The latest Orang Asli tragedy of 14 Bateq deaths in Kampong Kuala Koh in Gua Musang is proof that the six-decades-old Orang Asli/Orang Asal development policy is an utter failure and the urgent need for a new policy and roadmap for Orang Asli/Orang Asal upliftment.
The 14 Bateq deaths is only the latest tragedy of the six-decades-old Orang Asli/Asal development policy, which had spawned other tragedies like the SK Tohol tragedy in Gua Musang in 2015, where seven school children went missing from school, ending in five deaths while two were found after 47 days in malnourished stage and the Kam Agong tragedy at Long Semadoh in the deep interior of Lawas, Sarawak 17 years ago.
It is most shocking and a great indictment on the authorities concerned, in particular the Kelantan State Government, that they were not aware of the Bateq tragedy resulting in 14 deaths until after more than a month of its first occurrence when Amanah Senator Husam Musa sounded the alarm on June 8, when four deaths took place in the first ten days of May, with the first death occurring on May 2.
Another seven deaths took place in the rest of 21 days in May. Why were the authorities, in particular the Kelantan State Government, so negligent and remiss as to be cut off from the Bateq tribe in Kg Kuala Koh to the extent that they knew nothing about the death epidemic claiming eleven lives in May?
Long-time activist Colin Nicholas, the executive director of the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC), said the Bateq problem is not medical, but a direct result of what happens when people’s rights to their customary lands are not recognised and that land is destroyed.
He told Malaysiakini:
“Just seven to 10 years ago, if you visited them they were perfectly healthy and psychologically happy.
“But their land has been taken away, in this case by the Kelantan state government. And their resource base has been destroyed.”
Without access to their traditional way of life, they became malnourished and underweight, lowering their resistance and many diseases became fatal.
“With their resistance low, many diseases – whether it’s pneumonia or tuberculosis, or even diarrhea – can be fatal.”
In April this year, the Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad launched the Conference “Upholding the Rights of the Orang Asli” in Putrajaya.
The Bateq tragedy is a serious reminder to the Conference organisers of the urgency that the authorities must craft a new policy and roadmap for the upliftment of the Orang Asli/Orang Asal communities in the country, so that Bateq tragedy and the SK Tohol tragedy in Gua Musang and the Kam Agong tragedy in Lawas will never recur.
Is the Federal Government able to inform Members of Parliament of such a new policy and roadmap for Orang Asli/Orang Asal upliftment in the July meeting of Parliament?