Category Archives: Rule of Law

Op-Ed: Will Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission Be Paralyzed?

Op-Ed: Will Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission Be Paralyzed During the Term of President Jokowi?

By Budiman Tanuredjo, Kompas Daily,  4 July 2017

KOMPAS, Jakarta – The actions of the Indonesian House of Representatives Committee of Inquiry into the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) have become more and more absurd. The Committee of Inquiry is going on safari to Pondok Bambu and Sukamiskin prisons to meet with prisoners convicted of corruption offenses. The Committee hopes to find information on how the corruption convicts were treated inappropriately by the KPK.

“We want to look for information about anything inappropriate experienced by the prisoners while they were either witnesses, suspects or prisoners convicted in corruption cases,” said Deputy Chairman of the Inquiry Committee, Rep. Risa Mariska (PDIP-West Java), the representative for the district that includes the cities of Bogor and Bekasi. She said the Inquiry Committee has received information about the prisoners being treated improperly when they were interrogated by the KPK.

Doubtless the Inquiry Committee won’t have any problem meeting any of the many corruption prisoners. Take, for example, the former Chief Justice of Indonesia’s Constitutional Court Akil Mochtar(1), or former Democrat Party Representative and party treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin, former Democrat Party Representative and party secretary-general Anas Urbaningrum, former Democrat Party Representative Angelina Sondakh, former Banten province governor Atut Chosiyah, or any number of others. It isn’t hard to guess that they will provide any amount of ammunition with which to damage the KPK as an ad hoc institution resulting eventually in the KPK being either abolished or neutralized.

Parahyangan University criminal law lecturer Agustinus Pohan believes that the effort of the Inquiry Committee is an attempt by politicians to take revenge on the KPK. “Now the fight against corruption has to deal with white-collar criminals who want to prove their ability to exact payback,” Pohan said.

Earlier, Deputy Chairman of the House Inquiry Committee into the KPK, Rep. Taufiqulhadi (Nasdem-East Java) planned to call constitutional law experts to prove the legality of the Inquiry. “Some say the inquiry isn’t appropriate. Different opinions are all normal, but we hope the debate stays balanced,” said the National Democrat Party politician according to Kompas Daily on 30 June 2017.

The Inquiry Committee action in calling constitutional law experts Professor Dr Yusril Ihza Mahendra and Professor Jimly Asshiddiqie to appear will be a priority before it summons Rep. Miryam S. Haryani (Hanura-West Java) who has been arrested by the KPK. Miryam was declared a suspect by the KPK over allegations she provided false information. Her case is to go to trial soon.

The origins of the House Inquiry Committee started with the KPK leadership rejecting requests from House of Representatives Commission III to make public recordings of the questioning of Miryam Haryani by KPK investigators. The KPK refused to make the recordings public before her trial. Up to now, recordings resulting from wiretaps have always been made public during the trials. Having previously appeared as a witness in the Criminal Corruption Court, Miryam retracted part of her testimony contained in the brief of evidence, giving as the reason that she had been coerced by KPK investigators.

In response to the retraction of her testimony in the brief of evidence, senior KPK investigator Novel Baswedan was examined as a witness in the trial. Novel testified there had been no intimidation or coercion. Novel went so far as to claim Miryam had been induced by certain fellow House members to retract her testimony in the brief of evidence, mentioning several names, including Rep. Bambang Soesatyo (Golkar-Central Java) and Rep. Masinton Pasaribu (PDIP-Jakarta), as the members who had influenced Miryam. She denied having ever mentioned their names and from this House Commission III requested that the KPK make the recordings public, which the KPK refused to do.

Whether it is related or not is not known, however, several days following his testimony, Novel Baswedan was the target of an acid attack by an unknown assailant. His eyesight was damaged. He was taken to hospital and is still receiving ongoing treatment. Police are still investigating the case, but so far, the person who sprayed Novel with acid has not been identified.

After undergoing further questioning at the KPK’s Jakarta offices on Wednesday 21 June, Hanura Party politician Rep. Miryam S. Haryani’s brief of evidence was declared complete (that is, Form 21 was issued) and ready for trial in relation to the allegation she provided false testimony in the electronic identity card (e-KTP) project implementation corruption trial.

Strong Resistance

The House of Representatives Inquiry Committee into the KPK apparently needs to find political support from constitutional law experts. Earlier, 357 academics from a range of universities and disciplines published an open letter rejecting the House Inquiry Committee into the KPK on a number of grounds. The 357 academics included Professor Dr Mahfud MD, Professor Dr Denny Indrayana, Professor Dr Rhenald Kasali, and many other prominent academics.

