Latest Weekly Articles Sat, 24 Jan 2015 16:40:36 GMT FeedCreator 1.8.0-dev ( Review: Taking a musical journey in Sumatra Margaret Kartomi’s life-long devotion to bringing Sumatran music to the world is revealed in her major contribution to analysing and preserving this musical heritage

Virginia Hooker

This is a delicious book – to be savoured, appreciated for its richness of detail and admired for its texture and cohesion. It made me greedy for more. I thought I could just dip in and read it over a week or so (it is a lengthy tome) but I was drawn into it from the first page of the Preface and just kept reading.

It is also an innovative work, of great significance for describing, categorising and analysing Indonesia’s traditional musical arts. It draws on four decades of Professor Margaret Kartomi’s research and field work into the music and dance forms of Indonesia, work for which she has received international recognition. Her contribution to the training of scholars from Indonesia and Australia who work on music and the traditional arts of island Southeast Asia is ongoing and remains unrivalled.

What makes this book so good? I will select just four features. Although this does not do full justice to the richness of the book it conveys a sense of the scope and character of the work.

First, the narrative is engaging. The following extracts from the Preface are personal and lyrical and express Margaret’s enjoyment of the time she and her husband, Hidris Kartomi, spent in various regions of Sumatra. She begins the Preface with these sentences: ‘Mas Kartomi and I have many warm memories of Sumatra. Our most moving experiences were of economically poor but culturally rich villagers everywhere who gave unstintingly of their warmth and hospitality…’

Describing the terrain they walked or travelled through, she remembers: ‘[there were] jagged ridges with white mist hanging over crater lakes; the fresh scented air after the rains while I walked along forest paths; the short, rocky streams that cascade down to the narrow plains of the west coast…’. She describes another memory, this time of a night voyage. ‘I vividly remember listening to local legends told and sung to us before we fell asleep under the stars on sacks of copra on our all-night voyage from Sibolga to the southern shore of the island of Nias, where we heard the soaring music of the powerful hoho choirs…’

These contexts of landscape, eco-systems, people, oral narratives and, of course, music, narrated in this natural and vivid style, are the elements which underpin the structure of the book.

Second, the book is extremely well organised, as a work of this size must be if it is to serve as a work of reference. Sumatra is a vast island of at least 44 million people who represent a richness of ethnic diversity perhaps matched only by the other large islands of Borneo and Papua New Guinea. To provide coherence for her Sumatra-wide approach, Margaret has devised an intersecting system or grid-like structure. The main frame of the grid is a vertical axis of musico-lingual groups (based on language usage), geographic area (based on topography of habitation – river, mountain slope, coast), and the administrative unit (province) in which the groups live. These coordinates situate the music makers in space and language group.

The horizontal axis draws on the disciplines of eco-geography, history, anthropology and musicology. Working with the information they provide, Margaret identifies and analyses the factors which have contributed to the forms of the traditional musical arts she observed in the 1970s and 1980s. She is able to place each example in the book in time and space, as well as its social and magico-religious or ritual context.

To illustrate the complexity of just one of the forms included in the book, I refer to the descriptions of tiger-capturing chants – accompanied and unaccompanied – as practised by highly skilled shamans in the 1970s. These chants are provided not only with their full musical notations and descriptions of the instruments used but also with their supernatural and spiritual contexts. These include notes about the psychological effects of the power-charged words and music on practitioners and observers (and also on the tigers).

Third, as well as the innovative nature of its structure, the book provides complete notations for important music and dance themes, ranging from songs and orchestral pieces to chants and incantations. This includes the new notational systems Margaret has devised for the complex body percussion movements, used in many Acehnese performance genres. Scholars of music will appreciate the transcriptions which record the interlocking rhythms of the huge range of drum ensembles that seem to be a special feature of Sumatran music.

Finally, the book achieves an admirable balance between examples of musical performances which are very public in nature, and those which are more private or reflective. An example of the first is the detailed description of the extended and complex rituals, accoutrements, music and movements which mark the Shi’a expressions of grief for the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandsons (in 680 CE). Margaret and Mas Kartomi witnessed these rituals in the early 1980s when they were still being performed without fear of reprisals by anti-Shi’a groups. Since August 2012 and continuing in early 2013 there have been attacks against small Shi’a communities forcing them to engage in many of their rituals discreetly and often behind closed doors. It is thus extremely valuable to have Margaret’s record of a full-blown public commemoration which captures its performance as well as its musical elements.

In contrast to the very public Shi’a rituals of the 1980s are the book’s descriptions of the musical traditions of reclusive, shy, forest-dwelling groups of interior Sumatra, who to quote Margaret, ‘want to live in as much isolation as possible from outsiders’. ‘Development’, increasing bureaucratic control, and declining areas of wilderness make it increasingly difficult for these forest dwellers to maintain their lifestyles supported by their musical and traditional cultures. Margaret’s recordings and notes serve as a cultural data bank for these small and threatened populations.

Musical Journeys in Sumatra is a book of great depth as well as breadth. The careful work contained in this book is a major contribution to the recording and analysis of the musical heritage of numerous ethnic groups of Sumatran Indonesians. The book establishes a baseline for traditional musical arts in their complex contexts. Thus it offers a strong model for others to adopt and adapt. The scholarly notes, appendices, diagrams and black and white photographs enhance the reader’s understanding and serve as valuable records of cultural points in time. A special website has been created in tandem with the book, where audio and audiovisual recordings of some of the performances described in the chapters can be heard and viewed. The book is thus also a conservation tool for practitioners and researchers wanting to know how works were performed in the 1970s and 1980s by masters of the art who have since passed away. Linguists, historians, anthropologists as well as musicologists will thank Professor Kartomi for her labour of love.

Margaret Kartomi, Musical Journeys in Sumatra, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield, 2012.

Virginia Hooker ( is Emeritus Professor and Fellow in the School of International, Political and Strategic Studies, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.

Inside Indonesia 112: Apr-Jun 2013{jcomments on}
]]> (Virginia Hooker) Sat, 07 Sep 2013 13:42:00 GMT
Syria as Armageddon Indonesian jihadis believe that the Syrian conflict signals the end of the world


soluhudin 1The death of Abu Muhammad Al-Indunisi in East Ghouta in November 2013 confirmed accounts that Indonesian jihadis were fighting in Syria. His ‘martyrdom’ was announced on 25 November on Twitter by the Suqour Al Izz Brigade, one of Syria’s Islamist rebel militias.

But who was Abu Muhammad Al-Indunisi? According to various jihadi media outlets, his real name was Riza Fardi. Originally from West Kalimantan, he had studied at the Al Mukmin Islamic boarding school (commonly known as Ngruki after the village where it is located), a Jemaah Islamiyah-affiliated school in Solo in Central Java where six of the Bali bombers studied. Along with this information, the radical website noted that after graduating from Ngruki in 2006, Riza taught there for a year before going with other Ngruki alumni to study at the Al-Iman University in Yemen. When the Syria conflict erupted, he left Yemen to join the Suqour Al Izz Brigade.

Riza Fardi is unlikely to be the only Indonesian to have fought in Syria. In October, the Indonesian embassy in Pakistan reported that four Indonesian students enrolled at the International Islamic University in Islamabad had ‘disappeared’ in August. The embassy traced them to Turkey and suspected that the four, all of whom were Ngruki alumni, had gone to wage jihad in Syria. In November, the head of the Indonesian Foreign Ministry’s directorate for the protection of citizens abroad, Tatang Budie Razak Utama, told the media he estimated there to be around 50 Indonesians fighting there.

Other Islamic groups in Indonesia are providing humanitarian assistance to the Syrian rebels. The most active is HASI, the Indonesian Red Crescent Society (which has no relation to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies). HASI was formed by Jemaah Islamiyah activists and draws most of its leadership from among young jahidi intellectuals. It raises funds for Syria by organising large public meetings on the conflict and collecting money from attendees. HASI has organised more than 50 public gatherings in Indonesia in the last two years and sent at least eight teams to Syria over the same period. Although it is unclear how much money HASI has raised overall, one of its reports listed a donation of around $20,000 to build a hospital in Salma village in Latakia province, an area controlled by jihadi groups, including Ahrar al-Sham, the group that is the main contact of Indonesian jihadis; Suqour al Izz; and the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusrah Front. The hospital was constructed to treat both the community and wounded jihadis.

Indonesian engagement doesn’t stop there. Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the amir of Jema’ah Ansharut Tauhid and former Jemaah Islamiyah leader, also issued a fatwa (a non-binding legal ruling) stating that the jihad in Syria is a greater priority than the hajj or umroh pilgrimages. Jema’ah Ansharut Tauhid followed up on Ba’asyir’s fatwa by raising funds for Syria. In July 2013, their Nusa Tenggara branch collected more than $5000 over two days. It is not clear though whether Jema’ah Ansharut Tauhid has subsequently sent a team to Syria.

These various responses raise the question: why are Indonesia’s jihadis so enthusiastic about jihad in Syria? Their enthusiasm greatly exceeds their attention to the Afghanistan or Iraq wars. There was never any large-scale fundraising for Afghanistan or Iraq, nor any widespread appeals to depart for jihad in either country. The degree of jihadis' engagement with the Syria conflict is something new.

Syria as Armageddon

Indonesian jihadis consider the Syria conflict to be special because they believe it is linked to the Islamic equivalent of Armageddon, the final battle as judgment day approaches. Various hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) predict an apocalyptic war, with one hadith signalling that it will start in Syria. Many jihadis are convinced that the Mahdi, the Islamic messiah, will come to Syria, where he will battle and defeat Dajjal, the equivalent of the Anti-Christ, thereby opening the door to victory for the Islamic community worldwide. The importance of Syria to the final triumph of Islam, in the view of jihadis, means every Muslim must be involved because taking part in the jihad there is to join the defence of the Mahdi. Those who can’t go to Syria to wage war can participate by donating their resources to support the jihad.

At the same time, the war in Syria has perplexed some Indonesian jihadis because it puts them on the same side as the United States, especially when the Obama government was making plans – since shelved – to attack the Bashar Assad regime after its apparent use of chemical weapons. America, according to the jihadis, is allied with the Dajjal. An American attack on the Syrian regime would thus have amounted to the Dajjal’s forces working together with those of the Mahdi, an unimaginable prospect. The confusion among Indonesian radicals was only partially resolved when they found a hadith that said the Romans would help the Mahdi in the final battle. Jihadis interpreted ‘Romans’ to mean the United States and its allies.

Even before the Syrian conflict began, jihadis had started to believe that the end of the world was imminent. In 2005, some activists from the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia – led by Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, until he left to form Jema’ah Ansharut Tauhid in 2008 – formed a welcoming committee for the Mahdi. Their beliefs arose from a hadith that states that Mahdi will descend immediately after both lunar and solar eclipses take place during the Islamic fasting month, something that happened in 2005. Although the Mahdi did not appear, the idea that the final battle was near remained popular among jihadis. One of the most prominent authors was the young Jemaah Islamiyah cleric, Abu Fatiah Al Adnani, a graduate of the Ngruki pesantren, who has authored more than a dozen books on this topic.

A source of credibility

Apart from messianic factors, the Syrian conflict has proven to be a way for groups like Jemaah Islamiyah and Jema’ah Ansharut Tauhid to regain their credibility within the jihadi community. Jemaah Islamiyah’s credibility in these circles was largely destroyed when it effectively renounced violence on Indonesian soil after anti-terror raids in Poso, Central Sulawesi in 2007, leading to the arrest of much of its senior leadership. Anger towards Jemaah Islamiyah was aired publicly in 2010, when the jihadi alliance behind a militant training camp in Aceh released a video explicitly attacking Jemaah Islamiyah for having abandoned jihad. In the video, one of the alliance leaders advised Jemaah Islamiyah members to join the struggle and not to be content with non-violent outreach, saying ‘Jihad is not waged with a pen, a sarong and a peci (Islamic cap). You’re able to gather hundreds of millions, even billions of rupiah, but you gather it for Islamic propagation and for boarding schools. This is treachery. If some go hungry, and there is money, give the money for jihad, let the hungry die.’ Now that Jemaah Islamiyah members are involved in the Syria jihad - via the humanitarian assistance being channeled through HASI - it is no longer in the firing line of other Indonesian jihadis. In fact, Jemaah Islamiyah’s credibility has risen dramatically, because it is now involved in what is seen by jihadis as one of the most important wars in the history of Islam.

Jema’ah Ansharut Tauhid also turned to religious propagation in the wake of the breakup of the Aceh training camp, which culminated in the arrest of senior figures, including Abu Bakar Ba’asyir. Many Jema’ah Ansharut Tauhid members, keen to wage jihad, were dissatisfied with the decision of its caretaker leader, Muchamad Achwan, to focus more on non-violent activities. The result was an exodus to other jihadi groups that were actively conducting terror attacks. The most recent instances were in late 2012 and early 2013, when several Jema’ah Ansharut Tauhid members in West and Central Java joined the Mujahidin Indonesia Barat group and subsequently took part in various robberies and attempted bombings.

Causing rifts and mending fences

Syria has created new divisions among Islamic groups but also reduced existing tensions among others. The clearest rift results from the refusal to join the Syria jihad by a group in Solo led by Muzakir a former comrade of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir. Muzakir and others, including Jose Rizal Jurnalis, head of the Medical Emergency Rescue Committee, believe the United States and its allies have tricked jihadis into fighting against the Assad regime, whereas Assad has traditionally been an opponent of the United States and Israel. Acting on these views, Muzakir met with Ba’asyir to ask for an end to the Syria jihad campaign. Other jihadis have denounced Muzakir, accusing him of being a Shi’a Muslim (Assad and those around him are Alawites, a variant of Shi’a Islam). These accusations have intensified because Muzakir has on several occasions refused to call Shi’a Muslims unbelievers.

Conversely, Syria has reduced tensions between jihadi and salafis, those who attempt to practise Islam in the manner of the first generations after the Prophet Muhammad. The two groups have frequently quarreled, owing to repeated accusations by salafis that the jihadis are ‘khawarij’, members of an Islamic sect considered deviant because of their extremism. For their part, jihadis accuse salafi groups of being ‘murji’ah’, another sect considered deviant because of their lax attitude to sins. Syria provided these groups with a common enemy, namely the Shi’a. Both groups have actively campaigned on Syria. denouncing the deviance of Shi’a Muslims. Both have raised funds and sent humanitarian assistance to Syria. Thanks to the Syria conflict, jihadis and salafis in Indonesia for the moment have ceased going after each other and are helping the same group in Syria, namely Ahrar Al-Sham, which was originally formed by Syrian salafis.

If the Syria conflict has eased jihadi-salafi hostility in Indonesia, it has increased tension there between jihadis and Shi’a Muslims, as jihadis always incorporate anti-Shi’a remarks into their campaigns on Syria, raising concerns that Indonesian Shi’a could become a target of terrorist attacks. Soon after the Syria conflict erupted in early 2011, Indonesian terrorists began to discuss possible plots against them. For instance in mid-2011, a terror group led by Abu Umar planned the assassination of Shi’a figures and attacks on Shi’a institutions, but members were arrested before plans got very far.

Future threats

Apart from the risk of attacks on Shi’a, another risk in the future could be the return of Syrian war veterans to Indonesia. They will come back with military skills and a global network, creating the possibility they could perpetrate jihadi violence in Indonesia. This is a risk that needs to be taken seriously, especially with the precedent of Afghanistan veterans from the 1980s and 1990s returning to Indonesia and perpetrating various acts of terror.

Given these future dangers, the Indonesian government needs to respond to this enthusiasm for the jihad in Syria. Specifically, the government needs to take preventive measures to try and deter Indonesian citizens, including students at universities or other educational institutions in South Asia and the Middle East, from travelling to Syria to fight. Several Western countries have cancelled the passports of their citizens who have departed for Syria, and this may be a measure Indonesia can adopt. They should also step up monitoring of anti-Shi’a rhetoric on Indonesian jihadi websites and ensure that calls for violence do not translate into attacks on the Shi’a community.

If the Indonesian government doesn’t respond effectively, it could face more terrorism. The world may not end in Syria, as jihadis predict, but enthusiasm for the Syria conflict could sow the seeds for the next generation of jihadi violence in Indonesia.

Solahudin, (, is a researcher on jihadi movements in Indonesia. He is the author of The Roots of Terrorism in Indonesia (trans. Dave McRae), published by NewSouth Books in association with the Lowy Institute for International Policy, with international editions by NUS Press and Cornell University Press.

]]> (Solahudin) Fri, 31 Jan 2014 09:50:00 GMT
Able to choose Disability activists in Indonesia get their message through to the presidential candidates

Thushara Dibley

usaidA voting booth in Aceh, International Foundation for Electoral Systems

Indonesians go to the polls this week to choose between two very different presidential candidates. For most Indonesians, the choice will be easy. For the 11 per cent of undecided voters, it may be more difficult. But for the 10-15 per cent of Indonesians with a disability, just getting to the polling booth may be the challenge. Those who do cast their vote may be unsure about how the two candidates differ because, until recently, their position towards disability was unclear. But disability activists across Indonesia have been working hard to ensure that, regardless of who wins, the needs of their community will be better met.

Making elections accessible

Indonesia has had laws in place that address the issue of disability since the end of the New Order period. But it is only recently has the government taken concrete steps to ensure that elections are accessible. Many of these steps were taken after Indonesia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international human rights treaty which outlines the rights of people with disabilities, in 2011. While the convention is yet to be enacted into legislation, Indonesia’s commitment to it has already brought some significant changes. These include an undertaking by the election commission to ensure that people with disabilities can participate in the political process.

In the 2014 legislative elections, the election commission arranged for braille voting cards to be provided to those who required them, and also arranged training sessions so that people with disabilities could practise using them before election day. The Centre for Integration and Advocacy for People with Disabilities (SIGAP), a disabled persons organisation (DPO) from Yogyakarta,  monitored the effectiveness of these provisions. They found that in some areas polling booths were only accessible by stairs and that the braille forms were not consistently provided. But the fact that such monitoring was undertaken at all, and the fact that it generated public discussion, was a considerable step forward in enabling people with disabilities to exercise their political rights.

Similar steps have been taken to ensure that the presidential election is accessible. In addition to braille voting papers, the election commission has provided simultaneous sign language interpretation on television during each of the presidential debates. On 9 July, the People’s Voter Education Network (JPPR) will be monitoring polling booths to ensure that people with disabilities are able to cast their votes.  

Presidential positions on disability

In contrast to the focus on ensuring people with disabilities can vote, it took both Presidential candidates until quite late in the campaign to directly address this particular constituency. A number of DPOs, particularly those from Solo and Jakarta – cities where Presidential candidate Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, had a track record of implementing policies that benefited people with disabilities –  expressed their support for Jokowi early in the presidential campaign.

But Prabowo Subianto was the first to formally outline his policies to the media. In a statement released on 18 June, deputy chief patron of Gerindra, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, outlined the two concrete actions that Prabowo would take for people with disabilities if he became president. His first commitment was to print money with braille to protect blind people from being cheated. The second was to ensure all public spaces would be accessible on a wheel chair. He also reminded people that Gerindra was one of the parties most supportive of the proposed new disability law, and that it would continue to be supportive of this process. The release of this statement was followed by a number of statements of support for Prabowo from individual DPOs, including the West Java branch of the Indonesian Associate of Women with Disabilities (HWDI) and Komunitas Disabilitas DKI, a group based in Jakarta.

Jokowi’s silence on disability issues for much of the campaign did not reflect the proactive steps that he had taken during his time as mayor of Solo and as governor of Jakarta. In Solo, he established a mechanism by which people with disabilities, as well as other marginalised groups, could come into his office to raise concerns without an appointment. This practice continues until today. He also arranged a special sports event for people with disabilities during his time as mayor. As governor of Jakarta, Jokowi visited popular tourist destinations with a group called Barrier Free Tourism to experience directly the challenges they faced travelling through the city. He also made changes to the building regulations such that new constructions buildings had to be accessible.

Having held leadership roles, Jokowi has also had the opportunity things to disappoint people in the disability movement. He let down a number of DPOs by failing to attend an event on 3 December 2013 for international disability day, for example. There was also a case where his government cut money for respite care centres. He wasn’t directly involved in this decision, but it did affect his reputation amongst those in the disability community.

Prabowo, on the other hand, has not had an opportunity to walk the walk. His campaign has, however, made a positive impression on some groups within the disability movement. Some DPOs have reported that they have found it easier to communicate with and gain access to Prabowo’s campaign team than to Jokowi’s. They cite the seminars about disability held by Edi Prabowo, the operations director of Prabowo’s campaign team, as evidence of Prabowo’s support. However, Prabowo also has used language and proposed ideas that are at odds with the key principles of empowerment and independence held by many within the disability community. For example, his vision and mission statement uses the term cacat (deformed), rather than disabilitas (disability), the term preferred by the DPO community and the term used by Jokowi in his vision and mission statement.

Shaping the campaign

bakerAn accessible election simulation held at the election commission in Jakarta in April 2014, James Baker

According to disability activists in Jakarta, Prabowo’s statement and the subsequent expressions of support for him from members of DPOs from around Indonesia illustrated the need for more coordinated engagement with the two Presidential candidates. This was considered important to avoid the politicisation of disability related issues by either candidate.

A network of DPOs from Jakarta, headed by Yeni Rosa Damayani from the Mental Health Association (PJS), invited the campaign teams of both candidates to a public forum on 25 June attended by more than 120 people. Participants in forum prepared a statement outlining the support they wanted from the Indonesian leadership, which was presented to the representatives of the two candidates. Its key message was that Indonesia must move away from the idea that people with disabilities were a burden on society and that they required charity. Instead, the statement urged, Indonesia should understand that people with disabilities were an asset to the nation and that they should be given opportunities to contribute to political and other decisions that would allow them to become agents of their own development.

