Sarawak activist criticises Anwar’s language directive as a step back for national unity

SARAWAK activist Peter John Jaban has voiced sharp criticism against Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s recent directive, instructing the Federal government to return any correspondence not written in Bahasa Malaysia.

The Global Human Rights Federation (GHRF) deputy president is of the opinion that this directive contradicts with Anwar’s earlier attempts to promote unity through the slogan ‘Segulai Sejalai’ and hampers the government’s role in ensuring equal access to rights and services for all communities.

Peter claimed that this is a retrograde step which fundamentally misunderstands the role of the civil service and government in ensuring access by all communities to rights and services.

Peter John Jaban

“We are a county blessed with numerous indigenous languages, many of these under threat. Our Sarawak Malays speak their own dialect, as do the Kelantanese, for example. All these are a rich source of culture and the mother tongue of many thousands of Bumiputra citizens.

“As the rest of the world struggles to conserve this well of diversity, Anwar is seeking to stamp it out in the one realm which has the resources and the obligation to support them,” said the Sarawak Associations for Peoples Aspiration information and publicity chief. 

Moreover, he also argued that the government should be accommodating citizens in their preferred languages, be it the Baram region’s dialect in Sarawak or Johor’s language, instead of enforcing a single linguistic standard.

“After 60 years of Malaysia, and multiple versions of the National Language Act, if this is essential to national unity then we are in a sorry state as a country. In fact, I would contend that this goes against the principles of government and its duty of service.

“The civil service should be equipped to reply to any citizen in the language of their choosing, whether they are from the Baram region of Sarawak or from Johor itself.”

Furthermore, Peter criticised this new directive as “designed to appeal to a core of Malay voters”, potentially marginalising other ethnic groups from government services.

“Support for all our minority languages is notably absent in the national education policy, and now government is declaring itself a closed shop when they should be striving to provide equal representation for all citizens.

“Are they also, for example, going to send back letters from overseas investors in Malaysia who prefer to write in the international language of business, for example?” he further added.

Peter urged the PM to emulate Sarawak’s approach, advocating for an inclusive civil service that serves all citizens equally. He emphasised the importance of embracing Malaysia’s linguistic diversity, particularly in states like Sarawak, where the populace continues to celebrate and preserve their heritage through mastering multiple languages. – Oct 28, 2023


Main photo credit: The Borneo Post

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