Thu, 25 Sep 2003

Ratna still decrying injustice in new play

Bruce Emond, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

It's clear that you do not want to get on the bad side of actress-playwright Ratna Sarumpaet.

Arrested and tried by the Soeharto regime on a charge of public disorder -- there is the harrowing, priceless TV footage of her being marched off, still shouting, by pumped-up New Order henchmen in their uniforms in March 1998 -- she remains impassioned and vociferous, so different from many of her countrymen who would rather let the uglier sides of their society slide by than face up to the reality.

And when she gets angry and frustrated at the injustice around her, Ratna puts pen to paper, letting loose her feelings in a play.

Her latest effort, Anak-anak Kegelapan (Children of Darkness), produced with her theater, TV and film production group Satu Merah Panggung, is born of that angst, provoked by what she considers the continuing injustice committed against those tarred with the nebulous label PKI -- the Indonesian Communist Party.

It is almost 38 years since the attempted coup of Sept. 31, 1965, that was blamed on the PKI and its terrible aftermath, which resulted in one of the greatest genocides from vigilantism in history. All it took was for someone to be tagged a communist, and a personal grudge or score would be settled once and for all.

Nobody was keeping count of how many people were slaughtered, and it's not something the government or military wants to dig up now, but some estimates put the number at between 800,000 to 1 million.

Even today, the descendants of alleged members of the party are still paying for the supposed sins of their fathers.

Her fervor in tackling the gross injustice in Anak-anak Kegelapan -- the story of how the persecution affects the lives of the protagonists Zuraida and Imam -- does not sit well with many who would rather that she shut up and move on.

"In the last few months, when I have been on radio shows talking about the play, people have called up and said, 'Why do you have to scrape at old wounds and open them up?' And my response is that we have to scrape at them until they are completely clean," she told The Jakarta Post.

Cambodia has its genocide museum and South Africa its truth and reconciliation commission to try to deal with their grisly pasts, but there has been no such soul-searching in this country. It may have a lot to do with the cultural preference for fatalism and taking the easy way out by sweeping a dirty past under the carpet, but Ratna's fear is that such complacence is allowing history to repeat itself right now.

The mention of Aceh and the Acehnese increasingly provokes similar suspicions as those of the PKI from the mid-1960s to the 1980s -- a convenient, virulent label to cut down the opposition.

"We must look at what the government is doing today with Aceh," Ratna said. "I am not a supporter of GAM (the Free Aceh Movement) but I'm angry about how the government is facing the conflict. It's like 1965 is being repeated."

Lending Ratna support in the play are Oim Said, Jajang C. Noer and Charles Sahetapy among the cast, as well as noted choreographer Boi G. Sakti, artist Hanafi and fashion designer Samuel Wattimena, who designed the costumes.

Still, does Ratna still feel like a lone voice in a wilderness of "yes" men and women?

"What I am saying to people is that they have to shout and scream, 'Stop it!'. I hope that people will listen, and know that we have a right and responsibility to speak to the government."


Children of Darkness: Jakarta, Sept. 25-30, 8 p.m., Graha Bakti Budaya, Taman Ismail Marzuki, Central Jakarta. Tickets (021) 3193 7325, 319 3470, 319 1178; Surakarta, Oct. 9-11; Tasikmalaya, Oct. 14-16, 8 p.m., Gedung Kesenian Tasikmalaya.