The very next day, on 26 June, Jokowi released a statement outlining his position towards the issue of disability in Indonesia. Like Prabowo, he expressed commitment to seeing the new national law for disability through to implementation. But he also went a step further, presenting a five point plan that drew almost word for word on the public statement presented by the DPOs the previous day. Jokowi’s plan outlined the importance of challenging the perceptions that people with disabilities are a burden and described people with disabilities as an ‘asset to the nation’ who should be directly involved in the political process. Then on 5 July, as a further indication of his support for people with disabilities, Jokowi signed nine charters, each committing a government that he leads to a different social group. The eighth charter, the Suharso Charter, addressed the rights of people with disabilities. Again, it drew heavily on the statement released by those who participated in the public dialogue.

Activists in the disability movement were pleased that Jokowi took up their recommendations in his platform. They were also frustrated that it took him such a long time to outline his position with regards to disability, as it divided the movement. These fissures of course reflect deeper structural challenges within the disability movement, such as the structure of DPOs, in which different branches operate quite independently of each other. They also reflect the fact that people with disabilities may not be voting solely on the basis of the candidates’ positions on disability.  

Nevertheless, the ability of the DPOs to mobilise their community, to advocate for their cause and to capture the attention of the campaign teams of both presidential candidates bodes well for people with disabilities, regardless of who becomes the next president of Indonesia.

Thushara Dibley ( is the Deputy Director of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre. She researches disability activism and policy in Indonesia.

Inside Indonesia 117: Jul-Sep 2014{jcomments on}


]]> (Thushara Dibley) Tue, 08 Jul 2014 00:28:17 GMT
Famine and fraud A story of mass starvation tells us much about media coverage and local government in Papua

Bobby Anderson

anderson famine 1The road from Sorong to Tambrauw  Bobby Anderson

In early April of 2013 it was reported that at least 95 indigenous Papuans had died of starvation in Kwoor sub-district, Tambrauw District, Papua Barat (West Papua). Another 553 were said to be seriously ill and at risk of imminent death. The deaths had begun in December of 2012 and most of the victims were concentrated in Tambrauw’s remote villages of Baddei (alt: Bakdei), Jokbi Joker (alt: Jokjoker) and Kasyefo.

Tambrauw lies on the northern coast of the Kepala Burung or Bird’s Head peninsula. This starvation report was particularly ironic in that Tambrauw is located next to some of the richest fisheries in the world. Although much of Tambrauw’s population is concentrated on, and makes their living from, the sea, the starvation-affected villages are all inland, with the closest a six-hour walk from Kampung Kwoor, and the furthest a three-day walk. This story resonated: it was indicative of the Indonesian government’s callousness toward the indigenous citizens of its easternmost and most under-developed periphery. And for many it was more evidence to support allegations that genocide is occurring in Tanah Papua.

The story grew more worrisome with news that two Papuan activists, Yohanis Mambrasar and his father, Hans, were arrested in the Tambrauw capital, Sausapor, for compiling a dossier of local deaths, apparently due to lack of medical care. The Asian Human Rights Commission reported that the two were interrogated for hours about separatist activities in the area and an urgent appeal was issued by AHRC on their behalf. Implicit in the news of this arrest were two things: that the starvation must be much more widespread than initially reported, and that the authorities were attempting a cover-up.

After a few weeks of attention to this starvation in select media outlets and independence listservs, the story faded from the news - yet another example of structural violence perpetuated against Papuans by the state, while brave activists trying to uncover such crimes disappear into police custody.

This incident is even more important because the alleged starvation didn’t actually happen.

Origins of the story

The story of starvation in Kwoor was first published in Suara Papua, a purported online news service provider. It was authored by Oktovianus Pogau and the source was attributed to Indonesia’s foremost coalition of ‘indigenous’ peoples, Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN). The story was duly picked up and disseminated by activists including the Australia West Papua Association, the Free West Papua Campaign, West Papua Media, ETAN, and other groups, and soon it received coverage in Suara Pembaruan, Radio New Zealand International, Scoop, Jakarta Post, The Jakarta Globe, Kompas, Waspada and other Indonesian media.

anderson famine 2An old ‘ABRI Masuk Desa’ Memorial in Kwoor, circa July 1993   Bobby Anderson

When this starvation story was first reported, it appeared to be quite plausible. Food security is an issue in Papua and there were significant emergencies, mostly in highland areas, from the mid-1990s up until around 2005 that necessitated outside responses. In the more remote highlands where I travel, I continue to see evidence of childhood malnutrition and stunted growth. What was so unusual about Tambrauw was that it is on the coast, and that the remote inland areas, while difficult to access, are walkable within a matter of days. How, then, could people starve to death there?

In April 2013 – on the same day that a friend with connections to foreign independence activists in New Zealand alerted me to the story – I contacted two Sorong-based volunteer health and education foundations with programs and staff in Tambrauw. I had worked with these foundations on service projects in 2012, and I knew them to be passionate advocates of Papuan rights. These are groups that are attempting to provide health services where the government does not.

Neither of these foundations or their staff was aware of any starvation in Kwoor, and this includes workers based in the villages named in the initial article in Suara Papua. In the meantime, the Indonesian government was issuing denials which were hardly taken seriously: when the government first responded to the story, it could only say that it was not aware of the cases and would follow them up. Such a statement is an implicit acknowledgement that there is no government representation in the areas concerned. Such a neglectful answer was taken as evidence that something terrible must have been occurring.

Over the next week, the staff of these two foundations searched for purported starvation deaths - not just in Jokbi Joker, Baddei and Kasyefo, but also in Syubi, and a day’s walk from there, in Kweserer and Kwekrisnos, the apparent epicentre of starvation’s victims, but they did not find a single starvation casualty. And they were diligent, not just cynically investigating the veracity of a claim. Rather, they were chasing down an alleged crisis in order to respond to it, as they would in any other humanitarian crisis.

One of those involved in the search was an expatriate doctor, a fluent Abun speaker, who has lived and worked for 14 years in Tambrauw’s Kwoor / Abun language areas. These workers found only a few fever-related deaths in Jokbi Joker, a six-hour walk from Kampung Kwoor and the coast. The workers were flummoxed, especially over how the number of 95 dead and 553 at –risk-of dying was calculated. Fever-related deaths in Jokbi Joker occur regularly. But was 95 the total number of deaths from fever over the last three or so years? They didn’t know. They still don’t.

I wanted to know how such a story could start and how it could simply end without closure or follow-up among both journalists and activists. If health workers rapidly concluded that the story was a fraud, why couldn’t the people who had disseminated the story in the first place?

A road trip to Tambrauw

In January 2014, I drove with a colleague from Sorong to Sausapor, the capital of Tambrauw, and then continued to Kwoor. The road into Tambrauw starts to fall apart just into the hills above Kota Sorong, up where the city’s garbage dump and surrounding recycler’s shacks are. But then one begins to encounter vast tracts of new roads and retaining walls from a special autonomy-funded construction boom. New bridges replace older ones made of earth and entire trees. It becomes painfully obvious, the more one drives into remote Sorong and then Tambrauw, that these roads have one express purpose: to aid in the felling of these virgin forests. Independent logging camps and shacks nestle in distinctive clusters alongside small sawmills. Stacks of planks are visible on the roadsides while other trees are floated downriver.

anderson famine 3A market in Kwoor, built and forgotten    Bobby Anderson

Leaving the hills for the coast, we encounter an atrocious road, hemmed in on one side by jungle and on the other by kudzu. Far below, the relentlessly pounding surf keeps us awake at night even a half mile from the water. Sausapor is reached five hours after leaving Sorong. It may be one of the dullest towns in Papua, built around an airstrip the Americans created at the end of WWII, with a few streets and shuttered shops. Two hours beyond Sausapor lies Kwoor.

Kampung Kwoor, the sub-district capital where services should be most available and most professional, hosts a local primary school with most of the windows smashed out. A secondary school, operated by a private foundation, still functions. From the writing on the chalkboard it seems the youth are learning about Indonesia’s role in ASEAN - a lesson intended possibly to teach the children that there are positive aspects to the state which are missing from their lives.

Evidence of previous failed development projects was in abundance: waterless outhouses; broken water tanks; a failed generator; a bare ‘traditional market’ used as a motorcycle parking lot; and so on. Kwoor’s bureaucratic centre is distinguished by derelict services, absentee civil servants, and empty government buildings: the insecurity that comes with too little state rather than too much.

To the east of Kwoor lies a series of villages that were once part of Kampung Kwoor. They became villages through pemekaran (the proliferation of administrative units). Unlike so many negative examples of pemekaran, the dissolution of Kampung Kwoor into multiple units makes complete sense - these units are up to a day’s walk from each other.

We attempted to go east, and we thought this would be easy, as my map indicated a bridge across the river immediately east of the kampung, and a road stretching along this coast. But the map was a fiction: the road ended where there was once a bridge but it was long gone. We crossed the river one-at-a-time in a skiff piloted by a 12 year old girl who paddled quickly because of her fear of crocodiles. Once on the other side, we walked for 45 minutes on a beach before using vines to scale a steep hill. We then reached the kudzu-entangled remains of a pioneer road which had been lost to arroyos (flash floods) in a matter of months. We walked on it for a half an hour before we realised it was once a road.

After another few hours we realised that the man leading us had no concept of space or time. He had only one answer for any query related to distance: ‘an hour and a half’. Further to the east of coastal Tambrauw lie the greatest leatherback turtle nesting areas on earth. Further inland lies a huge logging area, held under a 45-year concession, by a Jakarta-based company, PT Multi Wahana Wijaya.

The increasing friction of such topography makes travel difficult, but not unduly so. For us it was a question of time, not terrain. Were I to try to live off this land, I would fare badly, due to a serious lack of protein, but I could survive on fruit, root crops and water. The biggest threat would be from the irate owners of the root crops I would dig up, followed by mosquitoes. But for the locals who know it, Tambrauw’s jungle, rivers and ocean, all function as nature’s supermarkets.

How to starve to death

It is no cliché to say that Papua is a rich and fertile land. The same also applies to Tambrauw. The district is sparsely populated and its bureaucratic sustainability as a separate district is tenuous at best. Despite the advent of logging, Tambrauw is still heavily forested, and these forests abound with wild pig, tree kangaroo and a large rat that is considered a delicacy. This is to say nothing of cassava, taro, sago and sweet potato in the higher elevations, along with bananas, papayas, buah merah (a local red fruit shaped like a large carrot) and other fruits.

Starving to death is not an easy way to die. It is a long, drawn out process of macro-cellular breakdown, muscular atrophy, diminishing eyesight and organ failure. Those who die quickly in the right conditions die from a combination of starvation and dehydration, with the latter being the primary cause of death. For starvation with an unlimited access to water – which Tambrauw essentially has in abundance during the rainy November-March period, (when the 2012-13 starvation was alleged to occur), it would take over a month to die.

During famines, the elderly and the young are the first to succumb, followed by adults who will die according to their pre-starvation physical condition and reserves of muscle and fat. In theory, the 95 alleged to have died in Kwoor would have been already the weakest. They would have been abandoned en masse as the stronger ones relocated, with those they cared enough to assist. Even a few weeks into such a famine, the strongest would have reached the coast, dragging along or carrying their weaker members and children. Once on the coast the news of the exodus would have spread, through mobile phone cameras, sms, and the frantic movement of ailing humanity to Sausapor and Sorong. A story such as Suara Papua’s would have been the beginning of a deluge.

Such a condition of mass starvation, in such a land of plenty, would be impossible unless people were purposely denied food through the seizure of livestock and forest crops. However, such crops are notoriously hard to confiscate because, unlike rice, they are not stored between harvest and consumption. The only way this could happen is through detention in an area where the ability to forage was denied. A precedent, created by the Indonesian military, occurred in Lalerek Mutin, East Timor, in 1983, so the starvation allegation is more plausible to those viewing Papua through the prism of genocide favoured by many advocates of independence. We often associate genocide with images of physical structures like camps or barren fields surrounded by concertina wire. In Papua, of course, such images are absurd.

anderson famine 4The ‘road’ stretching east from Kwoor    Bobby Anderson

In my time in Tambrauw, I did not see a single soldier or police officer. The only evidence of the military in Kwoor is a mossy old concrete monument from the nationwide Suharto-era ABRI Masuk Desa(the military enters the village) campaign, circa 1993, where soldiers from the Cenderawasih Military Command conducted a ‘winning hearts and minds’ exercise by constructing new buildings and providing health services. Instead of the military, in Tambrauw I saw what I usually see in pemekaran districts: failure and absence. Papuans in Kwoor go about their lives as they always have, on foot or by boat and paddle, with only the slightest airbrushing of the state upon them, mostly visible in shuttered buildings, crumbling roads, useless infrastructure and stacks of planed wood destined for the outside world.

The conflicting roots of the story

The indigenous head of Baddei village – one of the villages named in the Suara Papua story – is still irritated by the starvation allegations, as are numerous ordinary Papuans I spoke to in Kwoor and Sausapor. But the head of Baddei has no idea that the story was picked up overseas or was used as anecdotal evidence of the Indonesian government’s crimes against its people. Instead, he and others believe that the allegation was created in order to discredit the district leader of Tambrauw, Gabriel Asem, and the local Golkar structure.

This was part of a local political struggle, they think, started by persons unknown. One person made the unsubstantiated claim that perhaps the story was created by one of the men who was arrested in Sausapor, allegedly for compiling dossiers on the deaths. It was speculated that Hans, the older of the two arrested men, may have acted out of positive intentions: he may have tried to bring pressure on the district government to provide urgently needed services in the remote areas named in the story. Just as in the Papuan highlands, sick people or even children who want to go to school – have to walk out of these areas and seek services in places where the roads actually reach.

The community health centre in Sausapor maintains a helicopter for emergencies in these remote areas but even this is ineffective: there is no SSB radio or mobile phone coverage in the areas where the alleged starvations occurred, and so news of a sick person in those places must travel via word of mouth, first to Kampung Kwoor and then to Sausapor. In any acute emergency, a person either would have recovered or died in the time it took for the news of their illness to reach the helicopter.

Upon my return to Jayapura, I was surprised to hear that the two Sorong-based foundations were not the only organisations which had tried to respond to that fabricated crisis. A health worker from one of the UN ‘sister agencies’ told me that his agency’s Manokwari-based medical staff had also been mobilised in April 2013 to verify the starvation reports and had travelled to the remote villages mentioned in the Suara Papua story.

A small team headed to Sausapor and used the district government helicopter to visit each of the villages where the starvation was alleged to have occurred. This team went so far as to count graves and visit family members of the recently deceased. While this team found a complete lack of services, they also found absolutely no evidence of starvation deaths. That agency wrote an internal report which was disseminated to the provincial and national governments, but no further.

Lessons to be learned

The story of Tambrauw’s (non) starvation is relevant for a few key reasons. It illustrates how uncritically people - Indonesians as well as foreigners - think about Indonesia, and about Papua. This story was accepted without reservation by numerous journalists and human rights activists the author is acquainted with, even though Oktovianus Pogau, the author of the initial story in Suara Papua, is well known for his sympathies with Papuan activist groups.

anderson famine 5Two village heads discussing the starvation story, Kwoor    Bobby Anderson

For many Papuans – motivated by the Memoria Passionis which they undeniably bear – there is no malice which the government, national or local, is incapable of. Papuan students in Yogyakarta demonstrated against this reported starvation. They were aghast and frankly, they had a right to be. The lack of accountability between the government and the citizens of its easternmost province over the nature of Papua’s incorporation into the Indonesian state, and the suffering of all the victims of that incorporation, give them every reason to be suspicious. That alienation leaves a space for such stories to take root.

Whilst Papuans might suspect malice, for most other Indonesians, the story was one of government dysfunction. For most Indonesians, there is no act of incompetence that the government is incapable of – especially when it comes to new local governments and the absentee bupatis (regional rulers) who behave like little princes. Friends in Yogyakarta, Jakarta and Makassar believed the starvation reports because they believe local government in Indonesia is rotten to the core.

But observers of Indonesian affairs, those who care about Papua and Papuans and the Indonesians themselves, have a responsibility to be suspicious and critical. This story was not true. Whatever goal this fiction had – either to support allegations of genocide and therefore an independent Papua, or to discredit a local leader – it weakened that goal. Nor did the allegation improve health services. Moreover the Indonesian government does itself no favours by not refuting what it knows to be untrue. That UN sister agency’s report apparently made it as far as the vice president’s office. Why no further?

Such sloppy and unverified reportage is often justified, post-exposure, as a device that serves to capture other previously unreported incidents. Papua has many such stories of neglect, and of starvation, with the last verifiable cases dating from 2006. The author has seen such malnutrition in the highlands in 2011 and 2012. But propagating fiction is not acceptable.

So much of Papua remains remote. Outside of the towns, there is a lack of health and education services, communication networks, good phone reception and passable roads. Stories emerge from these distant corners – of clan fights, of food emergencies, of sicknesses. The lack of development that prevents these stories coming out quickly and accurately is the responsibility of both national and local governments. And for that they deserve censure. But stories need not be invented in order to further excoriate government. In Papua, there’s enough truth to choose from without resorting to fiction.

Bobby Anderson ( works on health, education, and governance projects in Eastern Indonesia, and travels frequently in Papua and West Papua. This and other articles on Indonesia can be found at


Inside Indonesia 117: Jul-Sep 2014{jcomments on}
]]> (Bobby Anderson3) Sat, 19 Jul 2014 20:37:57 GMT
Inside the kitchen of Jakarta's Istiqlal mosque A Ramadan photo essay

Aip Saifullah

saifullah 1

The Istiqlal mosque in Jakarta is the largest in Southeast Asia. It can host 200,000 Muslims for prayer. The mosque employs 300 people who are especially busy during Ramadan when the mosque attracts a large number of worshipers, tourists and also traders.


saifullah 2

During the fasting month, the Istiqlal mosque provides food for visitors. A special Cooperative within the mosque is responsible for cooking and distributing the food. The workers in this Cooperative commence cooking at 8am in the morning and work until 3pm in the afternoon, by which time the heat of the day adds to the heat from the stoves and the atmosphere inside the cooking tent becomes oppressive. The team prepare at least 3000 meal boxes containing vegetables, rice and an egg, a piece of meat, or a piece of fish for buka puasa (breaking the fast together). For the last ten days before the end of Ramadan, however, their shifts will double. Not only will they provide food for buka puasa but also they will also prepare at least 2000 boxes of food for sahur (breakfast). The cooking shift in preparation for sahur is from 7pm in the evening until 2am.


saifullah 3

The Istiqlal food Cooperative normally employs 15 people. During fasting month, they hire another 35 workers from nearby Bogor district. The 50 workers are divided into two shifts - the morning and the evening. It is their job to fill boxes of food, wash the cooking equipment, peel the eggs and cut large amounts of vegetables, meat and fish. Their shift will end after the boxes of food are stacked in the mosque at 5pm in the evening or 3am in the early morning.


saifullah 4

Irul (not his real name) has been working for the Istiqlal Cooperative for at least 18 years. He is one of the chefs who is responsible for cooking vegetables.


saifullah 5

The funding for Istiqlal’s Ramadan kitchen is collected through tromol or donation boxes. There are many of these boxes inside the mosque. Five times a day, the donation boxes will be handed out after prayer and will be handed from person to person. Once a day, after the evening’s last prayer (isha), the total amount of money collected through the donation boxes will be announced. But not all donations are financial. Some people donate food instead of money. For example, one expedition company in Jakarta has donated between 300 and 500 boxes of food since the beginning of Ramadan.


saifullah 6

Visitors to the Istiqlal mosque spend their time in different ways. This old man spends his day reading Qur’an, but others sleep. They will be woken up by the mosque security when it is time to pray.


saifullah 7

These two old men who have travelled to Istiqlal from outside Jakarta, collect a box of food when it is time to break the fasting. They visit the mosque to participate in ‘i’tikaf’, staying in the mosque to performance religious activities for the final 10 days of the Ramadhan month.


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Before breaking the fast, these women pray to God to thank him for their blessings.


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During the iftar meal, many people sit together to have dinner in the basement of the mosque. The atmosphere is festive, like a big family having a party. Although many people don’t know each other, when they are breaking the fast together they are treated as equals.  


saifullah 10

A homeless girl who lives with her mother inside the Istiqlal mosque is sleeping on the basement floor. Together with her mother she sells coffee, cigarettes and plastic bags. During Ramadan they improve their earnings and also receive free food provided by the mosque. Despite government regulations attempting to clear the Istiqlal mosque from homeless people and traders, many traders and homeless people arrive at the mosque for a temporary stay of two or three days before the Idul Fitri celebrations start.


Aip Saifullah <> studies political science at IISIP (Institute for Social and Political Science) in Jakarta. He is active in the campus organisation Formasi IISIP (Student Forum) and a member of PRP (Workers Party). Photos in this essay were taken at Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta, 20-23 July 2014.

Inside Indonesia 117: Jul-Sep 2014{jcomments on}
]]> (Aip Saifullah) Thu, 24 Jul 2014 11:44:00 GMT
Review: Coming to terms with 1965 Can the descendants of both sides of 1965 come together to help the nation achieve reconciliation?

Bob Lowry

children war lowry 1

One objective of post-Suharto reformers has been to resolve historical injustices and prevent future conflict. The Children of War, written in Indonesian, is the story of one of many organisations devoted to that end. The FSAB (Forum for the Bonding of the Children of the Nation) was formally established in 2003 although its origins go back to 2000. It is a self-consciously elitist grouping of family and descendants of the leading protagonists in Indonesia’s various bloody conflicts stretching from the War of Independence to more recent times.

