Adam Winkel
Artikel oleh : Adam Winkel
Foto oleh : Unidentifiable
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13th of May 1998.


The riots begin.


The backdrop of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and critique of the government of the Orde Baru (New Order) sparked a fire in the hearts of many of those who did not feel as how the elite members of society did. Many of Indonesia’s people were hungry, as prices of even the most basic needs increased due to the sinking of the dollar and in turn, the value of the rupiah. The call for change rang throughout the hallways of Jakarta’s campuses, where students armed with the thirst for a better Indonesia had converged to discuss revolution. It was scheduled that on the 12th of May 1998, a protest would be held outside Universitas Trisakti to challenge the authority and demand the stepping-down of then-ruling president, Suharto. On that 12th of May 1998 morning, students, lecturers, staff and university members, converged to speak up against the government. As the situation grew tense due to back and forth heckling and jeers from students and armed forces, at 17:00, police and military forces opened fire on protesting Universitas Trisakti students demanding Reformation from a 31-year presidency (some might argue dictatorship), the voices of riots and chaos whispered well into the night from many of Jakarta’s unheard mouths.


At the break of morn on the 13th of May, the kettle still boiling, as if on cue, hotspots of violence, pillaging, looting and destruction rang out through the entire city. Ethnic Chinese were the scapegoats of a furious mob angry at the way the system had backhanded them; they were the main victims to violence, rape, and looting. Chinese-owned stores were burned down, with or without their owners inside them. The words ‘Milik Pribumi’ (Owned by the pribumi {the natives}), graffiti’d over the windows and walls.


This was the start of 3 days of death and destruction.


A sensitive topic for research as information is not widely available and controversial because those accused of starting off the order to fire on Universitas Trisakti students are still major figures in the political and military spectrum of Indonesia, much of the truth is limited to first-hand experiences of victims and perpetrators.


I got myself an interview with a man (initialed T), who was at the time working in one of the biggest malls in Glodok (an area with a large ethnic Chinese presence, both in and out of the mall) specializing in electronics and computer equipment. The following lines are snippets of the conversation we had:


T: Pas kerusuhan itu, gue kerja di toko komputer punya orang Cina. Baru dateng dari Jawa mau nyari kerja yang gampang, karena gue dulu sempet tertarik ama elektronik, ya gue lamar kerja disitu. Diterima, alhamdullilah. Sekitar setahun gue kerja disitu pas terjadi kerusuhan. Itu satu Plaza Glodok kena yang namanya dibakar, dijarah, dipukulin. Kosong itu mal abis kerusuhan.


A: Lo pas itu liat secara langsung?


T: Iyalah… Gue juga yang ngejarah.


A: Yang di target apa aja?


T: Paling nomor satu diincer toko emas sama elektronik, gue ga kebagian tapi, jadi ngambilnya cuman Khong Guan satu kaleng yang gede hahahaha, daripada perut laper ya namanya juga ngejarah, kita kayak kesetanan. Mana ngerasa dibawah kaki tuh kepala orang. Injek, ya injek aja.


A: Terus gimana lagi Bang?


T: Karena gue pribumi ya gue ga takut kena imbasan, paling parah ya Cina. Itu rumah-rumah Cina di Kota dan sekitar dulu mana ada yang temboknya tinggi, karena kerusuhan kan mereka jadi takut, hidup bareng di kompleks, pager jadi tinggi-tinggi di tambah kawat segala.

Naik motor ya santai gue, dari Glodok keliling gausah pake helm juga ga di stop polisi. Polisi aja takut pake seragam, kalo keliatan di pukulin massa langsung. Itu satu-satunya saat dimana rakyat bersatu, dimana rakyat bisa pukulin polisi hahahaha coba kalo sekarang, diabisin di sel.

Disaat-saat kerusuhan, semua kali tuh pasti ada mayat-mayat ngapung. Kali yang dari Pesing aja isi mayat semua, kita jadi biasa liat badan manusia mati.


A: Lo selain menjarah tapi gebukin orang juga atau nggak, Bang?


Ya lagi, pas di saat itu, kita kayak kesetanan. Pas lagi lari dalem mal-nya gue inget banget ada orang yang nanyain gue untuk korek, sambil megang botol ama bekas robekan baju. Ya apa lagi kalo nggak untuk lempar ke toko biar kebakar?

Kalo pukulin orang, di saat itu sih secara pengen nyakitin orang sih nggak. Tapi kalo dibawah kita ada orang terus kita lari mana nyadar kitanya. Ngeliat orang di pukul ya iya banyak, kita jadi kebal pas itu. Satu masyarakat kesurupan. Dikit-dikit bakar, dikit-dikit pukul, serem kalo dipikirin.


T is one of many unheard storytellers from a time of turmoil. It seems almost like a hazy dream to him, as what he calls being ‘kesetanan’ (being possessed) or the adrenaline, rushed through his body. Today, T continues his job and leads a normal life, just like everybody involved, allowing 1998 to just be but a memory.


Justice has been demanded for those at the helm of the spark of the riots and the shootings but still today, there is very minimal effort revolving the unveiling of the truth behind May 1998.


(Rest in peace to those who lost their lives) 

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