Give us ‘Dayak’ or we’ll rally again, Sarawak activist says despite race column change

 Sarawakian Peter John Jaban wants the government to place a Dayak check box as an ethnicity on all official forms instead of the umbrella term “Sarawak Bumiputera”.

By SULOK TAWIE | Published: January 28, 2015 07:51 PM

KUCHING, Jan 28 — Sarawakian Peter John Jaban wants the government to place a Dayak check box as an ethnicity on all official forms instead of the umbrella term “Sarawak Bumiputera”.

The pint-sized human rights activist, the main organiser behind the giant rally in the Sarawak state capital last month, has threatened to hold an even bigger gathering if the government doesn’t make the switch.

“The term Sarawak Bumiputera is meaningless to us non-Malays because it does not depict our actual identity.

“We want to be recognised as Dayak, not Sarawak Bumiputera, to indicate that the Dayak is a majority community, not only in Sarawak, but also in the whole of Borneo,” he said in a recent interview.

According to Jaban, there are between 18 million and 20 million Dayaks in over 300 ethnic groups in the whole of the island of Borneo sharing a common heritage despite having differences.

He said the term “Sarawak Bumiputera” was created for political expediency by the Barisan Nasional (BN) federal government to unite the non-Malay natives of Sarawak, which also includes the Melanau, many of whom are Christian, but he disagreed that it had accomplished its intended goal.

“Bumiputera has no meaning for the Dayak. It was first promoted by the second Prime Minister, the late Tun Razak Hussein, a Malay from Peninsular Malaysia.

“So, how can this be the correct term to describe the Dayak when it is not their history or their heritage?” he asked.

Jaban has been trying for years to get the government to drop the “lain-lain” (others) race category on official forms.

As a last resort, the former radio presenter with Radio Free Sarawak rallied the indigenous communities statewide to gather at Padang Merdeka here last month, to protest the “lain-lain” label forced upon them.

The rally was attended by thousands who marched for 3km around Kuching on December 12 last year and signed a petition lobbying the Sarawak government to drop the racial category they deem offensive.

Three days later, Jaban led a small delegation to Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem’s office in Petra Jaya to hand over the petitions pushing for change.

It took a few more weeks, but Adenan finally announced last week that his state administration was replacing the “lain-lain” column with “Sarawak Bumiputera”, which Jaban and other Dayak-category lobbyists are unhappy about.

But not everyone shared Jaban’s view.

Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian is among those who see nothing wrong or offensive with using the term “Sarawak Bumiputera” to denote the non-Muslim indigenous communities of Malaysia’s biggest state.

“Though it is political in nature, it is better than lain-lain,” he said, explaining that the term Sarawak Bumiputera is more precise as it provides a chance for natives to fill in their respective ethnic group.

Baru’s beef, however, was with the way Sarawak natives were being treated, as if they were second-class citizens.

“The bottom line of the change from lain-lain to Sarawak Bumiputera is not important. It is how we, the indigenous communities, are being treated, in terms of almost everything, from scholarships, places in local institutions of higher learning, business and recruitment in the civil services,” said the Lun Bawang lawyer who is also PKR assemblyman for Ba’Kelalan.

Merely deleting the “lain-lain” race category was insufficient for Baru who said the government must follow through by treating Sarawak natives as an equal partner to their ethnic Malay, Chinese and Indian countrymen.

“What we want is fairness and just [sic] in the treatment accorded to us and be recognised as the majority community of Sarawak,” Baru said.

United People’s Party (UPP) deputy president Datuk Dr Jerip Susil saw the new “Sarawak Bumiputera” term coined by Adenan as a step in the right direction towards national integration.

Dr Jerip, who is also the state assistant minister for public health, described the switch from “lain-lain” to “Sarawak Bumiputera” and “Sabah Bumiputera” as significant to the position of non-Malay indigenous population.

“The replacement means that the non-Muslim natives of Sarawak and Sabah are accorded as equal partners of the Malays, Chinese and Indians,” he said.

He said the opposition to the use of “Sarawak Bumiputera” by civil rights groups and activists who insist on the Dayak race to be a contentious issue among natives, pointing out that some may not like being referred to as Dayak.

“The most important thing is the indigenous communities are on equal standing with the Malays, Chinese and Indians,” he said.