Landmark victory for Orang Asli after customary land dispute win

Source: The Malay Mail Online

Bah Kana says the community is relieved the land now belongs to them. — Picture by Farhan Najib

BIDOR, Oct 5 — The Orang Asli of Kampung Orang Asli Kuala Senta can finally heave a sigh of relief after the Ipoh High Court  ruled a vast parcel of forested land belonged to them.

After more than five years of feud with a private company and land authorities over their tanah adat, or customary land, the High Court’s landmark decision last Wednesday was a vital victory for the community.

The court ruled parts of the forested land alienated to Bionest Corp Sdn Bhd be returned to the 575 members of the Semai tribe, also known as Seng’oi.

Kampung Orang Asli Kuala Senta village chief, Bah Kana Bah Ngah, 50, said villagers hunted, farmed and gathered forest produce on the customary land.

“Our lives depend on the land. It is where we get our food, medicine and the materials we use to built our home,” he said.

“We were worried we would lose the land. It is a relief we can now say it legally belongs to us.”

The villagers’ ordeal began in 2010 when workers from Bionest began encroaching on the land, estimated at more than 2,000ha.

After the villagers refused them access, the company filed a suit against the community September last year to evict them.

The villagers counter-filed a suit against the Perak Land and Mines director, the state government and Bionest.

They sought declarations from the court the property was customary land belonging to the villagers.

High Court judge Datuk Che Mohd Ruzina Ghazah, on Wednesday, said the alienation was null and void, and that the land  be gazetted as an Orang Asli reserve.

Kong Chee Wai, also known as Bah Wai, 45, was relieve the land, which had been the source of the villagers’ livelihood, had been declared theirs.

“I plant rubber and oil palm on the land and it is my only source of income. If it is taken away, I would have nothing left to feed my family,” he said.

“Many of our sacred spots are also located on the land. It is comforting to know that we will be able to teach our children and grandchildren about these spots.”

Rafidzah Bah Ali, 35, hoped the legal victory would inspire other Orang Asli communities to stand up for their rights.

“The state government must do a better job to protect our rights,” she said.

It is learnt the state authorities were ordered to determine the size of the land and gazette it as an Orang Asli reserve.

The land title given to Bionest was ordered to be returned to the Land Office to be cancelled.


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