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Orang Asli vow to protest if gov’t takes land

The Orang Asli community will once again descend on Putrajaya in force if the government insists on going ahead with dividing up their native customary lands.

Peninsular Malaysia Orang Asli Villages Network (JKOASM) coordinator Tijah Yok Chopil said that while Orang Asli are peaceful people, they have no choice if the government remains adamant.

“Honestly, even if it carries high risk, we will go down to Putrajaya, Parliament or the Orang Asli Development Deparment (JAKOA). This is not a threat, but our livelihood is pressed and we have no other choice.

“If it was any other community they would have taken action long ago, but we are a peace-loving people and therefore we’ve been taken advantage of. For our future generations, we have no choice, even if we have to go to prison,” said Tijah (right).

The natives are angry about the Orang Asli Development Department’s (JAKOA) recent announcement that they have concluded discussions with state governments on a proposed reform of Orang Asli lands.

Under the plan, individual Orang Asli families will receive titles to fixed plot of lands similar to the Felda model. However, that means forfeiting their native customary land rights, where the plots of land are much larger than what they will be getting.

In March last year, some 2,000 Orang Asli protestedin the country’s administrative capital over the same issue. Since then, the government kept silent – but the recent announcement has once again brought the issue to the fore.
Speaking at a press conference in Petaling Jaya today, she vented her frustration over the government’s lack of interest in the Orang Asli demands.

‘Orang Asli have always supported BN’

“I am very disappointed with the government… In all the 43 years of my life, every Orang Asli I have met, they love the government so much and continue to support Umno and BN. But what has happened to the Orang Asli now?” she lamented.

Tijah was accompanied by Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) deputy president Yusri Ahon, JKOAP committee member Shafie Dris and representative Williams Hunt.

She said JAKOA’s move totally disregards a memorandum submitted during that protest as well as the Malaysian Human Rights Comission’s (Suhakam) ongoing National Inquiry into the Land Rights of the Indigenous People.

“Suhakam has already asked the government to postpone all its effort to refine the proposed policy on Orang Asli while it carries out the inquiry.

“But JAKOA does not respect us, they broke their promise, they also do not respect what Suhakam is currently doing,” Tijah said.

To add salt to injury, Tijah explained that the only time they were consulted was during a meeting with the government last year at the Institute for Rural Development (Infra) after the Putrajaya protest.

“Even during the discussion at Infra, they should have discussed what the orang Asli wanted… In the end there was no decision, they insist on their own approach on the land policy, there was nothing about the memorandum,” Hunt said.

Tijah called on the government to drop the policy so that the authorities and Orang Asli can renegotiate as the current proposal is totally unacceptable to them.

“They want to give us lands that we already own, it is not as if they give us new lands, this land has been passed down for generations from our ancestors, all the government needs to do is to recognise it,” she said.

Way of life threatened

In several landmark court cases, the courts have ruled that the indigenous people are entitled to their customary land rights even though there is no legal recognition from the government.

The current plan is a move to address that vacuum where each family will be given land to construct their home and for farming purposes which will be developed by JAKOA.

While the model is based upon economic considerations, Tijah said it will destroy the Orang Asli way of life.

“What we have they want to take away even the land they want to give to a third party to develop while the Orang Asli sits and wait for dividends. This is not progress, this is to destroy the Orang Asli.

“We will lose our identity, our history, our culture and our religion,” she said.

According to Orang Asli native customary lands, there are a total of 21 land uses which are instrumental to their way of life such as hunting grounds, burial grounds and jungle for natural food source which is not considered under the policy.

Angry at JAKOA for constantly siding with the authorities despite being an Orang Asli body, Tijah called for JAKOA to be abolished.

“If JAKOA which is suppose to be the defender and protector of Orang Asli does not change its attitude and serve the Orang Asli sincerely, then it would be best for JAKOA to be abolished,” she said.

Earlier, Tijah had submitted a letter of protest to JAKOA director Sani Mistam, protesting the department’s move to proceed with the policy despite the ongoing Suhakam inquiry and without consulting Orang Asli grassroots.

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