Calling constitutional law experts, or calling anyone else, is clearly completely valid. The Inquiry Committee obviously has statutory authority to do this. No one denies that the House of Representatives has a right of inquiry, the right of interpellation, and the right to express opinions. However, what has, in fact, become an issue is whether it is proper for the House to exercise the right of inquiry in relation to the KPK. The KPK is a law enforcement agency and an independent authority, not part of the government. Is the use of the right of inquiry by the House of Representatives consistent with the will of the people it represents?

Resistance to the use of the House of Representatives’ right of inquiry for the KPK has indeed been strong. The open letter of 357 academics from numerous universities and disciplines is one expression of this. These academics have very clearly framed the intention of the House of Representatives in using the right of inquiry as being intended to weaken the KPK. The academics have rejected the use of the House right of inquiry for the KPK.

At present, the KPK is investigating a case of alleged corruption involving the procurement of a national electronic identity card (e-KTP) involving a number of House members, including House Speaker Rep. Setya Novanto (Golkar-East Nusa Tenggara), now banned from traveling overseas. The alleged loss to the public purse is substantial.

A Kompas Daily poll of Monday 8 May 2017 also contained the same message. As many as 58.9 percent of respondents said the House decision to use the right of inquiry did not represent the interests of the community. While 35.6 percent thought it did represent the interests of the community. Most respondents (72.4 percent) believed the use of the House right of inquiry into the KPK was related to the KPK’s investigation into the electronic identity card project corruption case.

In the virtual world, internet user Virgo Sulianti Gohardi gathered support for a petition against the right of inquiry on the site Change.org. As of midday Friday 30 May 2017, the petition had been signed by 44,350 people. Virgo’s target for the petition had been 50,000 signatures.

In terms of representation theory, the formation of the House of Representative Committee of Inquiry into the KPK really does not have social legitimacy, or, it has a very low level of representation. Moreover, the Democrat Party (PD), Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and National Awakening Party (PKB) House factions have all refused to join the Committee of Inquiry.

“The Democrats are not responsible for anything in the Inquiry Committee,” said House Deputy Speaker from the Democrat Party Rep. Agus Hermanto (DP-Central Java) at the House of Representatives building, while stressing that the Democrat Party does not agree with the House Committee of Inquiry into the KPK.

“We reject the weakening of the KPK through the Inquiry. The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) is being consistent by not sending any members, but the PKS is still critical of the KPK,” said the head of the PKS Advisory Council, Rep. Hidayat Nur Wahid (PKS-Jakarta). National Awakening Party (PKB) Chairman Rep. Muhaimin Iskandar (PKB-East Java) was also of the same opinion, rejecting the use of a House committee of inquiry into the KPK.

History of House Inquiries

The right of inquiry is a constitutional right of Indonesia’s House of Representatives. No one can deny this. Article 20A Paragraph 2 of the 1945 Constitution explicitly regulates the right of inquiry. During the period of parliamentary government in the 1950s, the right of inquiry was also regulated by statute by Public Law No. 6/1954 concerning the Right of Inquiry.

In Indonesia’s history, the House of Representatives’ right of inquiry was first used in 1959 in a resolution by RM Margono Djojohadikusumo that the House use the right to inquire into attempts by the government to obtain foreign exchange reserves and how the reserves were being used. As recorded by Subardjo in The Use of the Right of Inquiry by the Indonesian House of Representatives in Overseeing Government Policy, a committee of inquiry during the first cabinet of Prime Minister Ali Sastroamidjojo (30 July 1953 to 12 August 1955) was given six months. However, this was subsequently extended twice, and the committee completed its work in March 1956, during the administration of Prime Minister Burhanuddin Harahap (12 August 1955 to 24 March 1956). Unfortunately, the fate of this committee of inquiry and its results are unclear.

During the New Order period, the House of Representatives also used the right of inquiry several times in relation to the case of the state-owned oil company Pertamina. However, efforts to shake the New Order government failed and were rejected by a plenary session of the House. The New Order government was strong enough to prevent the use of the right of inquiry, initiated by Santoso Danuseputro (PDI) and HM Syarakwie Basri (FPP).

In the Reformasi (Reform) period, the right of inquiry has also been used. However, all the targets of the right of inquiry have been the government, and this is consistent with the legislation.

