By Keruah Usit
ANTIDOTE“This is my message. We must all change, open our eyes now. Think about it. All of us have suffered. Our land, our world has been taken away, not just in Melikin, but everywhere, in Sibu, Kapit, Sri Aman, Batang Rajang, Baram.
“All of it has been taken by other people. It’s because of this that we, the people, suffer,” said Surik anak Muntai, an elderly defender of native customary rights (NCR) to land in Sarawak.
Surik, 66, had his right forearm and both legs hacked off with machetes by four men on March 15, as he waited for his wife and son outside Sekolah Sungai Menyan, Serian, located just over an hour’s drive from Kuching.
He also suffered a fractured forearm and broken knee caps, and lost more than a litre of blood.
Surik’s attackers remain at large, despite him having identified at least one of them to the police as an “executive” with an oil palm company.
The state government of Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud awarded two companies a provisional lease to 7,300 hectares of land in Melikin that 16 local Iban communities have claimed as their NCR land. The natives have sued the companies, United Teamtrade and Memaju Jaya, as well as the state government.
According to a well-placed source, the police claimed that Surik, after the savage attack, declined to sign his police report naming the suspect. His lawyers are trying to shore up Surik’s faith in the police, and are arranging for Surik to sign a new report.
A suppressed report on NCR land rights in Sarawak and Sabah by the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), has been leaked to activist website Sarawak Report.
The document records “complaints on the use of thugs by companies, and biased police and Police Field Force personnel to threaten people. Community organisations and NGOs who assist communities with their claims or complaints are constantly harassed by Special Branch police”.
Surik broken, but unbowed
Surik sat up on his bed, both legs wrapped in casts and bandages. He was broken, but unwilling to bend. He had a kindly old man’s gaze and smile, but his tone was unyielding.
He urged Sarawak’s natives to stand up to defend their ancestral NCR lands, as guaranteed to them under the federal constitution, the State Land Code and the customary laws of the Dayak community.
“We have been pressured, squeezed out by our chief minister,” he told Malaysiakini, waving his healing right forearm. “Our lands have all been sold to the big companies. Even if the company doesn’t work on it, it is already sold off to the company.”
He noted, bitterly, that neither his BN state assemblyperson Snowdan Lawan, nor any other BN representative, had visited him in hospital. “What is Snowdan good at? He’s good at playing his guitar.”
Surik added that the BN had made a difficult life even worse for the Melikin farmers. The Iban villagers turned to their elected BN representatives when their land was taken by the two oil palm companies.
However, thanks to the companies’ connections with members of Taib’s state cabinet, the authorities have also stepped in to harass the villagers instead.
“What did we get from the BN?” asked Surik’s wife, Rosni Langap, 53, a Kadazan woman from Sabah.
“Our farms were taken away by the BN, not just our NCR land. Even our rice paddies, oil palm, rubber trees, fruit orchards, were all completely destroyed, without (them) even talking to us.
“Even our longhouse was threatened. Is that a government we should support? Is that a government we should embrace for the rest of our lives?” Rosni asked
She ridiculed the BN’s promises over the half a centuryof its rule. “We have no electricity or (treated) water, up to today. We’d be drinking from a ditch, if all of us villagers hadn’t worked together to make a (gravity feed) for water supply from the mountain.
“What did BN provide us? They trespassed on our land. Our village head became rich, but the ordinary people suffered.”
Roads that are like ‘wild boar trails’
“Our roads are like jalan babi hutan (wild boar trails),” Surik frowned. “All of (the BN politicians) have not helped us.The BN government will not even notice me, if not for the opposition parties.
“These are the ones (PKR and DAP) we’re going to vote for (as) our government, our new government. We must fully support the opposition parties, because they’re good to the people.”
Surik said he had endured four surgeries on his body. His fractured bones had been set, and a flap of muscle from his leg had been fashioned to cover a gaping wound over his right knee.
He will have to really struggle to walk again, having spent more than a month in bed.
“My forearm that was broken, it feels better now, only that I am not able to grip properly with it. But I feel it has healed,” Surik said as he waved both arms in the air. “I don’t know when I can start working… I hope I can walk, but I don’t think I can work.
“So my wife will have to provide for me, if she can. If she can’t, then I don’t have anyone to take care of me…
“My son is only seven years old, in Primary One. My other daughter, she has two of her own children. How can she provide for me when she has to take care of her own children?”
Rosni (left) remained by her husband’s side throughout his hospitalisation.
“Since my husband was admitted to hospital,we’ve had many difficulties. If not for assistance from DAP and PKR , we would have suffered more.
“I’m not saying BN (politicians) are evil… but they’ve never even showed their faces (in hospital). My message to people from Sarawak, from Sabah, is: please support PKR, DAP, to ease the people’s hardship,” Rosni said. – Mkini
KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist – ‘anak Sarawak, bangsa Malaysia’. This weekly column is an effort to provide a voice for marginalised Malaysians. Keruah Usit can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org