KUCHING - For 17 years, Marina Undau lived a life of a child growing into a young adult.
School, her family and friends were a central part of her existence. She dreamt of doing her parents proud by furthering her education in a university and eventually getting a good job.
SPM came and went, and the 18-year-old science stream student of SMK Simanggang did well, scoring 9As and 1B last year.
But then she had a rude shock.
The education system said she was not eligible to enroll in a matriculation course, a prelude to varsity and a degree. The reason? She was, it seemed, not a bumiputra.
Born to an Iban father and a Chinese mother, Marina’s hope for a smooth climb up academia was dashed. With it went a part of her identity and the drive that made her a top scorer.
In an interview with The Borneo Post at her house in Sri Aman on Wednesday, Marina expressed her feelings in Iban: “Aku amai enda puas ati nadai olih nyambung sekula ngagai universiti (I’m very sad that I can’t pursue my university education).”
Meantime, she has started Form Six in her old school as a workaround solution.
Upset and bewildered
Seated between her parents, Undau Liap and Wong Pick Sing, the disappointment in the teenager was plain to see.
Her elder sister never had a problem getting into a university. Her identity was never questioned and she is at present in her second year at Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang.
Marina is worried that a similar obstacle she faced after SPM awaits once she completes her STPM.
“If I get good results, what’s next?”
Marina’s father, Undau, would not take no for an answer.
When her application to enter matriculation was rejected, Undau, a civil servant, contacted the Education Ministry’s Matriculation Department in Putrajaya on June 23 and was told that her daughter was not a bumiputra.
Dissatisfied, the father wrote to the ministry on July 1. The reply he received shocked him, and it is bound to challenge the identity of many Sarawakians who are of mixed-parentage.
The ministry said in a reply on July 14 that Undau’s appeal was turned down because “the candidate is categorised as non-bumiputra (father is Iban and mother is Chinese)” based on a definition used by the Student Intake Management Division, Higher Learning Department and Higher Education Ministry.
Their definition is as follows:
• If either parent of a candidate is a Malay who is a Muslim/Orang Asli as defined in Article 160 (2) of the Federal Constitution, the child is considered a bumiputra.
• Sabah – If the father of the candidate is a Malay who is a Muslim/native of Sabah as defined by Article 161A(6)(a) of the Federal Constitution, the child is considered a bumiputra.
• Sarawak – If the father and mother is a native of Sarawak as defined under Article 161A(6)(b) of the Federal Constitution, the child is considered a bumiputra.
Despite the explanation, Undau is still dissatisfied and urged the government to clear up education issues that differentiate bumiputras from non-bumiputras.
He said the 1Malaysia concept would be rather hollow if education today continues to be polarised along such lines
“Why all the differences in the intake of students for higher learning? I am not questioning the Constitution, but what is the meaning of 1Malaysia if things like this happen?”
NRD and Native Court weigh in
The National Registration Department (NRD) headquarters here said it has received a flurry of enquiries about the bumiputra status of late.
An NRD spokesman said that in Sarawak, a person’s race is registered based only on the race of the father.
On whether such a person is automatically accorded bumiputra rights, the spokesman said: “We don’t actually handle that. We look at the race of the father. If the father is Iban, the child is Iban. If the father is Chinese, the child is Chinese. The bumiputra status comes under the Native Court.”
Native Court registrar Ronnie Edward said the bumiputra status was a “birthright” and the Native Court only hear cases where a person who was to be declared a bumiputra although his father was not a native.
He said Marina was not alone in facing this problem.
Edward believes the only way to clear the air is to amend the Federal Constitution.
“Article 161(A) of the Constitution has to be amended. The article says that in Sarawak, both parents have to be ‘exclusively’ a native,” he said.