“I’m both gay and chinese, either your identity is one of it or both like me, I still feel that the government doesn't protects us very well, and even worse, there are some groups in the country that still perceive chinese people as villains, no matter what. I think our democracy is still like a newborn baby.”
“I’m a deaf student in one of the state university in Indonesia. But, even though the government have declared that the provision of a language interpreter in public schools and university is mandated by Law No. 8/2016, today no such thing existed, well at least in my experience at university it didn’t prevail. I have also experienced religion and race discrimination in Yogyakarta, when I was looking for a place to stay. Another time, when I was working for a company, my salary wasn’t as equal as everybody else. I think there are much more discrimination out there experienced by deaf youth, just because we’re deaf. But despite all that, I still love my country though.”
-, Phieter Angdika, deaf youth
“A State of unfree in this free country? There’s a lot! One of them is, a state where there are still people out there that can’t access education and can’t thrive to be what they want. Because the fact is, it’s not only about interest and talent, you know! It’s very complex to analyze, and poverty takes part of it. But, if you trace it to the root, it culminated to government roles towards the economic policy”
“The one thing that I don’t feel as a citizen (who lives in a democratic country, such as Indonesia) is free from fear, especially fear of something that the government should guarantee and fulfill, such as: fear from not getting a job, fear to be old, fear from getting hit by a car and dies, or fear to be imprisoned because of my critical expression towards the government.”
After hundreds of years of civilization around the world, people tried to shape their own living scheme by seeking a system which protects their own life and freedom. Some people become actors who ruled how society should be governed and how this governing body ensures people’s life. In a more simpler words, there’s somewhat a mutual action between them. The idea of how an amount of people form a government to rule, and how this government endeavor to benefit people, is something we can roughly see as the basis of democracy, a system in which my country (Indonesia) have adjusted.
Democracy was formed to protect everyone's freedom, and as cliché as it sounds, a better life. In a democracy, the ruling system are formed without violating people’s rights in regard to their differences. From this simple explanation of a democracy idea, I think it is not wrong in a democracy system, that we have the freedom to express ourselves and government should protect it. So then, by this nature, we’ll be living in a safe country with butterflies and colorful joys. Well, apparently, we aren’t! What went wrong?
From a place called Athens (which is claimed as the birthplace of democracy) to a new country like South Sudan (gained independence from Sudan in 2011), a demand to have a living system which protects people’s freedom have always been colored by war or revolutions. People demands freedom from dictatorship, slavery, corruption, forced ideology, or even colonialism. People agree to choose their own governing and living system and decide what’s good for all and what’s not. This demand was not always thrived to earn independence of a country, but the struggles were reflected in independent countries as well, where there were problems with its government. It is possible for some independent-democratic countries to have one or more issues with its government that resulted to the sufferings of its people, violating its people’s rights. This was maybe what Indonesia had experienced decades ago when a dictator ruled for over 30 years, that resulted in hundred of thousands of its people suffering rights violations.
Suharto became President of Indonesia in 1967 and ruled its dictatorship until the year 1998. Through which, his regime kind of forgot the fact that Indonesia have decided to be an independent-democratic country in 1945! Throughout his regime, there were stories, very scary stories you’ll often hear about a man who successfully sold his “nationalism” and anti-communism ideology to convince people slaughtering hundreds of thousands of life. But that’s what seemingly have happened in Indonesia during Suharto’s presidential era. For over 30 years, people have lived in a pseudo-democratic country where freedom of expression was almost entirely banned. Well, that… sounds… like… Hitler!
A dictatorship regime which reigned for over 30 years in Indonesia with its conservative values, shaped Suharto’s loyals (which are a lot), that have kept their thirst for power. These loyals are still in their power nowadays, and still have some sort of authority to determine sets of laws for people. Suharto and his loyals successfully shaped people’s mind to feel threatened and afraid of any new “values” or “ideology” that are not fit with “national values”. A group of those type of people, nowadays, even say that human rights are nonsense and Indonesia should be a khilafah country (a country which only upholds sharia law, with a strong islamic religious person as president). Although, there is an improvement of freedom of expression since Suharto’s fall in 1998, but this improvement didn’t close the space for radical-conservative groups to blossom and push their viewpoint towards other minority groups. This indicates that there is an unparalleled context of freedom between one group to another.
Back to the idea of democracy. People’s values of ideology, religion, and belief should be excluded from a governing system, but rather, the governing system must protect people’s rights to their ideology, religion, and belief. This will strengthen the democracy dimension in upholding inclusivity and full protection for all, no matter their differences. But fear of different “values” and weak respect towards different groups within the government system makes freedom to certain people to be easily banished.
There are series of violations that have happened and are still happening in Indonesia until now, that includes: violation to freedom of religion, violent forced eviction of more than 7.000 members of Gafatar group in East and West Kalimantan, violation to freedom of expressions and identity experienced by LGBT groups who are also threatened to be criminalized, and even violation to the freedom on clothing, issuedthrough a bylaw implemented in August 2016 in Sumedang, West Java. What a wonder-worry-fully democratic country Indonesia is!
As all those rights violations are definitely happening in front of our eyes, it is not strange that many youth nowadays feel the same worries as I do. I asked my friends to describe to me what are their worries or experiences in regard to freedom in Indonesia. Well, as you can see at the opening of these article, 4 statements that represents the viewpoints of 4 of my youth friends. I know that those statements only represent a narrow circle of people, but if we read those statements carefully, it totally makes sense. Attacks to people regarding their identity are frequent, discrimination towards people with difability is common, because full protection policy have not been implemented comprehensively towards people with different ability (physically) in the workplace, and so on and so forth.
So what’s happening here? What’s wrong with our nation, our government? Well I know it’s a rhetorical question, because we actually know that there’s something wrong with our government system and its incomprehensive policy.
Maybe Indonesia should learn from other good-example democratic countries, about the concept of freedom on their lands. Is it wrong to learn from the happiest country in the world? For instance: Norway is a scandinavian country which is consistently placed on top of the 5 world’s happiest country. Norway is also place as top 3 for most gender equal country, and placed number 1 as a fully democratic country (based on World’s Democratic Index in 2016), oh! And the country is totally secular. The country even advance their freedom of religion to include freedom of not choosing any religion as well, therefore separating values of religion out of its governmental system. I think that’s what a democratic country should do, so that the country can protect all people no matter what they believe or not believe in. So then, is it time to advance our own constitution? You choose.
I’m not trying to suggest that Indonesia should advance its democracy to what Norway does. What I’m trying to say, after those historical and comparison notes that I have narrated, is that we’re not as independent and free as we might think we are, even though we’re living in an independent country. We even sometimes are ‘forced’ to feel proud to be an Indonesian. I’m not scolding off people who are actually proud to be Indonesian, I respect them, but there are still ginormous rights-based issues in our country that I am still not proud of. One might say, that this current freedom we have in our country is only felt by privileged people. Because, after more than 70 years of independence, some not so privileged people are still struggling to earn their freedom for basic needs. We sometimes live in fear, scared of threats. Especially for those who are seen to have different beliefs outside of the majority.
So it’s time for us to think critically, what independence really means? Where’s your freedom that should be protected and fulfilled by the government? We must keep it in our mind that we’re rights holders, and that the government bears the duty to protect our rights. That means, government should fulfill, respect, and protect our rights. If you feel that you have earn it and you have it, then, good! But, think also of other people that are not like you? Not as privileged to earn and have that freedom.
To grasp freedom, sometimes starts with a mind and an act to resist.
Happy Independence Day, Indonesia.