Legislation on the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), House of Representatives (DPR), Regional Representatives Council (DPD) and regional legislative assemblies (DPRD) regulates the right of inquiry. Article 79 concerning the Rights of the House of Representatives provides among other things that the House of Representatives possesses the right of inquiry. The right of inquiry is the right of the House of Representatives to investigate the implementation of a law and/or government policy which is related to important, strategic matters, and which has a wide-spread impact on the life of the community, nation, and state which allegedly conflicts with the law. The legislation also provides that an inquiry committee must be joined by all House of Representatives’ factions.

From the standpoint of legality, the House of Representatives Committee of Inquiry into the KPK does not satisfy the requirements for legality. Historically, the right of inquiry was given to the House of Representatives to investigate government policies that conflict with the law. Whether it was the New Order government or post-Reform governments, it has only been the current 2014-2019 House of Representatives which has innovated by using the right of inquiry for a national commission, here the KPK. The KPK is not the government. The KPK is a law enforcement agency.

The law also requires that an inquiry committee draw members from all factions in the House of Representatives. Therefore, when the Democrat Party (DP), Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and National Awakening Party (PKB) House factions each failed to send representatives, the jurisdictional legitimacy of the Committee of Inquiry became problematic.

Members of the public in the Healthy Indonesia Movement unfurled posters and banners in front of the offices of the KPK in Jakarta on Thursday 15 June. Consisting of writers, artists, and anti-corruption activists, the crowd declared that it rejected the inquiry currently being rolled out by the House of Representatives.

From a political perspective, those who initiated the use of the right of inquiry are overwhelmingly from the parties which support the government. They are the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) House faction, the main supporter of the government of President Joko Widodo, together with the National Democratic Party (Nasdem) and the People’s Conscience Party (Partai Hanura). This coalition of government supporters is the group that has been keen to urge the use of the House right of inquiry.

Then there is President Jokowi. He has been taken hostage by party officials of his own PDIP. President Jokowi has said he cannot interfere in the affairs of the House of Representatives because a committee of inquiry is the business of the House. President Jokowi hoped only that the KPK is further strengthened.

President Jokowi’s attitude towards the KPK feels different this time. When there was a conflict between the KPK and the Indonesian National Police, with the public supporting the KPK, President Jokowi took a firm political position in support of the KPK. Likewise, when the KPK investigator Novel Baswedan was to be arrested, President Jokowi called loudly for Novel not to be arrested. However, this time, President Jokowi is like a hostage, allowing the KPK to be de-legitimized by a coalition of his own supporters in the House of Representatives.

Will the KPK be paralyzed during the term of President Joko Widodo? History will record the answer.

 


Source: Akankah KPK Lumpuh di Era Presiden Jokowi? Kompas daily newspaper, 4 July 2017.

(1) Former DPR legislator Akil Mochtar, a Christian and ethnic
Dayak also from Golkar in 2006 was viewed as a possible contender for governor of West Kalimantan province.

Also see Melunasi Janji Kemerdekaan, Melunasi Janji Kemerdekaan, Karya Muhammad Husnit, Serambi Ilmu Semesta, 2014.

Short Story: Letter For Wai Tsz By Leila L Chudori

Letter For Wai Tsz

By Leila L Chudori

The weather in Jakarta seems to be reflecting the state of the nation, hot and sticky, not a tree anywhere to shade under. As for myself, I don’t know why I suddenly thought of writing you a letter. I know all too well that in our graduate newsletter Keep In Touch they’re always mentioning that you’re one of the graduates who hasn’t been seen since Tiananmen. But I live in hope because I will always believe that God will stretch out his hand and protect you. Your last letter, the one smelling of rotten vegetables and dried fish, the one you seemed to have sent from somewhere in the outskirts of Beijing, just before your escape – so heroic, so inspiring – more and more makes me feel so small, so insignificant.

Dear Wai Tsz,

It’s been exactly fourteen years since the four of us were gazing up at the stars, since you, Finn, Maria, and I made that promise. We promised that we would not get married until we had reached those stars.

Our roommate Finn, with her long Snow White blonde hair and blue eyes, told us that her life’s mission was located in the constellation of Andromeda.

“What I want is for men and women to have the same rights. And I think that’s an ideal we all share,” she said in her romantic way.

Our Danish roommate’s idealism was really extremely annoying, and because of that I couldn’t be bothered talking about the problem of the completely rampant poverty and corruption in my own country. It would have been very hard to make her understand. Could you just see it, with her own country so rich and peaceful, how could she have begun to imagine?

Then I remember that Maria from the Philippines said with her firm, self-confident voice, “I long for change in my country, and I hope that I can be a part of that change.” And straight away you and I yelled out trying to be first, “I wanted to say that too!”

