Death of Bateq people: We have blood on our hands

Death of Bateq people: We have blood on our hands

PUCHONG: Political cartoonist, Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ulhaque, or popularly known as Zunar came up with a disturbing cartoon piece today depicting the plight of the Bateq tribe in Kuala Koh, Kelantan.

The cartoon shows a mining towkay, standing on top of the skeletal remains of the Orang Asli community, holding up bag cash while laughing.

And Kelantan state government is shown sleeping on the job.

The cartoon depicts exactly the sorry state of affairs the Bateq community had been enduring under unscrupulous mine operators, logging companies and giant plantation owners, who had systematically displaced them from their land, leaving them with little food and water.

And what’s appalling was that complaints over the logging and mining activities affecting the Bateq tribe’s water source and livelihood have been made by non-governmental organisations since 2010 to the Kelantan state government.

And the state government chose to look the other way while all this was happening.

Displaced from their native land, the Bateq community, who live-off the land for generations had no place left to look for food and water, leaving them malnourished and susceptible to disease.

And it took the unfortunate deaths of 14 of them before the federal government actually took notice.

The questions now, could these unfortunate deaths have been avoided in the first place? It appears so.

Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations Malaysia (FPMPAM) had been conducting outreach programmes for the Orang Asli community since 2010 and had been vainly highlighting the appalling state of affairs the indigenous community has been living in.

Even a week before the news of Orang Asli were dying due to mysterious diseases, the association has visited Kuala Koh and what they found was very disturbing.

The community had no running water, which left sanitation at a sorry state. Due to that, the Orang Asli people were suffering from skin diseases. The children were suffering from worm infestation and malnutrition.

“After their land was taken away for plantations, these people were essentially left to fend on their own and were virtually cut off from the resources of the jungle which they had previously depended on for their survival,” said the association.

Centre for Orang Asli Concerns said that just 10 years ago, the Bateq community was healthy and psychologically fit.

“But their land has been taken away, in this case by the Kelantan state government. And their resource base has been destroyed,” Colin Nicholas was reported saying, adding that the villagers used to have a system that enabled them to live off the land.

Johan Halid of Sahabat Jariah, another NGO working with the Bateq community, said even as far back as in 2010, the water source had been polluted due to deforestation in Kuala Koh.

“Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia had sampled the water in the rivers around the village and found the water is contaminated with metals, arsenic and chemicals from the fertilisers. The blasting ingredients are said to be processed near the water source of the village.” Johan was reported saying.

So what is this about Department of Environment (DOE) only now taking water samples from the area to be tested? A case of little too late.

And what has the Kelantan state government done about it?

Well, the Kelantan deputy menteri besar Amar Nik Abdullah told Malay daily Kosmo two days ago that the 14 Bateq people died of mere common infection.

That shows how little understanding and empathy the politician has for the indigenous community.

One thing is for sure. We all have the blood of the dead Bateq people in our hands.

By Hema Subramaniam

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Bateq communitydiseasekelantanneglect