A wretched lot in Najib’s Pekan

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak is Pekan MP yet little has come by way of help for impoverished families and malnourished children in its Orang Asli settlements.

For the record, healthcare for many of the Orang Asli villagers, who live off-the-beaten track, means the ubiquitous panadol, the tiny black pills known as “pil chi kit” for tummy aches, medicated plasters and only if they really need it – cough mixture.

Aneesa Alphonsus, Free Malaysia Today

Muffled strains of a pop song from a beat-up transistor radio with a missing aerial sets the Orang Asli children bobbing their head to the rhythm. Someone sings a native tune and switches stations to accommodate a more traditional repertoire.

And just as quickly the children switch to playing catch with each other, fighting good-naturedly over balloons, their cheerful laughter carried along by the cool breeze. A bucolic setting indeed for any poet or artist.

But this is not the truth of what life really is like in this Orang Asli settlement. The reality pales in comparison to the poetic setting.

To say that the Orang Asli community in Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s Pekan constituency is impoverished, would be putting it mildly.

The typical scene that greets a visitor to the Orang Asli settlement in Pekan or for that matter any one of the numerous aboriginal settlements that litter Pahang will reveal dilapidated houses with flimsy floors and spartan interiors.

In these villagers, hungry and malnourished children are a norm and their audibly growling bellies often bite into the stillness of the long afternoons.

The Orang Asli village in Pekan, Pahang, is one of the many forgotten settlements around the country.

So don’t expect an eco-tour should a visit be organised as there is nothing pretty about what awaits.

Undernourished children

In one village, there stood three rickety shacks on stilts shaded by a few rubber trees.

The lalang here was taller than most of the children whose growth is stunted due to lack of nourishment and proper healthcare.

One five-year-old child who looked like she was only 24 months had such a bad case of worms that they were crawling out of her nose.

She was administered with medication by some volunteers but because the infection was so severe, recovery is expected to take a while.

Her brother too suffers the same fate. This has resulted in both of them experiencing laboured breathing. They are unable to run as freely as other children.

For now, they sit on the sandy ground clutching at donated toys and balloons and watch other children jump, sprint and leap over fallen branches in a game of catch.

For the record, healthcare for many of the Orang Asli villagers, who live off-the-beaten track, means the ubiquitous panadol, the tiny black pills known as “pil chi kit” for tummy aches, medicated plasters and only if they really need it – cough mixture.

If they run out of these “medications”, or basic necessities, they will have to walk five kilometres from their shacks to the mainroad.

From there, they either take the bus or hitch a ride to get to the nearest town.

No rights over land

Logging, legal or otherwise, and forest clearing for oil palm plantation and development has forced the Orang Asli community to keep moving deeper into the jungle.

The deeper they go into the jungle, the more difficult it gets for them to secure food, medications and other basic items.

A report found online states: “Under British colonial rule, Malay reservations were given to the Malays, while the Orang Asli were confined to Sakai reservations.

“By 1913 Malays were given the right to own and lease property within their reservations, but the Orang Asli were not granted the same privilege.

As of 2006, there are an estimated 1,49,723 Orang Asli indigenous people in West Malaysia. They collectively occupy and toil on about 1,38,862.2 hectares of land.”

But unfortunately for the Orang Asli, the government does not recognise them as lawful owners of the lands.

The government maintains the position that the Orang Asli have no rights to the land which they occupy.

Biased law

One other report on the condition of the Orang Asli mentioned: “The government sees them only as tenants on the lands which the authorities may at any time seize or take under its control by providing compensation for the loss of whatever is grown on the land under Section 12 of the Aboriginal People’s Act of 1954.”

Look closely at Section 12 of the Act which provides that “if any land is excised from any aboriginal area or aboriginal reserve or if any land in any aboriginal area is alienated, granted, leased for any purpose or otherwise disposed of, or if any right or privilege in any aboriginal area or aboriginal reserve granted to any aborigine or aboriginal community is revoked wholly or in part, the State Authority may grant compensation therefore and may pay such compensation to the persons entitled in his opinion thereto or may, if he thinks fit, pay the same to the Director-General to be held by him as a common fund for such persons or for such aboriginal community as shall be directed, and to be administered in such manner as may be prescribed by the Minister.”

According to an Orang Asli from the Pekan settlement, the Act has led to the “systematic discrimination” of the Orang Asli communities in the peninsula.

“We are so tired of this and just want to be treated fairly to cook with clean water and to make sure that our children will be able to enjoy a less normadic upbringing.”

“Under this Act, indigenous Orang Asli have been victims of systematic discrimination and forcible evictions by the state and private companies,” he said.

This is perhaps long-forgotten or maybe not even known but in 1995, the Selangor government forcibly acquired 38 acres of land belonging to 23 families from the indigenous Temuan tribe for the construction of the Nilai-Banting highway linking with the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

It has been reported that their dwelling houses and plantations of oil palm, rubber and fruit trees were indiscriminately destroyed.