Home Committees Committee On Orang Asli Rights Prison Without Bars — Visit to the Semai Community at Lipis, Pahang (30 June 2012)
|Prison Without Bars — Visit to the Semai Community at Lipis, Pahang (30 June 2012)|
|Friday, 27 July 2012 11:01am|
Contributed by Chung Yi Fan (Research Officer), with photos by Md Faizal Mahat (Administrative Assistant) and Fong Lee Wee (Member, Bar Council Committee on Orang Asli Rights)
On 30 June 2012 (Saturday), members of the Bar Council Committee on Orang Asli Rights (“COAR”) embarked on a trip to visit the Semai community at Kampung Pantos in Lipis, Pahang. Kampung Pantos is an Orang Asli settlement located some 40 km west of Kuala Lipis, bordering with FELDA Sungai Koyan. The COAR chose to visit this settlement due to the numerous complaints received from families that were relocated from Pos Lanai, another Semai settlement area located 30 km upstream a river to Kampung Pantos. These families face difficulties in the new village as they have lost access to their ancestral land. The purpose of the visit was to investigate the complaints and assist the Orang Asli in seeking redress to their problems.
The group was led by Steven Thiru (Co-Chairperson of COAR), Andrew Khoo (Co-Chairperson of the Bar Council Human Rights Committee) and members of the COAR, comprising Cherian K C Kuruvila, Christina Gomez, Chung Yi Fan, Fong Lee Wee, Md Faizal Mahat, Seira Sacha bt Abu Bakar, Siti Zabedah Kasim, Stephanie Wong and Victoria Ng. The group was also accompanied by some members of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (“SUHAKAM”) and Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia (“JAKOASM”). The trip from Kuala Lumpur to Cheroh took approximately two hours, followed by a further 30 minutes off-road journey to Kampung Pantos.
Among the Orang Asli ethnic groups in West Malaysia, the Semai community is the largest with a population of 35,000. Their native territory is mainly found within the districts of Batang Padang (Perak) and Cameron Highlands (Pahang) on the foothills of the Titiwangsa Range. They speak Semai, a language which belongs to the Mon-Khmer linguistic group and is related to the language spoken by the hill tribes of Cambodia and Laos.
As the group made their way to the village, they passed by rows of new PPRT1 houses, a new mosque, a short row of shops, and the primary school Sekolah Kebangsaan Pos Lanai perched atop a small hill. The visitors were greeted by the locals, headed by their village head known as Malik. Malik guided the visitors to the older part of Kampung Pantos where they walked across Sungai Telom on a suspension bridge to reach the community hall.
The session began with an introductory speech by Shafie Dris of JAKOASM, after which Md Sha’ani Abdullah, a SUHAKAM Commissioner, delivered a concise but engaging talk about human rights in relation to Orang Asli communities. Then Steven Thiru explained to the villagers how their problems could be addressed by taking legal action. He also explained the role of the Bar Council in assisting Orang Asli to fight for their rights.
The visitors were informed that a large number of Semai people originally residing at Pos Lanai, Kampung Harong, Kampung Nyentil, and several other villages in the upper Sungai Telom valley were directed by Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli (“JAKOA”) to move to Kampung Pantos about a year ago. They were promised new houses, better amenities, agriculture plots and a better life in general than what they had in the old village. At first, some villagers were doubtful about the relocation scheme and they were reluctant to leave behind their farms and vast area of customary land on which they have lived for generations. However, they were eventually persuaded to move downstream to Kampung Pantos. They were promised in January 2012 that they could always return to their old villages to tend their farms.
Barely six months later, it became all too obvious that life in the new village is not as rosy as they were promised. The PPRT houses are new but not liveable; they are built with poor materials and placed too close to each other. Roads were paved to their door steps, but their barefoot kids suffered when they stepped on the road and the rocky village compounds. In the community of more than 100 houses, not a single tree was planted. This was in huge contrast to their original village which has fruit trees, clear running streams and well-ventilated wooden houses (albeit a bit run down). Most importantly, the relocation has destroyed the livelihood2 of this Semai community.
It was made known to the villagers that the land surrounding Kampung Pantos belongs to the neighbouring FELDA settlers. Therefore, the 150 households recently relocated to Kampung Pantos have no land to labour on and hence no source of income. For the lucky few, remittance from family members working odd jobs in towns is their lifeline. The rest try to make occasional trips back to their original villages to tap rubber and gather jungle produce.
Meanwhile, the agricultural plots promised by the Government have yet to materialise. A mere RM500 per year is now paid to each household to subsidise their living costs and compensate for their relocation. The former village headman of Pos Lanai spoke figuratively about their conditions:
The relocation to Pantos is like moving us to a prison because we can do nothing here and have no work. In the morning we wake up and squat by the drain, only to wait for the sunset.
Circumstances have deteriorated so much that some families are considering returning to their original village but, in doing so, they fear government sanctions since no clear terms were laid out when the Government offered them the relocation scheme one year ago.
The COAR team noted down the complaints made by the Orang Asli and promised to help them by enquiring with the authorities about their land status and the possibility of moving back to their original villages. The team left the village in the afternoon with a better understanding of the problems faced by the Orang Asli and the realisation that a lot more has to be done to help these marginalised communities.
The injustice and poverty suffered by the Orang Asli in Kampung Pantos is indeed a serious cause for concern. The COAR calls upon Members of the Bar to contribute towards the advocacy of Orang Asli rights, especially with regard to native customary land rights. Interested Members may contact Christina Gomez by telephone at 03-2050 2087 or by email at email@example.com for more information.
1 Built under the public housing scheme Program Perumahan Rakyat Termiskin, these are normally 40 x 15 ft (600 sq ft) brick structures to house the rural poor.
2 The Semai practise shifting cultivation traditionally, but many have taken up rubber smallholdings in recent years. They also fish in the rivers and hunt in the forests for food. These economic activities are largely constrained after the move to Kampung Pantos.
|< Prev||Next >|