The membership includes the wife of an independence fighter killed by the Dutch in the 1940s and the offspring of those involved on both sides of the Darul Islam uprisings, the PPRI/Permesta revolts, the foiled 1965 coup d’etat, the Indonesian–Chinese conflict and other conflicts to the current time. Although all these conflicts are represented, the core challenge is to reconcile 1965 and its aftermath. The inclusion of the other conflicts is really designed to broaden the agenda, dilute the focus on 1965, and concentrate focus on the prevention of conflict within the current constitutional arrangements.

The FSAB is chaired by Suryo Susilo, former head of the PPM (Movement for the children of member of the Indonesian Armed Forces). The PPM was formed in 1980, one of numerous organisations founded to co-opt youth in support of Golkar and the New Order. Members of the FSAB include Lieutenant General (Retired) Agus Widjojo and his sister Nani Nurrachman, perhaps the most prominent military victims of the 1965 coup; Ilham and Poppy Aidit, son and niece respectively of the PKI leader D.N. Aidit; and Perry Omar Dhani, son of Sukarno’s air force chief. Others include the grandson of the Aceh rebel, Daud Beureuh; offspring of PSI members – a party banned in 1960 after the PRRI/Permesta revolt – and many others. So the book is of interest because of the familiar names and snippets about well-known members’ life experiences, professions and views in the meantime.

The FSAB is a voluntary, non-profit, non-partisan, organisation promoting community bonding. Its moment of glory was in March 2004 when a photo of some of the members appeared in the newspaper, Kompas, in the lead up to the 2004 elections. It was both a public launch of the organisation and an opportunity to promote national unity and discourage conflict at a time when Indonesia was still mired in violence around the archipelago.

Despite its laudable goals, the organisation has never been able to resolve two burning questions. The first: What does reconciliation mean and how should it be achieved? And the second: What niche role should the FSAB play in contemporary society given the plethora of organisations with similar ambitions? The fact that these questions have not been resolved in the 13 years since the organisation was conceived probably means that it is condemned to irrelevance as Agus Widjojo has warned.

For Agus the basic stumbling block is that those on the political left see themselves as the sole victims of the 1965 coup and are stuck in a time warp hovering around the coup and its aftermath of mass killings, imprisonment without due process, dispossession, and suspension of civil rights. Agus argues that the background leading up to the coup, including violence against non-communists, must be taken into account. In other words it is not a zero sum game of perpetrators versus victims. In support of this argument he claims the counterfactual of what the PKI would have done had they achieved power needs to be taken into account.

Given the historical record of communist regimes, it could be argued that the emergence of a communist government would not have been a desirable outcome for Indonesia or the region. The reality is of course that the PKI did not come anywhere near winning power. Moreover, counterfactuals cannot excuse what actually happened in the aftermath of the coup. The view that reconciliation should not be viewed as a zero sum game has some merit as long as it does not ignore proportionality. At the very least it does recognise that there were injustices that need to be addressed. This stands in stark contrast to some of Agus’ military colleagues who totally deny culpability claiming that they were nothing more than puppets of the Cold War protagonists, or that it was beyond their control, or that the ends justified the means.

The Left, of course, wants a full accounting for what happened in 1965 and thereafter as a foundation for any reconciliation that would involve confessions by and trials of surviving perpetrators and the restoration of civil rights and property for victims along with compensation for lost rights and pensions. There was some hope that this would be done under the KKR (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) which was legislated for in 2004. But it was struck down by the Constitutional Court in 2006 on petition from civil rights groups who feared that the legislation was so flawed that it would become a vehicle for granting amnesty without necessarily discovering the truth or compensating the aggrieved.

Despite various parliamentary and community expressions of support for resolving past injustices, concrete results have been very slow in coming. Revised legislation for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has yet to emerge and the courts are doing all they can to delay, obfuscate and complicate the process. The reason for this tardiness is very simple. The beneficiaries of the coup are still in power despite the transition to democracy in 1998. The best example of this is that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s father-in-law, Sarwo Edhie Wibowo (deceased), was one of the masterminds of the post-coup killings and the ideological guardian of the New Order.

Moreover, unearthing the facts of what happened in 1965 and thereafter would require the rewriting of Indonesia’s ideologically constructed history. Although historians doubt that a definitive account of who conceived, planned, and executed the coup can now be constructed, there is no doubt that a commission of enquiry would reveal a much more complex and nuanced set of actors and motivations than is currently recorded in official history texts taught in Indonesian schools. This is well illustrated by Salim Said’s recent reminiscences. Historians could of course undertake this task. However, an official enquiry that had the power to subpoena witnesses and evidence and had the authority to seek cooperation from the agencies and archives of relevant countries would provide a more secure base from which reconciliation could be addressed. This would lead to new interpretations of history with revisions over time as new evidence and ways of evaluating the historical record emerged.

In relation to the second question facing the organisation, that of what role it should play in contemporary Indonesia, members of the FSAB have suggested several roles that they might fulfill. However, there is no consensus on what its focus should be or how they might obtain funding. Some suggest that they remain a small elite vanguard, or moral movement, showing how the descendants of previously warring families can bury the hatchet and commit themselves to preventing further conflict. Others suggest they should develop a conflict resolution think tank or focus on improving the socio-economic lot of the poor.

So far the organisation’s biggest contribution has been made by individuals speaking at conferences, undertaking social work on their own behalf or with others, or participating in government-funded conflict prevention programs. The latter are premised on not awakening sleeping demons while promoting the immutable ‘four pillars’ of the Pancasila, the Constitution, Unity in diversity, and the Unitary state. These are largely supporting acts for people and organisations with other agendas. As Agus Widjojo says, until they can reach some agreement within the FSAB about the path to reconciliation and how they make the transition from 1965 to the present, it is unlikely that the group has much future other than as a ‘salon’.

Despite its conservative leadership and dubious recent embrace of Tommy Suharto, the FSAB is still regarded by elements of the status quo – mainly the military and the Islamic group, Nahdlatul Ulama, broadly defined – as having been captured by the Left. However, if the FSAB can add its weight to convincing the new parliament and president to establish a fact finding commission and leave reconciliation to a separate body, convened after the findings have been delivered, it will have played a useful role and resolved its own impasse on the way.

The book is well written but becomes a tedious read because it is, in fact, two books. The first is about the birth and evolution of the FSAB – and is perhaps a eulogy. The second is a debate about the purposes of the organisation and how it should advance its motto ‘to stop the inter-generational transmission of conflict and not create new conflicts’. Consequently, many of the principal themes are revisited time and time again with minor variations and attributed to several of the 41 founders (ten since deceased) and other prominent members of the organisation. Nevertheless, it is a curiosity worth the read.

Nina Pane,, The Children of War, Kompas, Jakarta, 2013.

Bob Lowry ( is an Adjunct Lecturer at ADFA.

Inside Indonesia 117: Jul-Sep 2014{jcomments on}

]]> (Bob Lowry) Sat, 02 Aug 2014 02:04:14 GMT
Amri Yahya and the Sydney University Labor Club A link to Australia’s support of the Indonesian revolution

Ron Witton

witton 1Paul Byleveld

In Yogyakarta’s Fort Vredeburg, one of the city’s major tourist attractions, hangs a little-known painting by the famous Indonesian painter, Amri Yahya. The painting is titled Lukisan Perjuangan dari Agresi Belanda I s/d Renville (Painting of the Struggle from the First Dutch Aggression until the Renville Agreement).

The painting is of particular interest to Australian visitors as it commemorates the support given by members of Sydney University's Labor Club to the Indonesian Republic during the early-1940s revolution. It depicts a dramatic example of Australian popular support for the fledgling republic.

witton 2Amri Yahya  Source:

Amri Yahya was born in Palembang in 1939 and lived most of his life in Yogyakarta where he lectured at the Yogyakarta Public University (UNY). He died in December 2004 in a state of severe depression after a fire at his Yogyakarta gallery destroyed virtually all his art collection, including his first painting.

Painting of the Struggle from the First Dutch Aggression until the Renville Agreement consists of four ‘frames’, each covering crucial events in Indonesia’s struggle for independence. 

The first frame (top left) depicts a scene from the conflict which later became known as the First Military Aggression. On 20 July 1947 the Dutch, claiming violations of the Linggadjati Agreement of November 1946, launched what they called a ‘police action’ to destroy the fledgling Indonesian republic.

witton 3Dutch troops with captured Indonesian fighters Source:

The second frame of the painting (top right) records that this Dutch aggression raised a storm of protest throughout the world, including demonstrations in Australia against their actions.

The most well-known demonstration in Australia occurred on 25 July 1947. Two days before, the Sydney University's Labor Club had hosted a talk by a colourful Scotswoman named Muriel Pearson who had adopted an Indonesian identity and was better known as K'tut Tantri. She was a staunch supporter of the revolutionary republican cause. K’tut Tantri had remained in Indonesia throughout the Japanese occupation (during which time she became known to the Allies as 'Surabaya Sue'), and had subsequently become a close confidant of Sukarno and other Indonesian revolutionary leaders. In 1947 she travelled to Australia as part of Indonesia’s efforts to gain international support for the independence struggle.

witton 4‘Sourabaya Sue at Freemantle’, Daily News, 14 June 1947 

K’tut Tantri’s fiery speech at Sydney University condemned the Dutch violation of the Linggadjati Agreement. Jan Lingard in Refugees and Rebels: Indonesian Exiles in Wartime Australia, reports that Tantri painted a graphic picture of the desperate plight of the Indonesian fighters:

'...ill equipped to fight against the planes and tanks of the Dutch. Their army is dressed in rags and has little more than bamboo spears...there are few doctors or hospitals and they are acutely short of medical supplies’.

Sydney University Labor Club students, inspired by her stirring words, immediately planned a demonstration in support of the Indonesian cause. Details of the planned demonstration were provided on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald on 25 July 1947, along with reports of many other expressions of support for the Indonesian cause from a wide range of Australian unions and churches.

witton 5Sydney Morning Herald, 25 July 1947

The Sydney Labor Club students were joined in their demonstration by other supporters of the Indonesian cause, including a large contingent of wharf labourers who had been instrumental in preventing the departure from Sydney of armament-laden Dutch ships destined to help the Dutch forces in Indonesia. The demonstration was staged outside the offices of the Dutch Consulate-General in Margaret Street in the centre of Sydney and was met with heavy-handedness from the NSW police. Such violent consequences typified the way the NSW police in those days dealt with any possibly communist-inspired demonstration. The next day’s edition of the Sydney Morning Herald (26 July 1947) had graphic photos of the melee.

witton 6Front page, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 July 1947

The demonstration was widely reported in Indonesia and was what later inspired the Amri Yahya to include the Sydney University Labor Club placard photographed on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald in his painting. The Herald also refers to the presence at the demonstration of ‘Mrs Ketoet Tantri known as Sourabaya Sue’.

On 12 August 1947 at Lake Success, New York, the United Nations (UN) hosted discussions between Dutch and Indonesian representatives. The third frame (bottom left) depicts the actions at the UN by Indonesia’s delegation to bring the Dutch aggression to world attention. In the painting, behind Sjahrir are three significant figures of the Indonesian delegation. On the left is Soedjatmoko (known to his friends as ‘Koko’), a significant Indonesian intellectual who wrote widely on social and political issues and served as both Indonesia’s ambassador to the UN and Rector of the UN University in Japan. Behind Soedjatmoko is Soemitro Djojohadikoesoemo who later became finance minister. In the centre of the painting is Charles Tambu, a Sri Lankan lawyer who had been living in Singapore before the war and who had been captured by the Japanese and taken to Jakarta where he was placed in a ‘Radio camp’ and given the task of monitoring allied broadcasts in English. He became an effective supporter of Indonesia’s independence movement and remained a resident of Indonesia. In the 1960s he became one of Sukarno's loudest enemies, via his Jakarta-based paper, Times of Indonesia.

witton 7The Indonesian delegation arriving before the Lake Success UN Security Council meeting: (left to right): Agus Salim, Foreign Minister; Dr. Soemitro, Minister of Finance; former Premier Sutan Sjahrir, Ambassador-at-large; and C. Thamboe, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Source: UN Photo archive.

The fourth frame (bottom right) is a scene depicting the January 1948 negotiations, brokered by the UN Security Council, between the Dutch and the Indonesians. The talks were held on the USS Renville anchored in Jakarta Bay and resulted in the Renville Agreement. The agreement was an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the disputes that arose following the 1946 breakdown of the Linggadjati Agreement. The republican delegation was led by the then Prime Minister, Amir Sjarifuddin, with the prominent Christian politician, Johannes Leimena, as his deputy.

witton 8Photo taken on 17 January 1948 on the deck of USS Renville shows (right to left): Prime Minister Amir Syarifuddin, Setiadjit, Johannes Leimena, H. Agus Salim, Ali Sastroamidjojo, and Latuharhary. Source:

Events subsequent to those portrayed in the painting

The subsequent August-November 1949 Round Table Conference led to a formal transfer of sovereignty. At that Conference, the talks were held between the Indonesian Republic and the Netherlands as the two disputing parties, under the chairmanship of the United States, who the two disputing parties saw as a ‘neutral power’.

witton 9The Round Table Conference in session Source: wikipedia

To represent them at the Conference, the Dutch chose Belgium, a sympathetic colonial power. Indonesia chose Australia rather than, as many expected, the newly independent country of India. This choice is perhaps explained by the popular support for the Indonesian cause in Australia as reflected in Amri Yahya’s painting. It should be noted that Australia’s delegation was headed by the judge, Sir Richard Kirby, whose exemplary efforts on behalf of Indonesia became widely known in Indonesia and resulted in his being awarded the rare honour, for a non-Indonesian, of the Bintang Jasa Utama (Supreme Service Medal).

witton 10Jogjakarta, 16 November 1947, Good Offices Committee (GOC) Chairman Judge Kirby brings Dutch proposal Source:


In 1960, K’tut Tantri wrote Revolt in Paradise, a book recording her life story. Revolt in Paradise became extremely popular in Australia and throughout the world. In 1983, at the age of 85, K’tut Tantri left Indonesia and returned to Australia to continue her efforts to have a film made of her life. However, despite three decades of interest by a variety of film producers, both in Hollywood and Australia, no film was ever made, although a biography was written by Tim Lindsey who managed to get close to his subject in her last years. K’tut Tantri, in her nineties and with failing health, became a social recluse in Sydney’s fashionable Hyde Park Hotel.


Ron Witton ( has a MA in Indonesian and Malayan Studies from Sydney University and a PhD from Cornell. He has taught in Australian and Indonesian universities and still works as an Indonesian interpreter and translator. A version of this article appeared earlier as ‘Australia and Indonesia: an art history’, SAM [Sydney Alumni Magazine], Spring 2009, p.11.

Inside Indonesia 117: Jul-Sep 2014{jcomments on} 

]]> (Ron Witton) Sun, 24 Aug 2014 21:49:50 GMT
Film review: Atambua 39˚ Celsius The edge of Merah-Putih

Sandeep Ray

Atambua_MainPhotoAtambua - Reproduced with permission from Riri Riza 

Atambua 39˚ Celsius is not a pretty film. Like the dry and fallow landscapes of Atambua, a frontier town at the edge of the Nusa Tenggara Timor region, the emotional terrains of its characters are bleak and incomplete. Shot with a small, roving crew, featuring actors whose own life experiences mimic the plot, this surprisingly tender film has a storyline that is simple but not thin.

A gradual coalescing of three individuals adrift in in this barren land, Atambua explores the frugal, fractured existence of the dispossessed who left Timor-Leste in 1999, and moved throughout the islands of Nusa Tenggara Timor. Reynaldo (Petrus Beyleto) is an alcoholic bus driver unable to remain sober enough to confront his own conscience. His son Joao (Gudino Soares) clings to hope and his childhood by forlornly listening to a series of tape recordings made by his mother beseeching both father and son to return home. The third character, Nikkia (Putri Moruk) returns to Atambua in search of her grandfather’s elusive existence and perhaps, her own innocence.

Director, Riri Riza’s greatest strength is the re-creation of the environment his characters inhabit. Their homes are minimal constructions on arid, hard plots of land. There are few possessions for the large tin doors to protect. Memories are preserved through faded photographs framed behind grimy glass and in dusty weaves of cloth brought years ago from Timor-Leste. Water for drinking and personal hygiene is scarce. In the centre of town are a few dimly-lit pool halls and a gymnasium where the sinewy Joao and his friends lift weights when they are not aimlessly driving around on small motorcycles.

AtambuaStill2Still from Atambua - Reproduced with permission from Riri Riza

Every so often the story is interrupted with a scene of local ritual – a religious procession, a sermon, a debate. Cameraman Gunnar Nimpunno’s unobtrusive, fluid style gives the film an intimate, ethnographic feel. We are treated to the gorgeous beauty of the Timor Sea that lies just beyond the city limits. The characters blend almost seamlessly into their surroundings, suspending for us the artifice of cinematic construction and drawing us effortlessly into the desolate, quotidian texture of Atambua.

Even in the bleakest of situations, hormones will rage for teenagers. The adolescent Joao is bewitched by the beautiful, curly-haired Nikkia who speaks little and torments the boy with long, sultry gazes. She soon recruits the willing Joao to haul rocks for her. Her mission is to create a shrine to the memory of her recently deceased grandfather. Joao’s only respite from a life spent cleaning up his father’s drunken vomit, is tagging along with Nikkia in the hope of winning her affection.

The story is jostled from the dreariness it seems resigned to when Reynaldo loses his job for being intoxicated and subsequently ends up in jail for attacking a man who accuses him of murder. Nikkia, surprised and confused when Joao clumsily and forcefully declares his passion for her, flees to Kupang on the western edge of the island.

It is only towards the end of the film that the characters’ intimate thoughts and introspections guide the narrative via a three-way voice-over, almost jolting us out of its languid, observational flow. We hear that Nikkia had been raped repeatedly when she had first arrived as a refugee. Reynaldo sobers up and realises that he needs to return home and face his past and his family. All three reunite in Kupang where Nikkia forgives Joao and bids both father and son well for their journey to Timor-Leste. Without passports, they are forced to take an illegal, circuitous route back home.

Sub Photo1  Atambua 39Still from Atambua - Reproduced with permission from Riri Riza

Riza shows directorial restraint by refusing to over-sentimentalise the reunion at the end. ‘It’s about the greater spiritual longing of many people there to find their home and place of belonging. That is the main theme. To show one family’s reunion would have taken away from that’, he tells me after the film’s European premiere in Rotterdam.

We can only look forward to be taken on another cinematic journey by Riri Riza, who has proven to be one of the boldest risk-takers in Indonesian cinema with this small offering – a gem of a film but, like its characters, not devoid of rough edges. Along with versatile producer Mira Lesmana of Miles Productions (, Riza might have launched the careers of the world’s first Tetum speaking movie stars.

Sandeep Ray ( is a filmmaker and a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at the National University of Singapore.

Inside Indonesia 117: Jul-Sep 2014 {jcomments on} 
]]> (Sandeep Ray) Sun, 07 Sep 2014 21:45:14 GMT
Review: Seeking peace without justice The memoir of a former human rights commission official gives insights into handling of human rights in Indonesia in the late New Order and early reformasi period

Warren Doull

Doull 1

The winner of the July 2014 Indonesian presidential election, Joko Widodo, has pledged to investigate past crimes against humanity, including the 1997-1998 disappearances of 13 pro-democracy activists. He is likely to come under pressure to investigate numerous unresolved human rights abuse cases, including crimes committed in 1965. One of the new president’s main mechanisms for conducting such investigations will be the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM).

In this context, a book by a former member of Komnas HAM, Dr Bambang W Soeharto, about his time with this organisation is potentially revelatory. The book, Menangani Konflik di Indonesia (Handling Conflict in Indonesia) provides some interesting detail about a number of post-Suharto era conflicts where human rights violations occurred. Most intriguing however, is what it reveals about Dr Bambang’s role as a senior member of Komnas HAM in the period straddling the New Order and reformasi eras.

The book suggests that at the time he was a member of Komnas HAM, the focus of Dr Bambang’s work was not on exposing human rights abuses, nor on seeking justice for victims of abuse. Rather the main focus was to promote a certain kind of peace-building ahead of exposing human rights abuses.

East Timor

An example of this approach is Dr Bambang’s treatment of the East Timor conflict in a chapter titled ‘Post Referendum Conflict in East Timor’. He explains that prior to the August 1999 referendum, the Indonesian security forces commander believed the referendum results would favour Indonesia, though he pointedly notes it was unclear on what reports this belief was based. Unlike some other Indonesian officials, Dr Bambang does not question the accuracy of the referendum results, which showed only 21.5 per cent voting to remain part of Indonesia.

So far, this seems consistent with the international community’s accepted version of events. However, Dr Bambang goes on to describe the post-referendum situation as one of ‘quarrelling and conflict’ (‘pertikaian dan konflik’) between pro-integration and pro-independence supporters. He does not mention that the ‘quarrelling and conflict’ in East Timor in September 1999 produced outcomes that were one-sided and extreme: of the six biggest massacres of September 1999 (in Dili, Suai, Maliana, Passabe, Maquelab, and Lautem), all were committed by armed pro-integration groups against unarmed pro-independence supporters.

Dr Bambang’s creative even-handedness continues as he describes how a group of pro-independence supporters at Dili harbour on 4 September 1999 (most probably trying to evacuate) ‘quarrelled’ with pro-integration supporters and fled to a nearby Catholic diocesan building. This ‘angered’ the pro-integration supporters, who subsequently burned the building down. The following day, another diocesan compound in Dili was attacked by pro-integration supporters, who bashed many people taking refuge there, burned several buildings down and murdered 15 unarmed pro-independence supporters. Even this murderous event the author tries to describe in an even-handed way, referring to it as a ‘violent incident’ in which ‘many people died’. Such an unwillingness to identify ‘killers’ and ‘victims’ echoes current American references to ‘collateral damage’ from their own murderous attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

By now the reader is beginning to realise, as the book title suggests – that the writer is concerned with ‘handling conflict’ rather than with pursuing justice. Dr Bambang notes with pride that ‘establishment of the KKP HAM (the Truth and Friendship Commission) was able to water down the calls of some countries for an International Criminal Tribunal for East Timor’. The Truth and Friendship Commission emerged as a political compromise, with a mandate to find out the truth about human rights violations in East Timor but not to recommend punishments. He acknowledges the Truth and Friendship Commission therefore could not find justice for human rights victims. Justice, he suggests, was being subverted to something that was more important in a democracy: political stability.

