Diary of a summer scholar: Jasmin Singh

20 February 2018
Jasmin Singh

Jasmin completed a Summer Research Scholarship on indigenous jurisprudence with Associate Professor Tamasailau Suaalii-Sauni.

For my Summer Research Scholarship, I had the chance to work with Sailau on a project about the indigenous jurisprudence of Orang Asli, the indigenous people and oldest inhabitants of Peninsular Malaysia.

Sailau was extremely helpful in providing guidelines for what was expected, providing guidance and advice when it was needed, and encouraging me to have a lot of input and freedom with this project.

Concepts of justice exist across all communities, but justice does not always look the same for everyone. Indigenous communities had their own forms of justice before the arrival of colonisers, which were commonly either viewed as inferior or not legal systems at all.

As part of the narrative of colonial domination, colonisers asserted that indigenous peoples did not have legal systems of their own as they were considered primitive and uncivilised. This justified the imposition of colonial systems of law which have inflicted irreparable and continuing harm on indigenous peoples.

Many post-colonial nations are now seeing value in alternative forms of justice and are making efforts towards indigenous jurisprudence within the mainstream justice system. This is occurring particularly in white-settler colonial nations such as New Zealand where restorative justice practices like Family Group Conferencing and Rangatahi courts purportedly based on Māori jurisprudence are practiced in mainstream settings.

As part of my work as a summer scholar I had to research what indigenous jurisprudence means. This involved researching and reviewing the literature produced by academics on the subject.

One of my first tasks was to create a search methodology document that outlined the search terms I was using, the number of hits I got with each term, and how I determined which sources were useful. This encouraged me to think about why I was using certain terms and justify how these would contribute to the project.

I also investigated the works of academics on legal pluralism in Malaysia, along with government documents, to see if the justice system in Malaysia has adopted the discourse of indigenous jurisprudence.

I found that there is little reference to indigenous justice on Peninsular Malaysia where Orang Asli come from, but this is not the case in East Malaysia, where there are some references to indigenous jurisprudence such as the ownership of customary land, which is decided using customary courts. This difference seems to be due to the difference in recognition of indigeneity across Malaysia, where Orang Asli are not constitutionally recognised as indigenous but the indigenous peoples of East Malaysia are.  

Through my experience working on this Summer Research Scholarship I have gained a lot of useful skills and research experience. The search methodology document and literature review were especially useful as they encouraged me to think carefully about the words I was using for searches and the language I used in writing about the work of other academics. This will be extremely useful going into doing my MA this year, as it has been almost like a practise run for postgraduate study.

Find out more about Summer Research Scholarships