“Come on! How could Indonesia have any problems? Your economy is wonderful compared to ours,” Maria replied. “And you, Wai Tsz, China is a sleeping giant that’s just beginning to wake up. When she’s standing up on her own feet, Western countries will be lapped up in one gulp. The Philippines is the only one with such an uncertain future under a president like Marcos…”

But as it transpired the first country to see the smoldering embers of democracy burst into flame was her own country, the Philippines. And just as she had wanted, Maria was a part of the process of bringing democracy to her country. I remember when she sent a newspaper clipping showing her and a group of friends from the University of the Philippines in the middle of that historic demonstration in Edsa Road. It was like a movie. I imagined our roommate, Maria, the one who couldn’t even get up in the morning, now part of such momentous change in her country. Image. She became part of the Philippines’ peaceful revolution in February 1986 when Marcos was finally forced to flee to Hawaii, and a widow finally moved into the presidential office. As all this was going on, for me her neighbor, nothing had changed. I was working for the largest news magazine in my country naively thinking that here everything was nice and peaceful and prosperous. I thought, well, at least it wasn’t as bad as some of the countries that some of our campus friends had come from where there were several coups every year.

Wai Tsz, after we graduated, I came home again to breathe our pollution-filled air and I became a journalist. You went home to breathe your own pollution-filled air in Beijing and you transformed into a human rights activist.

The interesting thing about your country was that as soon as your country opened up and allowed in a handful of American companies, everyone began to say that this was Deng’s great breakthrough. When Chinese students were allowed to read translations of Milan Kundera and watch James Bond movies, it was as if democracy had started to arrive in China. One of your spirited letters related how interesting Fang Lizhi’s lectures were, how he had no hesitation at all using words like “democracy” and “freedom”. But it was only after Tiananmen happened that we realized that the so-called breakthrough talked about by Western experts was just an immensely simplified view of the problem.

Meanwhile, Wai Tsz, in my own country, new economic policies were being implemented which produced hundreds of new banks, new buildings, new companies, new television stations, new rich people, new cars, still more new policies, even more new buildings, more highways, ever more even richer people, and other, oh, absolutely astonishing, truly astounding…

All of this, Wai Tsz, in fact turned us into journalists. Supposedly professional, agile, flexible, competitive, head in the clouds. It made us forget a lot about humanity. For example, yeah, for example, in planning meetings to talk about a war in some country somewhere, we would sit around like a bunch of know-all football commentators abusing one of the “stupid” players as we ate fried chicken and laughed. And, really what we were talking about was the fate of thousands of women and children being slaughtered in the country. This profession made me, just as Professor Humphrey had predicted – he didn’t agree with my choice of becoming a journalist – turned us into “know-alls who don’t know much about anything”.

Professor Humphrey wasn’t completely right, but I have to agree that in a couple of cases he wasn’t too far wrong either. This profession set me up in an ivory tower, made me look at the people as a news item, part of a “deadline”, a conversation on a mobile phone, as no more than a series of meaningless statistics. Tiananmen, an event that was so important for you, was a moral movement. But for us, it was nothing more than a bit of excitement, a fresh infusion of adrenaline, a new pump keeping our journalistic blood circulating. I almost forgot that for years I had a roommate who was probably still on the run, still hiding in garbage bins on the edge of the city. Wai Tsz, where are you?

In your last letter, after the events of June 1989, that smelly smudged letter, I read your handwriting through the ink which had run, “Nadira, help us through your writing.”

Oh, Wai Tsz, I am so ashamed. For sure we wrote about, we covered, we photographed the events in your country proudly. But I am not convinced that the hundreds of journalists who swarmed to cover those events were moved by concern. Maybe there were some who were, but the others were driven by competition, the desire to get an exclusive, and maybe even out of a desire to win the coveted Pulitzer Prize.

Then, this year arrived, 1997, and suddenly I received a shock…

Only now in the midst of so many corporate collapses, bankruptcies, millions of people losing their jobs, bank liquidations, hoarding of food that sends prices soaring, newspaper companies complaining about never-ending increases in the price of paper, student demonstrations, mothers protesting the increases in the price of milk, only now have I again become “human”. Only now have I thought of you. Only now have I thought about our walks along the banks of the Otonabee River, recalled our arguments about equality and about the differences between the East and the West, and, oh, how I remember the Galaxy Theory you explained to me that time you tried to cheer me up after you found me crying. You made me lie down on the grass and look up at the stars.

