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The death of Bateqs

  • These people were living happily and healthily here before the loggers, miners and planters trampled their land over a decade ago. Photo courtesy: Bernama

By TAY TIAN YAN
Sin Chew Daily

The only time when the most modest traces of care and concern fell upon Malaysia's aborigines was during the Cameron Highlands by-election campaign.

Still remember how politicians swore to improve the infrastructure for them, restoring their crumbling abodes, providing them better education opportunities and even hosting an Orangasli convention for them?

The uninitiated might be forgiven for thinking that being the purest natives of this land, they should be the blue-eyed boys of our government.

Within the half a year since the by-election, 14 aborigines in Kelantan have died mysteriously.

The incident serves to illustrate the fact that the indigenous people on Peninsular Malaysia are the neglected and forsaken lot, while also exposing the lies our politicians have made to them.

The cause of the death of these Bateq tribesmen is yet to be conclusively determined.

NGOs said it was due to water contamination because of quarrying activities upstream. However, the Kelantan government said it had nothing to do with river pollution but an airborne virus causing pneumonia in the victims.

Some volunteers serving the village claimed that villagers had been suffering from malnutrition and poor health as a result of chronic food shortage.

A voluntary doctor recently visiting the tribe saw for himself the pathetic conditions of the tribespeople. He said there might be a host of reasons for the deaths but most importantly, they died of being neglected.

When the doctor first set foot on the village, he found that nearly all the children there were infested with worms and were severely undernourished.

There is no clean water supply in the village whose residents suffer from widespread illnesses, especially those of respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, and skin.

Even Tok Batin (village chief) and his brothers have just died of poor health.

In short, the village is no longer fit for human habitation.

NGO members who have served the tribesmen said they were not surprised by the mass deaths given the terrible hygienic conditions of the village.

Large scale logging, planting and quarrying activities have infringed their living spaces, destroying the forest resources they rely for mere survival and contaminating the river that flows through their village.

The Orangasli's ecosystem is already very vulnerable, and once their living environment is destroyed, their food chain disrupted, their health will be in peril.

These people were living happily and healthily here before the loggers, miners and planters trampled their land over a decade ago.

If not for the revelation by NGOs and civilian medical teams and the subsequent media reports, the federal and state governments will very much remain either ignorant or indifferent.

The deputy prime minister only called the first ever emergency meeting as late as yesterday, as if the tragedy does not warrant a more urgent action.

As for the government, political parties and politicians who have vowed to fight for their well-being, I doubt they have done anything for them.

To increase their revenue, they continue to issue logging, mining and plantation permits. They turned a deaf ear to the appeals of the tribesmen when they pleaded for their right of survival. And when the the tribesmen tried to stop the intruders, they were dispersed by force.

The government has dumped in immeasurable resources to help the bumiputras, including drastically expanding the matriculation intake, offering salary subsidies for fresh graduates and even generously providing shelter for the Rohingyas from Myanmar as well as scholarships for the Palestinians.

But, what has it done for Orangaslis, the children of this land?

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