Wed, 24 Jul 1996

Autobiography of a stateless citizen

Perjuangan dan Penindasan (Memperjuangkan perut sendiri menindas teman sendiri) Heri Bongkok Published by YLPS Humana (Girli), Yogyakarta March 1995 Pocketbook, 140 pages

JAKARTA (JP): This pocket-size autobiography is unique. For one, it is based on the memories of an illiterate. It is the story of Heri Bongkok whose formal education did not go beyond the first year of elementary school.

Apart from Heri's experience on the streets, this book relates the life of a riverbank community of street children in Yogyakarta. In his introduction to the book, Emmanuel Subangun says it is a vast collection of plots, voices, imaginations and memories of an Indonesian child who wishes to talk to the people from a dark side, that part of life which is always perceived as queer and unhealthy.

For Heri, however, expressing his life in a book is similar to a struggle.

"I struggle not by means of money but through thoughts in writings, because if we bottle up our grudges in our own heart, other people have difficulty in understanding us and help will not come our way. I believe in words because they can help friends. I thought they were for my own. It turned out otherwise because writings are shared by friends in other cities. People will get to know the problems experienced by others," he says.

Heri was born into a poor family in Cikampek, West Java. School was important to small Heri, but it was not easy for him. He was often left behind. He was once punished for napping during a Koran reading class. His parents had the greatest difficulty in earning a living. His mother sold cakes and his father had been ill for years since he stopped working at a train station. The situation was not acceptable to the 10-year-old child, so Heri ran away.

Heri recounts his 15 years on the streets in 11 pages. It is a world with its own laws, the main law being the survival of the fittest. There is hardly a boundary between struggle and oppression. Sodomy and extortion were common in the subculture of oppression.

In the words of poet Emha Ainun Nadjib, a man's life in Indonesia is cheaper than an identity card. An ID card means of control for the state. Things got complicated when Heri and his friends on the riverbank lost their right to obtain an ID. This compelled them to move from one rented house to another. The community was also against them when thefts or crimes were committed. An Australian social worker who says that a riverbank community is a group of stateless citizens. Heri's book can be called A stateless citizen's autobiography.

Heri is aware of the growing number of street children and the increasingly complex socioeconomic problems, and the little being done to help them. After his struggle, he feels the need to share his experiences.

"I never obeyed my parents. I was told to go to school, but I did not want to. At intersections I used to look for money, money, money. I do not want my childhood experiences to be followed by my younger friends. I have had too many ups and downs in life on the streets," Heri concludes.

The book is of great use to sociologists, anthropologists, linguists and policy decisionmakers because it is the first primary source ever published in Indonesia. It is also food for thought amid the conundrum of whether human dignity is cheaper than an ID card.

-- Djudjur T. Susila