The pain and agony suffered by displaced natives in Sarawak in the name of progress must end now.
PETALING JAYA: The photos and videos from the Murum dam blockade site were very revealing.
Little boys running naked around dirty camps. Weathered old men and young brawns with tribal tattoos repairing broken tents.
Women, some with babies against their breast and on their backs, trying to keep the community together with food prepared in makeshift kitchens. And sparse sheets on the ground and over the head keeping away the rain and cold.
It’s distressing shifting through the photos and video images of the Penans who have been camping at the blockade site protesting against the development of the Murum dam.
Imagine these children, displaced and missing out on food, proper medicine and basic education.
For a split second, it didn’t look like these pictures were taken in Sarawak, a state which is part of so-called “moderate” Malaysia.
The photos and videos looked like it was taken from a refugee camp in Burma. The missing element in the picture were soldiers with AK-47 strapped on their shoulders.
The Murum dam construction has left 300 Penan families landless and with no source of livelihood.
The community is still fighting for just compensation.
Initially they were promised a “huge” amount of money by main contractors Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB), a state government linked agency, as compensation to leave their ancestral land.
They were promised a new home with amenities, school, land, cash and access to their communal forests.
But SEB’s “talk”, the Penans claim “keep changing” and the state government is “not on our side”.
The blockades, they said, was their final recourse.
Humiliated at every turn
Since September, the displaced Penans have mounted blockades after blockades at the Murum dam project site, demanding that the SEB and state government recognize their right and loss.
All they want is for the state government and SEB to fulfill their promises.
But instead the natives were humiliated at every turn.
Things came to boil when the frustrated community issued an ultimatum to SEB and followed through by chasing away its workers and locking down the access road into the Murum project site.
They managed to bring work at Murum Dam to a standstill.
Some natives were arrested and taken into police lockups for questioning, while some were accused of staging illegal assemblies.
The issue with natives at Murum dam is not a first time problem for the state government.
Sarawak has three dams to date – Batang Ai, Bakun and now Murum. All three instances offer similar experiences. On the cards are more dams for Sarawak to purportedly cope with the future needs of its Sarawak Corridor for Renewable Energy (SCORE).
Activists knowledgeable about the issues claimed the government appeared not to have learnt from its past experiences and are concerned about the proposed Baram dam project.
Thus far the natives affected by the Baram project claim they have not given their “consent” to the development and activists claim the necessary social and environmental impact studies were not done.
Land is their soul
Besides the ongoing dam construction project, illegal logging is another issue that has been haunting the natives in Sarawak.
Under the Taib Mahmud administration land development policies have resulted in deforestation and ‘reclaim’ of the indigenous communities’ ancestral land.
But for the natives land is their soul and worth more than anything else in this material world. Already the dams have displaced and disorientated thousands of natives.
The Penans, as with the other natives tribes Kayans, Kenyans, Ukits, Ibans and Lahanas, are not against development.
They understand progress and its needs, but want the government to recognize and respect the fact that giving up their land to development is like surrendering their identities.
In the case of the Penans in Murum, they did not just lose their land but they have also been cheated and are demanding fair compensation from the state government and SEB.
In the meantime, we have yet to hear any objection or a call for a settlement from our higher authorities in the Putrajaya.
Does Sarawak have a different set of rules? Is it being governed by a different administration or are they just invincible to Putrajaya?
It’s ironic that our leaders in Putrajaya issue statements decrying human rights violations in other countries and offer to mediate and find solutions to fix the global political turmoil in the Middle East but chose to be blind to issues at their doorstep.
And mind you, we have many issues here in Malaysia from God and infidels to killings and trafficking of organs.
But for here and now the pain and agony suffered by the natives in Sarawak in the name of progress must end.
Every citizen should receive equal and just treatment as stated in our federal constitution.
No one living in ‘abundant’ Malaysia deserves to be treated in such a inhumane manner.
If we can profess to feel the misery the Syrians are facing right now, why can’t we sense the same for our brethren living next door.