Fri, 18 Jul 2003

Sukarno's favorite dancer finally gets recognition of her rights

Zakki Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A sympathetic old lady was singing a classical Sundanese ballad midday Thursday in the waiting room of the Jakarta State Administrative Court compound in Pulo Gebang, East Jakarta.

The ballad was sung by late president Sukarno's favorite singer/dancer, Nani Nurani, who was waiting to know whether she was entitled to a permanent identification card, the right of Indonesian citizens aged over 60.

The 62-year-old woman, wearing a white trouser tunic, said the song was Sukarno's favorite, taken from a Sundanese folk story called Lutung Kasarung, about a prince's despair upon realizing that he was in the form of a monkey while he has to find a bride.

Both the prince and Nurani are searching: One is seeking a bride, another is seeking justice.

The court ruled that Nurani deserved to have a lifetime ID card and ordered the Koja subdistrict administration in North Jakarta to issue the card accordingly. The court also stated that Nurani had no affiliation to any banned organization, particularly the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

Presiding Judge Disiplin Manao said in the court that Nurani was sent to jail for seven years in 1968 but never tried.

"The court acknowledged that she had no direct or indirect involvement with any banned organizations."

Koja district representative Sri Astuti from the North Jakarta mayoralty said she will appeal the verdict. The district head himself was not present at the trial.

After her release from the now-closed Bukit Duri prison in South Jakarta in 1976, Nurani carried an ID card that identified her as a former political prisoner. When former president B.J. Habibie took power in 1998 a new policy to remove the political prisoner tag was put in place.

After her card expired in February this year, she requested a permanent ID card.

However, the subdistrict gave her a regular ID card because she had been jailed on the basis of accusations she had affiliated with the PKI.

She denied the accusation, saying she was arrested because she danced at the party's anniversary in Cianjur, West Java, which was also attended by a number of state officials.

"I was invited because I was a Cipanas Palace dancer and I didn't know any of the party officials," she said.

She said that three years after the attempted coup d'etat in 1965, military police arrested her and sent her to jail without trial.

"One of the accusations was that I was an invisible communist agent. It was outrageous," she said.

Seven years later, she was freed without the chance to clear her name.

Her life was never the same again.

One time, her nephew got mad at her as he could not join the Indonesian Military due to Nurani's status as an ex-political convict.

At family occasions, her extended family preferred not to mention her name even if she sang at the event.

A bright light came earlier this year when, after 35 years, she was asked by noted Indonesian violinist Idris Sardi to sing at his concert last month.

"It was my first performance in front of the public after 35 years. I was thrilled and touched."

Nurani said she had had enough of the discrimination by the administration.

"I am innocent. I don't want revenge. I just want to rehabilitate my name," said the woman, who was accompanied by lawyers from the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH).

After the trial, lawyer Taufik Basari said the verdict would be used as a precedent in the future to defend other people who were arrested by the New Order regime's anti-communist campaign in the late 1960s.

"We hope that after this, many victims will have the courage to demand their rights," he said.

Thousands of innocent people were reportedly arrested without trial for allegations of supporting PKI.

In 2001, President Abdurrahman Wahid promised to rehabilitate the people's names but the promise never eventuated.

Nevertheless, in the story of Lutung Kasarung, the prince eventually found his bride, while the Cipanas Palace dancer won her right to have a lifetime ID card like other citizens of the unitary state of Indonesia.