Category Archives: Society

Short Story: Bitter Covid

Bitter Covid

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

“Which one taste better, Kab, bitter coffee or bitter covid?”

Sukab grinned from ear to ear hearing young Jali who had taken the opportunity to park his motorbike taxi at the food stall, instead of the usual daily roar of collecting and delivering food.

“You not working because of the lockdown, Li?”

“Look, the lockdown makes online fried tofu and fish dumplings sell real well, Kab.”

“So, why are you still hanging around here?”

“One by one the regular customers are croaking,” said Jali, taking off his baseball cap as if out of respect. “Left and right, front and back, in every house there’s someone who’s departing…”

“Departing?”

“Departing this world, gees!”

“Oh yeah, sorry. So?”

“The people who are still at home are still getting infected, searching for oxygen cylinders which is real hard, and if they look healthy, well, it turns out they’re O.T.G., infected with no symptoms.

“That’s the most dangerous, right.”

“That’s when they are most infectious!”

“That what’s making you feel like not going out? Aren’t motorbike taxis real popular right now?”

“The fact is, there ain’t any orders, Kab. It ain’t just the people buying food who’re heading to the gates…”

“The gates?”

“Oh, Sukab! Heading to the pearly gates, hell!”

“Ah! Passed away! Look you keep changing!

“Yeah, not just the buyers. Heaps of sellers have also shuffled off…”

“Shuffled off? You mean died again, right?”

“Yesss! You know now, ok, why I’m sitting here playing chess rather than running around confused not knowing what I should be doing?”

Yati shouted out as she held out a package of fried catfish and peanut sauce. “What the hell! Deliver this, and fast. Then get right back here, ok? It ain’t happy neither that people selling food are going home…”

“Going home? Dying too?”

“Hey, stupid, the important thing is I do not want people who are still healthy dying of hunger…”

Jali grabbed the package, and climbed up straight away onto his motorbike like a cowboy climbing onto his horse.

The stall was quiet again, though the motorbike taxis were still queuing, waiting for Yati’s food packets. With all this coming and going, coming and going, Sukab got to thinking. Being down at the bottom, it’s lucky we’re still making a little.

“It may be going all right,” he thought, “but the worst part is, gees, the lives…”

“If there is a collapse, well, you’re going to collapse too…,” said Yati, who had joined all sorts of groups, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. They were all confusing people and panicking them, even if they were not wrong.

“The ambulance drivers are exhausted, the grave diggers feel like they’ve got no hands left, the preachers are prayers 24 hours a day, the doctors have to choose from dozens of dying patients scattered all around the place in the emergency tents, then there are the health workers, helping themselves to vaccines… What else is it, if it isn’t a collapse… a break down, a crash…,” said Sukab, like he was in some drama.

It was true everything that was happening. At the food stall you heard every Neighborhood announcement from the speakers at the mosques, the ones close by as well as the ones far away. There was no end to the speakers blaring Inna Lillahi etcetera and ending in the announcement that some body was going to be taken straight from the hospital to the graveyard. Bodies were getting lost, bodies were getting swapped, their souls flying up not able to say anything to the relatives who were praying in front of the wrong folk’s grave.

Yati shook her head as she stared at her cellphone.

“It sure is like that, the people who haven’t passed say they are almost going crazy just because they haven’t been to the mall…”

“Pass?”

“Well, it’s everything from before: croak, gone to the big house, gone to the pearly gates, shuffled off, departed this world… do I really have to say died? Ok, so, passed on…”

Sukab picked up his mask and took a drink of his corn coffee.

“What it’s called is running out of energy, from being a volunteer, all the worry by itself is, really very hard…”

“But, you can’t run out, right, Kab?”

“Of what?”

“Of what you said, of energy.”

“Yeah! It’s not enough to just pray!” Then Sukab pointed to his forehead.

“Your human brain has got to really work!”

He stood up, grabbed his hoe and dustpan.

“Where are you going, Kab? Isn’t there a lockdown?”

“Well, who’s going to bury the people who pass?”

***

Pondok Ranji, Thursday 15 July 2021


Bitter Covid (Kopid Pait) was published in Panajournal, 15 July 2021. (Retrieved from https://www.panajournal.com/2021/07/kopid-pait)

Seno Gumira Ajidarma, born in Boston, United States, June 19, 1958. Now serves as Chancellor of the Jakarta Institute of the Arts (IKJ). Seno became better known after writing his trilogy of works on East Timor, namely Saksi Mata (collection of short stories), Jazz, Purfum, dan Insiden? (novel), and Ketika Jurnalisme Dibungkam, Sastra Harus Bicara (collection of essays). In 2014, he launched a blog called PanaJournal (www.panajournal.com) about human interest stories with a number of journalists and professionals in the field of communication. For other work by Seno Gumira Adjidarma click here.

Kopid Pait

Short Story: The Clown with the One-Legged Man

The Clown with the One-Legged Man

By Ratna Indraswari Ibrahim

Tom, you do still remember, don’t you, when Mr Clown’s mother passed away (the clown we’ve loved since we were children), how throngs of people arrived to pay their respects. We were just ten years old at the time.