From a different time?

Dr Bambang W. Soeharto was appointed by the New Order regime as a foundational member of Komnas HAM at its establishment in 1993 and remained in this role until 2002. At the same time, he was a senior official in KOSGORO (Kesatuan Organisasi Serbaguna Gotong Royong) a Javanese organisation which claimed grassroots affiliation but which sought seats in the New Order’s ruling Golkar party. Perhaps Dr Bambang can be viewed as a survivor from a different era in Indonesian politics, when political compromise was rewarded ahead of outspokenness.

It is revealing that among the dignitaries who attended the launch of this book in 2013, there were no fewer than three former heads of the Indonesian armed forces: Try Sutrisno, Djoko Santoso and Wiranto. In 2013 Dr Bambang served a brief period as a senior official in Wiranto’s political party, Hanura, before being ousted after one of his companies was investigated for land title forgery. This association suggests that Dr Bambang is unconcerned about being connected with former heads of the Indonesian armed forces.

In fairness, the writer does identify a solution to some of the conflicts under discussion – such as stricter law enforcement to address the conflict in Kalimantan between Dayak and Madurese in 1997. Moreover, the writer identifies specific human rights violations, including the killing of four civilians by police trying to disperse demonstrators in Palangkaraya on 8 March 2001. However, on the whole, the book on ‘handling conflict’ seems far more concerned with political trouble-shooting than with upholding human rights.

Komnas HAM today

Today, however, it is hard to imagine Komnas HAM members being on such friendly terms with former national military commanders. And whilst Dr Bambang’s account suggests his work at Komnas HAM was focused on political trouble-shooting rather than on ensuring justice for victims, more recently Komnas HAM has been concerned with justice.

Its stated goals include protection and enforcement of human rights. To develop conditions conducive to the observance of fundamental human rights in accordance with Indonesia’s Pancasila philosophy, 1945 Constitution, and the UN Charter, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And to improve protection and enforcement of human rights so each Indonesian can develop wholly and be able to participate in various aspects of life.

In pursuing these aims, it faces significant limitations. Komnas HAM is not able to prosecute or forcefully detain anyone. There are many cases of people being summoned to give evidence to the Commission and simply refusing.

But Komnas HAM does have the power to shame people through public statements and written publications, and to gather evidence that can be used by government prosecuting teams. Regarding the post-referendum violence in East Timor in 1999, the Commission was independent enough to declare that pro-integration militias had been armed, trained and even commanded by elements of Indonesia’s military. With regard to the violence in Ambon in 2000, Komnas HAM publicly declared that many local police were taking sides and joining in the conflict. More recently, it found evidence of military complicity in the massacres of alleged communists in 1965, and recommended that the Attorney General investigate further.

Moreover, the 13 current Komnas HAM members come from a different era. Whilst it is true that members are selected by politicians who no doubt consider party interests when making selections, very few members have close ties to government. For example, current members include former non-government organisation (NGO) activists in the fields of the environment, human rights, cultural research and agrarian reform (Sandrayati Moniaga, Otto Nur Abdullah, Natalius Pigai, Muhammad Nur Khoiron and Dianto Bachriadi). Others include a former school teacher (Siane Indriani) and a member of the Indonesia Ulema Council (Maneger Nasution). None were appointed as members under the New Order regime and none are ex-military, ex-police or ex-politicians.

Nonetheless, under Indonesia’s new president, human rights activists will come up against powerful vested interests, just as human rights activists have in western countries. When they do so they will probably have Komnas HAM close by their side. But in the end, the best measure of whether they succeed will not be the amount of grandiose speeches by politicians, but whether or not human rights abuses continue.

Soeharto, Bambang W., Menangani Konflik di Indonesia, Jakarta: Kata Hasta Pustaka, 2013.

Warren Doull ( is an ex-staff member of the United Nations Transitional Administration (UNTAET) in East Timor.

Inside Indonesia 117: Jul-Sep 2014

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]]> (Warren Doull) Mon, 08 Sep 2014 12:58:27 GMT
Photo essay: Communing with the spirits and sharing food A Ramadan photo essay

Nicholas Herriman

Herriman 1

The Malay population of Australia's Cocos (Keeling) Islands celebrate Hari Raya over several days. The accompanying rituals express many aspects of community life including two of the most important aspects; communing with dead ancestors and relatives and sharing of food.

Several hundred Malays live on Australia's Cocos (Keeling) Islands. They celebrate Hari Raya over several days. The rituals accompanying the celebration refer to two of the more important aspects of Home Island life; communing with dead ancestors and relatives and the sharing of food. Aside from family and neighbours, attendants at a ritual meal include, as depicted here, local imams and a visiting imam from Malaysia.

herriman 2

Spirits of dead ancestors and relatives feature heavily. The feast for spirits of the dead preceded the fasting month. In this feast, food was ostensibly provided for the spirits--now at the conclusion of fasting food is again given to them. As soon as fasting was complete, on the first morning of Hari Raya, residents visited the graveyard and pray for these spirits. While at the graveyard they also make ritualised apologies to family and friends. In a sense, they make peace with all residents; living and dead. As depicted here, while at the graveyard a wife asks forgiveness of another wife, while their husbands do the same. Part of the apology is an expression of intent: that food and drink which has been shared has been accepted (dihalalkan). 

Food and drink are a central theme, because for the past month consuming them during daylight hours had been taboo. Yet throughout the fasting month, as indeed for the past year, people have been almost constantly giving presents. The gifts most commonly take the form of food. This can be in the form of simple presents but also in the context of ritual meals. Now, during Hari Raya rituals food and drink is shared, consumed and thrown away in proportions that are excessive compared to everyday usage.

Both food sharing and the spirits of the dead may be connected. In rituals, when food is shared, it is also on offer for the spirits. In the ritual context sharing food is a way of communing with the spirits. Sharing food is also a product of, and produces, community ties. Community, spirit and food are thus connected.


Nicholas Herriman ( lectures in Anthropology at La Trobe University. He is currently conducting fieldwork research into Cocos Malay culture on Home Island. Over 400 Cocos Malays reside on Home Island, one of two inhabited islands in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. These atolls are located in the northeast Indian Ocean and are territories of Australia.

Inside Indonesia 118: Oct-Dec 2014{jcomments on}
]]> (Nicholas Herriman) Mon, 15 Sep 2014 03:00:01 GMT
Wild West Batur Beyond the tourism and real estate frontiers in Bali is a small branch of the global resource frontier.

Graeme MacRae

Resource stripping in Batur, Bali - Graeme MacRaeResource stripping in Batur, Bali - Graeme MacRae

A few weeks ago, I drove up the Sidemen road, famous since the 1930s as one of the most beautiful in Bali. I would have taken it slowly anyway, to enjoy the views, but I had no choice. Around 200 trucks were coming the other way, down from the mountains, overloaded with sand, gravel and rock.

Where were they coming from? Where were they going to?

They come from quarries on the slopes of the sacred mountain Agung. They are headed where everything else is headed: into the hundreds of hotel, villa and other construction projects. Most are in Bali’s coastal resorts, but some are on ricefields around the sprawling urban area of Denpasar/Kuta.

A few days later, I meet a similar procession coming down the other sacred mountain, Batur. This time I learn a bit more. Every day, from before dawn till after dusk, at least 1500 overloaded trucks grind their way painfully up out of the crater, stopping on the way to offload excess weight.

Down in the caldera, amid what is left of a rich but delicate ecosystem of wild grasses and orchids which feed off volcanic ash among spectacular fields of black lava, lies one of the far outposts of the global resource economy.

Piles of black gravel line the narrow road around the caldera floor. Alongside it are makeshift shelters under which men and women shovel gravel through large sieves into piles of finer sand. When the sieving is done, they flag down a truck and load it by hand. Signs invite trucks into a hinterland of even narrower dirt tracks where more piles are waiting. Each hamlet the trucks pass through shares in the boom by levying its own little toll.

But where does all this black stuff come from in the first place?

Some of it is dug by hand from what were probably blowholes on the side of the volcano, now in people’s backyards. But here and there this landscape of backyard industry expands into something bigger. Tracks lead down into pits 20 metres or more deep, and up to 100 metres wide. At the bottom, large diggers drop buckets of gravel onto monster versions of the roadside sieves, then into waiting trucks. These pits spread until they threaten to undermine houses, villages, schools, and even temples, which now sit precariously atop cliff-faces.

The villages strung along the roadsides are black and dusty, bleak and treeless – no tourist comes here and the only water arrives by truck. But between them, in places close enough for water to be pumped from lakes or springs, lie vegetable gardens and orchards. If you venture off-road into the labyrinth of tracks, more emerge: fields of tomatoes, cabbages, onions and enormous orange pumpkins. There are even moments where beautiful micro-landscapes of gardens, trees and little bamboo houses offer glimpses of what once was, and of what a sustainable future might look like (at least until the next eruption).

But this is only half the story. Horticulture is the other viable economic option for a rapidly growing population, and in this area forest regrowth is now being cut on the lower crater walls to clear more fields. The eroded topsoil is silting up the lake and raising water levels. At the same time, runoffs of petrochemical fertilisers, fungicides and pesticides find their way into the lake, which is lined with fish farms using synthesised food laced with antibiotics. Together, these have increased nutrient loads in the water which feed an invasion of water hyacinth, while DDT and other toxins have caused deformities in fish. So far, no similar effects have been recorded in humans or animals dwelling on the lake shores, but they are obviously also at risk.

There are two main communities in the crater: Batur, whose village and main temple was shifted from the floor to the rim of the crater after an eruption in 1926, but which retains traditional ritual jurisdiction over the western half of the crater; and Songan, a larger village by the eastern end of the lake, which has, until recently, had less resources and economic development than Batur. But the new resource rush has changed that, with most of the quarrying and trucking being done by people from Songan. Most, if not all, of it is illegal. Not everybody in Batur is happy with this new wildcat economy. But nobody has the authority to stop it.

Responsibility for environmental protection and development lies with the district government, down the hill in Bangli. The staff at the visitor booth collecting fees levied by the district government, recite a litany of environmental and infrastructural problems that are not being remedied by a government flush with new revenues. Likewise, the local police and army post say they are prepared to stop the quarrying and trucking, but only at the direction of the government. The lake and its temple are also part of a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage listing, and the whole crater is part of a UNESCO Global Geopark. Both are likewise supposed to be managed by the district government. To date, the governing bodies required by these designations have not even been established.

But there are other sources of authority in Batur. Both Songan and Batur have temples called Puru Ulun Danu. The one in Batur is generally recognised as one of the main temples of Bali and a kind of control centre for the irrigation water for most of the island. It is presided over by a pair of non-Brahman priests who are considered the spiritual leaders of the community. One of them, Jro Gede Alitan, has used his spiritual authority to encourage and facilitate environmental awareness and conservation around the crater. Any quarrying or forest cutting visible from the temple results in a polite visit by a delegation from the temple. Few would dare continue in the face of disapproval from Jro Gede.

Resource stripping in Batur, Bali - Graeme MacRaeResource stripping in Batur, Bali - Graeme MacRae

Likewise, Jro Gede has restored and revitalised a circle of temples on the crater floor, mostly located at strategic ecological points such as the outlets of watercourses, to define sacred zones that likewise few would dare violate. On his own land near the crater wall, he has planted a row of onion beds above which nobody has yet been prepared to cut forest. These and other strategic interventions have limited the damage, but anywhere out of direct sight of the temple remains fair game. At the other end of the crater, his jurisdiction gives way to that of Songan, where different values prevail and support for the present district government is high.

Yet, Jro Gede’s authority stems ultimately from a still higher source.

According to Jro Gede, Batur is ‘not just a lake, but the garden of Dewi Danu (the Goddess of the lake) and the god Wisnu’, on whom Bali’s entire water and ecosystem depends. In mid-2011, the water of the lake suddenly changed colour and soon after thousands of the farmed fish died. The official explanation was the release of a plume of sulphur from an underwater volcanic vent. Others say that it was the goddess cleansing the lake of pollution.

A few months later, in the wet season of 2011-12, heavy rains caused landslides of deforested slopes at the edge of the crater. The lake level rose, exacerbated by the silting, and significantly, on the eve of Nyepi (the Balinese day of silence), Songan began to flood. Most inhabitants evacuated up to Penelokan on the crater rim but returned when the rains abated next morning, to observe Nyepi in the seclusion of their sodden homes. Since then, there has been a noticeable increase in ritual activity and religious fervour throughout the crater community.

What is happening in Batur is an unprecedented rush for resources reminiscent of the wild west, or elsewhere in Indonesia, the environmental destruction on the resource frontier in Southeast Kalimantan, so brilliantly documented by Anna Tsing in her book, Friction. While the people of Batur compete with each other to strip their own resources and grab what they can before it all runs out, the causes lie further afield. The original wild west and all those since have been driven by demand for resources and enabled by lack of government control. Half an hour downhill from Batur in Bangli, government inaction drives this resource drain. An hour further is another frontier where centuries-old rice fields are being converted by the hour into a sea of villas, hotels and resorts. The sand and rock frontier in Batur is one of the upstream ends of the many supply chains feeding this construction boom.

On the other side of the construction frontier are the supply lines of investment money, flowing from Jakarta and overseas. While resource frontiers such as Batur may look like failures of local behaviour, they are the inevitable products of money being made somewhere else and of those in charge allowing it to happen. Batur’s Jro Gede is old and his health is failing. He has done what he can. But in his view, if the government does not fulfil its responsibilities, the Goddess might just do it for them.

Graeme MacRae ( teaches anthropology at Massey University, Auckland.


Other related articles from the II archive:

'Mining Paradise'. Tessa Toumbourou

'Campaigning for Agrarian Reform'. Eve Warburton

'Deforestation, rent seeking and local elections in West Kalimantan'. Danang Widoyoko


Inside Indonesia 117: Jul-Sep 2014

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]]> (Graeme MacRae) Sun, 21 Sep 2014 11:18:10 GMT
Film review: From horror and porn stars…to Jokowi KK Dheeraj’s unauthorised biopic is full of tears and belaboured symbolism

Helen Pausacker

Film jokowi landscape

Since Joko Widodo (Jokowi) emerged as a leading contender for the presidency just over a year ago, the Indonesian public has shown an interest in his early life. The film Jokowi, subtitled in English ‘A living legend – A true inspirational story’, was released in June 2013, just as the popularity of the then Governor of Jakarta was spreading. The biopic follows both his autobiography and a number of biographies. Biopics of prominent religious and political figures are increasingly popular in Indonesia, promoting largely nationalist narratives. They have also played a role in present-day political campaigns.

The biopic in Indonesian contemporary cinema

Two recent films in this genre feature historical figures, both religious officials, and are set against the background of the Independence struggle. Sang Kiai (2013, directed by Rako Prijanto) portrays the life of KH Hasyim Asy’ari, the founder of Nahdlatul Ulama and grandfather of Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur). Soegijo (2012, directed by Garin Nugroho) is about the life of Albertus Magnus Soegijapranata, a national hero and the first indigenous Catholic Archbishop in Indonesia. The film was produced by Puskat, a Jesuit studio based in Yogyakarta.

A number of other films in this genre portray politicians who are still living. Sepatu Dahlan (Dahlan’s Shoes, 2014, directed by Benni Setiawan) is a biopic of Minister of State-Owned Enterprises, Dahlan Iskan, the former CEO of the newspaper group, Jawa Pos. The film was produced by Islamic book publisher Mizan and is based on a novel of the same name by Khrisna Pabichara. Both depict the early, impoverished life of Dahlan Iskan in Magetan, Central Java, in the 1950s, when his main desires were to own a pair of shoes and a bicycle.

Habibie & Ainun (2012, directed by Faozan Rizal) shows the romance between Indonesia’s third president, Bacharuddin Habibie and his wife. Habibie was involved in the making of the film as an advisor and joined in its promotion, being photographed with the two stars against the background of the film poster.

In contrast, Jokowi had no involvement with his biopic, perhaps wishing to steer clear of association with its controversial producer.

Director and producer

Jokowi is director Azhar Kinoi Lubis’ first feature film. Born in 1980, he graduated from the Jakarta Institute of Arts in 2003. Lubis has worked as assistant director on a number of films and television programs with well-known directors, including Garin Nugroho. He also directed nine independent short films including Peron (Platform), an omnibus film with nine other directors.

Dheeraj posters 1

The producer of Jokowi, KK Dheeraj, founded K2K Productions in 2006 and is no stranger to controversy. Dheeraj was born in Indonesia to parents of Indian descent and is best known for his B-grade horror films and ‘romantic’ (sexy) comedies. Dheeraj has courted controversy, and possibly increased audience numbers, by using western porn stars in his films.

Rintihan Kuntilanak Perawan (Moaning of a Virgin Ghost) portrays Indonesian rock musicians abducting a virgin, Alice, and drinking her blood to improve their fortunes. Alice is played by American porn star Tera Patrick, who does not appear naked but wears a bikini to avoid censorship. The same approach is taken in another of Dheeraj’s films, Pocong Mandi Goyang Pinggul (Shrouded Corpse Shaking her Hips Bathing) in which Sasha Grey, another American porn star, plays a bikini-clad ghost.

Islamic extremist group FPI (Islamic Defenders Front) objected to the release of Rintihan and threatened violent protests if Grey came to Indonesia to promote the film. Dheeraj responded by screening the film at FPI headquarters to demonstrate that even though it featured a porn star actress, Rintihan was not porn.

rintihan 1

Unlike Grey, the star of another of Dheeraj’s films in this genre, Pacar Hantu Perawan (Virgin Ghost’s Lover), was unwilling to come to Indonesia. Vicky Vette became embroiled in a controversial and bizarre taunting of the then Minister of Communications, Titaful Sembiring, from the Islamic party, PKS, after he shook Michelle Obama’s hand. Titaful had previously stated he would not touch a woman who was not a relative. Vette tweeted, ‘You can touch me in public anytime you want, cutie!’ Nervous that she might not receive a warm reception in Indonesia following her tweet, Vette shot her scenes for Pacar Hantu Perawan overseas.

In 2012, another of Dheeraj’s films became involved in controversy over a different type of western actor. The promotional poster for his comedy-horror film, Mr Bean Kesurupan Depe (Mr Bean Possessed by Depe) featured ‘Mr Bean’ wearing a white pocong (death shroud). However Mr Bean was not played by Rowan Atkinson, the actor who had made the character internationally famous, but by William Ferguson. Muhammad Ruditjo, a Jakarta-based lawyer, filed a report with Bogor Police accusing Dheeraj of fraud. Dheeraj stated that he had only advertised that the film starred ‘Mr Bean from England’. ‘Mr Bean’, he asserted, was a reference to a fictional character not Atkinson and Ferguson was indeed from England.

With his thirtieth film, Dheeraj chose to embark on an entirely new genre - the biopic. While he has described Jokowi as a tribute to the president-elect, , he was also presumably hoping to cash in on Jokowi’s popularity. However the film was not a commercial success and portrays the early events of Jokowi’s life with a focus on the downs rather than the ups, in classic sinetron (soapie) style.

Telling the story: trials rather than tribulations

In Jokowi, one disaster follows another. The film opens with a scene in which Jokowi’s father, Notomihardjo, is stopped by the military on his way to visit his wife in hospital where she has just given birth to Jokowi. In an attempt to pay rent on their house, Notomihardjo takes family crockery to sell, but on the way has a bike accident and the plates are broken. Forced out of their house with the infant Jokowi, we see the couple sitting in the rain, sharing a plate of food at a warung (roadside stall), where they are offered a small house to rent. Later, they flee this house after the owner, Suroso, is taken for questioning by the military in the post-1965 round-up of suspected communists. The family subsequently finds a new place, only to be turned out again when their neighbourhood is flattened to make way for a bus terminal.

It is indeed interesting that a brief scene depicting the persecution of suspected communist sympathisers was included in the film – perhaps a sign of changing attitudes toward the post-1965 events. The victims are portrayed sympathetically, albeit with acting so wooden that it is hard to believe anything serious is happening.

Amongst the traumas, there are brief scenes depicting Jokowi’s scholastic achievements. In primary school, we see the teacher commenting that he always gets 100 per cent for his work and Jokowi is applauded by his fellow students. The scene is repeated during secondary school, where he also achieves good results.

The second half of the film depicts Jokowi’s courtship of Iriana, his wife-to-be. Here, Jokowi is shown to be a bit clumsy and tongue-tied, in a way intended to be endearing. On his way to declare his love for Iriana, he is knocked off his bike. But Iriana is undeterred. She is drawn to his good character, preferring him to her other, richer suitor, the motorbike rider Mas Handoko, who refuses even to shake Jokowi’s hand. The film then jumps from Jokowi’s ambiguous proposal, to the kitchen where the couple, now married, already have a baby.

Having honed in on small episodes from Jokowi’s childhood in great detail early in the film, the rendering of his adult life moves at a more rapid pace. It pauses only briefly to depict the first financial disaster in his furniture business and a French customer nicknaming him ‘Jokowi’ for the first time.

The film seems undecided about how to end. A good Indonesian tear-jerker should end in tragedy, with at least one of the main characters dying. Just prior to Jokowi’s first financial business disaster we are shown the funeral of his grandfather and the final personal scene is of Jokowi’s father’s funeral, at which the family cries around the grave. Jokowi stays behind alone, places his father’s watch on the grave and promises he will look after his mother. In the film, after depictions of the deaths of both his grandfather and father, we are offered flashbacks to scenes of Jokowi’s childhood and their influence on him.

