A house in Kampung Pertak
IT’s been a busy week for the Orang Asli in Hulu Selangor, with Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) both trying hard to win the over 700 votes in the community. The Orang Asli are usually wary of outsiders, but a senior couple in Kampung Pertak warmly welcome The Nut Graph journalist on 21 April 2010 onto their porch and invite her to the evening jamuan. “Come to the (BN organised) event,” they say. “There’ll be rice served today. Yesterday, there was mee hoon. There’ll also be singing although we won’t sing, but the young ones will.”
The couple, however, are wary when it comes to talking about the elections. “Yes, there is an election on the 25th (of April), (but) it’s still some way away. We like both sides. Life here is all right,” they say diplomatically.
Diplomacy aside, will the Orang Asli in Hulu Selangor benefit more with a BN or a PR Member of Parliament?
Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal certainly paints a bright picture to woo the Orang Asli. Speaking at a program ramah mesra in Kampung Gerachi Jaya on 20 Apr 2010, Shafie regales the crowd with BN’s achievements: “This village has been provided with various facilities. Houses, roads, a surau, a football field, a kindergarten, electricity; some houses even have Astro.”
Shafie praises the BN (pic source: parlimen.gov.my)“In the past, life was hard, there was no income. Now that there has been planning and rearrangement, life has gotten better,” Shafie tells the roughly 100 Orang Asli present.
Shafie lists other government contributions to the Orang Asli: The Orang Asli hospital in Gombak, allowances to attend Mara, and an almost RM400 million development allocation.
He also talks about the proposed amendments to the Orang Asli land policy, which intends to parcel out about two to six acres of land to each Orang Asli family. He later elaborates on the land scheme to The Nut Graph: “…the Orang Asli are increasing, so how will we divide the land? We can give 30 to 50 acres, but then the number that receive land will be few…This is not all the assistance we give. If the produce from the land is insufficient, if their income falls below RM400, they will be classified under hardcore poor and the government will give assistance.”
When asked whether parcelling out land to the Orang Asli in this manner would threaten their way of life and culture, Shafie answers, “This Land Act is being amended because there are changes, because there are changes around the [Orang Asli]. We want to help. The current Act doesn’t allow us to help them…”
Shafie, however, declines to elaborate on whether the government will amend the law in line with the case of Sagong bin Tasi v Selangor State Government, which recognises Orang Asli customary land rights. Shafie says, “Sometimes, we know an area is not their customary land, but just roaming land. We will see. We will discuss with the state governments.”
Antares and wife Anoora Chapek
Blogger, Parti Keadilan Rakyat member and Kampung Orang Asli Pertak resident Antares however scoffs at the minister’s claims. “The reason why we elect a government is to provide amenities and facilities to the public. To do it and claim credit for it, that’s really low. To claim credit for providing pipe water and electricity to people — that is [the government’s] duty!”
Centre for Orang Asli Concerns coordinator Dr Colin Nicholas is also dismissive of Shafie’s claims to development in Selangor, saying that the Orang Asli villages in Kelantan are much better equipped. “It’s only giving the Orang Asli what is their right,” he says.
All about land
Shafie also neglected to mention that Kampung Pertak and Kampung Gerachi Jaya villagers were deprived of their ancestral land about 10 years ago when the government built the Selangor Dam. They were reportedly told to “move or get nothing”.
The Selangor Dam
“This is their tanah keramat (sacred land),” says Antares, gesturing to the hills around him. “Traditions say life began anew here after the great flood…This land is beautiful, it’s prime land… The [BN] government comes here and thinks the ‘blue-skinned monkeys’ don’t deserve it, and they want it for themselves,'” he says. Antares is referring to the Na’vi in the movie Avatar whose land was threatened due to the presence of a precious mineral.
As far as respecting Orang Asli land rights is concerned, Nicholas says the BN track record has been poor. “The BN has done many things to destroy the Orang Asli’s rights and recognition to their land and culture,” he says. He adds that the BN has not recognised Orang Asli land rights and are still challenging the Sagong Tasi decision, which recognised common law customary rights over the land.
“Orang Asli land in Hulu Selangor is still being encroached upon and taken away…The [BN government] treat the Orang Asli like children. They give them goodies and expect them to vote for BN.”
Antares says the new land policy will try and pressure the Orang Asli into being farmers and move them out of their customary land. “You cannot force them to be farmers,” he says. “If they move out of their land and if they fail as farmers, they will become a lost tribe. They would have lost their land and lost their identity.”
Pakatan Rakyat’s efforts
Nicholas is supportive of the PR government’s efforts so far in Selangor. “The Selangor Menteri Besar has met and listened to the Orang Asli, not in the BN way of giving ceramah and talking down to them then leaving during the question and answer time,” he says.
Nicholas lists other steps taken by the Selangor government. “They’ve set up an Orang Asli land task force headed by Orang Asli, they withdrew the appeal against the Sagong Tasi case, they gave out long-pending land titles. They’ve also conducted the first of several training sessions for Orang Asli on how to do community mapping with GPS (global positioning system) and GIS (geographic information system) so they can map out their areas,” he says.
How will they vote?
PR reportedly received only 1% of the Orang Asli vote in 2008, so they have an uphill battle this election.
“Saya memang sokong BN,” says Kampung Gerachi Jaya batin Ramsit Anggong, when approached by The Nut Graph during the BN’s event in his village.
Ramsit was reportedly strongly against the village’s relocation when the dam was built but his tone is conciliatory now. “Things here are alright, just that we need street lamps and roads to our old orchards. I’ve asked before, since 2004, but we have not been given these things.” He adds that he will try to persuade his villagers to vote for BN in the by-election.
But whether that is what will really happen among the Orang Asli is left to be seen come polling day. After all, any political party or candidate who dismisses the Orang Asli as being clueless and easily influenced would be gravely mistaken.
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