I came across Mr Clown in a corner of the house anxiously wiping away his tears. Truly those tears were like fragrant jasmine blossoms falling one by one!

I was transfixed!

After that event (which has always been an obsession of mine), many years later I bumped into Mr Clown again quite by accident on the journey coming home to Malang from Jakarta by train. We sat next to each other. Straight away he knew who I was.

Mr Clown smiled at me. (…continue reading here.)


The Clown with the One-Legged Man by Ratna Indraswari Ibrahim was retrieved from Klown dengan Lelaki Berkaki Satu.

Featured image credit: Ludruk Karya Budaya, Mojokerto, by Ulet Ifansasti https://www.instagram.com/p/BtLgEDTBlux/ and  https://www.uletifansasti.com/transgendersoperaludruk

Op-Ed: Polarization and the Threat of Democratic Decline

Polarization and the Threat of Democratic Decline

By Burhanuddin Muhtadi

The world has experienced a democratic decline in recent years. Freedom House (2020) reports^ that 25 out of 41 established democracies have experienced an erosion of democracy over the last 14 years. Experts use a variety of terms to describe this phenomenon. Some use the term democratic regression, some democratic recession, and others democratic deconsolidation.

Irrespective of term used the process refers to the same condition, that is the end of the third wave of world democracy that commenced in 1991 along with the rise in populism and the climate of a lack of freedom that threatens many countries.

Uniquely, the main actors behind the decline of democracy around the world are not traditional non-democratic forces like the military or militia but rather democratic political elites elected through electoral mechanisms, as in the case of Donald Trump in the United States, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, and Viktor Orban in Hungary.

These political leaders were elected through electoral mechanisms. However, they have then used their political mandate to degrade democracy through open attacks on oppositions and the mass media, the excessive use of populism, and identity politics.

What about Indonesia?

Indonesia has not escaped the phenomenon of a regression in democracy described above. In 2014 Freedom House reported that Indonesia’s democracy index category had dropped from free to partly free. The reasons for this downgrading were the threats to civil liberties posed by the civil society law which imposed limits on community organizations, provided for a multiplicity of surveillance of the activities of community organizations, and imposed the obligation to adopt [the state ideology] Pancasila as their founding principle.

Indonesia’s democracy index score has so far not recovered. In the last Freedom House 2020 report, the bad record of our democracy continues to revolve around freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and worship, and intractable corruption.

Another organization that has a democracy index, The Economist Intelligence Unit#, has also recorded similar findings. Our democracy rating has decreased for three consecutive years. In 2016, Indonesia was still ranked 48 out of 167 countries studied. Our democracy ranking has now slipped to number 64 with a score of only 6.39.

Based on the categorization produced by The Economist Intelligence Unit, Indonesia occupies the lowest position in the category of flawed democracies. Indonesia’s report card is red due mainly to issues of civil liberties and a political culture that lacks freedom and features intolerance and identity politics.

The latest study conducted by the Indonesian Political Indicator organization confirms the assessment of these democracy index agencies. Based on a sample of 1,200 respondents in September 2020, Indicator’s national survey found that only 17.7% of respondents rated Indonesia as being more democratic. On the other hand, 36% of respondents considered Indonesia now less democratic, and 37% considered the situation unchanged.

In other words, twice as many people think Indonesia is increasingly undemocratic when compared to those who think that Indonesia is now more democratic.

Based on regression analysis, the perception of democracy in Indonesia is significantly influenced by age. The older the respondents the greater the tendency to think that Indonesia is more democratic. Conversely, the younger the respondents the more negative the perceptions. This is because for older voters the reference point for comparison is democracy under the New Order which is naturally still much worse than today. At the same time, young voters compared current democratic conditions with those of the administration before President Jokowi.

Indicator’s national survey also showed increasing threats to civil liberties. Most of the public tend to agree or strongly agree that at present citizens are increasingly afraid to voice their opinions (79.6%), it is increasingly difficult to demonstrate or protest (73.8%), and the authorities are increasingly arbitrary in arresting people with political views that differ from the views of those in power (57.7%).

However, regression analysis indicates one of the factors that significantly explains the civil liberties index is a combination of three items: fear of voicing an opinion, difficulty in protesting, and that the authorities are increasingly arbitrary and influenced by partisan attitudes.

If the respondent voted for Jokowi-Ma’ruf in the 2019 presidential election, he or she is likely to disagree that civil liberties are becoming worse. On the other hand, Prabowo-Sandi voters tend to agree that civil liberties are decreasing.

Even though Indonesia’s democracy index score has declined over time, we are still better off than other Muslim-majority countries. The results of a study by the American Political Science Association in Democracy and Autocracy (Vol 18 (3) December 2020)* provides this comforting news through the analysis of two dimensions: duration and trajectory.

Duration measures a long or short period of time as a democratic Islamic state, while trajectory indicates the extent to which the general tendency of a country is along a democratic path: whether the trend is improving or worsening.