“At times of sadness and pain, Nadira, fly up to one of those galaxies and leave the Earth. Then from way up there, look back and the Earth will seem so small that you will wonder what on earth you are crying about. After that, fly back to Earth, take a deep breath and the problem will be solved.”

Wai Tsz, your Galaxy Theory was so simple, and so good for so many reasons. But it won’t be any use for the problems of my country, or for the problems of your country. I have never before been as hopeless as I am now. I have never felt as powerless as I do now. Every day I open the window and I hear the complaints of ordinary mothers about the rising price of food, of people who have just lost their jobs, hear news about the speculators dancing for joy with every fall in the value of the currency. Hundreds and hundreds of people have suddenly become actors, smiling sweetly in front of the television cameras saying how much they love the nation.

William Shakespeare was truly a genius when he wrote: All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players, They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.

Do you remember when Professor Johnson read this verse from As You Like It? Am I becoming a useless melancholic character like Jacques?

I can see Shakespeare doubled up in stitches laughing because the world, the stage for this drama, is full of nothing but a rabble of idiots. According to me the stage for this drama is full of people whose acting skills are terrifyingly good. Every morning the papers are full of stories about our economic problems but even the people complaining are still running around scratching for rupiah to exchange for foreign currency, still feeding on the corpse of other people’s suffering.

Wai Tsz, why was I born in a community which created such a meaningful word for community duty as our own word gotong royong but which is in reality just a collection of completely selfish individuals? My heart is broken. If I had been as selfish maybe I would already have flown off to join our friends chasing ever higher qualifications in the United States. But when all’s said and done, my heart is here, Wai Tsz, planted firmly here, rooted firmly in this soil. No matter how strong, there isn’t a crowbar or a hoe that could dislodge my heart from this land.

For months, Wai Tsz, I have been afflicted by horrible nightmares, more like Salvador Dali visions than dreams. One night I dreamed I had fallen from a skyscraper and even though all my limbs came off, I was still alive. Another night I dreamed my hands were chained together and the ends of my legs were being eaten by a pack of black dogs. And another night I was suddenly transported to an empty field where hundreds of crows were attempting to suck my baby from my stomach. To try to stop these dreams I bought a pile of comics. I thought it would make me laugh. In fact, all that happened was I laughed so hard I cried.

Wai Tsz, I remember the time you said, “Something started with a good intention and a good conscience is always harder to believe in than something started with a bad intention.”

Maybe that is the reason people find it hard to believe that a protest movement could be driven by conscience. Maybe the word conscience is not used very much these days, or maybe it’s time to archive it forever in some dusty old museum.

Wai Tsz, where are you? Pretending to be a shop assistant? Or teaching in a tiny primary school in some far away village? Or maybe you’re actually still hiding somewhere in Beijing? I have no idea whether you will ever read this letter. I will send it to your old address in Beijing. Wai Tsz, wherever you are, if you do not get to read this letter, I am sure you have read what is in my heart.

Your friend, Nadira. (Jakarta, November 1997)

 


The short story “Letter for Wai Tsz” (Surat Untuk Wai Tsz) was published in the Jakarta daily newspaper Kompas in March 1999. The story was written about six months prior to, and published some ten months after, the resignation of President Suharto in May 1998. For background on Tiananmen Square see the Washington Post’s 2019 commemorative anniversary piece A massacre, erased. For background on the controversy surrounding the use of the term “people power” in Indonesia after the April 2019 elections see People power is dead, long live people power.

The Indonesian Student Pledge

The Indonesian Student Pledge

“Motion of No Confidence”

By WatchDoc Films

“Motion of No Confidence” (Mosi Tidak Percaya) is a short documentary film from WatchDoc Films about events around Indonesia throughout the week of 24 September 2019, and especially in the streets outside Indonesia’s House of Representatives. The film opens with students marching as they recite the Indonesian Student Pledge, first used during the 1998 demonstrations that led to the resignation of the late President Soeharto.

Sumpah Mahasiswa Indonesia

Kami Mahasiswa Indonesia Bersumpah
Bertanah Air Satu
Tanah Air Tanpa Penindasan

Kami Mahasiswa Indonesia Bersumpah
Berbangsa Satu
Bangsa yang Gandrung akan Keadilan

Kami Mahasiswa Indonesia Bersumpah
Berbahasa Satu
Bahasa Tanpa Kebohongan

The Indonesian Student Pledge

We the students of Indonesia pledge
To have one homeland
A homeland without oppression

We the students of Indonesia pledge
To have one nation
A nation that blazes with justice

We the students of Indonesia pledge
To have one language
A language without lies

Sumpah Mahasiswa Indonesia Kompas Daily, 28 October 2016

Wikipedia on the 1928 Youth Pledge and on Sumpah Pemuda.

