In 1998, Indonesia has been scenery of a series of racially motivated crimes. Mass violence and demonstrations led to riots in many cities. The reasons are plentiful, including unemployment, economic precarity as well as food shortages. The targets of the rioting masses were mostly Chinese Indonesians. While the actual number has never been fully detected, historians assume that a thousand people died during the riots, and more than 168 cases of rape were reported. I met one of the victims of the riot.
“There is something about me, that nobody knows. Not even my husband, I have always kept it a secret.
You ask me why? I think, because I do not like him to see me in this way. I am a strong woman; I am raising our child; I prepare our lives and I am always at his side. But I am not just a daughter of someone, a wife of somebody or a mother of my daughter. I have my own story, a story that I have kept to myself for a long time. I have this nightmare, ever since. It has been fifteen years.
Some of those years I have not thought about the incident a lot, but there are also times where I wake up every night, waiting for the nightmare to become true, once more. There is something, that nobody knows, what I will tell you. Next to where me and my husband sleep every night, underneath the little nightstand next to our bed, I hide a gun. I know, you would not suspect me to have a gun, but since I am hiding it, I can sleep a bit safer.
Riots in my home
When the riots happened, we did not have a gun. I don’t know what would have happened, if my mom as well would have kept one in her nightstand. I know what happened, because there was nothing hidden in the house that could have kept us safe. They came many nights. At first, it was just a rumour, and our neighbours told us to lock our doors at night. But it was no rumour, in the first night, people were in the streets. They were shouting, throwing stones, we heard guns being shot, we didn’t know whether into bodies, or the air. For two nights, me and my sister were hiding above our last floor, in the little space underneath the roof.
My father left us, to protect his business in the neighbourhood, together with his brother they tried to defend the little shop they had. He told us, to hide, and to be quiet. Maybe, we were still to young to fully understand what exactly was happening. We heard the stories, the rumours of women being raped, their bodies thrown into fire, we heard the stories of shop owners watching the rioters destroying everything they have built. I only found out later, who of the people I knew, of the women I was friends or family to, have become victims. My mother, although she never said it out loud. I just felt it, felt how our family has changed ever since.
Now, I have the gun. To protect myself and my daughter, and to be able to sleep. It has been a few years, where the time has healed the wounds, and better times for Indonesia has kept the anger, the hatred and the racial indifferences more invisible, but we are still torn apart. In the last few years, I have heard racist insults, heard from friends and family of violence against the Chinese, I see how the political elites are firing fuel into the already torn society. There is something simmering, Indonesia is changing, and its not changing to the better. I can hear the voices, hear the songs and praying in the mosques, the constant attempt to brainwash the population. They put hate in their ears, like brainwashing, it takes away what could ever bring us together.
Maybe, we are living in a free society, but in reality, we are only free within the walls of our homes.”