Thu, 20 Nov 2003

Fatal blast does not deter firecracker makers

Multa Fidrus The Jakarta Post Tangerang

Starting last year, police banned firecrackers in the celebration of Idul Fitri and New Year holidays because they could cause fatalities.

But such a ban has not deterred people from producing firecrackers, although they are aware that they are illegal and could face the death sentence, as stipulated in Emergency Law no. 12/1951.

It happened to Sudarga, a villager from Ancol Tanggo, Ancol Pasir subdistrict, Jambe district, Tangerang, who runs a home- based firecracker businesss. He employed his three children to produce firecrackers. Unfortunately, two were killed by a blast from six kilograms of gunpowder earlier this month.

Sudarga is still at large after fleeing from Rangkas Bitung Hospital, where he was admitted due to his burns.

Sudarga is not the only one in the village who runs an illegal business, as Jambe district, located some 40 kilometers southwest of Tangerang, has long been known as a firecracker producer for Greater Jakarta.

Firecrackers, traditionally, were always used to highlight festivities, including the celebration of Idul Fitri, which marks the end of the Ramadhan fasting month on Nov. 25.

Winata, chief of the community unit, who also runs a business, said that each child is able to produce at least 100 packs of small firecrackers in three months of work.

Each pack contains 100 petasan korek, the smallest variety of firecracker.

"The children work every day after school until 9 p.m. Producing firecrackers is an annual tradition in this village because it is much more profitable compared with other jobs," Winata told The Jakarta Post recently.

Another firecracker maker, Usnan, 47, said that although many young people in the subdistrict had jobs as farmers or ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers, they took the seasonal business because it was more attractive.

"The recent tragedy will not prevent us from making firecrackers. What happened to Sudarga's family was not the first occurrence and will not be the last," he said.

Usnan is also an agent who sells gunpowder and other materials to the villagers. He claimed he had invested almost Rp 25 million (US$2,941) this year alone.

Housewife Masni, 27, and her three children have produced firecrackers for Idul Fitri for the past five years. Transforming her dining room into a workplace, they can produce 10,000 packs of petasan korek from a sack of gunpowder.

"I invest only Rp 2.5 million. Then, in just one month, in Ramadhan, I can make up to Rp 6 million, although not all of the firecrackers have been sold," she said, adding that others also made a similar profit.

Tigaraksa police chief Insp. Purwadi admitted that residents of Jambe district would not heed warnings from the police.

"They have for a long time run such illegal business and always ignored warnings the police repeatedly delivered," he said.

He claimed that police had given warnings and raided the houses several times, which resulted in the confiscation of hundreds of thousands of firecrackers.

Firecracker business has something for everyone

Ancol Pasir subdistrict controls nine villages and all of the residents take part in firecracker industry. Ancol Tanggo village is known as the largest supplier of firecrackers.

During The Jakarta Post's visit to the village recently, all villagers, who were drying firecrackers under the sun, were suspicious at the presence of strangers.

Usnan, one of the producers, said that the villagers had been wary of the presence of the press as it might ruin their business.

Along the road are small cabins beside houses, used as workplaces.

Smoking is definitely forbidden around the cabins which are full of gunpowder and other inflammable materials, some of which have leached onto the ground.

Two types of firecracker makers exist: permanent and seasonal producers. The first have their own cabins and produce firecrackers on a commission basis, usually fulfilling orders from organizers of festivals or celebratory events.

The seasonal ones, who convert their homes to workplaces, start producing three months prior to and during Ramadhan, when demand for firecrackers reaches a peak.

Established producers, whose business is inherited from their descendants, like Usnan's, become agents handling the procurement of material and sales. Agents can also be found along the Parung Panjang to Tigaraksa road.

Regency public order officers have been accused of turning a blind eye to the illegal business.

According to one firecracker maker, Masni, the village had never received any warnings from the authorities.

"Some people from the public order agency came here recently to take payments of Rp 10,000 (US$1.18) for each large package of firecrackers at every house," she said. -- JP