Sat, 10 Jul 2004

Conserving and commercializing Jakarta's graves

Nirwono Joga, Jakarta

At least one booth at the Jakarta Fair 2004 offers various types of cemetery plots for resting places at prices from Rp 7.4 million (US$780) to Rp 640.5 million, ranging in size from 10 square meters to 864 square meters.

Former Jakarta governor Ali Sadikin (1966-1977) has emphasized that graves must never be commercialized because they constitute a main component in the cycle of city life, which guarantees citizens' rights in life and death.

Jakarta is indeed facing a crisis of burial land. With a total area of 575.19 hectares in 2003, the city's public cemeteries (TPU) could only accommodate 20 percent of the graves needed. The mortality rate in Jakarta increased from 80 people daily in 1997 to 100 in 2003 and keeps rising with the higher rates of suicide and crime.

The Jakarta administration's cemetery office has calculated that the demand for burial ground space in 2005 will be 785 hectares. Meanwhile, based on the Jakarta spatial layout plan for 2000-2010, the target set for cemeteries is only put at 745.18 hectares (2010).

The reclamation of land for private burial places in Karawang regency, West Java, some 60 kilometers from Jakarta, covers 200 hectares, of which only 60 percent (120 hectares) serve as graves, equivalent to 20.87 percent of the area of Jakarta's public cemeteries.

Unless the burial grounds are properly managed, disputes may later arise over cemetery land between Jakarta and neighboring towns -- Bogor, Tangerang, Bekasi, Karawang and Depok -- much like the case of the Bantar Gebang garbage dump.

The neighboring towns certainly will prioritize the building of cemeteries for their own citizens rather than for Jakartans. Developers of satellite towns on Jakarta's outskirts should therefore also make available their own burial places based on mortality predictions.

The time has come for cemetery personnel to terminate their pursuit of fees (including illegal ones) and the sale of graves that are already occupied. They should be seen as an asset, with potential for long-term investment, an urban tourist destination, a place for cremation services, areas that honor historic resting places of eminent people and a spiritual space. They can also be used as a city conservation park with ecological and esthetic value.

Turning public cemeteries into tourist destinations is still beyond the consideration of the Jakarta administration. In fact, such major world cities as Sydney, Melbourne, London, Paris, Washington DC and Singapore have successfully converted cemeteries into one of their tourist spots and foreign exchange earners.

Cemetery conditions in Jakarta are muddled up and overcrowded, creating a spooky and eerie impression. TPU workers, cleaners, flower sellers, burial officers and even beggars often harass visitors and mourners, thus depriving them of the tranquility to relax for mourning and/or reflection.

Jakarta's cemeteries actually have the great potential to become a city tourism booster. There are the graves of the hero MH Thamrin and one of Sukarno's wives, Fatmawati at the TPU-Karet Bivak, the first vice president Bung Hatta at TPU-Tanah Kusir, British soldiers at TPU-Menteng Pulo, Dutch graves at TPU- Petamburan and the resting places of Maj. Gen. JHR Kohler (Aceh War), wife of British Governor General Raffles and student activist Soe Hok Gie at ex-TPU-Kebon Jahe (now a museum of archeology).

It is not convenient or easy to deal with loved ones who have died in Jakarta. Some people even "warn" against dying in this city to avoid the mess and trouble of handling funeral procedures. Still there is no guarantee that the existing graves will not be demolished. Without a certificate one can never expect to get a place at a Jakarta TPU.

So, how does one bury a friend or relative here?

The relatives should first report it to RT and RW (neighborhood administration) before going to the local health center (for corpse examination) and the subdistrict office for the physician's death certificate. With the family card and identity card of the deceased, the relatives select a burial plot at the nearest TPU. Then there is the administration fees and other payments (negotiated) to obtain a three-year cemetery land use permit (IPTM). This license should be extended every three years, or else demolition is imminent.

Most Jakartans do not want to be bothered by the funeral bureaucracy and choose to register the dead with funeral foundations, which offer complete service packages at varying rates. They provide services that cover everything that is need in the process.

The decision to cremate depends on many factors from cultural traditions to cost. It is already familiar to the Hindus in Bali or citizens of Chinese descent. The limited land for cemeteries and growing demand for cremation have prompted major cities to build eco-friendly crematories, which are efficient, economical, hygienic and conservation oriented.

A manual for cemetery restructuring should be compiled by involving professionals, academicians, religious leaders, community figures and those concerned about cemetery affairs. This guide should contain an efficient land-prudent funeral system, innovative burial techniques, computerized cemetery management as well as transparent and accountable funding.

The grid pattern of land plots for graves will facilitate burial, maintenance and cemetery data gathering. The computerized system will expedite funeral procedural operations, make grave repair easier, ensure more accurate documentation and allow the public easier access to data on identities of the deceased.

The writer is chairman of the Indonesian Landscape Architecture Study Group, Jakarta.