When Andrew Refuses to Back Down

Andrew Budikusuma (24) probably never expected to get punched in the face and would need 5 five days to recover from the inflicted injuries. He was very aware that the attack that he experienced in TransJakarta was clearly no ordinary criminal attack. He remembers that the attacker said: “Which one do you prefer? Slanty eyes or closed eyes?” and “Ahok, Ahok, you’re Ahok, right?”

In other words, Andrew got verbally discriminated and physically abused at the same time – which is strongly suspected to have happened due to his ethnicity. After the attack, Andrew wrote a chronological experience report and exhibited his bruised lips on his Facebook page. Shortly after, his story went viral on several social media pages and Andrew decided to report the incident to the police. He was undaunted despite his parents advised him not to report the attack. On the 1st of September, the police arrested five suspects but until today, the case is still not closed.

I, as a fellow Chinese-Indonesian, highly appreciate Andrew’s courageous behavior.

At first glance, it might appear to be a normal thing to report such an abusive attack to the authorities. What’s special about reporting people who have attacked us Chinese-Indonesians physically? I know that for our ethnicity it takes a lot of courage to do so due to the background and a long, traumatic history as a minority ethnicity in Indonesia.

Being a minority for decades or even hundreds of years, Chinese-Indonesians have been living in a climate of restraint. If one dares to boast about one’s life. it will become extremely difficult for him or her. One of my mentors who became the founder of doctorSHARE, the NGO that initiated the Floating Hospitals, dr. Lie Dharmawan, remembers his experiences of how his demonstration activities in 1998 led to terror. Almost every day he received phone calls from unknown people who told him things like “Chinese like you shouldn’t dare to talk that much!”

Then, most of the Chinese-Indonesians, especially those who were born before the reform era, realized that “surrender” was the best choice in order not to make life even more difficult. What if one gets insulted and beaten because of one’s race or ethnicity? The answer was simply: “Accept it and that’s it” since reporting was pointless.

Even when nobody is talking about it, it’s a well-known fact among Chinese-Indonesians that reporting an attack to the authorities only makes them letting us “pay the process fee” while the criminal case remains unsolved. Silence is golden because we are the minority which would never be able to win through against the dominant structure.

It’s true that the law of “abolishment of racial and ethnic discrimination” (Undang-Undang Penghapusan Diskriminasi Ras dan Etnis) has been validated which is a great and significant progress especially for the minorities which have been discriminated. However, many Chinese-Indonesians realized that the recognition at the state level does not necessarily change the stigma and the behavior of the common citizens.

I don’t know whether this was also the way Andrew’s parents thought when they advised him not to report the attack. However, two thumbs up for Andrew for having the courage to fight for his rights and his dignity. Andrew did not only express his thoughts and feelings in social media, but he also bravely reported his case to the autorities.

As a Chinese-Indonesian woman, I also experienced discrimination several times, mostly verbally in the form of being shouted at: “Amoy! Amoy!”. But I have to admit that I was able to choose the way of indifference and move on. A friend of mine, who is also a fellow Chinese-Indonesian, even had to experience racist verbal abuse from a government official. Afterwards, he wrote a chronology of the incident on his Facebook page. In short, it’s not the first time after the Reformation Era that Chinese-Indonesians like Andrew or myself are discriminated.

The difference this time: Andrew chose not to stop after he published his case on the social media. He kept fighting for his rights staunchly. This became an important symbol for how Chinese-Indonesians, whose tendency it had been to choose to be passive and surrender, finally could gain the courage to speak up. Actually, it’s a great step forward when minorities want to be appreciated as an ethnic par with other ethnic groups in Indonesia, and even more as dignified humans. Minorities should not be a suppressed underdog in their own country.

Concerning this issue, the Co-Cultural Theory (Mark Orbe, 1990s) elaborates on the communication typology of minorities when they are confronted with external pressure from the dominant structure. Citing this theory, Andrew chose a more aggressive approach to communicate – while most other Chinese-Indonesians chose the non-assertive approach. The non-assertive mindset is often read as a “submissive” attitude and implies the approach not to cause new problems, which is actually a natural thing when reflecting on the historical trauma.

However, there is another issue. The attacker shouted, ‘Ahok, Ahok, you’re Ahok, right?’ at Andrew. Most likely, the attacker associated Andrew with the Governor of Jakarta, Basuki Purnama Tjahaja who is called Ahok. Of course we do not know the motivation of the attacker with this association, but we know that there is a nuance of hatred which manifested in form of the beatings.

As a Chinese-Indonesian who lives in Jakarta, I do not fully support Ahok’s policy. Only because Ahok is also a Chinese-Indonesian, I wouldn’t support him blindly. This is a misperception that occurs quite often. In this paper, my position is not the one of a supporter of Ahok. However, for whatever the reason, it is not justified to hit someone on the basis of hatred against certain people, associated with a certain religion, faith, race or ethnic group.

We know that the political climate in Jakarta was becoming warmer because it was shortly before the governor’s elections. Ahok even said that the attackers demonstrated cowardice in this act that should symbolize an attack against him. We need to be alerted by the issues which are related to ethnicity, religion, and race or ethnicity becomes a game played by people who want to disturb the peaceful atmosphere.

At this point, as a Chinese-Indonesian, I highly appreciate and fully support what Andrew did. Andrew’s action to report his case became an important symbol – not only for Chinese-Indonesians but also for those who have been discriminated but have not dared to speak out and fight for equal rights as Indonesian citizens.

It is much more important to always keep in mind that Indonesia is a very diverse country. We need to create tolerance and mutual respect according the slogan “Unity in Diversity” (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika). We have to make sure that the intolerant and hateful spirit does no longer find a comfortable place for action in this country. Only in this way, an experience like Andrew’s will never happen again to anyone.

* * *

This article edited by Jendrik Silomon.

Photo Source: Andrew Budikusuma displays a police document after reporting the incident to the Jakarta Police. (thejakartapost.com, JP/Callistasia Anggun Wijaya)

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