading to the Air Cepam forest reserve.

The group also complained about forced Islamisation by the National Registration Department (JPN) and the Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa).

They claimed Islam was being taught to non-Muslim Orang Asli students and against their parents’ wishes.

“Unknowingly, our religion has been registered as Islam in our identity cards even when we have never converted. It is a big offence to us as we should give free prior and informed consent before such changes are made.

“Now, our children are taught Islam and forced to fast in school against our wishes. It is as if we do not have the freedom to choose our religion.

“Not only are we slowly losing our traditional land, we are also losing our identity,” Anjang Aluej from Kampung Sungai Papan said.

The group consisted of members of Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) from Kampung Tasek Asal Cunex, Kampung Sungai Papan, Kampung Leyef, Kampung Ong Jelmol and Pos Piah.

The memorandum was received by the director-general of Jakoa, Juli Edo, on behalf of Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

In the memorandum, they outlined issues they want the prime minister to resolve, including:

  • the lack of recognition of indigenous land rights and the rights of indigenous peoples, such as through logging and mining, in their traditional territories and forcing Islam onto them;
  • the threat to their social economy through illegal hunting by outsiders and bringing in foreign workers;
  • issues concerning their social development such as mothers being forced to take birth control shots, children being bullied and insulted in school, and problematic teachers in their schools.

Among the suggestions in the memorandum are the following:

  • gazette their traditional land using community mapping;
  • stop all environmental destruction and develop stronger conservation activities;
  • acknowledge and respect indigenous traditional knowledge and systems;
  • Implement all Articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
  • build primary schools close to each village; and,
  • send sincere and qualified teachers to teach in all Orang Asli schools.