Mah Meri in Bagan Lalang to be evicted from their homes
THE stakeholders should be consulted first before any decision regarding the Mah Meri indigenous tribe is taken. Emphasising this, President of PEKA Malaysia, Puan Sri Shariffa Sabrina said it was inhumane to evict the Orang Asli during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Selangor government should allocate land that is not too far from their present settlement,” said Shariffa.
“But even before they do that, the government must speak with the community first. Find out if the area is okay for them to carry out their activities and tradition. They cannot simply put them next to the treatment plant.
“They have to find out what kind of area they can live in. Maybe a place near the beach where they can do their Puja Pantai as this has always been the tribe’s tradition.
“They should then gazette the land as Tanah Adat and help build roads, utilities, houses and other facilities like a school.”
A Selangor GLC, Permodalan Negeri Selangor Berhad (PNSB), recently served the Mah Mari community an eviction notice to vacate the land in Bagan Lalang. The one-month notice was dated Apr 21, 2021.
The community had occupied the land since 20 years ago. PNSB, apparently, wants to turn the area into a tourist spot. Hence, the question: Why do we need another tourist attraction during these pandemic times?
Shariffa is all for development. But at what cost, she asked. The Malaysian tourism industry is barely surviving since the pandemic hit Malaysia last march.
Refugees in their own land
“The Malaysian and Selangor governments should celebrate the colourful lifestyle of the Mah Meri and their unique ways of celebration and traditions. That would be better than asking them to move.
“Even if you give them more time, what are they supposed to do? Where will they live now? Will they be forced into a squatter area? And perhaps, in three to four years, or decades down the line, only to be forced out again?
“We are defending and fighting for the rights of Palestinians thousands of miles away. But we seem to have the same refugee status issues in Selangor. This should be our priority, don’t you think?” she argued.
Shariffa said she recognised the State government had the legal right over the land. But she appealed to their good conscience to find reasonable and permanent solutions to the Mah Meri community’s woes and the Orang Asli in general.
As a person who works closely with the Orang Asli community nationwide, she said the community was undoubtedly the most significant contributor to nature preservation. They have their own earth-friendly practices to live with nature in a very sustainable way.
“They know how to navigate the forest. They know how important the forest is. It is in their souls and DNA to take care of the forest,” added Shariffa.
Lawyer-activist Siti Kasim is the chairperson of Orang Asli Committee under the Bar Council regarding this Mah Meri issue. She and her team visited the affected families in Bagan Lalang to advise them on their rights.
She said the committee would only meet the Orang Asli when they are approached for help. This is because they do not want to be branded as “instigators”.
When asked about the next move for the affected families, she replied: “I’m not sure about that as that is really up to their decision. When we met them recently, it was merely to explain what ‘Tanah Wilayah Adat’ means. We believe that they are not fully aware of the meaning of ancestral land under the law.”
Fulfil the requirements of ‘Tanah Adat’
According to the lawyer, the Mah Meri people who have resided in that part of Bagan Lalang since 20 years ago seem to fulfil the requirements of “ancestral land”.
“It seems they have always been in control and using that area of land. As for the definition of ancestral land under the law, the Orang Asli must show that they are in continuous use and in control of the part of the land.
“It seems like they do. It is not about building houses. It is about using the area and the surrounding continuously. They have always used that area to go to the sea etc. They kind of fulfilled the requirements with regards to the definition of ancestral land.
“We leave the decision to them and advise them what they need to do if they want to take matters to court to challenge the State government.”
She highlighted it was important for the Selangor government to consult the community first before pursuing the matter.
Orang Asli and their unique connection with nature
When asked if monetary compensation was needed by the Orang Asli community whenever there’s a land dispute, Siti Kasim said the Orang Asli’s relationship with the land differed from general perception.
“They have a very close connection with nature spiritually. Even though they have converted to Islam just like how most Mah Meri people did, they still have enormous respect for nature.”
She further emphasised that even though some of them have 9 -5 jobs like other people, they were still very connected to nature. This showed they had a different idea of what is important to them with regards to land matters.
Solution for the neverending issue of ancestral land
Siti Kasim emphasised the importance of having a good government that truly understands the culture and lifestyle of the Orang Asli community. She said that many recommendations regarding ancestral land have been submitted to the government by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM).
So, the government is the only one that can put an end to the issue. Siti also shared that people who wished to contribute to the Orang Asli community can do so by donating to the Bar Council’s account to help the committee fight for their rights. — @Forest