GIVE MEANING TO MALAYSIA DAY
When I was a schoolboy, 16 September was celebrated on a large scale in Ba’ Kelalan but for some reason, it was called Hari IbuBapa. However, the celebrations stopped in the 70’s until we restarted them in 2012.
I remember during the years 1967-1969, many people came from Sabah and Indonesia to join us and take part in the activities. This was a reciprocal event with Long Bawan in Indonesia. The people of Ba’ Kelalan would cross over to Long Bawan on 17 August each year to join in their Hari Augustus (which is their Merdeka day), and on 16 September, the people of Long Bawan would trek over to Ba’ Kelalan to join in our merrymaking.
Our fellow Lun Bawangs from Long Pa’ Sia in Sabah would do the same. I remember it used to take 1 or 1.5 days to walk between Long Pa’ Sia and Long Semadoh, but in those days, the people just took it in their stride.
When we reinstated the 16 September celebrations in 2012, the people of Long Pa’ Sia came with a strong team, which won the cross-country race to Puneng Trusan and back.
This year, villagers from Long Pa’ Sia and 6 villages in Indonesia will be converging in Long Sukang from 14-17 September. Activities planned include football, volleyball, sepak takraw, and cultural events including bamboo band performances, choir competitions and a parade.
This 16 September celebration in Ba’ Kelalan is significant for us as to my knowledge, no other constituency in Malaysia organises and carries out the Malaysia Day celebrations on their own initiative. The Lun Bawangs regarded 16 September 1963 as an important day as it was the day when all Malaysians welcomed the promise of a brighter future for this new federation of Malaysia.
Since the 2010 recognition by the federal government of 16 September as Malaysia Day, many Sarawakians are beginning to take an interest in learning about how Malaysia was formed, and the part played by the Borneo Territories of North Borneo and Sarawak.
With this growing interest, we must do our part in correcting the wrong information that Malaysians had been fed for many years that the Independence Day of Malaysia was 31 August 1957, when it was in fact the Independence Day of Malaya. Sarawak and Sabah (North Borneo then) became equal partners with Malaya and Singapore in the formation of the Federation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963.
Because of this awareness, it is observed by many that fewer Sarawakians are displaying the Jalur Gemilang on 31 August, instead, choosing to do it on 16 September each year. It is important that we acknowledge our actual history and honour it, instead of buying into a manufactured story. Understanding our history helps to unite us in our common identity as Sarawakians, and gives us a clearer sense of the purpose of our forefathers. It is imperative that every one of us understands why they agreed to the formation of Malaysia, what the factors were at play, at what transpired at the negotiations, which culminated in the signing of the Malaysia Agreement. Without understanding history, it is impossible to chart a clear course for Sarawak, as was intended by our ancestors.
On Malaysia Day, it is also timely to remind our Federal and State leaders of the representations and undertakings to Sabah and Sarawak by the Malayan leaders which have remained unfulfilled more than 50 years after the agreement was signed, particularly the promise that we should be elevated to the same level of development as Malaya, as said by Tunku Abdul Rahman: that one of the principal objectives was to further the economic development of the Borneo Territories so that their standards of living and technical skills might be raised, and a firm basis provided for accelerated economic growth, … so that the gap between a relatively backward state and the advanced would be narrowed and not widened.
It is timely that our State leaders be reminded to continue pursuing what is due to us and keep pushing for the unfulfilled promised to be kept. Although our present leaders have made some moves in this regard, we hope that their discussions are not just rhetoric but sincere attempts to get the federal government to give to us what should be ours.
For our Pakatan Harapan leaders, we believe that the promises made to Sabah and Sarawak in the manifesto will be fulfilled in good time if PH should win the next elections. Our leaders have indicated their seriousness and resolve to ensure that what our forefathers had agreed upon and hoped for will be fulfilled within our lifetime. This is my dream, that I will live to see our rights finally being respected.
Malaysia was built on a foundation that is our Federal Constitution, which established the social contract amongst the various peoples of Malaysia. In Professor Shad Faruqi’s words, the Federal Constitution reflected the ‘consciousness of the social, economic, political and ethnic realities of the Malay peninsula’ (and later Sabah and Sarawak). The Federal Constitution recognises that there was a place for everyone in Malaysia.
However over the past few decades, particularly after 1969, race and religion had been used to undermine the social contract. The actions of the UMNO/BN government to entrench the special position of Islam and the Malays, the institutionalised racism via the NEP, the playing on Ketuanan Melayu or Malay supremacy, the setting up of various Islamic bodies such as JAKIM with generous funding, attempts by various groups and bodies to ‘support transformation to a theocratic state’ (in Prof Shad’s words) etc have caused deep polarisation between the Muslims and non-Muslims.
The religious freedom of non-Malays is continually being eroded, highlighted in the Lina Joy case where policy considerations were held to be stronger than law. Since that case, there have been many instances of unilateral conversions, body-snatching, resistance/refusal to allow conversions out of Islam, all of which have rendered the freedom of religion guarantee in the Federal Constitution illusory.
Recently, the fiasco with the RUU355 hudud bill and the removal of s 88A of the bill to amend the Law Reform (Marriage & Divorce) to stop the unilateral conversion of minor children point very clearly to the undeniable fact that the UMNO/BN led government is playing politics with religion, placing no consideration to the rights of non-Muslims. All that matters to them is a win at any cost.
In Sarawak, we are observing the events with distaste with alarm. At the same time, we are asking for our rightful share of our resources and development. In every aspect of progress, we are lagging behind – be it infrastructure, healthcare, educational facilities, economic development, etc, we are at least 20 years behind.
In the face of these challenges, we must have some hope for Malaysia. There are people and groups who are working hard to bring about a change of government so that we can install a government that puts the rights of the people as paramount, upholds the guarantees given in the Federal Constitution, and administers the country with accountability transparency and competency.
In the meantime, we reiterate our call for the State leaders to continue defending and restoring our rights, and to get a better deal for Sarawak. Our national and state political leaders and the judiciary need to focus on the legal and constitutional aspects of issues instead of allowing for other factors to take precedence. The executive arm of government must not pass laws that violate the understanding that was established between the various peoples of Malaysia in the form of the social contract that is the Federal Constitution.
We continue to celebrate Malaysia Day in Ba’ Kelalan constituency, and I am proud that we maintain the spirit of unity among all races and ethnic groups here. We must never lose this spirit of togetherness, which is so much a defining characteristic of our people.
Let us continue to work and pray for a better Malaysia, as envisioned by our forefathers. The commemoration of Malaysia Day will only become truly meaningful if we can fulfil the hopes and aspirations they had in their hearts when they made the decision to become equal partners in the federation to be called Malaysia. Imagine the pride and joy we will feel on that day when we can say that we have made their dreams, and ours, come true. Although it may appear to be a mammoth task, nothing is impossible, and I hope that in the near future, we will be able to honour this day, and the departed ones who made it happen, in a truly joyful, exuberant and jubilant celebration.
God Bless us all, and God Bless Malaysia.
ADUN N81 Ba’ Kelalan / Chairman, KEADILAN Sarawak
14 September 2017