Some writing by Muhammad Yamin. On the ninetieth anniversary of the second Youth Congress in 2018, take a look at Sejarah Sumpah Pemuda, Tekad Anak Bangsa Bersatu demi Kemerdekaan (source of the featured image) and Peringatan 90 Tahun Sumpah Pemuda.

Other background that may of interest includes: Abdullah, Taufik. and Cornell University. Modern Indonesia Project.  Schools and politics : the Kaum Muda movement in West Sumatra (1927-1933) / Taufik Abdullah  Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, Cornell University Ithaca, N.Y  1971  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7822864-schools-and-politics; Yamin, Muhammad. Tan Malacca, Bapak Republik Indonesia: Riwajat-politik Seorang Pengandjoer Revolusionér Jang Berfikir, Berdjoeang Dan Menderita Membentoek Negara Republik Indonesia. Djakarta: Berita Indonesia, 1946. Print.


Featured image credit: Sejarah Sumpah Pemuda, Tekad Anak Bangsa Bersatu demi Kemerdekaan, 28 October 1928 in the grounds of the Indonesische Clubgebouw, Jl. Kramat 106, Jakarta. Visible seated from left to right among others are (Prof.) Mr. Sunario, (Dr.) Sumarsono, (Dr.) Sapuan Saatrosatomo, (Dr.) Zakar, Antapermana, (Prof. Drs.) Moh. Sigit, (Dr.) Muljotarun, Mardani, Suprodjo, (Dr.) Siwy, (Dr.) Sudjito, (Dr.) Maluhollo. Standing from left to right among others are (Prof. Mr.) Muh. Yamin, (Dr.) Suwondo (Tasikmalaya), (Prof. Dr.) Abu Hanafiah, Amilius, (Dr.) Mursito, (Mr.) Tamzil, (Dr.) Suparto, (Dr.) Malzar, (Dr.) M. Agus, (Mr.) Zainal Abidin, Sugito, (Dr.) H. Moh. Mahjudin, (Dr.) Santoso, Adang Kadarusman, (Dr.) Sulaiman, Siregar, (Prof. Dr.) Sudiono Pusponegoro, (Dr.) Suhardi Hardjolukito, (Dr.) Pangaribuan Siregar and others.(Dok. Kompas)

Short Story: They Spelt The Begging Ban By Ahmad Tohari

They Spelt The Begging Ban

By Ahmad Tohari

They were five street children, and Gupris was the only girl. The five of them didn’t wash very often, and even more infrequently changed their clothes. Of the lot Gupris was the most out-going and boisterous, and the most talkative too. Gupris was also the only one who had ever been to school, even if only briefly.

And now the five children had jumped onto the tray of an open-sided truck that had started to move towards the depot. Every morning they gathered at the truck depot that was surrounded by stalls, mostly stalls selling rice meals. The four boys always slept there, on the floor under the awning of the closed stalls, or anywhere they liked. At night they were used to the mosquitoes. But often they couldn’t sleep when they had empty stomachs. Gupris didn’t join them sleeping rough at the depot. She did something different. She had a small house behind the depot. Her mother was there but her father wasn’t.

Three o’clock in the morning was the time Gupris hated the most. The fragrant smell would often wake her up. Early in the morning she would often see that her mother was already washed and dressed and had put on her makeup and lipstick. Then her mother would take the hand basket and say she was off to go shopping at the market. At first Gupris didn’t care. But then she came to hate it because her mother would always return home with an empty basket, her striking brightly colored clothes and makeup disheveled. Gupris came to hate it more and more. So now every morning at two-thirty she would rise and go to the depot to join her four friends before her mother arrived home.

Gupris and her four friends sat cross-legged on the tray of the empty truck headed for the cement factory. The truck was huge, it had fourteen wheels. The tray was steel and it had no sides. One of the children played a small drum, one played a tambourine, and another played an old battered guitar. The result was a traveling dangdut* stage. The truck drivers were never angry, even though the five street kids would often make a noise banging on the floor of the tray. Gupris usually sang like a dangdut singer, but this time she preferred to play on her cellphone. She had become fond of looking at rude pictures. Gupris still wore her hair in two pigtails.

