Is Kelantan a backward state filled with restrictions imposed on its people as commonly believed? The Rocket (Chinese Edition) reporter Alice Tan took a tour to the state and witnessed for herself why Kelantan folks’ lives are as described in its namesake, ‘Darul Naim’ (pleasant abode).
Report by Alice Tan. Translated by T.K Tan
To many people, Kelantan seems mysterious and remote from the rest of Malaysia, both physically and metaphorically. A car journey to Kota Baru (to the locals, simply ‘KB’) from Kuala Lumpur takes about 8 to 10 hours.
As a result of PAS’s long rule in Kelantan, many outsiders believed that Kelantan is an Islamic state through and through. BN’s scaremongering of Kelantan as a theocratic state has caused many to view its non-Muslim population with pitiful and sympathetic lenses, deprived of their freedom to practice their lifestyles (‘no pork, no booze, no music, no fun’ goes the quip).
No discrimination, please
Kelantan’s non-Malay population forms about 5 percent of the population, with the Chinese being the biggest group, at 3.6 percent of the population, while Malays form 95 percent of the total state.
Kelantan’s Chinese are mostly concentrated in and around KB, primarily engaged in commerce and trading activities. Many of the Chinese restaurants here still display Chinese signboards and liquor advertisements prominently on their business façade.
Aside from the many Jawi language signboards, KB is no different from any Malaysian towns. As dusk sets in, its eateries -Muslims and non-Muslims- are just as packed and lively as other places. There are many Chinese restaurants, coffee shops and pubs that dot KB, except that they are strictly for non-Muslims.
My tour guide, Teoh, explains that Kelantan folks are a harmonious lot. “We are pretty much racial blind; Kelantan people see each other as brothers and sisters. Due to societal factors, many Chinese can speak the Kelantanese dialect fluently. Kelantan folks, Malays or non-Malays, use the Malay and Kelantanese dialect pervasively. In the Malay restaurants, the races often mingle with each other easily.”
Kelantan folks are a friendly lot too; I often saw them smiling at strangers. The non-Malays are conversant with the local Malay customs; the non-Malays often greet each other in the traditional Malay pleasantries.
The Kelantan society truly lives out a one Malaysia spirit. In this opposition-run state, the ethnic groups are treated fairly and have equal standing. It is easy to see why Kelantan folks interact and embrace each other easily.
All to one’s faith
To many outsiders, women are perceived to have no status in Islam. In Kelantan however, the womenfolk more than hold up their own. In KB’s biggest wet market, the Siti Khadijah wet market, women are the ones running the businesses. Kelantan women are gentle yet capable, as evidenced from their thriving entrepreneurship and ability to take care of their families.
Another common misperception about Kelantan is that due to strong Islamisation, there is forced segregation of the sexes in public areas. However, on my observation most people ignore this ruling in their daily lives. In many supermarkets and shops, there are signboards being hung requiring the people to line up according to their gender. There are also queues for families. However, for the other queues the people line up without regards to the regulations. Even the Malays don’t have much regard for this regulation.
Rich people, poor government
Another common myth about Kelantan is because it is governed with a theocratic bend by PAS, it lacks development and as result has a lot of poor people.
Hu Pang Chaw, PAS Supporters’ Club (DHPP) chairman countered that the people in some of the other states that have oil and gas resources that are under BN’s governance are even poorer than Kelantan.
According to the official statistics released in 2009, the states with the highest poverty rates are: Sabah, Perlis, Sarawak, and Kedah at third place and Kelantan, fourth place. Terengganu is fifth.
“It is the state government who is poor, not its people. Many Malays have land to till; some are even wealthy enough to buy properties with cash.”
Kelantan Chinese Assembly Hall (KCAH) advisor Lau Chit Fang said that even though Kelantan produces oil, its state government has not received any oil and gas royalty from the federal government.
“Even though Petronas’s oil rigs are located within 140 km of Kelantan’s shore, its oil is transported 300 km to Terengganu. What is their motive for doing so? This is why the state government is launching a movement to demand back the RM 10.4 billion oil and gas royalty due to Kelantan,” Lau said.