Aren’t the Orang Asli Malaysians, too?

The recent appeal by villagers in Pos Simpor, Kelantan for emergency food due to their homes being flooded and crop damage by animals is distressing.

There has been limited media coverage and hardly any public response from government authorities or ministers or the Kelantan government. The Orang Asli Affairs Department (Jakoa) director-general, Juli Edo, is seeking emergency funds to feed the villages.

Both state and federal governments should have swung into action immediately. Elected MPs from both the government and opposition should be making loud calls for support. But because these are Orang Asli people, somehow Jakoa has to appeal for funds and the villagers must appeal to the public. It appears that Jakoa is an orphan department and almost functions as an appendage in our government.

The media outlets that reported this crisis were quoted as saying that “the villagers only had one bag of rice left”. I cannot imagine the hunger and state of the children in these villages, with their already underlying chronic malnutrition. Some may die as they have no reserves to cope with such a crisis.

Is there no money to rescue people who have no food in Malaysia? We push mega projects, spend RM4.4 billion on a ridiculous Kuala Lumpur River of Life project, have wasteful launching events by the government, and continue to have many overseas trips by our ministers, etc. We have the means to rescue these people but our response seems muted. Again, it is the NGOs that will have to step in because the government is slow in acting.

So we have to ask this question: are the Orang Asli people Malaysians?

It appears that we treat them as second-class citizens, even though they are the original people of this land. Some even look down on them as sub-human (proto-human). Just because the Orang Asli community chooses to continue to live in the interior is not a sign that they are backward. It is a sign that they value their cultural background and rich heritage and want to continue living that way. But it appears that the silent genocide of the Orang Asli people that occurred under the Barisan Nasional government now continues under the Pakatan Harapan government.

Today, on World Children’s Day and after 30 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, can we accept our collective responsibility to support this group of marginalised Malaysians and stop the poverty, malnutrition and deaths of their children and community?

Dr Amar-Singh HSS is a senior consultant paediatrician.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.