Approaching Karangasu intersection, Gupris got up and stood unsteadily. She invited her four friends to get ready to get down. If they were lucky, the traffic lights at the intersection would turn red for them. But not this time. So one of the children who couldn’t wait jumped down along the side. He slammed into the ground and immediately streamed. Gupris ran to the front pounding on the roof of the truck cabin. The truck finally stopped after crossing the intersection. The driver looked back but wasn’t angry. The other four children jumped down. They wanted to help their friend who was sitting in pain but the traffic was very heavy. Gupris took action. She moved to the center of the road, raising her hands high to motion for a chance to get cross. The sun’s heat had started to bite.

The five street children who rarely took a bath walked away from the intersection, the one being helped to a sheltered place and left there alone.

Gupris invited the three friends back to the corner of the intersection. The drum made from PVC pipe and a membrane made of tire started to pound. The tambourine and old battered guitar started to make a noise.

Gupris got ready for their dangdut show. But suddenly she stopped still. She saw something. Something had changed at the corner of the intersection. Near them a noticeboard had been erected. The writing was black on a white painted wooden board. Unlike her friends who weren’t interested because they couldn’t read, Gupris was different. She wanted to read the writing. She began to spell out. Her friends approached and stood behind her to listen.

“A-n-y-o-ne be-gg-i-ng a-n-d b-us-ki-n-g w-i-ll b-e… pu-n-i-s-h-ed b-y… i-m-p-ri-s-o-n-e-d …”.

Gupris stopped, then turned to face her friends.

“What is punished? What does being punished and imprisoned mean?” they asked.

The four boys grinned and then each shook his head. None of them knew. They just stared at each other. Gupris was annoyed and felt useless. So Gupris invited her friends to leave. But they suddenly stopped.

“Now, read that! You are wild kids who just wander around aimlessly, you have to read it. You have to!”

Gupris and her friends looked to the side at the same time. There was a watchman coming out of the food stall wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Above the right pocket of his shirt was clearly embroidered with the name Karidun. He was moving in a half run. And he stopped, puffing himself up. His loud voice sounded over the noise of the cars and motorbikes. There was still some rice or coconut pieces stuck to the corner of his lips. The left over food continued to dance following the movement of his mouth as the watchman spoke. That was the sight that made Gupris almost burst out laughing.

“Go on reading. You have to!” said watchman Karidun, hand pointing to the noticeboard there in a commanding style. “I’m a security officer, see, security from Community Services. I was the one who put the sign up this morning. For people just like you. Get it? Remember, I’m security from Community Services, right?”

Quietly Gupris stopped, her face blank. Then she looked behind her in the direction of her friends.

“Hey, why stop. Read on. I’m security. And I told you to read. Go on,” shouted watchman Karidun, voice becoming louder this time.

“P-u-n-is-he-d, what does that mean, mister?” Gupris asked in a normal tone. Although she was still a little girl, who didn’t wash often, Gupris dared to quip back to Karidun, who wanted to be called security.

There was quiet again. Watchman Karidun didn’t seem to be ready to answer Gupris’ question.

His face changed. Like somebody with a stutter, confused, but his eyebrows hardened. Then he turned himself around rubbing his forehead.

Finally he snapped back to face the five street kids as he also puffed himself right up.

“I am a security official. Right, now?”

“Yes!” Gupris answered very quickly.

“So, in my opinion, to be punished is definitely not the same as being given some money. Being punished might be the same as being convicted. Yes. Being punished by imprisonment is the same as being sentenced to confinement, put in prison, sent to jail. Get it? That’s it, so don’t you go begging and busking. You should all be going to school. So you can be like me who’s a security officer and knows what being punished means.”

Gupris fell silent a moment. Then turned back to face her friends. “You hear, we should be going to school.”

“Do you get money going to school?” interrupted one of the children.

“Seriously! Schools, see, don’t get you money, in fact you have to pay,” Gupris answered.

“Wow, that’s a problem if it’s like that? You don’t get any money? So what are we supposed to buy food with? It would be better to keep on busking, keep on begging. Then we can keep on eating.”

“Wait, what?” exclaimed watchman Karidun with a fierce face. “I have just told you. Begging and busking will be punished by imprisonment. P-u-n-ish-ed b-y i-mp-ri-so-n-me-nt for 30 days, with a fine of 50 million rupiah! Do you hear that?”

Gupris’s face sank. But then she smiled faintly as she noticed the leftover food in the corner of Karidun’s mouth dancing again.

“Why is that?” Gupris responded again. “Begging isn’t pick-pocketing, or stealing, is it?”

“Yes, but it is against the ban. Anyone who breaks the ban is definitely going to be punished, convicted.”

“Why is it like that? Who made the ban?”

