Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Parung; Jasmin; Dengklok Riots

On my next visit to Parung, I found that the lady with the breast cancer had wasted away almost to a skeleton. She still refused to go to hospital, but she was happy to take some money.

"Money, money," she said, with a dark grin. "I love money."

The lady’s husband had made an appearance. He was surprisingly young, reasonably good-looking, perhaps in his early thirties; he worked at some kind of market stall in Jakarta. The small son’s eyes seemed to have got bigger and more worried-looking.

A few weeks later, the Parung lady was dead.

One of the woman’s neighbours told me that the little boy and his older brothers had gone to live with a grandmother.

Out to explore one of Bogor’s hilly kampungs one Saturday morning, I walked past the Labar Hospital and came to a rubbish tip, a sizeable pile of discarded waste right next to the pavement. Lying on top of this rubbish tip was a young woman who looked like a victim of a concentration camp. I stopped a passer-by, a stylishly dressed lady in her thirties, and asked her if she thought the malnourished woman should be taken to the Labar Hospital.

"It’s too late for that," said the lady, who seemed keen to get away from me as swiftly as possible. "She’s already been in hospital."

I tried addressing the anorexic woman, but all I got was a sickly whine. I called on Mo, my driver, and together we managed to get the poor woman to Bogor’s privately run Menteng Hospital.

"The woman is mentally backward and has no family," said the tall doctor on duty in the emergency ward. "We can’t take her."

I wondered about trying the mental hospital. Then I remembered the disappearance of Chong and the sickness of John. Mo and I drove our patient to the Christian-run Teluk Gong Hospital in Jakarta.

On arrival, I explained as little as I could about the patient. I did not want the hospital to know that she was mentally backward. I simply said that the poor girl on the stretcher was an acquaintance from Bogor, that she had become ill and that I was hoping she would be admitted for tests.

"What’s her name?" asked the little bald-headed Chinese doctor.

I had to think quickly. "Jasmin," I said, hoping that that was an Indonesian name.

"I think Jasmin has TB," said the doctor with a sympathetic smile.

Jasmin was admitted to a third class ward.

It was Ramadan once more, the end of January 1997, and the newspapers were full of news from Dengklok, which I had so recently visited with Min’s family. There had been a riot in that peaceful little town of 200,000 people. Mobs had attacked churches, a Chinese temple, two houses and scores of businesses.

As the days went by the story slowly emerged: very early on the 30th January, some youths, possibly of school age, were having their breakfast before starting the day’s fasting; the youths started banging the big drums at the mosque; a Chinese-Indonesian woman shouted rudely at the youths, telling them to make less noise; apparently in retaliation a mob attacked the home of the Chinese-Indonesian woman.

At the market, around six in the morning, the mob ransacked a shop owned by the Chinese-Indonesian woman’s family; next to be attacked were houses and shops on Berdikari Street; on Proklamasi Street there was an assault on the Indonesian Christian Church; stones were thrown at the police who escorted the family of the Chinese-Indonesian woman to the safety of Karawang.

A mob of around two hundred people, described as being mostly primary and secondary school children, proceeded to the Bethel Tabernakel Church, where they were faced by a force of about twenty soldiers and police; the children and youths had no difficulty in entering the church, picking up chairs and throwing them into the street; Buddhist temples were attacked; near a Chinese owned bank four cars were set on fire; Moslems spray-painted the word ‘Moslem’ on their properties to avoid them being attacked; some Moslems painted the word ‘Moslem’ on the homes of their Christian neighbours so as to protect them also.

Around 11.30 in the morning the windows of a Christian school were smashed; the army and police, including three military trucks, encouraged the mob to move on; troops and riot police set up road blocks and began patrolling the streets; within a few days, the market was back to its normal busy self.

Several days after the Dengklok riots I was in my local supermarket when I bumped into Mary, the mother of one of my most polite, cheerful and conscientious students. Mary was a gentle woman, expensively but soberly dressed, Chinese-Singaporean and staunchly Christian.

"What caused the Dengklok riots?" I asked her, after we had exchanged pleasantries about the weather and the poor quality of the supermarket chicken.

"These people are very poor," she said, quietly. "They resent the Chinese. They think the Chinese-Indonesians are corrupt and disloyal to Indonesia. They see them as the Jews of Asia."

"So it was an attack on the Chinese rather than an attack on Christians?"

"It was a lot of things," said Mary, looking me straight in the eye. "The Moslems see the Chinese-Indonesians drive up to a big expensive church building in their luxury cars. Or they see them going to a wealthy Buddhist temple. The Chinese probably own most of the shops and bigger businesses in Dengklok. The Chinese are only about three percent of the population but they seem to have a lot of the money. They seem to pull all the strings."

"But why are we suddenly getting these anti-Chinese riots? There was a riot in October in Situbondo in East Java. Then one in December in West Java."

"It’s always the same before elections. We’ve elections coming up in May."

"You mean the riots are planned?"

"They could be spontaneous. They could be planned. One theory is that the people in power use the Chinese as scapegoats. A riot lets off steam. Another theory is that the opposition groups use the riots to undermine the people in power."

"How would the people in power be able to cause a riot?"

"It could be done by extremist Moslem groups secretly run by some faction of the military. They could spread rumours. They could organise a mob."

"Is there any proof?"

"None at all."


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