Indonesia and Senegal, as Muslim-majority countries, have been successful both in terms of their long duration of democracy since separating from authoritarianism, and in terms of democratic trends which are relatively better than other Islamic countries.

Turkey, on the other hand, is an example of a democratic country of long-standing, but the trend of democratization is increasingly less so and more worrying. Malaysia, Mali, Albania, and Tunisia are included among the Islamic countries which possess democratic developments that are very good, but this has not yet been proved because their democracies are not long standing.

So, the decline in Indonesia’s democracy index must be read in the context of the recession of democracy occurring at a global level. Never mind we who have only been a democracy since the fall of the New Order in 1998, many old democratic countries have experienced democratic deconsolidation. Placed in comparison, especially when compared to Islamic countries or countries in the Southeast Asian region, democracy in Indonesia is still better.

Polarization

One of the features of democratic regression that has occurred globally is a world that is increasingly polarized, citizens divided according to their respective partisan attitudes. These partisan attitudes ultimately lead every voter to ignore objective truths and to make emotions and personal beliefs more important than data and facts. This is what populist leaders then exploit to implement illiberal agendas because of the partisan attitudes of their supporters, allowing the agenda of the populist figure to go according to plan.

The drop in Indonesia’s democracy rank has also been contributed to by deep polarization, especially since the last two presidential elections. The polarization between Jokowi and Prabowo voters has made every fanatical supporter tolerate a tough approach to his or her political opponent that is contrary to democracy. The phenomenon of reporting each other to the police has also created a climate of fear so that freedom of speech has declined.

Social media is fueling more polarization, which is followed by the echo-chamber phenomenon when netizens are trapped in an echo chamber. They tend to select friends who are from the same side. In the echo space objectivity is buried in the uniformity of thought caused by the homogeneity of friends in the timeline.

Finally, they tend to be selective in receiving information on social media. If the information that enters the timeline comes from outside the political network, it will be rejected, however accurate. But if the incoming information comes from his or her group, the information will be spread even if it is fake.

The polarization that destroys common sense did not end when the Great Indonesia Movement Party joined the government. The division between the camps of Jokowi’s “tadpoles” and Prabowo’s “bats” will not stop, notwithstanding Prabowo and Sandiaga Uno having now become ministers of President Jokowi.

Put simply, the unhealthy political polarization must be halted immediately so we can put the brakes on the democratic deconsolidation that is taking place. Common sense must be restored in democratic life by making objectivity, data, and facts supreme, not emotions and partisan attitudes.

New Year 2021 should be a valuable moment to enable us to reduce polarization as much as possible. This way we can restore reason to discourse in the public arena, so the waters are not muddied any further or the situation made more toxic. It is within just such an atmosphere of healthy public space that we can acknowledge our democracy is right now fogged in. This is the reason we need a common solution to reverse the current democratic decline.


“Polarization and the Threat of Democratic Decline” (Polarisasi dan Ancaman Resesi Demokrasi) was published in Media Indonesia on 28 Dec 2020. https://mediaindonesia.com/kolom-pakar/372089/polarisasi-dan-ancaman-resesi-demokrasi

Burhanuddin Muhtadi is the Executive Director of Indonesian Political Indicator (indikator.co.id) and Lecturer in the Faculty of Social and Political Science at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Jakarta

IG:@burhanuddinmuhtadi

^https://freedomhouse.org/

#https://www.eiu.com/n/

*Democracy and Autocracy Newsletter

For more by Burhanuddin Muhtadi click here.

Indonesia and the Malay World – Journal Article: Vernacular Muslim Material Culture in 15th-C Northern Sumatra

Islamisation and the formation of vernacular Muslim material culture in 15th-century northern Sumatra: Indonesia and the Malay World Journal Article

By R. Michael Feener, Patrick Daly, E. Edwards McKinnon, Luca Lum En-Ci, Ardiansyah, Nizamuddin, Nazli Ismail, Tai Yew Seng, Jessica Rahardjo & Kerry Sieh

Abstract Extract..

“This study presents a distinctive type of Muslim gravestone found on the northern coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, that dates to the 15th century. These grave markers, locally known as plang-pleng, provide evidence for the formation and disappearance of an early form of vernacular Muslim material culture in Southeast Asia. We documented over 200 of these gravestones during a large-scale archaeological landscape survey. In this article, we present a typology of these gravestones based upon..”

Full article: https://doi.org/10.1080/13639811.2021.1873564

Poem of a Scrap of Paper 1

Poem of a Scrap of Paper 1

By Emha Ainun Nadjib

A novelist, in Europe
paid a political group
in an African country
to stage a coup d’état.
The novelist carefully noted
every aspect of the process of replacing those in power
and wrote about it in a famous novel
which was marketed and produced
more than the cost of the coup.
And you, sipping on your coffee
in some little food stall
after witnessing a fight between
pedicab drivers and minivan drivers
say bluntly:
Ah, why isn’t the novelist interested
in countries in Asia!
Then you laugh to yourself, and grumble
Why have we come to the point
where a nightmare about blood
has become the only dream
that feels beautiful?

Yogya, 13 March 1982


www.caknun.com