Jun 21, 2024 Last Updated 1:20 AM, Jun 20, 2024

Campus cruelty

Published: Jul 24, 2007

Student initiations teach brutal lessons

Akhmad Joko Purnomo

Wahyu Hidayat, a new student at the Sumedang STPDN (Domestic Administration College), was beaten to death by his senior students in 2003. Wahyu was struck dozens of times on the neck, chest and kidneys, and the final blow knocked him out. As he fell backwards, the back of his head struck a sink. Although his tormentors tried to revive him, he died on the way to the hospital.

This was not a random attack, but part of the college’s violent initiation, or hazing ritual. Wahyu’s death attracted substantial media attention, centred on the practice of OPSPEK (Study Program Orientation and Campus Introduction), as the initiation is officially called.

Almost every year, there are news reports of violence occurring during OPSPEK activities. OPSPEK is mandatory for all students, and takes place a few days before lectures start. It involves new students being introduced to senior students. OPSPEK activities, and the senior students who run them, are not monitored. As a result, violence almost always occurs.

Trauma and violence

Every year OPSPEK claims more victims as new students suffer psychological trauma, physical abuse and sometimes death. Many have criticised the practice, but none have been able to prevent it happening. It has become a tradition of violence, dehumanisation and revenge passed down from year to year.

Hazing, according to Nurcholis Madjid, a prominent Indonesian intellectual, is a colonial tradition from Europe. In the past, hazing was used to combat the arrogance of the nobles who at the time dominated educational institutions. In Indonesia, in post-oolonial times, this practice became excessive. In fact it has become criminal, as physical abuse is common.

New students may have to undergo a variety of trials during OPSPEK. Push-ups and squat-walking for hundreds of metres are a common part of initiation. Students may also be forced to lie down for long periods in the heat of the sun, or roll around on the hot asphalt. Other tasks include measuring a football field using a cigarette lighter, wearing loincloths, having hot wax dripped on you, or sitting inside a drum while it is beaten. Any perceived infraction on the part of the new students may be met with verbal abuse. These practices are often not carried out in secret, but witnessed by spectators, who seem to enjoy the sight. The most brutal practices have stopped at high profile universities like the University of Indonesia, but many private universities continue them.

Since the 1980s hazing has also been carried out at high schools. The results are just as tragic as at universities. One example is the death in 2002 of Dandy Suniawijaya, a student at a government high school in Bogor.

Criticised, but the hazing goes on

Wahyu Hidayat died as a result of injuries inflicted by his senior students as punishment for his perceived infractions. The Hidayat incident exposed the militaristic education system at STPDN, the main college for trainee government officials. Another student death in 2002 was discovered to have been a result of physical abuse during hazing. After Wahyu Hidayat’s death, several students who had been victims of abuse by senior students spoke up. The victims claimed they had been intimidated into not reporting the abuse to the authorities. The staff at STPDN seemed to condone the violence by ignoring reports by the victims and their families.

Abuse occurs during OPSPEK at both private and government-run universities. In 1999 the Department of National Education banned all forms of hazing. But the violence continues. From 2000 to 2003, at least 11 new students died as a result of physical abuse by seniors. These cases seem to fade from view with time. Neither the universities nor the authorities act to prevent reoccurrences. Those who are accused of the violence are sometimes tried, but the cases are closed before the roots of the problem can be examined.

Militarism seems to be ingrained in Indonesia’s educational system. When a teacher gives a ‘punishment’, it sometimes involves physical abuse. Physical and verbal punishments given to students are intended to inculcate discipline and motivate students to study. But in fact, such practices can motivate students to commit more acts of abuse.

The death of Wahyu Hidayat, one of the leaders of the next generation, will likely not be the last. The consequences of institutionalised abuse within the education system are dire. Violence should not be condoned in the name of discipline.

Akhmad Joko Purnomo (nnono@lycos.com) is an entrepreneur and translator with an interest in social issues.

Inside Indonesia 82: Apr-Jun 2005

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