The incident came just weeks after a 10-year-old Christian boy was caned by a teacher in state capital Kuching for bringing a pork lunch to school.
Parents of six the six Christian children have reported the matter to the Sarawak Teachers Union over concern that their official status might affect their religious belief, said the state PKR chief Baru Bian.
“We echo the concerns of these parents because it has great implications in the future. If such status is not clarified and maintained, it can be implied that a native person, once he or she is classified as a Malay in official school documents, is a Muslim by virtue of the definition of Article 160,” said Bian in a statement.
Article 160 of the Federal Constitution defines Malay as “a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language and conforms to Malay custom”.
According to a copy of one of the student’s report card sent by Bian, an 11 year old boy of Kelabit and Lun Bawang parentage was classified as Malay by the school.
Bian explained that they were usually classified as ‘others’ by the authorities.
“We were informed by one parent that the status cannot be changed because it was already within the system and the Education Officer was not able to make the changes,” said Bian.
He asked the Education Ministry to investigate the case and urged all parents of Sarawak indigenous community to check their children status.
“The question we now pose to the Ministry of Education is why are native children now classified as Melayu or Malay in schools? We therefore ask the Education Ministry to investigate this matter immediately,” he said.
“We are afraid that this may just be the tip of the ice-berg and we would like to alert other native parents to check the status of their children before the matter becomes irreversible,” said Bian.
In a separate early this month, an Iban boy was caned 10 times for bringing fried rice with pork sausages to his school in Kuching.
The caning was believed to have happened following confusion over the boy’s religious status as his father Beginda Minda had converted to Islam before abandoning the faith.
According to a decree issued by the National Fatwa Council, if either parent is Muslim, the child must also be a Muslim.
The case was highlighted in newspapers on November 5 after the boy’s mother, Angela Jabing, complained to the Sarawak Education Department about the caning incident.
The largely Muslim Sarawak’s Malay/Melanau community make up only about 20 per cent of the state’s population but it remains in control of the state administration.
The various indigenous tribes who are mainly Christians form about half of the population.
According to Article 161 of the Federal Constitution, natives indigenous to Sarawak are the Bukitans, Bisayahs, Dusuns, Sea Dayaks, Land Dayaks, Kadayans, Kalabit, Kayans, Kenyahs (Including Sabups and Sipengs), Kajangs (including Sekapans, Kejamans, Lahanans, Punans, Tanjongs and Kanowits), Lugats, Lisums, Malays, Melanos, Muruts, Penans, Sians, Tagals, Tabuns and Ukits.
The Chinese make up about 26 per cent of the population in the Malaysia’s largest state.
Unlike other states in Malaysia, Sarawak does not recognise Islam as the official religion.
A few years ago, I went to the NRD to have my MyKad data changed. You see, I am a Chinese Malaysian, a Roman Catholic and Married. But what I subsequently found out during a scanning exercise conducted at our Church, shocked me. I was listed as a "Buddha" and marital status, "Bujang". I immediately made a beeline to the NRD office to have the matter rectified. The lady officer who attended to me looked quite disinterested about my complaint in which I told her she could not arbitarily label all Chinese as "Buddha" because many belong to other faiths as well, including Islam. I further told her that "Buddha" is not a religion but a person, just as she would not like to classify all Malays as "Mohammad". Secondly, I told her I was married and she wanted proof. I then pointed to my wife who seated beside me, "This is the proof". Finally, she consented to the change but I had to pay RM5. I raised my voice at her, "Why should I when the mistake was done by you people in the first place?" My wife and I then left the office. Till today, I am still listed as "Buddha" and "Bujang". It was fortunate that she did not make a mistake by categorising me as Muslim. I can imagine the harrowing experience I have to go through to get the matter resolved.