Wed, 09 Mar 2005

Indian traders feel at home in Pasar Baru

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A sixty-year-old man of Indian descent sat behind the counter of his textile store in Pasar Baru, a 184-year-old market complex in Central Jakarta, waiting for customers to pay for the cloth they had selected.

"Actually, I don't like it if people see me as an Indian. I'm an Indonesian. I've been living in Indonesia since I was 11 years old, and now Jakarta is my home," said Dedy, who always greets his customers with a smile and often offers generous discounts.

Dedy, who doesn't like to be called Pak, or Sir, is one of the hundreds of people of Indian descent making ends meet as textile traders in Pasar Baru.

Most of the ethnic Indians living in Jakarta work as tailors, or run textile, curtain, or sports shops. These entrepreneurs, mostly originating from Sind and Punjab, North India, are locally perceived as being more successful at business than other immigrants.

Since the end of World War II and after Pakistan and India split in 1947, many Indian people emigrated to Jakarta to find a new and better life. In 2002, there were around 2,000 Indian families registered as living in Jakarta, with most of them residing in the central part of the city, especially in the Pasar Baru and Pintu Air areas.

"I came to Jakarta from Bombay with my father in 1948. When I was 17 years old, I began working to save up the money to open a business ... and I eventually succeeded in opening this store. It has been 20 years now," said Dedy, the owner of Maharadja Store in Pasar Baru.

The Indian traders tend to give their stores in Pasar Baru Hindu or Indian names, such as Bombay or Maharaja. Even though most of the Indians run accessories, textile and sports equipment stores, there are also some traders of Javanese, Chinese, and Arab descent running the same sorts of businesses.

Dedy said he had experienced various ups and downs selling textiles in Pasar Baru. He explained that even though the area was centrally located, he often encountered problems, such as a general lack of security for traders and customers alike and the poor sewage system around the market.

"We pay taxes regularly to the Pasar Baru management and the government. We have long been demanding better security both for our own and our customers' safety. But robberies are still a frequent occurrence and traders are forced to pay protection money to thugs, said Dedi. "Not to mention the terrible sewage system, which results in floods every time it rains."

"I used to serve around one hundred customers every day between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. But lately, I have only been getting between seven and eight customers a day," explained Dedy, who thinks that the tsunami disaster in Aceh and North Sumatra is the main reason for the fall off in business.

Pritpal Singh, who is usually called Priti, who runs a sports store and is also active in Sikh religious activities, says the Pasar Baru traders have become used to the lack of security. "It's unavoidable. It could happen anywhere," he said.

Priti explained that Pasar Baru had always been famous throughout Indonesia as one of the oldest markets for textiles, curtains and sports equipment.

"I think we have created an image among the public that Pasar Baru is a kind of little India," joked Priti. "We are still here as traders because of the responsibility we owe to our parents to carry on the family businesses."

Priti, who first came to Jakarta in the 1980s to seek his fortune as a trader, said that one of the reasons that motivated the Indians to keep working as traders in Pasar Baru was the wide business network they enjoyed.

Maharani, an widow of Indian descent who supports her family by selling ethnic Indian textiles and accessories in Pasar Baru, said that it filled her with joy to provide her community with the sort of goods that reminded them of home. (001)