Ahad, 3 April 2011

Sarawakians: What more should they ask for?

Written by Rama Ramanathan

Sarawakians: What more should they ask for? My brother and I were on a jambu tree. We were munching on the crunchy red fruit. Life was good. Sweet juice was running down our chins, cheeks and hands. We thought we had chosen our positions carefully. We thought we would not be food for red ants. We were wrong. Soon we were smacking the ants. First the ones on our bodies. Then the ones on the branches. Next we jumped off. We ran away. We ranted.
That scene from my childhood came to mind when I saw a video about Rumah Nyawin, a 12 door longhouse near Bintulu, with 120 residents.
On 04 January 2007, hundreds of uniformed officers from the Land and Survey (L & S) Department and tens of policemen arrived. Bulldozers and chainsaws were deployed.
The longhouse was demolished. The residents were weeping. Some, just made homeless, gathered to pray. Rubble remained. Soon they were living in tents.
The presentation was designed to grab the emotions. I wept.
I stewed in my anger for a week. Then, I did some research.
On 04 October 2006, the Government of Sarawak issued a 30-day eviction notice to the residents of the longhouse. The basis was that the land belonged to the state, and the state had given the land to MARDI (Malaysia Agriculture Research Institute).

The tuai rumah or headman was 49 year old Nyawin Ganing. After the demolition and eviction, Nyawin accepted the help of Borneo Project, Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA) and other non-government groups to organize against the eviction.
Nyawin instructed the law firm of Baru Bian to apply to the High Court to set aside the eviction order.
30 days later, the expected demolition and eviction did not occur.
When queried, the Bintulu L & S Department said a decision would be made by their superiors in Kuching. Their verbal response was that a court decision would be sought.
Since the courts were notorious for delays, especially in land matters, the residents took this to mean that no action was expected for years. They were relieved.
It didn't happen in November. It didn't happen in December. It happened in January. According to the residents, it began without notice, at 8 am, on 04 January 2007.
Before the demolition and eviction the L & S Department and MARDI attempted to negotiate a settlement with the residents, through the headman, Nyawin.
Some say each “door” of the longhouse was offered five acres of land in return for surrender, but either the headman or “a minority” in the longhouse had refused.
So matters came to a head. In two hours, the 20 year old longhouse was demolished.
The residents sheltered under tarpaulin during heavy rains.
They lived off charity. Their land, their livelihood, had been taken away from them.
In April 2009, the NST carried a report which mentioned the Rumah Nyawin demolition and eviction two years earlier.
Nyawin Ganing was featured, campaigning for Malcolm Mussim Lamoh, a BN candidate.
Nyawin was speaking to residents of a “new longhouse,” to indigenous people who had been relocated in order to make way for the Batang Ai Hydro-electric Dam.
Nyawin said that after the demolition and eviction, he was asked to meet the Chief Minister of Sarawak, Taib Mahmud, because “He wanted to hear my people's grievances.”
The article did not report the interval between the demolition/eviction and the meeting.
Nyawin left happy two days later because the outcome was that “we were given a 2.5 hectare piece of land to rebuild our longhouse and 240 hectares of land for farming.”
Nyawin said the New Rumah Nyawin is situated 24 kilometres from the original site, has 16 doors and a tarred road leading up to it.
Nyawin asked: “What more can we ask for?”
Had my emotions been messed with? Should the video have included at least some mention of what eventually happened?
I know about attention spans; saying everything needs space and time. I know stuff is produced for an immediate purpose, and is not updated for lack of time or urgency.
The facts of the case raise many questions, not the least of which are:
1. When there is political will to “bring development,” how do you acquire land?
2. Who owns the land in Sarawak? On what basis can a state claim to own land?
3. How do people without written records prove their rights over land?
4. How is a longhouse headman “legitimately appointed?” What are “minority rights” within a longhouse?
5. How do we protect against selective re-telling of stories? [I doubt the “good ending” would have occurred without public local and international shaming of the authorities – by NGO's and by “opposition” groups.]
I'm glad I watched the video. I know my conscience is intact and I can tell right from wrong.
As I consider the vast gap between the rich and the poor in Sarawak, and as I consider the character of the UMNO-BN government, I continue wishing for change.
There is a very high level of poverty.
UMNO-BN politicians are incredibly wealthy. Not just Taib Mahmud and his immediate and extended family; all of them.
UMNO-BN politicians don't care about justice; they trample over the rights of citizens; they ride rough-shod over the populace.
UNNO-BN is pushing for a verdict of suicide in the Teoh Beng Hock case.
UNNO-BN interferes in the ability of elected representatives to function effectively.
UMNO-BN bends to the will of bigots in groups like PERKASA.
UNNO-BN leaders are busy acquiring and displaying wealth.
UNNO-BN refuses to accept prior agreements with respect to Bibles.
UNNO-BN leaders say respected Christian leaders are arrogant and belligerent.
UMNO-BN refuses to respect the “unique status” of Sarawak in the 18 point agreement.
UMNO-BN politicians . . . okay, enough already.
I put the jambu tree side-by-side with the demolition and eviction on 04 January 2007. I ask myself, who are the ants? The indigenous people or the UMNO-BN government?
What more can we ask for? This is all I ask for:
A government built on justice, not greed or speed. A government which “does the right thing” because it wants to, not because it's been found out and shamed.
What do you ask for?

Tiada ulasan:

Catat Ulasan