However the final scene is a type of epilogue. It shows a market place in Solo, where vendors are watching the television as Jokowi becomes governor of Jakarta. Just as his classmates did when he was young, everyone applauds.

Rock-and-roll, but no sex or drugs

In stark contrast to KK Dheeraj’s other films, there is no sauciness in this film. The young Jokowi does nothing wrong – he does not cheat, lie, smoke, drink or engage in youthful sexual experimentation. The few times he is in trouble with his parents are the result of misunderstandings.

In the first incident, Notomihardjo blames himself because he thinks Jokowi has willingly been involved in a fight. In fact, Jokowi was beaten up for refusing a bribe from a boy who absconded from Islamic studies. Then when Jokowi’s interest in Metallica reduces his mother to sobbing on her prayer mat, he takes her hands and explains that his interest in rock music has not led him astray. In another scene, we see him on his way to buy a music cassette, but he instead gives half the money to an old woman beggar.

The film plays its symbolism and an attempt to paint a heavy-handed psychological portrait. The camera sweeps in on small details to ram home the point to the viewer. For example, when Jokowi’s family seeks refuge after 1965, Jokowi enters the house and the camera pans in on a crucifix. The older girl in the house explains to him that this is the Catholic symbol of Jesus – placing the origins of Jokowi’s religious tolerance deep in his childhood (his running mates in Solo and Jakarta were both Christians).

We see a number of scenes of a young Jokowi fishing to help feed his family. Indeed he has the fish with him when the military knock down their house. The camera focuses on a fish being trodden on by a military boot. Little Jokowi weeps – as he does often in the early part of the film.

Notomihardjo’s watch also serves as a leitmotif to bind the beginning and end of the film together. Early on we see his father pawning his watch for rental money. Later when the family is better off, adult Jokowi is invited by the pawnbroker’s son to retrieve the watch. As Jokowi takes the watch, he receives a call that his own father has just died. The camera closely follows the watch falling from Jokowi’s hand to the floor. Jokowi’s father’s time is up. Surprisingly the watch does not smash, as might have been expected from the clash of cymbals in the mood music accompanying the image.

The adults in the film spend much time philosophising to the young Jokowi, giving him some heavy-handed lessons for his later life in public service. His grandfather brings out the ubiquitous wayang puppets, explaining that Semar is both a servant and also a god, and that Wrekudara (Bima) is tough with his son, Gathutkaca, because he loves him.

When Jokowi is upset because he can’t go to the best high school and has to go to a second-rate school, his father says that whether a shirt looks good or bad depends on the wearer. Later, before Jokowi leaves for university, his father takes him to a soup stall and explains that the seller has to serve the community and try to meet many different requests. This, his father explains, Jokowi must also do later in life.

Against this saintliness, Jokowi is shown to have a burning desire to make money and for the family to rise from its status. He cries with grief when the family has to move in with others, and pressures his father to build their own (surprisingly large) house. He cries again (with relief, this time) when they finally have their own house.

Two presidential candidates, two films

The 2014 presidential election was the first in which there were recently-released cinematic representations of both candidates. The only similarity between the two films was that neither captured the public imagination.

The films were as different as the candidates themselves. Sang Patriot (2014, director Helmi Adam), sponsored and produced by Prabowo Subianto’s party and released on its YouTube channel, was a documentary portraying Prabowo as a strong and powerful man from a family with a long political heritage. The film is rather grandiose and highlights his successes.

By contrast, Jokowi did not give permission for Jokowi, the film, to be made and has, perhaps wisely, distanced himself from the production rather than becoming embroiled in fights with its controversial producer. He did not attend the premiere of his biopic.

Jokowi is made in the sinetron style focusing on emotions and life’s disasters. Nevertheless, it does truthfully follow the broad outline of Joko Widodo’s early life. What it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in the obvious admiration shown by the producer and director for their subject, an admiration shared by many Indonesians. The film may not have enhanced, but neither has it damaged, Jokowi’s reputation. Jokowi, the man, achieved success through the ballot box, even if the film of his life flopped at the box office.


Helen Pausacker ( is Deputy Director and principal research assistant in the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, University of Melbourne.


Other related articles from the II archive:

'Jokowi: Rise of a polite populist', Marcus Mietzner

'Jokowi for President? No!', Roanne van Voorst


Inside Indonesia 117: Jul-Sep 2014

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]]> (Helen Pausacker) Mon, 29 Sep 2014 00:06:37 GMT
Lessons learned from Indonesia’s conflicts: Aceh, Poso and Papua Herb Feith Annual Memorial Lecture 2014

Sidney Jones

Sidney Jones lectureThree conflicts which the Indonesian government has tried to solve offer some sobering lessons for the country’s next president. A peace agreement in Aceh stopped an insurgency but the former rebels proved to be bad political leaders. An agreement in Poso stopped Christian-Muslim fighting but left an extremist network in place which continues to operate. A new policy unit was set up for Papua that failed by concentrating only on economic development, while initial steps toward dialogue with Jakarta seem stalled. Jones examines the reasons for these outcomes and what a new government might try going forward.

Edited transcript of lecture, Melbourne, 20 August 2014

I want to talk about the way the Yudhoyono government, the current government, has looked at and dealt with some of the key conflicts in Indonesia and what this means and what lessons it will have for the incoming government. Just to quickly place these three conflicts on a map: Aceh is at the tip of Sumatra; Poso, Central Sulawesi is in the middle of the country and Papua is at the easternmost end of the archiplelago.

The Yudhoyono government came into office determined to resolve some of these conflicts, one of which, in Poso had already had a peace agreement in 2001 before he came in, but Aceh was very much the jewel in the crown. This was a conflict that President Yudhoyono hoped he would get the Nobel Prize for, it was also a conflict on which his Vice President Jusuf Kalla—now again to be VP—did most of the work. The problem was that once the peace agreement was signed, it was almost as though Jakarta forgot about it and moved on to other things, believing it was and would remain a success. Now that jewel is somewhat tarnished. 

Poso had been a communal conflict where intense fighting took place between Christians and Muslims between 1998 and 2001, reaching a peak in 2000. It was resolved in a peace agreement that Jusuf Kalla also brokered in 2001. But what it left behind was a network of extremist cells initially mostly associated with the group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) but which went on to become what you might call the symbolic centre of ISIS in Indonesia, where the local commander, a man named Santoso, has sworn an oath to ISIS and is clearly in communication with people in Syria.

Papua is the conflict that defies resolution. It's a conflict that Yudhoyono tried in different ways to address. It's also a conflict that may get some attention from Jokowi but it is a much, more difficult proposition.

Each of these presents problems for the incoming president and I don't have any doubt at all that the Constitutional Court will decide against Mr Prabowo. Jokowi will be the next president, and I think that's a very, very good thing.

Jokowi starts with a reservoir of goodwill in the conflict areas both in Aceh and in Papua. Poso is not yet very high on his agenda, but I think it should be, for a variety of reasons. Even with that goodwill and even with Jusuf Kalla as his Vice President I think that we will see some of the old guard in Jokowi's party presenting obstacles to any efforts to further the peace processes. 


I think as we look at Aceh it is important first to look at what made peace possible. I have just come back from a short trip to Myanmar and people are looking at Aceh as a model for everything. They are looking at it as a model to resolve the conflict in Kachin state; it was being presented as a model to resolve the southern Philippines, before that area developed its own very distinct path to peace, and for southern Thailand. But in fact the circumstances in Aceh were probably not replicable. For one thing it had factors which made it easier to solve than many conflicts: the insurgents themselves were ethnically relatively homogeneous; there were clear geographical boundaries to the contested territory; the potential spoilers to peace, especially in the military and among some of the conservative nationalists, were politically manageable; there were no other competing insurgencies that would cause a problem; and the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) had a relatively unified leadership. But also we had three factors that actually made the peace process work at the time it was undertaken.

For one thing we had had military operations since 2003 which made GAM want an exit strategy and that was critical. We also had a new government come in with Yudhoyono in 2004 that wanted to make a difference and this was an opening to do so. And finally of course we had the tsunami which made both sides want to ensure a peace so that the rebuilding could take place. The convergence of these three factors—a change in the political calculus, a change in the military calculus and a dramatic game changer of another variety—are absent in other conflicts where Aceh has been proposed as a model, but it is interesting to keep in mind that these are what made it critical peace agreement both achievable and enduring.

The problem is that since the peace, Aceh has become in some ways a one-party state led by a GAM political party called Partai Aceh (PA) and it is causing some problems. The recent elections have given us a little glimmer of hope in terms of reducing that party’s support - but it's worth looking at how the peace process itself brought these problems into being. One was that it effectively left behind the GAM military structure in the form of an organisation called the KPA. The KPA is basically the old military structure of GAM, the commanders of which are in many cases the power behind the elected officials; they are used as the machine for getting out the vote. They are still involved in many areas in corruption and extortion and in some cases they have turned from trading in guns to trading in drugs. So in some areas the ex-GAM commanders have turned into what has become a little mafia in Aceh.

At the same time one of the critical points of the peace agreement in Aceh was a clause that allowed local parties to form in Aceh. This was different from any other province in Indonesia where political parties have to be national in scope, with a presence in more than half the provinces. There is no provision for national parties that only have a limited geographic base. As a result GAM was able to form a party called Partai Aceh. It is this party which has made use of that military machine that is now called the KPA and while it does have a core base of popular support, it has also used both intimidation and fear-mongering tactics to win the vote. Basically it is saying 'we brought you peace. If you don't vote for Partai Aceh, there might be a chance of renewed conflict'. That has been a very effective message up until recently. This party went on to dominate both the provincial and district governments at both the executive and legislative branches and it won with margins that seem incredible, with 75 per cent and 80 per cent in some districts in the Acehnese heartland along the east coast. It also won the election for governor in 2012. It has produced an interlocking political directorate where now the party called Partai Aceh and the head of KPA and the government are all interlinked in one man, Muzakir Manaf, who is concurrently the Vice Governor, the head of the party and the leader of the KPA.

The 2014 legislative elections show us, however, that Acehnese voters are beginning to push back. I had thought that Partai Aceh was so much in control of the government at both the executive and legislative branches and of institutions like the election commission that it wasn't going to be possible for the Acehnese to remove Partai Aceh by democratic means. Now it looks like it just might happen, although it may take another election cycle. So not this time round, but perhaps in five years.

Also, we had a very interesting split within PA where the vice-governor, Muzakkir Manaf, took the side of Prabowo in the presidential elections and made an alliance with Prabowo's party, Gerindra. Aceh’s governor, however, decided to go with Jokowi because he was so grateful for Jusuf Kalla's role in the peace process before and Kalla was running on the opposing ticket. So we had the PA split between the governor and the vice-governor. Actually I think this is a good thing, because I think we were in danger of having a one-party state perpetuate its rule. Now with the combination of the split within the party and the decline in PA support among the population more generally, it may be that we end up with a more competitive and democratic political atmosphere.

I think there are some serious questions for the Jokowi government in Aceh moving forward, because PA correctly maintains that not all of the Helsinki Peace Pact provisions have been fulfilled. Among the provisions that haven't been fulfilled are provisions that would increase the authority of the Aceh government, as well as the income of the Aceh government. The question for Jokowi is, how to you increase the autonomy of Aceh without at the same time strengthening what is already a very authoritarian party? Also, in Jakarta, especially in the Home Ministry, there is a tendency to see Aceh and Papua as just like any other province, except with a little more revenue. It is as though Special Autonomy doesn't really exist. They see these provinces as almost the same as any other province, with a couple of additional clauses. What is happening is that there are now proposals to have Bali become a province with Special Autonomy, and there is a campaign in Makassar for South Sulawesi to be given Special Autonomy. If you give Special Autonomy to everybody then what is special about Aceh and Papua? In short, Jokowi will have his work cut out for him trying to address the many issues around Aceh and Papua and regional autonomy.


As noted at the outset, Poso is an area which is an ongoing problem even though it has been off the radar screen until very recently. Once the peace agreement was signed there, it was as though the government pretty much forgot about Poso. Peace deal done, no more problems. The problem was from 2001 until 2007 we had a network of extremist cells continuing to engage in attacks, mostly on the Christian community, but in some cases on suspected informers, and this led to a situation where we saw crimes of an increasing level of brutality. They culminated in the bombing of a market in the Christian town of Tentena that killed 22 people in May 2005 and the beheadings of three schoolgirls the following October. It was the killings of the girls that finally triggered central government action, and a special police unit was set up. The police managed to catch the perpetrators and by January 2007, after a shootout between the police and militants and the arrests of the ringleaders of the network, it looked like extremism in Poso was finished. In fact, the clash ended the violence in Poso, but only temporarily.

In 2010, all of the extremist groups still committed to jihad in Indonesia, and there were about seven, decided to start a militant training camp in Aceh with the idea that this could become a nucleus of an Islamic community. They thought, foolishly, that the fact Aceh was the one province that could apply syariah meant that this project would have support from the Acehnese community. (In fact Acehnese, while deeply devout, have never been sympathetic to religious extremists.) Jemaah Islamiyah was the one major jihadi group that did not take part in the camp; after that shootout in Poso in 2007, JI decided it would no longer engage in violent attacks in Indonesia. All the other militant groups accused it of abandoning jihad, including in a video produced to raise funds for the camp. But in early 2010, the camp got broken up by the Indonesian authorities. Because of all of the arrests and some deaths of militants that took place during mopping up operations that followed, the target of terrorists shifted almost overnight from foreigners—tourists in Bali, people staying in big American-named hotels—to the police, with the main motivation being revenge. But many involved directly or indirectly in the camp managed to flee, creating new networks and new extremist cells. Where did they go?

Some of them went to Kalimantan and some of them went back to Poso. Also, in Poso some of the remnants of the extremist networks there decided that if the Aceh camp didn't work out, then maybe they should start a regional training centre in Poso. The key figure in this new effort was an ex-JI man who knew several of the fugitives from Aceh and in some cases offered them refuge. In late 2010, Santoso set up a military wing of an organisation that Abu Bakar Ba’asyir first started in 2008 called Jamaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT) and then went off on his own. He was always someone who didn't like authority very much. He didn't like to be under JI and eventually didn't like to be under JAT. But he was very happy starting his own organisation called the Mujahidin of Indonesia Timor or MIT. This was an organisation which attracted support from a group in Makassar, from groups in Bima in Sumbawa, from Java, from Medan and elsewhere. Some of the same groups from elsewhere in Indonesia that sent recruits to the Aceh camp began going to Poso for training. More importantly, Santoso has become the nerve centre of the extremist network in Indonesia. He is somebody who was in communication with the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF) of Al Qaida which was operating out of Waziristan, and more recently he is the person who was the first to take an oath of allegiance to ISIS. We have seen members of his network, people who have trained in Poso, lead some of these oath-taking ceremonies across Indonesia today. 

The questions that Poso raises are not just about how will Jokowi handle terrorism. I think that is an issue but I think the Poso case raises some other issues as well. One of them relates to police reform. Had the police been operating as a community police force in Poso from the day the peace agreement was signed in 2001, they would almost certainly have been able to pick up the fact that the network was lying dormant and was not dead. Even if they hadn't picked that up, after 2007 they certainly would have been able to document and monitor the ongoing regrouping of extremists that was taking place in Poso. The problem is that if the community does not trust the police, it means that people are never going to report suspicious circumstances. The old adage in Indonesia is that if you report a loss of a chicken to police you lose your kerbau (water buffalo). This notion of the police as abusive and corrupt isn't unique to Poso. Police reform and a focus on improving policing could make a huge difference. 

Secondly, how do you get better law enforcement without cutting back on civil liberties? This is an issue that every government around the world faces, but when dealing with extremism it becomes a particularly important issue. Indonesia probably has all the laws it needs to deal effectively with extremist networks: the question is, can it do so without abuse of the laws that were once used by the Suharto government to try to curb dissent? These include the criminal code provision against spreading hatred and criminal incitement (penghasutan). Both could usefully—and carefully—be used against extremist clerics known to be recruiting young men into organisations that use violence. The difficulty is how to ensure they are not misused, as they were in the old days.

Thirdly, how do you tackle the ongoing hostility between the police and the military? Some have suggested that this rivalry is preventing the arrest of Santoso in Poso. We saw this tension erupt in 2013 with the killing in a Yogyakarta prison of four men linked to the police; the gunmen were from army special forces, Kopassus. It is a real concern and I think we are seeing some of this tension between the police and military play out in different areas of Indonesia. It is something that Jokowi as president will need to address if he wants to avoid local conflict in the future. 


That brings us to Papua. Papua is by far the most complex region, when we are talking about conflict, of any in Indonesia. It is not a single conflict. It is a series of conflicts, of multiple and overlapping tensions. According to the National Violence Monitoring System, separatism or the nationalist struggle for independence (depending on whose side you are on), probably accounts for 15 per cent, if that, of the total violence in Papua. In addition to the independence vs autonomy issue, we have tensions between indigenous people and migrants from elsewhere in Indonesia. We have tensions between the highlands and the coast, which played out very strongly in recent elections. One of the things that we have seen is the growing dominance of highlanders in politics, whereas in the past it was mostly the coastal areas that dominated. We have inter- and intra-clan struggles, often tied to local elections. We have land and resource disputes and some of these are increasing with the opening up of Papua to more agribusiness and mining. Of all provinces, Papua now has the highest rate of people being killed in local elections disputes. We have vigilantism, people taking the law into their own hands. It is also the area where we have one of the highest levels of domestic violence of anywhere in Indonesia. So this is not a peaceful place and it is not reducible to simply the struggle between pro-independence forces and the state. 

These two maps also show us how much another factor has come into play and that is the carving up of Papua into smaller and smaller units. When I first went to Indonesia it was one province then called Irian Jaya, and it was five districts. It became eight districts by 1999 and shortly thereafter began multiplying. Today it is 42 districts and two provinces. There are proposals in the Ministry of Home Affairs for three more provinces, Papua Selatan (South) may be the next one, though Papua Barat Daya is also a contender, and 30 more districts (kabupaten). There aren't the skills in Papua to be able to staff all these. It is going to bring in more migrants and exacerbate the migrant-indigenous tension. It is also leading exacerbating local election violence because many of these new divisions are along ethnic or clan line, and violence erupts when a majority clan pits itself against the next largest clan in the district for a struggle over who will become the bupati (district head). In several of the highland districts we have seen candidates call in armed groups to support them, sometimes the Free Papua Movement (Operasi Papua Merdeka, OPM) and sometimes former militia. Once you begin to use armed groups as basically 'guns for hire' in political disputes it changes the whole nature of the contest and again makes the conflict much more difficult to address.

The Yudhoyono government tried to address Papua with several specific policies, but it did so within very tight constraints. It decided it would try to resolve the Papua question without addressing any of the underlying political grievances. But it did acknowledge that Special Autonomy had failed to significantly improve the lives of Papuans and it set up this unit called UP4B (Unit Percepatan Pembangunan Provinsi Papua dan Papua Barat), which was a unit for the accelerated development of Papua and West Papua. Initially when the unit was set up, the people advising Yudhoyono did suggest that it be allowed to address political issues as well, including human rights issues and “rectification of history. At the very least, these advisers were prepared to consider looking at some kind of seminar or discussion of the events surrounding the 1969 Act of Free Choice and the possible release of political prisoners. But after an incident in May 2011 where a German tourist was shot by one of the radical groups in Jayapura, all political issues were suddenly off the table. It was thought that to begin to address political issues in the wake of that violence would be seen to be capitulating to violence. As a result UP4B, which had a lot of goodwill behind it at first, ended up not being able to achieve very much and eventually losing all credibility.

The government was also gingerly willing to entertain the idea of dialogue, on its terms. It did this after a group called the Papua Peace Network—a civil society driven group—began a process of consultations around Papua to try and address a question that has always come up when the issue of dialogue has arisen with central government, which is 'who speaks for Papua?'. The Network was an effort to create a unified voice among Papuans through these consultations so that everybody would agree on what the critical issues that had to be addressed in Papua were - from the historical rectification issue to the issue of discrimination and stigmatisation of Papuans to economics and development and so on. The problem was that the process went a little bit off the rails in July 2011, when it held a congress bringing in people from all across Papua. The leaders made a decision to name five people as negotiators who represented the Papua pro-independence diaspora, including people here in Australia. This caused a number of problems. The network had been set up with the idea that the endpoint of any dialogue would be increased autonomy, not independence, and the only reason the government was willing to entertain interaction with this group was that it wasn't a negotiation: the phrase Yudhoyono used was “constructive communication”. In other words, you can talk about a lot of issues but it was not and could not be, in the government's view, any kind of negotiation between two equal sides. So once the Papua Peace Network identified the five diaspora figures as “negotiators” (perunding), it basically ended any possibility that this process was going to move very far. It did succeed in generating a series of meetings with top level security people in Indonesia but little concrete ever came of it. However, since then the Papua Peace Network has presented a policy paper to Jokowi with some specific ideas about what can be done to take the process further, and we’ll see what happens. Jokowi has said he is open to the idea of dialogue and he also says that he is open to the idea of trying to lift some of the constraints on access to Papua.

