Mon, 17 Sep 2001

Maid sets herself on fire to escape employers' abuse

JAKARTA (JP): How can people lose all sense of humanity? This is the question that troubles the mind when one looks at Jumiati, a frail housemaid whose body is now covered from head to toe in serious wounds.

The question troubles the conscience each time she screams out in pain as a nurse tends to her wounds.

The 19-year-old maid, who hails from the Central Java village of Kampung Candi, Pekalongan, never dreamed that she would end up being abused in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta.

Her employers for two months were mid-ranking naval officer Major Edison Hutapea and his wife, police officer First Adj. Insp. Marsini Napitupulu.

Jumiati said the couple, who have two children, had been continuously torturing her and her deceased co-worker, Sipon, ever since the day they first started working for the family.

Most of the physical abuse stemmed from the couple's suspicions that the two maids were not properly looking after the couple's two children, aged one and a half, and two years old respectively.

"We always did our jobs well. I don't know why they both hurt us," the inarticulate maid said referring to Sipon, her fellow housemaid, who was the elder of the two.

The abuse the couple perpetrated including administering beatings, either by slapping or using shoes and sticks, burning the maids' bodies with lighted cigarettes, and ordering the maids to throw boiling water on each other.

Jumiati said if the couple got angry, they ordered her and Sipon to splash each other with boiling water.

"Bapak (Hutapea) hung me up by the neck once and I almost died because I couldn't breath," Jumiati told The Jakarta Post in the intensive care unit of the Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital in Central Jakarta.

She said that she and Sipon were unable to escape from the house as the couple always locked all of the doors and the windows everyday before they went to work.

The blisters and wounds all over Jumiati's tortured body are still suppurating and she has also sustained serious injuries to her breast.

A nurse said that her condition was getting better: "Her wounds smelled pretty bad when she first arrived here."

People living in the neighborhood would never have known that such a hell on earth was being lived out by the two maids if Sipon, at the end of her wits, had not committed self-immolation two weeks ago.

According to Jumiati, Sipon committed suicide because she could no longer stand the daily suffering the couple inflicted on them.

"Sipon splashed kerosene over herself and set herself on fire. I couldn't stop her," she said in tears, adding that the fire then spread to the house.

Jumiati screamed for help from the locked house after making sure that her employer's children were safe.

Luckily, their neighbors in the Navy housing complex broke the front door in and helped Jumiati and the children escape.

Sipon died on the spot.

Naval spokesman First. Commander Franky Kayhatu said the case was being handled by the military police and promised that it would be investigated immediately.

Sri Mumpuni, head of the Women and Children's Counseling Section of the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute, said the case showed that the abuse of women was still rampant in our so-called civilized society.

"It's a crime. No one has the right to commit human rights violations, especially not officers," she told the Post by telephone on Sunday, adding that such crimes were usually carried out by people who thought that women were powerless.

Sri said that the couple should be brought before a military court as Hutapea was a naval officer and Napitupulu a police officer. (04/hbk)