Monday, August 2, 2010

The Fatal Curse of Tempurungism

They say an idle mind is the devil’s workshop and this is especially evident in the case of Malaysian bureaucracy in general and the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli in particular.

I have resided in and around Kampung Pertak for more than 18 years. During this period I have witnessed how the Orang Asli Affairs Department favors diabolical initiatives that strengthen their psychological and political control over the Orang Asli - while creating opportunities for stuffing their own pockets.

Whether it be logging concessions, dam projects, turning ancestral lands into leasehold lots, or tarring roads that lead nowhere (except to environmental degradation), the JHEOA invariably finds a sneaky way to corrupt, oppress, intimidate, exploit and ultimately devour the Orang Asli.

Sagong Tasi of the Temuan tribe wins a landmark lawsuit (courtesy of Suaram)

The JHEOA ought to have been dismantled and abolished 20 years ago, following the surrender of the Malayan Communist Party in 1989. Instead, it became a tool to assimilate the Orang Asli into mainstream Malay culture - by pressuring them to embrace Islam and systematically pillaging their ancestral lands under the guise of kemajuan or “progress.”

Recently there has been talk of the JHEOA being “corporatized” into the Perbadanan Orang Asli (Orang Asli Corporation) using the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) as a model. Blurring the boundary between business and politics facilitates hanky-panky on a massive scale. As we have seen in the case of FELDA, feudal-style top-down management by aristocrat-politicians results in the ignorant peasantry being robbed totally blind without their knowledge. In most cases the public only finds out when it’s already too late because the thefts occur in remote rural areas.

Photo: Colin Nicholas/COAC

This, of course, has been UMNO’s modus operandi since the era of Mahathir and Daim. Leveraging on an atavistic appeal to bangsa and ugama to promote the fascistic notion of Ketuanan Melayu, UMNO warlords have siphoned off a great deal more than 30% of the nation’s wealth since the nefarious NEP was launched in 1970.

The JHEOA – like so many government agencies – has long served the UMNO agenda instead of the Orang Asli’s genuine interests. That’s nothing new. What has become alarmingly obvious is that they no longer bother concealing their narrow self-interests and their deeply ingrained racism.

Photo: Antares

During the Ulu Selangor by-election that ran from April 17-25, the JHEOA openly stage-managed the Barisan Nasional campaign in Orang Asli communities throughout the region. In one or two villages the Orang Asli batin (headman) called the police to prevent Pakatan Rakyat campaigners from entering their settlements.

In Kg Pertak the JHEOA facilitated the entry and encampment of dozens of UMNO campaign workers recruited from various ethno-fascist groups like Pekida and Perkasa. They were annoyed to find Pakatan Rakyat insignia proudly displayed in a couple of houses. What irked them even more was that a bunch of pro-Rakyat bloggers were comfortably embedded in Kg Pertak’s “diplomatic enclave.”

The JHEOA/UMNO faction reportedly handed RM7,000 in cash to one of the village security officers with instructions to distribute it amongst 70 registered voters as incentives to vote BN. I later heard complaints that the money never left the security officer’s pockets. This is how UMNO corrupts the Orang Asli via the JHEOA – by dragging them into the politics of greed, betrayal, and xenophobia.

Photo: Max Koh

On the eve of the by-election, the UMNO contingent instructed a few young Orang Asli to set up a roadblock at the entrance to the village. Later a skirmish broke out and one of the pro-Rakyat bloggers was assaulted by a Pekida thug. When the police arrived on the scene 30 minutes later, the UMNO thugs were nowhere to be seen. This small outbreak of violence was reported in Malaysiakini the next morning. In terms of negative publicity, JHEOA/UMNO came out with a black eye and began plotting revenge.

Xenophobia can also be called tempurungism – a regressive psychomental condition akin to acute jingoitis that commonly afflicts those who have never left the provincial and parochial confines of a monolingual, monocultural matrix. Those suffering from xenophobia have great difficulty accepting people with different linguistic and cultural imprints as close friends or family. They tend to label others as pendatang (immigrants), orang asing (outsiders), or Mat Salleh (Caucasians).

Working through a couple of Orang Asli agents, the JHEOA reactivated its xenophobic agenda by pressuring Asli families who had rented out their houses to “outsiders” to evict their tenants. The Asli were given to understand that the houses they were living in was government property – when in truth it was the dam developer that built the houses.

What the JHEOA had done in 2004 was to cheat the Orang Asli of their ancestral hunting grounds by issuing them 99-year leases instead of formally gazetting the whole area as a permanent Orang Asli Reserve (as promised in 1965). The Orang Asli have never seen a land grant in their life – nor have their ancestors. They don’t understand what a 99-year lease means – but they do know they have very little power over their own destinies as long as the JHEOA exists as an extension of UMNO.