Then we had a proposal for something called Enhanced Special Autonomy (Otonomi Khusus Plus or Otsus Plus). Otsus Plus was a proposal that the Yudhoyono government put forward on Papua to address complaints that a decade of special autonomy had failed to improve the lives of Papuans. It wasn't initially seen as anything particularly radical, but in the course of trying to think through how you would revise the 2001 Law on Special Autonomy in Papua, some Papuans, particularly a small group from Manokwari, in the province of West Papua, came up with a really interesting document. It was something that surprised everyone, because Otsus Plus had no credibility in the Papuan public at large. The governors who were talking about this with Jakarta never consulted with the populace and many civil society groups felt that since Special Autonomy had failed, what was the point of an amended law? But the Manokwari group came up with some of the most creative ideas proposed to date on what to do about education, about the migrant issue, about shared resources, about positive discrimination toward indigenous Papuans and so on. For example on education there were very clear incentives for getting teachers out to remote areas, likewise on health issues. On migrants there provisions for special identity cards for non-indigenous Papuans and for removal of people who didn't have them. There were also some really good provisions on protection of customary land. But when this went to Jakarta it encountered the same fate that other similar proposals have encountered in the past. A process of watering down the draft took place and also the two provinces did not see eye to eye on all provisions. The end result is that while a government-approved draft has been submitted to parliament in the waning days of the Yudhoyono administration, Special Autonomy Plus is probably dead in the water. It is probably not going to see the light of day before the Yudhoyono government leaves office. The question is whether there anything in that document prepared in Manokwari that might be followed through by the Jokowi government. It is not clear, but it is certainly worth trying.

I think if we are looking at initiatives in Papua that have some impact we have to look at the achievements of Dr Tito Karnavian, the chief of police in Papua who has recently stepped down. I don't think he gets much kudos from the pro-independence groups because he did crack down on pro-independence demonstrations. He also, however, did more than anybody else has in recent memory to reduce the other levels of violence in Papua and it underscored the fact that having a reasonably enlightened chief of police in Papua, as in Aceh or in Poso, can do a lot to not only deal with violence once it erupts but also prevent it before it takes place. One thing that he concentrated on was improving the practices of his own personnel. I am not sure how many of you are aware, but Papua is a place where poorly performing personnel are often sent as punishment. It means that frequently for military and police you get the dregs in Papua. The only way to improve police performance is to treat it as a prestige post, not as place of banishment. There was an attack on a police station in the middle of the central highlands and the police chief sent people there who were scheduled to be accepted into the Police Academy for Officer Promotion. He said 'you serve here for six months and then you are guaranteed a spot in the officers' school the next time around'. So serving in conflict areas became places where aspiring police officers could be sent and that was an important improvement. Also, he was willing to accept the possibility that not everything had to be worked through the formal law enforcement system, that you could use adat (customary) structures. Even if people committed crimes you could use traditional justice mechanisms as a way of resolving them, rather than creating more ill-will by trying to prosecute things through the formal legal system.

The problem is, as frequently happens in Indonesia, you get one reforming individual as you had with Sri Mulyani in the Finance Ministry, or Tito in Papua but once that person leaves, everything can go back to square one. The question is how does Jokowi not only try to initiate reforms but ensure that those reforms can continue even if the personnel change?

So what can Jokowi and Kalla do on Papua? I think Kalla in particular, has the idea still that he can take the Aceh model and apply it to Papua. He was trying to do this through the same team he had from Makassar as late as year and a half ago. Basically his formula for Aceh was this: you look for the people that have the arms, you try to get a ceasefire, you offer them some kind of compensation or incentive package to stay out of returning to conflict and you do something to pull back the Indonesian military forces. That is basically the formula that worked in Aceh. It doesn't work, or hasn't worked in Papua because as I say, not only is the insurgency a very small part of a very complex problem, but also the OPM is not unified in the same way that GAM was unified in the past. The behind-the-scenes efforts of Kalla during the Yudhoyono administration had no success at all. He may try again but his efforts may face the same fate.

As with Aceh, the problem with Papua is how to balance meaningful autonomy with oversight from the central government? For example, there is such extensive corruption in both Aceh and Papua that even though you have Special Autonomy, some of the really good work has been done by the National Audit Board to look at provincial budgets identify possible areas of malfeasance, and demand explanations. I think that kind of oversight is critical. If you are going to develop incentives for teachers, for example, you are going to have to have the cooperation of the central government. So autonomy shouldn't mean giving enhanced power to these two areas of Indonesia and perhaps others as well, and then just forgetting about it and saying what you do with the place is your own concern. There has to be more supervision from the central government at the same time there is increased autonomy. Police reform in Aceh is as important in Papua, as in Poso. The need to improve the social services infrastructure and alleviate poverty, indeed everything that motivated the creation of the unit for accelerated development in Papua, those things are important and do need to be addressed. But you have to tackle the economic issues and the political issues simultaneously or else you don't get anywhere.

Overall the lessons from these three conflicts are that for Aceh and Poso in particular, government attention doesn't end with a peace agreement. You've got to give sustained attention to these areas if you are going to use the peace process to encourage further development. In all three of these areas good policing is critical but also in all three the very tricky issue of balancing civil liberties has to be addressed. For Aceh and Papua, Special Autonomy needs to be strengthened but carefully, and Jokowi needs to understand why so many Papuans are so deeply disappointed by the last ten years.

There is no set formula that can be transferred from one area to another. Not even very many elements of the peace processes in either Poso or in Aceh will work in Papua; it is far more complex. But all three areas, which will need the concentrated attention of Jokowi, will benefit from continued development of democratic institutions. 


Sidney Jones ( is the Director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), which she founded in 2013 on the principle that accurate analysis is a critical first step toward preventing violent conflict. From 2002 to 2013, Jones worked with the International Crisis Group, first as Southeast Asia project director, then from 2007 as senior adviser to the Asia program. Before joining Crisis Group, she worked for the Ford Foundation in Jakarta and New York (1977-84); Amnesty International in London as the Indonesia-Philippines-Pacific researcher (1985-88); and Human Rights Watch in New York as the Asia director (1989-2002). She holds a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She lived in Shiraz, Iran for one year as a university student, 1971-72, and studied Arabic in Cairo and Tunisia. She received an honorary doctorate in 2006 from the New School in New York.

Read IPAC's newly released report The Evolution of ISIS in Indonesia

Listen to an audio recording of this lecture courtesy of the Herb Feith Foundation.

Inside Indonesia 118: Oct-Dec 2014{jcomments on}
]]> (Sidney Jones) Sun, 05 Oct 2014 11:11:58 GMT
My eyes may be blue, but I am Indonesian The different and difficult experiences of Eurasian Indonesians

Rosalind Hewett

hewett1The urn containing Joseph Moor’s ashes held in the Menteng Pulo War Cemetery, Jakarta - Rosalind HewettIn 1942, Japanese troops invaded Java, part of wider Japanese incursions during the Pacific War. Hendricus Moors was only nine months old when his father Joseph, a Dutch soldier in the Royal Netherlands Indies Army (KNIL), was captured by the Japanese. It wasn’t until ten years later that word reached Hendricus and his mother, an Indo (Eurasian) of Javanese and Belgian descent, that Joseph had died in Japan in 1943 as a prisoner of war. Joseph’s body was cremated and his ashes sent to the Menteng Pulo War Cemetery in Jakarta. About once a year, Hendricus visits Jakarta to look at the urn containing the ashes of the father he does not remember.

Hendricus and his Javanese wife lived in Bandung when I met and interviewed him, though he was born in Magelang in Central Java. After his father’s capture, his mother was forced to find work in Magelang to support her two children at a time when, Hendricus explained, there was no work. ‘The Japanese left and everything was tough. It was difficult to get food, especially because I’m being honest here there was a type of boycott against people of Dutch descent. Indonesians didn’t want to sell food to people with Dutch ancestry, but because my mother reminded people that my father had been good to the villagers, the villagers after my father left were good to us. They did it secretly… But we were scared of other Indonesians, because if [our ancestry] was known, we could have been killed.’

Suspicion of Eurasians

Between 1945 and 1947, many Eurasians were killed in Java by groups of young, fervently nationalist Indonesian men (pemuda). Indos were seen by some as enemies, partly because many supported the return of Dutch rule after Sukarno’s declaration of independence on 17 August 1945. After Indonesian independence was formally recognised by the Netherlands in 1949, only a small number of Indos who had held European status in the colony chose to take Indonesian citizenship. Thousands began leaving en masse for the Netherlands, particularly after Sukarno expelled Dutch citizens in 1957.

Hendricus’ mother chose to remain in Indonesia. In 1956 she married an Ambonese man, and Hendricus eventually followed in his stepfather’s footsteps and entered the Indonesian air force, where he later rose to the rank of colonel. It wasn’t until 1988, when he applied for a civilian passport, that he realised that technically he was not an Indonesian citizen, because his father had been classed as a European in colonial Indonesia. With his sharp cheekbones and blue eyes, Hendricus looked ‘foreign’. Unlike many other Indos who left, however, he said that he had never been charged higher prices because of the way he looked, because he spoke Indonesian like a local. Once, though, some children had caught sight of his face through a car window when he stopped at traffic lights and called him ‘Mister’, a term which is usually reserved for western foreigners, reminding him that his features, at the very least, pointed to his foreign ancestry.

‘More Indonesian than other Indonesians’

In 2006, Hendricus began attending gatherings for Dutch speakers held in Bandung. He began to re-learn the Dutch phrases his mother had used when he was a child, which linked him to the Dutch father he couldn’t remember. It was at these gatherings that he learned about what had happened to many other Indos like him who had left for the Netherlands and other countries. A few, who had retired in Bandung, told him about regular Indo cultural events held in the Netherlands and what it meant to ‘be Indo’ there: speaking a mixture of Dutch and Malay, eating Dutch Indonesian food, and being both ‘eastern’ and ‘western’. Hendricus felt that he was very different to these Indos: ‘Those in Indonesia like me don’t have any connection with the Netherlands at all, because I lean more towards the Indonesian side, which I can’t give up… I can’t speak Dutch, I don’t know the Netherlands, so I can’t feel that I am Dutch. No, I cannot feel it. I don’t feel in myself that I am Dutch.’ In fact, he thought that he was perhaps ‘more Indonesian than [other] Indonesians.’

The stories of many Indos who felt they had to leave Indonesia paint a graphic picture of violence, poverty and discrimination that many Indos of this generation once experienced in Indonesia. These stories emphasise that Indos would have gone to the Netherlands if they could, because they were not welcome in Indonesia. Hendricus’s life presents an alternative version to this history. He explained that he was raised in Indonesia, all the ups and downs in his life took place there, and his wife was Indonesian. He felt intense pride, though occasional disappointment in his country, at being an Indonesian.

Hendricus had lived through all the major periods of modern Indonesian history the Japanese Occupation, the National Revolution, the Sukarno years, the Suharto years, and finally the post-1998 Reform years yet he was born in and a visible product of colonial Indonesia. In some ways his life is one piece of what he called the ‘missing link’ between colonial Indonesia and Indonesia today. But he also embodies the national concept of ‘unity in diversity’ first envisaged by Indonesia’s founders, who wrote of an Indonesia embracing people of diverse backgrounds. ‘My eyes may be blue,’ he said, ‘but yeah, what can I do? I am Indonesian.’

Rosalind Hewett ( is a PhD candidate in Pacific and Asian History at the Australian National University.


Other related articles from the II archive:

'Stopping intolerance'. An interview with Zainal Abidin Bagir
'Unity in diversity? Ethnicity and the nation'. Edition 78, Apr - Jun 2004 

Inside Indonesia 118: Oct-Dec 2014

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]]> (Rosalind Hewett) Sun, 19 Oct 2014 20:49:49 GMT
Faultlines and fractures HIV/AIDS is spreading rapidly because of the profound inequalities that afflict Papua

Carole Reckinger & Antoine Lemaire

A broken communityA broken community - Carole Reckinger & Antoine Lemaire‘Until now there has been no serious action from the government but only lip service. HIV/AIDS has become an emergency and it is too late to sit back and do nothing,’ declares David (not his real name), the head of a local NGO in the highlands of Papua. ‘If we want to save the indigenous population, and guarantee the survival of our people, then HIV prevention and treatment needs to become a priority in Tanah Papua (referring to the two provinces Papua and West Papua).’

David’s concern is well placed. Tanah Papua might only hold one per cent of Indonesia’s population, but its HIV/AIDS levels are reported to be 15 times higher than the national average. Of all the known HIV cases in Indonesia, 30 per cent occur here. Papua is facing a generalised HIV epidemic, the only place in Indonesia to be experiencing this situation. Initially, the response of the government had been slow but this changed with the implementation of the 2010-2014 National HIV and AIDS Strategy and Action Plan. The primary goal of Indonesia’s overall response to the HIV epidemic was to slow the number of new infections and the two Papuan provinces were named as priority areas of prevention. However, one major weakness of the awareness and prevention campaign was that it has often failed to take into account the cultural, developmental and socio-economic realities of Papua, especially in the highlands.

In our last photo essay, we looked at the general situation of HIV/AIDS in the highlands of Papua and how it is affecting individuals, families and society at large.  This second photo essay explores the economic, cultural and socio-political realities on the ground in order to understand some of the causes of the epidemic and the efforts needed to abate it. The epidemic does not spread at random, but follows the social, economic and political faultlines that divide a society and puts the most disenfranchised segments of the population at risk.

A broken community

There are some 260 indigenous ethnic groups and they make up about half of Tanah Papua’s 3.6 million inhabitants. HIV prevalence is almost twice as high among indigenous Papuans than among migrants, and in some areas Papuans make up 80 per cent of HIV positive people.

This epidemic is spreading due to great social dislocation. Many Papuans believe that their traditions and cultures are slowly being eroded due to transmigration, rapid economic development, rampant resource extraction and repressive politics. The increased centrality of money coupled with a lack of paid employment in rural areas, has drawn many Papuans to the cities, severely eroding traditional social structures. Disorientation in the face of rapid change is visible in all urban centres where such social problems as alcohol abuse are prevalent.


Image2Politics - Carole Reckinger & Antoine Lemaire

Since the controversial inclusion of the western half of the island of New Guinea into Indonesia in the 1960s, Papua’s performance on a range of social indicators has ranked as Indonesia’s lowest. The heavy-handed approach of the security forces at any sign of discontent has generated a tradition of resistance by indigenous Papuans to Indonesian rule. Militarisation of the island, the role of security forces in resource extraction and the repression of Papuan social movements, have led the indigenous population to lose trust in the government and for them to experience a general loss of self-worth.

Indonesia’s 2001 special autonomy law was aimed at addressing the structural problems faced by Papuans. More than a decade on, however, most Papuans agree that it has failed to deliver. Today, only a small elite directly benefits from special autonomy. Despite a huge flow of funds into Papua, little sustainable educational and health infrastructure has been created and the majority of indigenous Papuans continue to be socially and economically sidelined. Cash and rice hand-out programs create dependency rather than helping Papuans stand on their own feet.

Urban life and migration

Urban life and migrationUrban life and migration - Carole Reckinger & Antoine Lemaire

Urban centres are developing rapidly all over the island. The rising need for money in a traditionally moneyless society draws many, especially young people, to the towns. In Papua, HIV transmission takes places almost entirely through heterosexual sex. Increased mobility and urban life offer opportunities for a larger number of sexual partners, far from the prying eyes of family and community. Urbanisation and the encroachment of capitalist cultural and sexual norms are radically challenging traditional ideals about sex, courtship and pregnancy. There is a trend towards sex at a younger age, with a wider range of partners.

Economic control

Indonesian newcomers control most of the commercial and economic activities. Indigenous Papuans are economically sidelined. Papua has a typical frontier economy, where very high returns can be made on small investments. The importation of consumer goods has had a significant impact on nutrition, with many Papuans turning away from traditional agricultural products to packaged noodles, oil and sugar. Poor nutrition compounds the immunosuppressive effects of HIV.

Frontier towns

Image5Frontier Towns - Carole Reckinger & Antoine Lemaire

The seemingly uncontrolled creation of new districts through a process known as pemekaran (proliferation) benefits local political elites by giving them access to huge development funds and more political power and in no way serves the interests and well-being of the majority of Papuans. Pemekaran also plays into communitarian politics, dividing Papuans along clan and sub-clan lines. New districts, furthermore, mean more government jobs, drawing educated Papuans away from involvement in civil society and their home villages. New frontier towns are mushrooming everywhere, even in very remote, mountainous areas. These towns are hotspots in the spread of HIV.

Health care

Health careHealth care - Carole Reckinger & Antoine Lemaire

In rural areas, healthcare services are few and far between. Most healthcare staff in the centres that do exist are migrants from other parts of Indonesia who do not speak local languages and have little affinity with indigenous cultural beliefs and practices. Most institutions, in particular the Ministry of Health, are run by migrants. Government healthcare services are affected with corruption, provide poor training for staff and often lack proper follow-up procedures. Many Papuans view them as part of the Indonesian colonial machinery.

Rumours are rife that HIV was intentionally introduced to decimate the indigenous population. The fact that these conspiracy theories can flourish is a good indicator of the Papuans' feelings towards the Indonesian authorities. Trust towards government-run hospitals is low and many will only go there as a last resort.

The absence of high quality health services and education throughout the region not only facilitate the spread of HIV, they also severely impede any efficient response to the epidemic. Indeed, although provincial governments have made HIV testing and treatment free, many Papuans do not have access to healthcare testing or treatment and are not reached by awareness raising campaigns.

Access to medicine

Access to medicineAccess to medicine - Carole Reckinger & Antoine Lemaire

Testing facilities are available only in urban areas. Most people who undergo testing of their HIV status do so because they are showing serious signs of recurring opportunistic diseases such as tuberculosis, dysentery or pneumonia, meaning that they are already at an advanced stage of the illness.

If they are diagnosed, many people have to walk for days to the closest urban centre to get their monthly supply of anti-retroviral (ARV) medicine. Stigma is also still widespread and many people are reluctant to pick up their medicines for fear that friends or family will find out about their status. Although ARV medicine is free, other essential medicines such as Cotrimoxazole, used as a treatment of infections before antiretroviral drugs can be administered, are not.


EducationEducation - Carole Reckinger & Antoine Lemaire

Education faces the same problems as health care, and functioning state schools are very rare. There is a serious problem of teacher absenteeism and, upon leaving school, many Papuans cannot read, write or perform basic mathematics. A culture of apathy within the government bureaucracy and large parts of the population is partly the result of an education system reminiscent of Indonesia's Suharto era. Schools fail to teach students to be critical and proactive and this makes it difficult for local activists to involve local communities in HIV prevention programmes. Education is an essential part of HIV prevention. It has been shown that higher levels of education delay sexual activity and increase prevention and protection.

Awareness raising

Awareness RaisingAwareness Raising - Carole Reckinger & Antoine Lemaire

Most AIDS awareness raising campaigns are developed in offices in Jakarta, Europe or Australia, far from the cultural and socio-economic reality of Papua. They often replicate initiatives in place in the rest of Indonesia, where HIV is localised and concentrated among intravenous drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men. It would be more useful to look at Papua New Guinean programs, which have proved successful because they are adapted to the local cultural context. Kalvari, a church based and locally run clinic in Wamena, is one of the rare places which uses cultural references, drawn from pig farming and crops protection, to explain the virus.

Street kids

Street KidsStreet Kids - Carole Reckinger & Antoine Lemaire

In Timika, a mixed-churches youth organisation leads a participatory workshop with street children. The aim is to raise awareness about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV as well as to build their confidence in everyday life. They are also encouraged to raise awareness about sexually transmitted diseases in their community. Street children are becoming more and more numerous all over Papua and HIV infections among them are high and increasing. In most places very few organisations work with these children, if at all.

Condoms for SaleCondoms for Sale - Carole Reckinger & Antoine Lemaire

Indonesian peddlers set up their pop-up shops along the main shopping street in the highland town of Wamena. Most of the products they sell are meant to increase men’s sexual stamina, size and prowess. Even so, talking openly about condoms and sex is still a problem in most churches and among cultural leaders. This presents a major obstacle to the design and implementation of HIV prevention campaigns.

ProstitutionProstitution - Carole Reckinger & Antoine Lemaire

The growth of urban centres and natural resource industries has always given rise to prostitution, and Papua is no different. In Timika, with a population of 130,000, and growing by 10 per cent every year, 600 sex workers are officially registered with the local government. Most HIV outreach programs focus on commercial sex workers in line with the guidelines of Indonesia’s national HIV program. Although attention on them and their clients is essential, this focus misses a large part of the problem. The registered sex-workers in semi-official brothels and massage parlours, almost all of whom are migrants from other Indonesian islands, tend to have relatively good HIV awareness and access to condoms. However, the mainly indigenous Papuan street prostitutes lack both.

At a crossroadAt a crossroad - Carole Reckinger & Antoine Lemaire

The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Papua is being shaped by the deep inequalities that affect Papuan society, and is further deepening those inequalities. For Papua's indigenous population to survive the HIV epidemic, a unified, culturally appropriate awareness-raising campaign must be implemented from the bottom up, with the support of the Indonesian government. But an HIV campaign will only slightly slow the spread of the virus if significant changes are not made to improve health and social conditions. Those changes, in turn, won’t happen unless the government recognises that Papuan norms, values and cultures are as valid as other Indonesian norms, and are not remnants of a backward culture that is threatening the unity of the country. This is a huge challenge, but if not properly addressed, a major health disaster is imminent.

Carole Reckinger ( has been interested in Indonesian and Papuan social and political issues since first visiting the archipelago over a decade ago while studying Indonesian and Southeast Asian studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). She has lived and worked in different parts of Indonesia, including Wamena and Jayapura.

Antoine Lemaire ( studied Social Anthropology at SOAS. He has lived and worked in different parts of Indonesia and Papua. He is particularly interested in the impact of capitalism on material culture in indigenous societies.


Inside Indonesia 118: Oct-Dec 2014

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]]> (Carole Reckinger & Antoine Lemaire) Mon, 27 Oct 2014 22:03:21 GMT
KITLV Reading Room gone, collection remains The Institute will continue to operate without its famous reading room

Andy Fuller

The Reading Room enabled interactions between scholars - Andy FullerThe Reading Room enabled interactions between scholars - Andy FullerThe Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) has suffered a major funding cut. The Institute, with its collection of some one million books and hundreds of thousands of other documents, images, maps and miscellanea, many of them concerning Indonesia, dates back to 1851, an era that also saw the founding of Leiden’s Volkenkunde Museum (1837) and the Tropenmuseum (1864) in Amsterdam. This was the era of high colonialism, when many artefacts from the colonies could be easily transported back to the centre of colonial authority. The KITLV collection is also home to many documents from Suriname, another colony of the Dutch.

