1 JUNE 2014
MAINTAINING RACIAL HARMONY AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AMIDST GAWAI CELEBRATIONS
Each 1 June, we celebrate the great harvest festival by thanking God who is the giver of all blessings for providing us with a good padi harvest for yet another year. In the past we celebrated the spirit of the gods in the community after the harvesting season. In the modern context, how do we celebrate and for those of us who do not farm anymore, what do we celebrate? Can it be the fruits of our hard labour, our share of the economic pie? Many people are facing the challenge of making ends meet and many are living hand to mouth. We have been told that the number of poor people registered in Sarawak has increased this year, even as the new governor repeats his delusional claim that by the end of next year, we will achieve the per capita income that will put us in the category of a developed state. If the rich continue to increase their wealth, it is possible that per capita income will increase, but what is the point of being pushed into a better category if the income gap is widening and the poor have little opportunities to climb out of the poverty trap? We must put greater emphasis on having a more equitable distribution of income rather than on the per capita income statistic.
Besides the economic challenge, we are witnessing challenges to the racial harmony and religious freedom that we have enjoyed for many decades. The political scenario is such that the majority of local leaders do not have the moral courage to make clear stands on issues and incidences which threaten the cohesiveness of our multiracial and multicultural society. Incidences such as the storming of the Penang State Assembly and the anti-Christian seminar at UiTM are the latest in a series of events which are of serious concern to us in Sarawak who are anxious to prevent similar incidences from happening here. Indeed, we have been told of an incident in Balai Ringin which was alleged to have been an attempt at Islamisation of schoolchildren by a religious NGO. Added to that, the decision in the Herald case is beginning to affect us, contrary to the assurances given by those such as Richard Riot and Joseph Kurup that it would not. My fears have been justified as seen in the recent High Court case where the judge applied the ruling in the Herald case to the SIB Church. This debacle is the result of political bias and inconsistency, where leaders are more concerned about their political survival than about speaking up for the rights of the minority groups.
Closer to home, the people of Sarawak woke up one morning this week to discover that the former CM, whose name is tainted by allegations of corruption and who has had numerous MACC reports lodged against him, had been awarded a Tunship by the Agong. Questions arise as to the results of the investigations carried out by the MACC and as to why the award was seemingly kept under wraps until it was a fait accompli. Could it be to avoid the embarrassment of protests against the award to a man whose immense wealth is believed to be at the expense of the people of the state?
Many people are weary; Malaysia is no longer the safe, secure and harmonious nation it once was, where we could bring up our children with peace of mind and confidence that they would be given equal rights and protection by the government of the day. The descendants of those immigrants who toiled hard to contribute to the development of this nation are being labeled ‘pendatang’ and rudely told to leave the country. Indeed, many are wondering what the future holds for their children here. Our celebration of Gawai would be more meaningful if we had courageous and righteous leaders who are not afraid to right the wrongs and injustices that continue to be committed daily, to give us the hope of better days ahead. This Gawai, I wish to call for a new resolve by all Sarawakians and our leaders to be courageous in the face of the many challenges faced by our communities and to speak up for our rights with one voice.
Notwithstanding the rather somber foregoing paragraphs, I firmly believe that our Sarawakian communities still enjoy a special harmonious relationship with each other, each respecting the other’s cultural and religious rights. Our ties and our spirit remain strong. I have just returned from a victory Gawai celebration in Suai, where the villagers held a thanksgiving ceremony for the successful claim of their native customary rights. This Gawai, let us not forget our roots and our ties to the land. Like all indigenous communities in the world, we value our relationship to the land and the sea and the resources they provide. I wish to quote from an Alaskan Native, Antionette Helmer who said ‘The land we hold in trust is our wealth. It is the only wealth we could possibly pass on to our children… Without our homelands, we become true paupers.’
Therefore, as we offer thanksgiving for our harvests, let us also continue to protect our rights, be they rights to our land, or to religious freedom, or to coexist in peace and harmony. Let us continue to speak up for our brothers and sisters who find themselves in need of our support, as we in Sarawak have been known to do. For as Pastor Martin Niemöller who lived during the cruel regime of Nazi Germany, famously said:
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a communist; Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a socialist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me— and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
I wish all our Dayak friends a safe and blessed Gawai.
“Gayu-guru, Gerai nyamai.”
ADUN N70 Ba’ Kelalan