Written by Administrator
Tuesday, 21 December 2010 06:12
AsiaViews, Edition: 33/VII/November2010
Category: BOOK REVIEW
IRFAN Kortschak is a tall, pony-tailed Australian of Czechoslovakian lineage with a fine ability to allow otherwise voiceless people a clear means of expressing themselves and making themselves heard. As I told him at the time of the publication of his previous book about Indonesia, Nineteen, a look into the lives and struggles of 20-minus one men and women in the informal sector, a jamu lady, a blind masseuse, a former political prisoner from the dark days of '65-66, a tahu gejrot vendor amongst them, he puts me in mind of the late Studs Terkel, famous American oral historian.
Kortschak has the finest of touches. Never either sensationalizing or sentimentalizing his subjects, he brings out here the lives of a selection of Indonesian individuals who have suffered great misfortune one way or the other and who have more or less been cast down the memory hole.
One story in particular horrifies: Santi, an Ambonese grossly disfigured for life since her husband returned home one night drunk, hit her and then poured kerosene over her before setting her alight and holding a plastic bucket over her head so that the plastic melted down her face and chest. With astonishing bravery?we see from the judicious photos how awful the injuries are?she says, ?I am not ashamed of myself.?
I defy anyone to read this and not wonder at the endurance of spirit and then to wonder what sort of a world it is in which the Pentagon can budget US$708 billion for 2011 and such a woefully wronged woman cannot be afforded the very best plastic surgery there is.
Santi?s case is an argument for the creation of a public fund paid for out of taxation and general subscription from which the costs of specialized medical care can be provided. In other words, it makes the creation of socialized medicine in Indonesia all the more urgent.
As indeed is another of Kortschak?s examples, that of Nurbaidarmi, an Acehnese who broke her spine in a fall in her teens and being paralyzed was reduced to a pitiful state in which she constantly wet herself and had to change her clothes several times daily. In this instance, she became the beneficiary of the arrival in Aceh post-tsunami of an enlightened NGO, Handicap International, which was able to provide her not only with a functional wheelchair but also adult diapers.
This latter provision has enabled her to move around in public and to take up work as a voluntary teacher.
This young lady?s spirit is strong. She has discovered a talent for drawing and has thus become something of an attraction for local children. I cannot help feeling that she might find a market both inside and outside Indonesia for her art.
Both of these two cases illustrate the necessity of outreach programs and from my reading of them both illustrate the sloth, insensitivity and inefficiency of government health and social welfare bureaucracies in this country.
Empowerment is a deeply attractive idea, giving to the newly empowered the kind of self-esteem and self-confidence which by dint of social status or circumstances they have been lacking. How to achieve this? One very interesting example we see here is that of the Sundanese Day-Laborers? Union, a body that undertakes to organize a notoriously difficult section of the workforce, unattached farm workers.
This grouping comes across as having a highly democratic spirit and ethos through which the men are encouraged to learn to speak out and express themselves critically, which the semi-feudal mentality of the rural masses of Java and Sunda?the so-called wong cilik?has always stifled.
The author went to see how this philosophy was put across in a remote rural community, Sarimukti outside Garut in West Java. ?In 2003 during a conflict over land rights, the small landholders and landless day-laborers in Sarimukti decided they needed a school. Without government support or funding, they worked with the day-laborers? union to establish their own.?
This school cuts right across the educational grain here in encouraging students to speak openly to teachers and to put across complaints?respectfully, of course?to teachers. Indonesia?s notoriously bureaucratic education system could very well do with being swept with just such a new broom!
Not surprisingly, the book looks at the lives of lepers and the struggles they have for social acceptance, likewise at those of drug users?the examples chosen of these have been lifted into the sunlight through music and it is something of a refreshing turn to find that for once Corporate Social Responsibility, a hackneyed, often self-serving affair, has played a positive part, courtesy of General Electric?and prostitutes.
The author visited a very large brothel complex in Singkawang in West Kalimantan to interview the young and not-so young women involved in ?the oldest profession?. Again his skill in bringing out candid stories is very evident. It comes as no surprise to someone like myself who has had more than a few beers in Jakarta?s Blok M to find that the largest contingent is from Indramayu.
Here we hit upon an essential problem. Many of these ?girls? were married at 13 or 14, and became mothers shortly thereafter. I find myself saying that unless and until there is enforcement of a proper minimum age for marriage well above 13 then there is a dreary inevitability about this trajectory of life for so many poor girls from rural areas.
The Bajau are widely known but little understood in Indonesia. Also called ?Sea Gypsies?, this ethnic minority also battens its females down to a restricted role of family custodianship and early marriage but Kortschak has found one young woman, Erni, who has bucked the trend and found her way against a great deal of initial family opposition to university in Kendari.
And on to the music circuit as a singer of dangdut and songs in her own otherwise disdained Bajau language. We should read this as a fine example of cultural empowerment.
When I picked up the book and saw that it had been written under the aegis of a government program I feared that the writer might have worked under constraint. I am pleased to say that fear is misplaced. For a second time, I would like to take my hat off to Irfan ?Tim? Kortschak and to encourage him?his Bahasa Indonesia is obviously good enough?to diversify into radio a la Studs Terkel.
By: David Jardine
Tempo No. 12/XI/17-23 November 2010 photo: INVISIBLE PEOPLE; POVERTY AND EMPOWERMENT IN INDONESIA
Author: Irfan Kortschak
Published by: National Program for Community Empowerment
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 21 December 2010 06:12 )