To avoid possible dissolution, the KITLV recently made some compromises to reduce the cost of its services, such as the maintenance of its famous Reading Room. Over its last few months of operations, the Reading Room was decorated with notices in Dutch, English and Indonesian in bold type stating that its last day of operation would be June 27th.

Professor William Frederick from Ohio University, a long time user of the KITLV’s collection, wrote a letter bemoaning its closure. The letter reflects the sense of attachment felt by the room’s long time users: ‘I have returned as often as possible over the years, and taken the more or less inevitable changes in stride: the retirement of coffee trolleys and service, the move to the Reuvenplaats, the banishment of the dear cat who often kept my lap warm on winter days in the Reading Room.’ The nostalgia in the letter dissolves into something more forceful: ‘though some of [the initial proposals] were modified, I saw and continue to see, the remaining changes as a shameless and both intellectually and fiscally irresponsible savaging of a unique and priceless tradition, and of a peerless, world-class research facility.’

Reading Room Routines

I carried out research in the Reading Room during its last months, and have fond memories of its routines. As I approach the building in the morning grey, a man stands by the doorway wearing brown leather shoes, a faded pair of jeans and a thick grey jumper. He’s reading a print-out of a journal article. A moment later, a couple of staff from a neighbouring institute come in with a trolley and to remove a couple number of boxes of books and journals. Staff walk into the building barely looking up, a sense of purpose in their stride.

More than a million books fill the Institute’s subterranean storeroom - Andy FullerMore than a million books fill the Institute’s subterranean storeroom - Andy FullerA moment later, after checking the clock, Rini Hogewoning unlocks the door to the Reading Room and says, ‘welkom’ to the waiting visitors, in a voice that is both proud and friendly. Rini has worked at the Reading Room for some 30 years. Her colleague, Josephine, commenced more recently. They greet visitors with a direct ‘Morgen!’ (Good morning) and perform their duties with an informal ‘alsjeblieft!’ (if you please!) and a smile. The Reading Room offers both the professional formality of a ‘peerless’ research institute and the informality that develops amongst well-known, familiar colleagues. It is a specialised environment designed to enable access to the KITLV’s collection. It provides a space in which scholars can easily interact, and experience the occasional fortuitous meeting.

Lights hang low over broad desks: these are used for the reading of manuscripts and old texts, all of which happens within the gaze of the librarians. A line of desks face out on to the Witte Singel – one of the main canals that define the city limits of Leiden. There are machines for the consultation of microfilm at which scholars scroll forever downwards or horizontally. The Malaysian Studies room is somewhat more private and the door is sometimes closed. This room looks out onto a neighbouring basketball court and the activities of school children can provide some light entertainment for scholars in between writing or reading some text. The leisure boats gently float by on the Singel, another example of Leiden’s quiet pleasures.

On one side of the room there are numerous computers for searching the catalogue. There are racks of newspapers from Indonesia and Suriname, behind which are the shelves of Asian studies and anthropological journals. Here one also finds popular magazines in Sundanese and Javanese which might be hard to find even in Indonesia. Yet, here they are clearly visible and easily accessible. Newspapers from the previous week or month endure, proving to be less ephemeral than the events they describe.


‘The KITLV moved here in 1975. There have been people who have been working here for a long time and each of them—each of us—are dealing with the situation in different ways,’ says Dr Reinder Storm. As head of collections at the KITLV, Reinder is disappointed at the prospect of the Reading Room’s closure. But he is also pragmatic. ‘Much will be lost, no doubt about it. Some staff are looking for new jobs. But it is not as bad as it could be. The ambience will be lost and so will the ability of researchers to engage with the librarians who are so knowledgeable of the collection.’ The KITLV is not the only grand institute in The Netherlands facing significant downsizing. The Tropenmuseum, Volkenkunde and Africa Museums are all now being managed by one central group of managers.

‘When the collection moves to be handled by the University Library, the degree to which the documents are indexed will change. It is this information that makes the documents in the KITLV collection so easily searchable for users. The management at the University, however, regard such thorough indexing as to be a waste of time and money.’ But Reinder also acknowledges that it is more than this. ‘When people use the reading room, they have a sense of community. Scholars in one place. That will be lost when visiting scholars will use the library or some other space at the university or KITLV.’

The Reading Room gained the affection of innumerable scholars - Andy FullerThe Reading Room gained the affection of innumerable scholars - Andy FullerReinder emphasises the importance of the work of the Reading Room’s two most prominent and loyal staff, Rini Hogewoning and Josephine Schrama: ‘But, most importantly, what is lost is that researchers won’t be able to access the information and knowledge that is provided by Rini and Josephine. They can not only help people find particular texts, but, they are also vital in introducing researchers to other researchers who have similar interests. When the collection will be available through the University Library, researchers will pick up the books from the lockers on the ground floor. There will be no human interaction. And, if there is, it won’t be with a librarian who has some 30-40 years of experience with a very particular collection.’

Reinder stresses that the collection will remain. This is in contrast with some of the rumours and stories that have been spreading about the KITLV, which have often taken on a doomsday-like narrative. ‘It is not as bad as it could be’ is hardly an optimistic and positive statement. Yet it is Reinder’s persistent message. Some of the staff are being retained to continue to work at the University Library, others will be looking for work, while others will take the opportunity of an early retirement.

The Collection Underground

Alfred Schipper has been working at the KITLV Reading Room for 30 years. ‘I have never been to Indonesia. But, maybe someday, I will.’ Each morning Alfred could be seen walking from his office near the stairwell, to the elevator, unlocking it with a key, and then taking the very short, but slightly slow descent, to the floor below. His job is to bring the materials ordered by researchers through the library’s catalogue to the Reading Room. His day is filled with many journeys down to the store where the books, CDs, DVDs, newspapers, maps, magazines and other paraphernalia are kept.

The Institute’s collection of books on Indonesia is unrivalled in number and variety - Andy FullerThe Institute’s collection of books on Indonesia is unrivalled in number and variety - Andy Fuller‘Each day there are about 100 books that I take and return. Some days, there are more, some days there are less.’ Alfred works to his own rhythm and system. The noise of the printer in his office, churning out the slips which name the books to be collected for library-users, contrasts with his quiet manner. The temperature below is maintained at around 17-18 degrees and the humidity is at 55 per cent. The silence of the store is broken only by the rolling of the trolley’s wheels and the sound of the machine that tracks the changes in the temperature and humidity. The KITLV collection will remain in this store, but the books will now be transported to the Leiden University Library across the other side of the canal.

The KITLV has been downsized and there is some resentment and disappointment. Professor Frederick’s letter is only one of a number of signs of this. He expresses something intangible: with the closure of the Reading Room, the sense of privilege one could enjoy in having such direct and familiar access to the KITLV’s unrivalled collection is gone. Ten thousand visitors come to KITLV’s Reading Room per year and now their interaction with the Institute has been shifted to the Leiden University library. The muted response of staff and users belies a sense of deep regret at the changes being applied to KITLV.

Andy Fuller ( is an Associate Fellow at KITLV, Leiden, The Netherlands. His website is

 Inside Indonesia 118: Oct-Dec 2014

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]]> (Andy Fuller) Sat, 01 Nov 2014 05:03:24 GMT
The case of Gregorius Rato The criminalisation of a whistleblower shows how corruption can entangle even participatory development programs

Irfan Kortschak

Gregorius Rato - Irfan KortschakGregorius Rato - Irfan Kortschak

In late September, outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) ineffectively and seemingly half-heartedly tried to prevent the passage of legislation to remove the right of Indonesian voters to directly elect district heads, provincial governors and mayors. Under the shadow of this episode, it is easy to forget that for much of his presidency, SBY was regarded as a champion of some major government initiatives to devolve responsibility for basic services such as health care, education, and the building of basic village infrastructure to local governments and to encourage the direct participation of village communities in the design, implementation and oversight of these activities. These programs have brought real improvements to the lives of millions, but in one remote part of Indonesia, hardly noticed in all the hubbub surrounding the transition of power at the national level, the fate of one lonely anti-corruption whistleblower shows how these programs can themselves become captured by the corrupt interests that still bedevil Indonesia’s democratic institutions.

Participation in development

Many of the local development initiatives under SBY were conducted through the National Community Empowerment Program (PNPM), which provides funds to village-level, community-managed organisations to build wells, bridges, roads or other basic infrastructure, as determined by community meetings held to discuss what infrastructure is needed, how it should be designed, and how it should be managed and maintained. The program was first implemented as a small pilot project in the final years of Suharto’s rule at a time when a rigidly authoritarian, top-down development paradigm prevailed and it was semi-official doctrine that communities were ‘still too stupid’ (rakyat masih bodoh) to participate in development initiatives in any capacity other than as the grateful recipients of programs devised and implemented by centrally administered technocratic government agencies.

In this context, many officials of government and development agencies regarded the community-based, participatory approach of the pilot program frankly as hare-brained and doomed to failure. To the surprise of practically everybody, it proved to be extremely successful. With its demonstrated successes and with increased ideological support from the rise of reformist ideas following the end of the Suharto period, the program was expanded under SBY’s administration to cover every urban and rural sub-district in Indonesia. It now involves the annual provision of well over US$2 billion in funds to communities across the country and is regarded as the government’s principal tool for improving the conditions of poor rural communities.

One of the oft-cited reasons for the program’s success is the degree to which it encourages and enables community participation. One of the key features of this program is that communities are obliged to raise a portion of the funding required to develop and maintain the infrastructure themselves, according to a system that the communities themselves determine. While communities often have low expectations of government projects due to their—often well-founded—belief that such projects are poorly conceived, fail to meet the needs of the community, and are riddled with corruption, when they are not expected to contribute their own funds and labour, they often don’t have much reason to care about the outcomes. One of the key differences with PNPM is that because villagers are required to contribute, their expectations are much higher and they become much more involved in monitoring the project to ensure that they is implemented well, without funds being syphoned off for the personal benefit of officials. In fact, studies show that because of this high level of community involvement, PNPM infrastructure projects are up to 60 per cent cheaper than standard government projects implemented by contractors appointed by government agencies.

The PNPM program recognises the value of the community’s role in monitoring programs to ensure that they are implemented well. It makes great efforts to ensure that all details related to financial transactions are made accessible, and actively encourages villagers to develop the financial literacy skills to understand these transactions. It has developed hotlines and complaint handling mechanisms that enable villagers to report corrupt acts and has experimented with citizen journalism initiatives, the provision of legal advice for whistleblowers, and the staging of cultural performances that provide a medium for communities to express their dissatisfaction and complaints at the way local governments conduct their duties. With a zero tolerance policy on corruption, all actors in the program, including individual community members, civil society organisations, and program facilitators are encouraged and required to report financial deviations through the systems designed for this purpose.

In many cases, these systems work well. With the direct election of district heads and legislatures and with systematic efforts to encourage communities to hold their leaders accountable, communities have often been able to apply strong pressure on local government administrators, particularly when these actions are supported by strong central government anti-corruption agencies. However, even under a system where communities can and sometimes do hold elected leaders to account, in many areas, particularly poor, remote areas with powerful entrenched local elites, these systems can fail dramatically. Even devolved, democratic institutions can be captured by elite interests through patronage, collusion between officials, use of force and blatant intimidation.

Enter the whistleblower

In 2011, Gregorius Rato, a PNPM district-level technical facilitator with more than ten years’ experience, moved to South Amanuban in West Timor to take up a post there. Observing the project’s procurement processes, he soon came to suspect that the prices of many components for a village-level solar power generation project were being systematically marked up, with the connivance of a previous project facilitator, district officials and suppliers. He persisted in raising his concerns, despite threats and warnings of dire consequences. As a result of his persistence, the contract with the supplier was not extended.

Soon after, Gregorius was himself charged with corruption, with the case against him based on his possible involvement in a very minor technical violation of standard operating procedures that clearly did not result in any financial losses to the community or to the program. Examining the flimsy nature of the charges, it is hard to escape the conclusion that they were brought against him as a result of pressure by members of a local elite that felt threatened by his actions. With law enforcement officials under intense pressure to meet targets for the prosecution of corruption cases, once the prosecution process was in motion it gained traction, despite numerous efforts by a number of institutions, including the Indonesian Association for Community Empowerment and Development (IPPMI), an association established to represent the interests of Indonesian community facilitators, to demonstrate his innocence.

Despite these efforts, Gregorius was convicted and sentenced to two years and six months imprisonment in 2013. In the same year, he appealed this sentence on legal grounds. Not only did the appellate court uphold his conviction, it increased his sentence to three years, with an additional three months to be served if he failed to compensate the state for alleged losses to the sum of Rp.50 million. In 2014, following an intensive audit and investigation, the institutions responsible for the overall oversight and management of PNPM, the PNPM Steering Committee and the Directorate General of Community and Village Empowerment (PMD), published findings that stated that Gregorius Rato had not deviated from established procedures and that his actions had caused no losses to the state. Despite these findings, the conviction against Gregorius Rato stands, with a court in October 2014 rejecting his final appeal and enforcing his extended prison sentence.

The facilitators’ organisation, IPPMI, continues to strongly denounce the criminalisation of a whistleblower, although it is not clear what further steps can be taken on Gregorius Rato’s behalf. In large part, IPPMI’s concern is due to the chilling effect that this conviction may have on other facilitators who become aware of corrupt practices within the PNPM program and rightfully attempt to draw attention to such cases. Left unaddressed, such cases of corruption may have a devastating impact, destroying the value that the program creates for the community and undermining its attempts to foster accountability and participation.

In early May 2014, while under temporary leave from detention pending his appeal, Gregorius Rato agreed to take part in an interview regarding his case. Since then, following the rejection of his final appeal, he has been required to return to prison to complete his sentence.

Excerpts from this interview appear as follows:

How did you come to suspect that there was something amiss with the PNPM project you were involved in? What did you do about it and what were the consequences?

I was transferred from my post as a district-level technical facilitator in Flores to a similar post in South Amanuban in West Timor in April 2011, and took up my duties in May. At the point when I took up my duties, the project facilitators were conducting the annual project design and budget process. It was part of my duties to assist with this process. One of the projects involved the construction of solar-powered electric generation facilities. Right away, I could see that there was something odd going on. PNPM projects are supposed to be proposed and designed through a community process, for the benefit of the entire community. With this project, I could see that the project had been proposed by only a few people and only benefitted those individuals. That raised a flag for me. When I looked more closely at the procurement process, I noted that the price quoted by the suppliers for the electric generators was Rp.9 million. I’m not an expert in the area of electric power, but that seemed very high, so I contacted my network of friends in PNPM to try to determine what a fair and realistic price for these components should be. They told me that the actual cost of the components in question was closer to Rp.4 million, which meant that the cost was being marked up by more than 100 per cent.

I raised my concerns with my colleagues, but many of them, particularly the technical facilitators who had been working in the region for a long period, said that the prices were standard and that there was nothing to worry about. But I didn’t agree. I began to suspect that I’d only uncovered a small part of the problem. I began to suspect that the figures were being systematically manipulated by senior people within the project and within the district administration. It wasn’t just a matter of prices being marked up in a particular case, it seemed as though senior project administrators were working with some district administrators to systematically engineer the process to make it appear as though the project was complying with the requirements to conduct an open, competitive procurement process, when this wasn’t the case.

When I raised my concerns with PNPM officials outside the region, with central level PMD officials, the local officials told me to desist and leave it alone. In a meeting with the sub-district head, attended by section heads and other officials, they threatened to have me killed. In the end, they accused me of corruption and had me charged.

What was the basis of the corruption charges against you and what were the consequences of those charges?

To be completely honest, I don’t understand the basis of the charges against me. I was accused of ‘deviating from established procedures and processes’ for extending the terms of the contract of a supplier on the project. In fact, I only approved the extension of the contract because logistical difficulties meant that the supplier couldn’t complete the task in the original time frame. While it’s technically a violation for a facilitator to change the timeframe of a contract, there is also a clause that permits it under conditions of force majeure. And the actions clearly didn’t result in any financial losses, other than from the delay that couldn’t have been avoided.

As a result of that charge, I was held in custody and eventually convicted. As a result, I’ve been detained for over a year. I’m convinced that I was subject to criminal charges just because I drew attention to the potential misconduct of the senior district officials. I was accused of corruption, but what evidence is there? Where are the funds that I’m meant to have misappropriated? How did I profit? What damage did my actions cause to the state? It’s just not clear.

My imprisonment has had a devastating effect on my family. While I was held for more than a year, my wife had to support our whole family on her salary as a teacher. Several of my children were studying at university, I don’t know if they’ll be able to complete their studies. We’ve consumed all our savings and have nothing left. It’s placed incredible strains on my wife. She’s had to take time off work to come to visit me in detention, she’s had to struggle to buy food to bring me. I can’t even bear to talk about it.

Have you received support from the institutions responsible for managing the PNPM program? Or from the facilitators’ organisation?

While I was in detention, I had no idea of what was taking place outside on my behalf. I heard some reports, but it was only after I was released that I heard how facilitators all over Indonesia had started petitions on my behalf and lobbied to have me released. At the same time, and I don’t mean to criticise, but there were times that I felt that PMD had washed their hands of me. In April 2014, they finally published the results of an audit that stated that I hadn’t been involved in corrupt practices and that I hadn’t deviated from the standard procedures. I do understand that the process takes time, but I can’t help thinking that if they’d acted sooner and issued the report earlier, I might not have had to spend all this time in prison.

But it’s not just about me. I always used to feel extremely proud to work for PNPM. I was proud to work to help villagers who had nothing to build their communities, to help them to build roads and water wells and the other things they needed. When the program works well, I’ve seen the impact it’s had on villagers who lived in miserable poverty, how it’s helped groups of poor women to set up businesses. I gave ten years of my life to the program because I believed in it. What really gets me is the idea that all that’s being wasted, that the program’s funds can be taken by the village elite to make themselves even more rich and powerful. There’s no system to protect an individual within the program if they make a report about corruption and are punished for coming forward. When I was in prison, the most painful thought was that everything we’ve worked to achieve will come to nothing because of the actions of a few corrupt officials, and that there’s nothing that we can do to stop them.

Irfan Kortschak ( is a long term resident of Jakarta, where he works on communications projects for agencies providing support to PNPM and other community empowerment and poverty alleviation programs. He is the author of Invisible People: Poverty and Empowerment in Indonesia.

Inside Indonesia 118: Oct-Dec 2014

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]]> (Irfan Kortschak) Mon, 10 Nov 2014 05:34:03 GMT
Fifteen years of Sinetron Religi The religious influence of prime-time television in Indonesia

Inaya Rakhmani

Promotional poster for Cinta Fitri Season Ramadhan. Promotional poster for Cinta Fitri Season Ramadhan.


A medium that penetrates over 90 per cent of the total population, broadcast television remains a strong influence over how the majority middle class in urban areas spend their money and spare time. Melodrama, widely known in Indonesia as sinetron, has a privileged position in prime time television – where the highest number of viewers tune in.  In the 1990s, sinetron predominantly used to show the dream of luxury living and the lifestyles of the upper-middle class, influenced by Bollywood television drama. However, in the past 15 years, Indonesians across the country have followed the popular rise of Islamic sinetron, locally known as sinetron religi, which offer upper to lower class Muslims religious guidance in dealing with life’s trials and tribulations.

The days of early television commercialisation allowed only ‘safe’ portrayals of religion, in line with New Order’s SARA safeguards (avoiding the sensitive topics of Ethnicity, Religion, Race and Intergroup relations). Producers then introduced portrayals of Islamic imagery, such as prayer scenes and rituals, into the sinetron scripts in the late 1990s, just as the influence of political Islam was rising in wider urban society. The term sinetron religi became popular in the early 2000s with the unexpected success of the low-brow sinetron Rahasia Ilahi (God’s Secret), which showed Muslims who had deviated from the righteous path being punished by inexplicable supernatural events. Its low production cost and high-ratings then inspired a rash  of sinetron religi eager to replicate its success.

Such a phenomenon did not go unnoticed and there were mixed responses towards the emerging trend. On the one hand, intellectuals, most notably film critic Eric Sasono, criticised television stations for cashing in on increasing Islamic piety, and that sinetron religi trivialised Islamic values and misled Muslim audiences. On the other hand, when the film Ayat-ayat Cinta (Verses of Love; Bramantyo) gained popularity in 2008, also generating a raft of similar melodramas on television, Din Syamsuddin, then head of one of the largest Muslim organisations, Muhammadiyah, praised it for providing an alternative portrayal of a peaceful Islam amidst the prevailing association of Islam and violence.

There is one sinetron religi that stands out among these replications. Citra Sinema, a production house owned by a former chairman of the National Film Council, Deddy Mizwar, explicitly uses sinetron as a means of da’wah - or Islamic mission. Its writers consult with fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) experts to verify adherence to scholarly Qur'anic interpretation. Significantly, eight years on, its sinetron religi still hit highest ratings during the month of Ramadan, and since 2010 has also triggered the trend of comedic sinetron religi that are shown throughout the year.

Sinetron religi broadcast on broadcast television must achieve high ratings and be able to attract advertising. Accordingly, producers need to be sensitive to the values their Muslim viewers wish to preserve. Producers have learned to take their cue from the protests received by the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI). In the past ten years, for instance, KPI has limited and banned certain portrayals of mysticism, horror and the supernatural in order to protect young viewers, effectively reducing the production of supernatural dramas. In 2008, the Islamic melodrama Hareem was censured for its portrayal of polygamy as a means to justify men’s sexual pleasures. In 2013, KPI received protests regarding the depiction of Islamic teachers in the religious comedy Islam KTP (Superficial Muslims) who ideally should be portrayed as knowledgeable and not erroneous.

