Wed, 31 Mar 1999

Indonesian way of dying

Despite the long absence of natural disasters, bad news continues to bombard us from different directions.

The latest news of the drowning of 14 high school students in a Bogor river came after an apparent lull in ethnic clashes in West Kalimantan, which broke out after bloody religious conflict in Ambon. Hundreds of people were killed in the two latter tragedies.

The Bogor accident took place on Friday when 14 students jumped into Cisadane River and drowned. They leapt into the river in an effort to escape arrest after 41 of their colleagues were apprehended by police officers. The students traveled from Jakarta to avenge an alleged attack on a fellow student by Bogor students. The tragedy was all the more tragic because the students mission was based on rumor.

However, student brawls are nothing new here. The ugly tendency has become somewhat fashionable among our young people. In Jakarta alone, perhaps dozens of them have been killed in brutal brawls over the past years. Authorities have cracked down on brawling students, but police operations have not yielded a long-term solution.

Experts have said that aside from having to cope with their youth and emotions, urban students -- especially those of less privileged families -- live under a lot of pressure. Many of them regard violence as an effective solution to their problems.

But in this case they are not the sole members of society to blame because using violence or force to solve a problem is a common phenomenon in Indonesia. So common is the trend that parents and educators are finding it more difficult to educate today's youth.

Viewing the Bogor tragedy as a part of a national problem, one tends to conclude that many of our people lose their lives in a useless and worthless fashion. Bogor itself had an earlier tragic incident which claimed the lives of 10 young people. In 1992, 10 youths drowned in Cikeas River during a training session organized by a church.

Two weeks earlier, 11 young people were caught in a flash flood near Ciliwung River, also in Bogor. Only one of them survived.

And about two decades ago, some transvestites jumped into a river and to their deaths in Menteng, Central Jakarta, in fear of being arrested by city security officers. The officers denied staging a raid, but an investigation later found they had lied.

In all these cases, the most obvious cause is that most people of this country, which is surrounded by oceans and criss-crossed by many rivers, have never learned to swim.

Many other tear-jerking incidents have in Jakarta through the years. In West Jakarta in 1987, 26 workers died in a fire which swept through a clothes factory. The workers, who included five women, met a fiery death because the exit door had been locked by the manager.

On Jakarta roads, where reckless drivers behave like devils behind the wheel, the number of accident victims could surpass that of war casualties. The most frightful of them was the death of 33 passengers and the injury of 29 others when a minibus careened into a river in North Jakarta in 1994.

Although the driver was sentenced to 16 years in jail, it did not deter another reckless bus driver from getting behind the wheel and causing an accident which claimed the lives of 35 people three years later on a Jakarta-Bogor expressway.

The list of the loss of innocent lives would be very long indeed if we were to include those killed during an election campaign fire in South Kalimantan in 1997, riots in Jakarta and in military operations in East Timor, Jakarta's Tanjung Priok Port, Lampung and Aceh.

The government saw fit to apologize to the Acehnese people for inhumane acts by the military, but military authorities are still reluctant to investigate last year's student killings at Trisakti University and on the Semanggi clover bridge, both in Jakarta.

This reluctance shows that to military leaders, loss of innocent people's lives has ceased to have meaning and they are too insensitive to care about justice and human rights. This has also made the people believe that many more such incidents will take place in the future.