Prejudice and Discrimination against Indonesian Chinese

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Prejudice and Discrimination against Indonesian Chinese

Indonesia is a republic that officially promotes racial and ethnic tolerance.  During the year 2004, Indonesian government made a progress in transition from repressive rule to representative democracy.  Despite of the open promotion of equality for all, ethnic Chinese experience cruel discrimination on every-day basis.  Ethnic Chinese account for 3 percent of population and are the largest minority group in Indonesia.  Chinese played an important role in economic development of the country, nevertheless, because of discrimination and harassment instances, Chinese Indonesians tend to leave the country.  Ethnic Chinese citizens are asked for the Republic of Indonesia Citizenship Certificate, even though this document is not required of non-Chinese citizens.  More than 50 articles of law and regulation violate the human rights of Indonesian Chinese.  Despite of the numerous revolts and protests, instances of open discrimination and hatred towards Indonesian Chinese continue to increase and the government does nothing to prevent it.
Current Situation

More than 60 ethnic Chinese families organized protest in front of the Council building in Tangerang against the sale of land used as Chinese cemetery.  Four years have passed since the city councilors agreed to review the case; however, no developments have been done so far.  Cemetery is actively used for commercial developments while Chinese Indonesians are not able to bury their dead relatives.  Notably, Indonesian government views all citizens as indigenous, except ethnic Chinese.  According to the report released by the Bureau of Democracy, Indonesian government recognizes the existence of isolated communities; nevertheless, no progress is made to stop widespread discrimination and disrespectful attitude towards their traditional values (2005). 

It is worth to mention that Indonesia is the only country in the world with 95 percent of the whole population being Muslims (Chinese are mostly Catholic).  Discrimination against Chinese is based not only on their race, but also on religious ethnicity.  The region of Central Sulawesi has equal populations of Christians and Muslims.  The economic and political tensions between two groups cause severe violence.  In 2003, 22 individuals died in communal violence in the result of unlawful killings.  Reverend Freddy Wuisan, prosecutor Fery Silalahi, and Reverand Susianti Tinulele were killed near churches while leaving religious services with their families.  The district court has found 11 guilty; nevertheless, the most severe sentence was 4 years (Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2005)!  This is how the murder of Chinese Christians is punished by Indonesia government! 
Effect on Society

Open discrimination and prejudice towards Indonesian Chinese affects not only social life of country, but also political and economic spheres.  Recalling the Asian Crisis of 1998, Chinese retailers were accused of the rise of rice and cooking oil prices.  Ethnic Chinese were attacked because the government failed to explain that food storage and that high prices were not caused by Chinese retailers (Fiddle, 1998).  Nine years later, the themes that Chinese are alien and disloyal, that they are anti-Muslims, and that they are selfish rich remain the dominating discrimination causes of discrimination towards ethnic Chinese. 

Racism in Indonesia is not based on skin color like in the South Africa or in the United States.  It is based on ethnicity and religion which gives rise to the violation of human rights in social, legal, cultural, and political spheres.  Since the times of colonization, ethnic Chinese were forced to live in ghettos, they were required to wear a specific pass, and had no economic and political interaction with Indonesian population.  Racial segregation has divided the society into three classes each of which had different regulations.  Racism was controlled and even promoted by government and army (Indonesia:  Discrimination against ethnic Chinese, 2000). 

Discrimination against Chinese in Indonesia fulfils several objectives.  Segregation leads to social jealousy and hostility within the society and blindness of people justifies the failure of government to provide social welfare.  During political unrest, prejudiced Chinese become a safety valve.  Racism manifests in diverse forms ranging from discriminatory actions to abuses of human rights.  The Asian Crisis of 1998 has led to killings, rape, and torture of ethnic Chinese.  Their house were burned and cultural values were destroyed.  Indonesian racism is carried out by government and the prejudice towards Chinese has been nurtured for decades.
The horror of reality    

Recalling the year of 1965, thousands of Chinese were killed because of political unrest – Chinese were accused in support of Communist party.  Soherto, the President of Indonesia, understood that Chinese made significant contribution to development of Indonesian economy and he worked hard to retain Chinese in the country.  Nevertheless, the following laws were actively participated:  Chinese language was prohibited in public, Chinese were restricted from entering state universities, Chinese were not able to enter military, political participation was not allowed, all Chinese symbols and celebration of Chinese New Year were banned, and Chinese were forced to change their names to Indonesian.  Even though today these laws are no longer active, Indonesians are not willing to change their attitude towards ethnic Chinese. 

The most terrifying massive discrimination took place in May 1998, when more than 60 ethnic Chinese women were raped by a group of Indonesians.  Sally, a young Indonesian Chinese woman working as a financial consultant, was one of the victims and shared her experience with the global community:

I saw many men on the street. Their faces dreadful, shouting, "Kill Chinese", "Chinese are dogs", "Pigs", and other swearings. I was so afraid I was trembling in fear. Suddenly the crowd stopped my bus...  They started to make non-Chinese to leave the bus, while Chinese ones were told to stay…After a few minutes, I heard people laughing. Then some men returned into the bus, and began to strip us naked. I struggled with all might, but they were too many…Then we were told to leave the bus naked without a shred of cloth. Outside I saw horrifying view, many bodies of Indonesian Chinese men were lying on the street…Under fading consciousness, I saw some Chinese women forced to dance around naked on the street. Then I felt my lower body hurt very much and then I remembered nothing...  (Sally’s Testimony, 1998). 

It is hard to understand the logical behind the cruel actions of Indonesian people towards Chinese citizens.  It is even harder to understand why government does nothing to prevent the incidents of aggressiveness against Indonesian Chinese. 

Living in the world when global community is proud to announce the protection of humans rights equally for all, most of the people are blind to the open discrimination occurring in neighboring countries.  From the early history, Chinese contributed to the development of Indonesian economy, while Indonesian people pay back with killings, rape, and social exclusion.  Discrimination is violation of human rights and humiliation of dignity.  Indonesian government does not protect Chinese citizens from attacks based on race and ethnicity; moreover, Indonesian people do not understand the horrors of their own actions.  


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