Tue, 06 May 2003

The controversial story on Inul just another absurdity

T. Sima Gunawan, Staff Writer, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, sima@thejakartapost.com

This year's news maker must be dangdut singer Inul Daratista. She appears in all media, from gossip tabloids and televisions to respected newspapers and magazines, including some foreign ones. Some must be fed up with the stories. Why Inul? Aren't there any more important issue to write about?

But this is actually not just about a 24-year-old woman who made it to the top with her sizzling hip dance movements -- known as "drilling". This is a reflection of our society.

Inul is condemned for her "dirty dancing". Her style is said to be too hot for Indonesians. On stage, she gyrates her hips, faster and faster, energetically. On top of that, she turns around and bares her behind to the audience, which receives close-up treatment by television cameras.

She is considered ill-mannered, unethical and her style is categorized by some as porn, which would surely degrade the moral values of the nation. Therefore, she should be stopped.

In February, the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI) issued an edict against her; but this was only free publicity for Inul and she became even more well-known. She refused to change her style, saying that she just wanted to be herself.

Just late last month, she took another blow. This time, it was Dangdut King Rhoma Irama who, at a press conference, called on a virtual ban on Inul. He condemned Inul for her erotic movements. With harsh words, he firmly stated that Inul had not only contaminated dangdut -- the musical genre blending Indian and Malay influences -- but also the morality of the nation.

In particular, he said that there was a case in which a man confessed that he raped a woman because he was aroused after watching Inul on VCD.

Many opposed Rhoma, saying he was, in effect, curbing freedom of expression, which had long been suppressed until Soeharto's downfall in 1997. During the Soeharto era, a number of critical performances were banned, including Teater Koma's Suksesi (Succession), a satire about the issue of succession in the government, and Ratna Sarumpaet's Marsinah, a story about a factory worker and labor activist who was mysteriously killed after she staged a protest demanding better welfare for workers. Wiji Tukul, a poet, went missing not long after he read his poem with the famous line hanya satu kata: lawan! (just one word: fight!), which was often quoted during the protests demanding that Soeharto step down.

With the fall of Soeharto, the door to freedom of expression swung open. Not only were journalists now free to express themselves, but tabloids with erotic photographs also hit the streets. More graphic violence is shown on television, especially in crime reports.

On stage, there are more "daring" shows, like stripteases and even live sex shows, although most are shown in private.

Hard-core sex VCDs are also widely available on the market. A number of raids have been conducted, but they have never been effective -- it is an open secret that the business is backed by the law enforcers themselves.

These VCDs are of course, pirated. And just like them, Inul's VCDs are also pirated because Inul has never released videos of her shows. It is estimated that several million copies of her VCDs have been sold.

If the reports that Inul's dancing led to rape could be believed, should Inul be punished because there are men out there who cannot control their dirty, sick minds and so fulfill their lust by resorting to crime?

Women activists underlined that Inul should not be blamed for the rape case.

"The increase of rape cases and violence against women is because of the inability of the legal system to protect women," Saparinah Sadli of the National Commission of Women said in a statement read last week.

"The accusation that the way Inul expresses herself triggered a rape case is baseless and misleading," she said.

The condemnation against Inul and the call to ban her was not only an authoritarian and arbitrary reaction, but also an act to stupefy the people, she continued. This, she said, is a violation of human rights.

Pointing the finger at Inul for being the cause of rape is indeed absurd. But absurdity is quite common here. For example, how can a respectable House of Representatives be led by a man who has been convicted of abusing his power in connection with a graft case involving Rp 40 billion? And where else can you find a central bank headed by a man who has also been convicted for abusing the Bank Indonesia Liquidity Support funds? (In the latter case, however, it should be mentioned that the conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court and the defendant acquitted.)

It is also absurd that the perpetrators of the May riots in 1998 still remain free -- the riots which, according to official findings, resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people and the rape of 66 women. Others were sexually harassed.

The failure of the legal system to protect women, as Sadli stated, has indeed led to many cases of violence against women, from sexual harassment to domestic violence. Many still believe that domestic violence is a private affair and something that should not be taken to court. In sexual abuse cases, some insensitive investigators often joke of the possibility of the victims enjoying the rape.

Therefore, saying that violence against women has much to do with Inul, is like saying that corruption is on the rise because of media reports on how the culprits abuse the money. And we can easily say that Jakarta is hit by floods because of the poor people who live along the riverbanks, without taking into consideration unsustainable development activities, such as the uncontrolled construction of housing complexes, malls and business centers.

Maybe we should also be blamed for the floods, as we Jakarta residents also enjoy living in our posh neighborhoods, sipping coffee at our favorite cafe in our favorite shopping mall, and working in a skyscraper on the city's main thoroughfare.

So, welcome to our absurd city!