No place for Ibans and Bidayuhs in Sarawak
Wed, 25 Aug 2010 06:00
By Maclean Patrick
COMMENT The American Indians are considered a nation within a nation. Ask and they will refer to themselves as being part of the American Indian Nation. They have customary rights over tracts of land and can govern and set up businesses to finance their own reservations. Interestingly, the American Indian Nation is composed of a collection of distinct tribes, states and ethnic groups, many of whom are intact political communities. Various bills and laws are in effect to protect the indigenous peoples of North America living within the confines of the 50 states that make up the United States of America. Though they are proud of their ethnic heritage, collectively they are known as American Indians.
This is America. Often times demonised by Malaysia, yet it is still civilised enough to safeguard the rights of the people living within its boundaries.
This is Sarawak, where Ibans and Bidayuhs are not recognised as citizens, let alone as natives of Sarawak.
Don’t believe me? The following is taken from the Federal Constitution:
Article 161a of the Federal Constitution
In this Article native means:
(a) in relation to Sarawak, a person who is a citizen and either belongs to one of the races specified in Clause (7) as indigenous to the State or is a mixed blood deriving exclusively from those races;
(b) in relation to Sabah, a person who is a citizen, is the child or grandchild of a person of a race indigenous to Sabah, and was born (whether on or after Malaysia Day or not) either in Sabah or to a father domiciled in Sabah at the time of the birth.
(7) The races to be treated for the purposes of the definition of native in clause (6) as indigenous to Sarawak are the Bukitans, Bisayahs, Dusuns, Sea Dayaks, Land Dayaks, Kadayans, Kelabit, Kayans, Kenyahs (including Sekapans, Kejamans, Lahanans, Punans, Tanjongs dan Kanowits), Lugats, Lisums, Malays, Melanaus, Muruts, Penans, Sians, Tagals, Tabuns and Ukits.
There is no mention of Ibans or Bidayuh(s). In fact, Iban(s) are classified as Sea Dayaks and the Bidayuh(s) are classified as Land Dayaks. Keep this distinction in mind.
Fast forward to the present day.
An amendment was made to the Sarawak Interpretation Ordinance 2004, which in effect declassified the word Dayak. Thus, the terms Sea Dayaks and Land Dayaks do not have nor hold any meaning whatsoever. And in a stroke of pure idiocy by the august house (the State Legislative Assembly) of Sarawak, two native groups were wiped off the face of the earth – at least in the reading of the Federal Constitution. Two ethnic groups are now rendered non-existent.
With that, the Sea Dayaks and Land Dayaks lose all rights within Sarawak. In one stroke, the Sea Dayaks and Land Dayaks are a nameless entity; we are worse off than the American Indians. It would have been better for the Sea Dayaks and the Land Dayaks to go the way of the Dodo – extinction merits a mention in the history books. But the Sea Dayaks and Land Dayaks are very much alive and form the majority ethnic groups in Sarawak.
How then can a majority group like the Ibans and Bidayuhs be rendered helplessly non-existent in their native land?
Entity without a nation
I am an Iban, my parents are both Ibans and I can trace my ancestry to the early Iban migration up the Kepuas river into Sarawak; and this reading of the rules of the land of Malaysia has rendered me an entity without a nation. And this disaster does not just befell me but the generations after me.
Where then do I stand as a legal citizen of Malaysia? What claims to citizenship can I make since I am effectively unknown in the eyes of the Federal Consitution? It is impossible to imagine a citizen who is not recognised as a citizen of the land upon which he/she was born. So what am I? What manner of logic did the Dayak leaders, voted into office by the Dayak people, use to rationalise and support the declassification of the term Dayak?
If we were to go along with the logic of allowing the right for one to claim his own ethnic identity, thus in declassifying the Dayak term, the Federal Constitution should have also been amended in order to reflect the use of the more specific Iban and Bidayuh term. But no amendment was made to the Federal Constitution to insert the specific term Iban and Bidayuh to replace the now defunct Sea Dayak and Land Dayak terms.
The implications of the amendment to the Sarawak Interpretation Ordinance 2004 are clearly visible and telling if it is read along with the interpretation used by the Student Intake Management Division, Higher Learning Department and Higher Education Ministry to classify what constitute a Bumiputera. This definition is used to vet the suitability of Sarawakian students for entry into institutions of higher learning. It was promptly used in the incident where 17-year-old Marina Undau was deemed not eligible for entry into a matriculation programme because she was not a Bumiputera.
Their definition is as follows:
If either parent of a candidate is a Malay who is a Muslim/Orang Asli as defined in Article 160 (2) of the Federal Constitution, the child is considered a Bumiputera.
Sabah If the father of the candidate is a Malay who is a Muslim/native of Sabah as defined by Article 161A(6)(a) of the Federal Constitution, the child is considered a Bumiputera.
Sarawak If the father and mother are natives of Sarawak as defined under Article 161A(6)(b) of the Federal Constitution, the child is considered a Bumiputera.
Take this definition and read it against the Federal Constitution and the amended Sarawak Interpretation Ordinance 2004 and Ibans and Bidayuhs are classified non-Bumiputera.
In order to be a Bumiputera, you must first be a native of Sarawak. But according to the amended Sarawak Interpretation Ordinance 2004, Ibans and Bidayuhs are not natives of Sarawak.
This is a clear case of a government that has failed to look into the welfare of the people living within its borders. Instead, it is a government that has robbed a living group of peoples their identity, their rights, and ultimately their dignity. I hope the elected leaders of Sarawak are proud of what they have done; because I am sure not.
Maclean Patrick, a webmaster in Kuching, is a contributor to FreeMalaysiaToday.
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