“Well, I’m security. So I know who made the ban on begging, the mayor and the city council members.”

“What’s a mayor?”

“Really, you wild child. The mayor is an important official.”

“Are the city council members too?”

“Yess. Now listen. As security I want to explain everything. The city council members are the representatives of the people, so your representatives too.”

Gupris’ eyebrows narrowed. She was confused. But at least now she knew. The city council members were a type of human too. And they along with the mayor had made the ban, whoever begged and busked would be punished by imprisonment.

“Yes, yes. We beg and busk every day. But we’ve never been punished.” Gupris grinned. Her four friends laughed.

“Oh, so you’re all asking to be punished, are you?” Karidun hurriedly rummaged for his cellphone in his pocket. He muttering to himself, the leftover food still not yet gone from the corners of his mouth. Gupris and her four friends laughed again.

“Hang on. I’ll call for a city police patrol car to grab you guys. Just hang on. I’m the security who calls the city police. So they’ll be right here.”

“What’s the city police anyway?” Gupris stared up at Karidun. But there was no answer.

As Karidun was busy with his cellphone, Gupris turned to face her friends. She whispered. The four friends nodded together. Then they glanced to the side. The traffic lights was showing red. Two large empty trucks with open trays and an expensive car were pulled up. The light changed to yellow, then to green. Gupris moved the fastest, the others following. They deftly jumped up like monkeys as the big truck with the open tray began to move off. Then they waved wildly to watchman Karidun.

“Hey mister watchman, we’re off to Tegal, then Cirebon. Then to…, then, then… If you want to punish us, chase us there, OK, mister?” Gupris shouted as she laughed. The four friends danced wildly on the truck as it sped off. Gupris’ voice was still audible, but grew fainter and fainter. The cement truck drove on into the distance headed north in the direction of the city of Tegal.

The Karangasu intersection would continue to be busy but it was left behind by Gupris and her four friends. The five street kids who were still just young children had gone on a journey. They would wander through Tegal, Cirebon, and who knows where else. Watchman Karidun was still standing on the corner at the intersection. He stared at the sign that announced the ban on begging he had just built that morning. Oh, and once the sixty by one hundred centimeter sign was up it had immediately proved its potency. Five street children had left the Karangasu intersection. Watchman Karidun was proud because he felt he had done a good job. Or, had he. Because the vision of Gupris’ cute face and two pigtails continued to linger before his eyes. The voice of Gupris as she spelt in a halting voice, “…what is punished by imprisonment?…” continued to ring in his ears too.


They Spelt The Begging Ban (Mereka Mengeja Larangan Mengemis) was published in Kompas daily newspaper on 15 September 2019. (Retrieved from Mereka Mengeja Larangan Mengemis.)

Ahmad Tohari, was born in Banyumas, June 13, 1948. He now lives in the village of Tinggarjaya, Jatilawang, Purwokerto in Central Java province. His most popular work is the novel trilogy Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk. His collections of short stories include Senyum Karyamin, Nyanyian Malam, dan Mata yang Enak Dipandang. Other works includes the novels: Kubah (1982), Di Kaki Bakit Cibalak (1977), Bekisar Merah (1993), Lingkar Tanah Lingkar Air (1995), Bclantik (2001), dan Orang-orang Proyek (2002).

*On dangdut check out https://www.britannica.com/art/dangdut.

You’ll probably also enjoy the film Jalanan https://www.youtube.com/user/jalananmovie

For other stories by Ahmad Tohari click here.

New Book: Race, Islam and Power

Race, Islam and Power: Ethnic and Religious Violence in Post-Suharto Indonesia

By Andreas Harsono

(Jakarta) – Political changes in post-Suharto Indonesia have triggered ethnic and religious violence across the country, says a book by Andreas Harsono, a veteran Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, that was published today.

The 280-page book, Race, Islam and Power: Ethnic and Religious Violence in Post-Suharto Indonesia, was published by Monash University Publishing a week before Indonesia’s general elections on April 17, 2019. Harsono spent five years travelling around Indonesia, from the westernmost island of Sabang to its easternmost city of Merauke in West Papua, from Miangas Island in the north, near the Philippines border, to Ndana Island, near the coast of Australia. Harsono’s journey took him to more than 90 locations, including 41 small towns and 11 remote islands. Many of those locations were the sites of either state or communal violence. (Read more here or here.)

Race, Islam and Power: Ethnic and Religious Violence in Post-Suharto Indonesia by Andreas Harsono
Race, Islam and Power: Ethnic and Religious Violence in Post-Suharto Indonesia by Andreas Harsono