The Orang Asli community should no longer be treated as second-class citizens, an indignity they can do without, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
It is heartening to learn that at last – after so many days of desperately seeking help – aid is scheduled to reach the 130 Orang Asli families in Pos Simpor near Gua Musang in Kelantan.
They were on the verge of hunger as a result of recent floods that swept across their villages and their fruit and vegetable plots being trampled by rampaging elephants.
The Orang Asli Affairs Department (Jakoa) and civil society groups are mobilising to provide aid for these families, who are left stranded because the floods have cut them off from the main access roads.
While it is appreciated that the much-needed assistance has come to fruition, the seeming lack of immediacy on the part of the related government agencies is a cause for concern, especially if and when human lives are under threat.
It makes us wonder whether double standards are still being practised under the supposedly New Malaysia when it comes to matters pertaining to the Orang Asli.
We suspect that, in contrast, there would be much haste in the effort of the government agencies to come to the rescue of victims from urban areas should there be, say, a major catastrophe. Emergency funds and other resources would have been sourced immediately so that help could be swiftly offered to the needy and desperate.
Such urgency and humanitarian spirit were best exemplified in the frantic search for a missing Irish teenager, Nora Anne Quoirin, with special needs who went missing a few months ago at a tropical rainforest resort in Seremban.
The entire state apparatus was mobilised – and rightly so – to look for her. Sadly and unfortunately, she was later found dead.
Experience suggests that there is a tendency to provide differentiated treatment to the Orang Asli despite their legitimate position as indigenous people under the Federal Constitution, which would have guaranteed them rights befitting citizens.
Never mind about them being accorded special privileges by virtue of them being indigenous to this land. It is already bad enough they have their native customary land trampled upon every now and then, especially by the powers that be who refuse to acknowledge and respect their land rights.
In fact, as pointed out by Orang Asli community activist Nur Mohd Syafiq Dendi, logging and development are the root causes of the floods and destruction of food sources that the Pos Simpor Orang Asli have to face. Their food and land security have been compromised, putting into jeopardy their own survival as a community.
The elephants and other animals were compelled to leave their natural habitat and go on a rampage after it was cleared by humans for so-called development purposes, such as logging and palm oil, which are invariably endorsed by the state government concerned.
In other words, the aid that is to come to them in this hour of need is so essential and most welcome but it only serves as temporary relief. The issue of land has not yet been addressed squarely.
Indeed, land constitutes a vital part of the Orang Asli culture, as reflected by the great respect they have for the environment. Any state-federal conflict over this land matter will have to be resolved as soon as possible.
Unlike their well-heeled urban cousins, the Orang Asli do not have the wherewithal to command immediate attention and concern from the powers that be – unless, of course, if their votes have the potential to tip the balance in favour of a particular political party during an electoral contest.
The Orang Asli community should no longer be treated as second-class citizens, an indignity they can do without.