These developments reveal that there is a link between the commodification of Islam with the utilisation of television as a tool for da’wah. Both have intermingled and blended in a combined effort between producers, audiences and the regulatory body that has perpetuated the trend. Producers continue to create commercially successful programmes, viewers take pleasure from shows that do not contradict their values, and KPI guarantees that television content corresponds with their normative perception of the public’s needs.

Promotional poster for Tukang Bubur Naik Haji (Porridge Seller Goes on the HajPromotional poster for Tukang Bubur Naik Haji (Porridge Seller Goes on the Haj)What has been established in the past decade raises an important question: What kind of ‘Islam’ is being shown on Indonesian television today?

In an attempt to gain as broad a Muslim audience as possible, and at the same time avoid protests from heterogeneous Muslim Indonesians, sinetron religi do not have a single dominant narrative. It furthermore blurs the division between ‘traditionalist’, ‘modernist’, ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ interpretations of Islamic doctrines as reflected in how Indonesian Muslims organise themselves politically.

These portrayals take on a life of their own, for they are supported by advertisers rather than coming from a particular Muslim organisation. Consequently, what we have been viewing on Indonesian television is not a reflection of the debates or the development of Islamic thinking among mainstream Indonesian society, but a construct that has emerged out of a symbiosis between commercialisation and da’wah.

Inaya Rakhmani (, is the head of the Communication Research Centre, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Indonesia and an associate at the Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University, Australia. Part of this article is published in Jurnal Sosiologi Masyarakat, Universitas Indonesia.


Other related articles from the II archive:

'Sinetron and soap boxes'. Elisabeth Kramer, 108: Apr-June 2012

'Stars and stereotypes'. Asriana Kebon, Edition 103: Jan-Mar 2011


Inside Indonesia 118: Oct-Dec 2014{jcomments on}

]]> (Inaya Rakhmani) Thu, 13 Nov 2014 22:52:12 GMT
The paradox of virtual youth politics Social media promotes political engagement among youth, but at the expense of accurate information and real-world political effects

Diatyka Widya Permata Yasih and Andi Rahman Alamsyah

A user-generated computer game developed by Jokowi’s team asks supporters to join Jokowi-Jusuf Kalla on impromptu visits - Generasi OptimisA user-generated computer game developed by Jokowi’s team asks supporters to join Jokowi-Jusuf Kalla on impromptu visits - Generasi OptimisYoung people appear to be heavily reliant on social media to engage in Indonesia’s democratic life. Social media’s momentous sway among young voters was front and centre during the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial elections, and again during the 2014 presidential elections. Technology-savvy youth took to social media to inform themselves and others on the elections and express their political views, by sharing, co-creating, discussing and modifying user-generated content.

The 2014 elections showed the great potential of web-based and mobile technologies in promoting political education and engagement. However, there seems to be a paradox in the technology-driven politics of youth, as many rely on the abundance of free information circulating online in making their political choices without examining the credibility of the content. Their political activism in the virtual world also appears to have little effect in shaping real-world politics.

Youth, social media, politics

A survey conducted in 2012 by the Indonesian Association of Internet Service Providers (APJII) showed that 58.4 per cent of internet users in Indonesia are between 12 to 34 years old, with those between the ages of 25 and 29 comprising 14.4 per cent. The majority of these young users are highly-educated professionals, followed by high-school and university students. They live in big cities like Jakarta and Surabaya, where adequate infrastructure and internet networks exist. The survey also found that young users mainly access the internet for socialising through social networking sites, with Facebook receiving the greatest number of visitors. YouTube, Twitter and blogs have also become hugely popular among young users, indicating that they are increasingly connected through social media.

Indonesian youth use social media as a flexible instrument to address various social and political issues which allows them to communicate anything, to anyone, from any place, at any time. They use social media to criticise public policies, shame corrupt bureaucrats, highlight social problems, sign online petitions to bring about change, and also organise protest on the streets. This should not come as a surprise: they are at ease in the virtual world, being the first generation to have grown up with the Internet. They also have limited access to traditional political institutions and most feel they have little opportunity to shape the political process. Many are not interested in working through political parties, which remain distant from young voters’ concerns.

In contrast, social media offers opportunities for equal and free participation. Every young person can create, share and exchange political information and ideas, as long as they have internet access. Social media also provides the chance to be part of a national discussion, as youth can interact in virtual communities that reach a wide range of audiences. Thus, in social media, they have found a suitable platform in which they feel they can shape matters that affect their lives. This has not gone by unnoticed by politicians competing for votes; they understand that a carefully managed online presence is one of the keys to electoral success.

Social media as political instrument

The power of social media as a political instrument became apparent during the 2012 gubernatorial elections in Jakarta, when sitting governor Fauzi Bowo was defeated, against the odds, by Joko Widodo or ‘Jokowi’. Jokowi’s supporters created a music video spoof of the boy band One Direction’s song ‘What Makes You Beautiful’, which parodied the many problems in Jakarta and expressed hopes that Jokowi would fix them. The video was uploaded on YouTube and went viral, garnering more than two million views. Although this video can hardly be credited for Jokowi’s victory, it attested to the impact of political messages spread among youth through social media. This became all the more apparent in the 2014 presidential election.

With the population aged between 16 and 30 years old comprising 25.69 per cent of eligible voters, and first-time voters between the ages of 17 and 21 comprising 21.8 million people or 11.7 per cent of the total 186.5 million registered voters, youth formed a significant group in the 2014 legislative and presidential elections. The two presidential candidates—Prabowo and, again, Jokowi—expected to garner the majority of their support from young people, as most of them are swinging voters. Both teams seemed to understand very well that the young are increasingly online. They utilised social media extensively in their campaigns, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, mobile games, online radio and other social media applications, seeking to turn digital followers into real-world voters.

Social media as an extension of regular media campaigns served as an instrument to promote positive images of the candidates. Prabowo’s campaign marketed him as a strong and decisive leader, who promised the nation stability, while Jokowi supporters plugged his achievements as Solo mayor and Jakarta governor. The flip side was that social media was also hit with negative and black campaigns. Rumours circulated online that Jokowi, who is a Javanese Muslim, was secretly a Chinese Christian, or even a communist. Meanwhile, Prabowo was mostly attacked for his past, as the perpetrator of human rights abuses related to the abduction of activists and repression of the student movement in 1998 — allegations his supporters say cannot really be proven.

To create the desired online image, Prabowo’s party Gerindra hired a team of young professionals to run his social media campaign. This digital team worked behind the scenes at Gerindra’s headquarter in Ragunan, South Jakarta, taking turns to monitor Gerindra and Prabowo’s online activities 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to respond to questions in real time. Jokowi’s social media campaign was less structured because it was run by volunteers. Still, he proved to be a strong online rival for Prabowo.

These volunteers were mostly technology-savvy university students and office workers who devoted their time and energy to the campaign, building on previous experience in online campaigning for Jokowi. During the 2012 gubernatorial elections, one of the volunteer groups was Jasmev (Jokowi Ahok Social Media Volunteers), which worked to counter negative messages about Jokowi and his running mate. This group also approached public figures who supported Jokowi and lobbied them to demonstrate their support online. For the 2014 presidential elections, the group was revived and renamed Jasmev 2014 (Jokowi Advanced Social Media Volunteers). The loose structure remained, enabling the volunteers in this and other groups to come up with their own unique campaign ideas, mostly targeting youth.

Social media as channel of participation

Social media was used in several ways to engage the youth in the elections. It provided them, in particular first-time voters, with easy access to information and news online through Facebook, Twitter, Path and similar platforms. Since most Indonesian TV networks are owned by political party leaders, whose campaign coverage was partisan, social media was seen as an alternative source of more independent information.

To assist voters in making an informed choice, civil society actors utilised web-based and mobile technologies to provide critical election data. For example, Ayo Vote (Let’s Vote), an non-government organisation (NGO) seeking to improve civic participation among young voters, used its website and social media accounts to provide easy-to-digest electoral information. Other civil society organisations created websites to provide databases of legislative and presidential candidates and recommend candidates with clean records. Among the most prominent was (clean 2014), initiated by a consortium of NGOs, including ICW (Indonesian Corruption Watch), PSHK (Indonesian Centre for Law and Policy Studies), KONTRAS (Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence), KPA (Consortium for Agrarian Reform) and WALHI (Indonesian Forum for the Environment).

Besides using social media as a source of information, young people also used web-based and mobile technologies to create and share memes, photos, videos and chatter to support their candidate, or attack his rival. A number of hash tags made the rounds. Supporters of Jokowi used the hashtag #salam2jari (two-finger salute), while #indonesiasatu (one Indonesia) became the sign of support for Prabowo. On election day, voters shared ‘selfies’ showing themselves voting, or their ink-tipped fingers. Social media thus facilitates youth to engage in national discussion on matters related to the elections and political issues in general, not only by providing information but also as a means for them to influence public opinion.

Others went further, using social media to collaborate with other citizens to act politically. This was exemplified by those who participated in monitoring the election results through watchdog sites. For example, (the weird C1s c1) facilitated volunteers to collect C1 forms (used for voting tabulation) with irregular data, such as a wrong tally. The tumblr site came up with 900 flagged documents and 100 verified ‘weird’ aberrant’ documents. Similarly, (guard the election) managed to mobilise 700 volunteers to manually count the C1 forms from 47,828 polling stations, releasing the results on its website and Facebook page with an update every 10 minutes. Other sites like (the people’s cabinet) and (guard the cabinet) facilitated netizens to gather public input on president-elect Jokowi’s cabinet. Overall, social media provides young people with unprecedented means to participate in the political process. But there is a downside.

The paradox of information overload

Prabowo is depicted as the strong general in a computer game developed by Prabowo’s team Sumarson: Prabowo is depicted as the strong general in a computer game developed by Prabowo’s team - Sumarson Social media provides a simple and fast way to access and share independent information, which helps more informed young voters engage in the debate around the elections and other critical issues. However, the abundant free information circulating online also creates a paradox. While social media serves as a potential instrument of political education, it also creates a space where youth can consume information that may not be 100 per cent true.

Online consumers tend to take information for granted without checking its validity and reliability. Digital media users produce, circulate and consume rumours without verifying the original source. In addition, attention spans tend to be short, and deep discussions are rare on social media, where character posts are limited. In this context, social media helped to market a candidate by selling his positive image online, and also to facilitate attacks on a rival by inflaming and sustaining unsubstantiated rumours or outright lies.

One of the consequences of this is reflected in the 2014 presidential elections results, where Jokowi won 53.15 per cent of the vote to Prabowo’s 46.85 per cent. The tight margin shows that almost half of all Indonesians, including the youth, cast their vote for Prabowo. These young people’s political choices seemed to be influenced mostly by his positive online image, rather than his track record of human rights abuses.

The internet indeed provided abundant information on the 2014 presidential elections, paving the way for youth to educate themselves and make an informed political choice. Nevertheless, such free access to unverified information can result in people being misled, as indicated by the many votes still garnered by Prabowo. Another paradox of social media in facilitating youth political engagement is that, despite the increased power of their political activism in the virtual world, these young people are at risk of doing little in shaping real-world politics.

Virtual activism vs. real world politics

Although the political arena has undoubtedly become relatively open in post-authoritarian Indonesia, politics continues to be dominated by elite figures that are entrenched in the networks established during the authoritarian regime. Dominating the political parties, these elite figures look after themselves rather than public interests. That is why youth feel they cannot rely on political parties to pick up their demands, and rather turn to social media as the a new powerful medium to engage in and influence politics. However, youth politics in the virtual world appears to be disconnected from the real. Virtual activism alone seems to be insufficient to challenge the dominance of political elites or oligarchs in the national political landscape.

In the aftermath of the 2014 presidential elections, the young social media activists who helped Jokowi to power appeared to have no say in the political process. There was very little opportunity for them to be part of Jokowi’s high-powered Transition Team which devised his policy programs. They also have little chance of taking part in his administration, where they would be most able to shape crucial policies. Moreover, they lack the necessary political clout to be a powerful pressure group that can influence government policy from the outside.

The limits of virtual activism are demonstrated by the recent controversy surrounding the House of Representatives’ passing of the Regional Election Law that abolishes direct election of regional heads. Many view this as a step backward for democracy, and condemn outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s (SBY) Democrat Party for walking out during the vote, thus allowing the Red and White Coalition, led by Prabowo’s party, to pass the bill. As a result, #ShameOnYouSBY became a trending topic on Twitter, not only in Indonesia but worldwide, attracting massive public attention to the issue. This public shaming of SBY, damaging his reputation just as he was about to leave office, led him to issue a regulation in lieu of law to repeal the controversial bill. But it is unlikely that SBY’s move will succeed in bringing back direct regional elections. His proposal still needs to be approved by the legislature, where the Red and White Coalition controls the majority of the seats. Social media activists can do little to influence the Red and White Coalition, since they have no power over real-world political processes.

It takes more than virtual activism to promote social change. The strategic resources available online need to be re-entrenched in real-world social infrastructures. In that regard, Indonesian virtual activists may learn from the recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Angry at the Chinese government’s decision to pre-screen candidates for Hong Kong’s first direct elections in 2017, youth leaders Joshua Wang (aged 17) and Alex Chao (aged 24), along with their older counterparts, mobilised a class boycott which was followed by thousands of protesters from other demographics. Seen as the biggest challenge to Beijing since the 1989 Tiananmen movement, these movement’s young leaders managed to mobilise thousands of Hong Kong residents to join their cause, pressuring the government to negotiate. Indeed, They relied on social media to organise invisibly and circulate messages fast. But it was real-world political instruments like mass mobilisation and strong leadership on the streets which made it a successful pro-democracy protest movement.

Diatyka Widya Permata Yasih ( works at LabSosio and Andi Rahman Alamsyah ( works at the Department of Sociology, both at the University of Indonesia.


Other related articles from the II archive:

'Creative Campaigners'. Tom Power, Edition 116: Apr-June 2014

'Cafe Culture'. An Ismanto, Edition 114: Oct-Dev 2013


Inside Indonesia 118: Oct-Dec 2014{jcomments on}

]]> (Diatyka Widya Permata Yasih and Andi Rahman Alamsyah) Tue, 25 Nov 2014 00:37:05 GMT
Back with a vengeance Former migrant workers are finding new empowerment in the bureaucratic jungle of legal aid

Benny Hari Juliawan

Indonesian migrant workers hone their activist sensibilities at a protest in Hong Kong - istolethetv at flickr.comIndonesian migrant workers hone their activist sensibilities at a protest in Hong Kong - istolethetv at flickr.comLike many rural teenagers, Bariyah, the daughter of peasant parents, did not have many options when she finished secondary school in Kebumen District, Central Java. Her vocational training in accounting was out of place in an area in need of agricultural skills. When her teacher offered to help her (and the rest of her year group) find work in Malaysia, it felt like a godsend. It turned out that this teacher was a broker, who was able to place her in an electronics factory in Kuala Lumpur. Bariyah was made to sign a contract, but did so without adequate knowledge of its terms. Unknowingly, she had placed herself US$800 in debt to the recruitment agency. Sixteen months later, the electronics business went under. She was sent home without compensation and still in debt. She was also owed six months’ wages. The agency that guaranteed her contract refused to take any responsibility for her situation. Disappointed but refusing to cave in, Bariyah contacted Migrant Care, a non-government organization (NGO) for migrant workers, to ask for help. Two years later, she is a legal officer in the Migrant Care office in Jakarta and studying law at Bung Karno University.

This is an increasingly familiar story. A one-time victim who subsequently becomes an activist in the sphere of migrant worker protection. There are many similar examples: the head of ATKI (Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers) in Jakarta was a domestic worker in Hong Kong for 11 years; PBM (Care for Migrant Workers) is led by a woman who was trafficked to Taiwan; a month in Saudi prison was enough to turn Eko Yulianto, a native of Purwokerto who worked as a driver, into a committed defender of migrant workers’ rights with the organisation BMIAS (Indonesian Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia). The list could go on. Faced with predicaments that could easily have caused them to fall to pieces, these migrants have instead been motivated to fight for justice – not just for themselves but also for other migrant workers. ‘I was just angry that people like me were treated badly simply because we were not educated and came from the countryside,’ explains Bariyah. ‘I am now studying law as a kind of personal revenge and to help people in similar situations.’

Becoming an activist

Many rural Indonesians struggle to find jobs in the increasingly uncompetitive agricultural economy. Such circumstances make the promise of a relatively high paying overseas job look attractive. Workers who had never ventured beyond the physical and social boundaries of their extended families thus find themselves in the hustle and bustle of an Asian or Middle Eastern metropolis, albeit often locked within the confines of their employer’s house.

Those who are lucky enough to land a job in a relatively forgiving environment, such as Hong Kong, are exposed to a vibrant civil society well-versed in the language of international law and human rights. Very quickly they find their way into the various organisations and movements set up by churches and other civil society groups to support a migrant worker population of over 300,000. On their days off they join street marches and protests to defend the rights of migrant workers. Their voices are amplified by the support of local and international NGOs that are present in the city.  A number of migrant workers’ unions were in fact founded in Hong Kong and only later established branch offices in the workers’ home countries. Upon their return, many such workers are keen to continue the struggle.

There can also be more personal reasons for getting involved in activism upon return from working abroad. Migrant workers pick up the lifestyles of ordinary Hong Kong, Taiwanese or Singaporean citizens they live with. This is typically on show on Sundays in public squares, when they congregate to spend their days off together. More importantly, they appropriate the skills, values and worldviews of their host societies. These are not always in harmony with the more traditional values of their home towns and villages. Indeed, many of them struggle with acceptance and self-expression on return. As it turns out, back home their empowered self does not always get the recognition it once received overseas. Only a few opportunities, such as being an activist, give them the scope to build on and develop their new identities.

Filling a gap in the system

Armed with experience and knowledge, former migrant workers provide a critical service in the bureaucratic jungle that surrounds any attempt to improve protection for migrant workers. A returned migrant worker seeking redress for her misfortune faces the daunting prospect of having to negotiate with both the agency that placed her in overseas employment and a variety of government bodies. Under Law No. 39/2009 on the protection and placement of migrant workers, the first step in a dispute is for workers to negotiate directly with their recruitment agencies. Paperwork, unfamiliar legal jargon and unfriendly officials all add to the sense of intimidation that the worker experiences when walking into a recruitment agency office, which will typically be located in a secure private complex. Moreover, since most agencies are located in and around Jakarta, negotiation requires returnees to undertake a long and expensive journey from their homes, which are often in rural areas of Java or the outer islands. In short, inherent power imbalances permeate almost every aspect of the negotiation process. The presence of an experienced ‘case-handler’ is thus a tremendous help. The case-handler assists with gathering documents and evidence as well as representing the worker in making claims against recruitment agencies, insurance companies or government bodies.

Bariyah with the Migrant Care crew in 2012 - Indah JosephineBariyah with the Migrant Care crew in 2012 - Indah JosephineAnd there is a lot of work to do. In 2012, the BNP2TKI (National Agency for Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers) received 9764 complaints from migrant workers and their families, mostly to do with non-payment of wages. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Migrant Care has identified 398,270 cases in which Indonesian migrant workers suffered violations of their rights during 2013 alone. Despite this high number, however, migrant workers have no access to state-funded legal aid, which is only available to criminal defendants.

Limited legal aid services are available to migrant workers through the private sector, and through university law schools, some of which offer legal advice as a public outreach service. The majority of cases, however, are handled by non-legal civil society organisations, usually staffed by former migrant workers. Over time, these case-handlers have built up a network of personal relations with relevant government officials and staffers at insurance companies and recruitment agencies. This way, they work more efficiently in obtaining some kind of compensation for their clients. Lily Kusnadi, a former migrant worker in Taiwan and the chairwoman of PBM, has forged personal relations with officials in the Department of Labour and Transmigration and the BNP2TKI. Thanks to these carefully cultivated relations, she is able to secure payments for her clients, sometimes even from the personal pockets of the officials. Ties with the political elite can also provide other corollary benefits. On one occasion, the wife of the Minister of Labour and Transmigration came to open PBM’s new shelter for abused migrant workers. The shelter had been supported by donations from, amongst others, the minister’s wife and the owner of a recruitment agency in Surabaya, East Java. Meeting Lily today, it can be hard to remember that she is someone whose marginal position in the Indonesian political economy once drove her to Taiwan.

A case of empowerment?

Despite their effectiveness, the important role played by these case-handlers reveals a glaring gap in Indonesia’s justice system. Law No. 16/2011 may change this. It emphasises the right to access justice and promises state funding for legal aid services. However, until the relevant bureaucratic hurdles are crossed and the new law can be fully implemented, case-handlers such as Bariyah will continue to provide vital services.

Lily Kusnadi celebrates the opening of the PBM shelter for abused migrant workers Benny Juliawan Lily Kusnadi celebrates the opening of the PBM shelter for abused migrant workers - Benny JuliawanOne wonders also what the future will hold for these case-handlers. Their empowerment has intriguing parallels with developments seen in the world of industrial trade unions and the human rights movement, where members’ fights for justice has propelled them up the political ladder into prominent positions within political parties or patronage networks, a phenomenon so common in Indonesian democracy. One thing is clear: migrant workers such as Bariyah may once have been down but they are surely not out and seem destined to play an important role in Indonesia’s vibrant civil society for the foreseeable future.



Benny Hari Juliawan ( is a researcher in Sahabat Insan, a NGO working on migrant worker issues based in Jakarta


Other related articles from the II archive:

'Wasted Talent'. Ellen Prusinski, Edition 116: Apr-June 2014

'Diaspora Power'. David Reeve, Edition 115: Jan-Mar 2014


Inside Indonesia 118: Oct-Dec 2014 {jcomments on}

]]> (Benny Hari Juliawan) Mon, 01 Dec 2014 21:40:58 GMT