Orang Asli activist Ramesh Arumugam Chettiar wants the government to suspend tok batin (village heads) who flee their villages to avoid Covid-19 rather than lead their people during times of crisis.
Ramesh, who is founder of Koperasi Pembangunan Orang Asli, claimed that there were some selfish tok batin who abandoned their posts to go to the jungle and only surface to withdraw their monthly allowances from Jakoa.
“I want the government to suspend all these selfish tok batins.
“They were supposed to lead by example and ensure the lives of the residents they lead are protected.
“But here, they ran first, only to come out to nearby towns to withdraw their monthly allowances,” he said in a statement.
Since news of the Covid-19 pandemic reaching Malaysian shores last year, there have been many reports of Orang Asli retreating into the forest as a natural form of self-isolation.
Experts say that with the more mobile and nomadic Orang Asli tribes – the traditional way of resolving an epidemic is to just abandon one’s village and go to the forest.
However, Ramesh feels that this tendency, combined with the poor take-up of vaccination among the Orang Asli, is likely to have negative consequences.
“Why the slow pace in vaccination programmes for the Orang Asli?
“Jakoa needs to remedy the circumventing of information on Covid-19 and the safety net provided by vaccination programmes immediately as many Orang Asli had run away to nearby jungles out of fear.”
He suggested that the Health Ministry use nurses from the same tribes to help vaccinate the communities.
“If the community is Semai then use a Semai tribe nurse, hence, they will understand the importance of vaccination and the different degree of dangers of Covid-19.”
He said once a community decides to leave its village for the jungle, tracking becomes almost impossible and the virus could spread uncontrollably.
Ramesh also questioned whether the government may have to resort to mandatory vaccines for the Orang Asli communities that have fled.
“The immediate solution is to make it mandatory for all Orang Asli to be vaccinated. Too many negative viral news items created fear amongst the Orang Asli,” he said.
Poor EMCO conditions
Ramesh also questioned the conditions for the Orang Asli who were in 23 villages placed under the emergency movement control order (MCO) at Batang Padang district of Perak, which includes towns like Tapah, Bidor and Sungkai.
The enhanced MCO was implemented from Aug 11 to Aug 24.
“If you test positive subsequently, you will be transferred to a Covid-19 treatment and quarantine centre at Sungkai, which is already very full.
“If you are a close contact, then a wrist band is put onto your wrist and you are to be quarantined at your own home.
“Why doesn’t the government place all these close contact Orang Asli into a hall or separate them from their other family members?
“As generally in a home of Orang Asli, there are about approximately eight to 15 people living together, with no rooms, just an open space,” said Ramesh, arguing that it was impossible to implement quarantine in such circumstances.
Malaysiakini reported that during the enhanced MCO, residents of Kampung Gedung and Kampung Chang Lama, Sungai Gepai claimed to have been barred from leaving their villages to buy food from nearby Bidor town.
This is because they share the only road leading to the town with other Orang Asli villages that were under the enhanced MCO.
The residents claimed that while Kampung Senta, Kampung Chang Baru, and Kampung Sanding were eligible for food aid during the enhanced MCO period, Kampung Gedung and Kampung Chang Lama were not.