Tag Archives: indonesia


Increasing boys prostitution in Indonesia

Farabi Ferdiansyah

Society and culture | Southeast Asia


He walks into the terrace house with a red face, and lowered head. He shakes hands and sits on the floor cross-legged. His head bowed down, staring at the floor at the Safe House for the Children in East Jakarta. In his 16 years Castro (pseudo name) has lived a life that many of us know nothing about. He spent four months this year being trafficked as a child prostitute.

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Language and Politics in Indonesia: Creating and sustaining diglossia

Maighdlin Doyle

Society and culture | Southeast Asia


‘Diglossia’ is a linguistic term that refers to a situation in which two closely related dialects or languages are used by a single language community.[1]

Bahasa Indonesia, based on ‘revolutionary Malay’, is the national, official language of the Republic of Indonesia. However, there is no standard informal language; the private sphere is filled with various regional languages and dialects. Colloquial Jakartan Indonesian, however, is beginning to acquire the status of the unofficial informal language.[2] The evolution of the relationship between language and politics in Indonesia has created, and continues to sustain, a situation of diglossia.

The Republic of Indonesia is a large nation with great linguistic diversity; it is estimated that one-tenth of the languages in the world are spoken in Indonesia.[3] Such diversity has presented challenges for uniting the nation and developing a national language. As a multilingual polity, Indonesia chose to adopt one of its smaller languages (Malay, renamed Bahasa Indonesia – Indonesian language) as its national language. The Malay language had been the principal lingua franca in the region for perhaps a thousand years; however, it had relatively few native speakers (less than five per cent of the population at the time of independence).[4]

Independence in 1945 saw the establishment of a formal, standardized Indonesian language as a push towards greater uniformity. Article 36 of the Constitution of 1945 declares, “The State language is the Indonesian language.” The birth of the Republic required a means of communication that could “not only express Indonesian nationalism, but Indonesian aspiration, Indonesian traditions and ‘international realities" within the limits of a single vocabulary.”[5]

The diglossic nature of Indonesian has led to a widening rift in society. Mass education and mass communication, along with the omnipresence of government institutions, have created a multitude of domains in which Indonesian is the only appropriate means of communication.[6] Bahasa Indonesia functions as the national, supra-ethnic, official language at the expense of regional languages and dialects that are used for unofficial intra-ethnic communication.

Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, is not the only major urban population center in Indonesia, but the colloquial Jakartan languages are having an increasing influence on varieties throughout the country.[7] There are two colloquial languages used in Jakarta – bahasa Betawi and bahasa Jakarta. Bahasa Betawi refers to the vernacular of the ‘Anak Betawi’, the original inhabitants of Jakarta, and has developed from the Malay lingua franca. Bahasa Jakarta is the colloquial, informal language used among the Indonesians who have flocked to the city since independence, and is increasingly becoming standardized. Anderson discusses the influence of Jakartan on mainstream mass media by taking the example of newspapers. Newspapers are often divided into two parts: the portion in bahasa Indonesia, which covers all news items, all features, all advertisements and all editorials (about 95 per cent of the newsprint); and secondly, the portion in Jakartan, which covers the pojok (corner-columns) that consist of “biting, anonymous comment on the latest news of the general political or economic situation.”[8] There is immediate contrast between these two sections; the former is “official, ideological, patronizing, and authoritarian” while the latter is “malicious, democratic, humorous, and above all intimate.” Jakartan is the language of everyday communication for the people of Jakarta, a means of self-expression, and Indonesian becomes a language of “political politeness.”[9]

Language and politics are intrinsically linked. The evolution of the relationship between these two entities has served to create and sustain a situation of diglossia in Indonesia. The meanings attached to ‘Bahasa Indonesia’ have evolved throughout Indonesia’s history; its primary role was that of a unifier, however, due to its impersonal and neuter tone it has become the formal language of the public sphere. The private sphere is filled with regional languages, such as Bahasa Jakarta, as an intimate form of expression. For Indonesians, Bahasa Indonesia retains its use as a national unifier. Bahasa Jakarta is, however, increasingly spreading throughout the archipelago.

[1] Ferguson, C.A. “Diglossia.” Word 15: 325 – 40.

[2] Sneddon, J. 2003. “Diglossia in Indonesian.” Bijdragen tot de Taal-Land-en Volkenkunde 159: 520.

[3] Steinhauer, H. 1994. “The Indonesian language situation and linguistics; Prospects and possibilities.” Bijdragen tot de Taal-Land-en Volkenkunde 150: 755.

[4] Paauw, Scott. 2009. “One land, one nation, one language: An analysis of Indonesia’s national language policy.” In H. Lehnert-LeHouillier and A. B. Fine (Eds.), University of Rochester Working Papers in the Language Sciences 5: 2.

[5] Anderson, Benedict. 1966. “The Languages of Indonesian Politics.” Indonesia 1: 89.

[6] Steinhauer, H. 1994. “The Indonesian language situation and linguistics; Prospects and possibilities.” Bijdragen tot de Taal-Land-en Volkenkunde 150: 773.

[7] Sneddon, J. 2003. “Diglossia in Indonesian.” Bijdragen tot de Taal-Land-en Volkenkunde 159: 526.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

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How to answer the dreaded question: ‘What was the best part of exchange?’

Society and culture


SOPHIE HEWITT, a second-year Laws/Asia-Pacific student at ANU, reminisces about her semester in Indonesia and her experiences with the world-renowned UNPAR University Choir.

Every returning exchange student gets bombarded with questions: ‘How was exchange?’ ‘Are you glad you’re back?’ ‘Did you get homesick?’ As vague and broad these questions are, probably the worst question is, ‘what was the best part?’ How on earth can you choose one single moment that narrows an entire six months into one single experience? While it’s unfair to categorise your exchange from best to worst, I think there is an indicator for what your most valuable experience is: the thing you miss most when it’s over, was probably your ‘best experience’. After having various bouts of food poisoning, spraining my ankle, having flights cancelled, homesickness and general confusion about Indonesia’s transport situation; my worst moment in Indonesia was when I arrived home after my choir concert. I felt miserable because the rehearsals and performances which gave me so much joy could never happen again.

For the first six months of 2015 I studied at Universitas Katolik Parahyangan in Bandung, Indonesia. I studied at UNPAR through ACICIS (The Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies) on a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant. This program was targeted at teaching Australian students about Indonesia’s perspectives on international relations as well as cultural and language immersion.

It was here that I joined Paduan Suara Mahasiswa UNPAR (PSM UNPAR): the university choir. As an internationally renowned choir, they have competed in and won various international choir competitions in Europe, as well as national Indonesian competitions. Their repertoire is intense: as well as the majority of songs being in English, the students’ second or third language, other songs were in French, German and Latin. The songs are technically difficult with key changes, unusual timing, complex dynamics and eight-part harmonies. Understandably, the obligatory annual auditions are a constant fear for most members.

To become a member of PSM UNPAR is a relatively lengthy process. The first step includes two months of rehearsals (two hours per day, five days per week) and then an audition of those pieces. If you pass the audition, rehearsals for the final two months require attendance four hours per day, seven days per week. If you miss too many rehearsals, don’t tell the conductor you’ll be absent, arrive late, or forget your music, you will be fined. (While the fine was only the equivalent of AUD$0.40, it still made me very nervous). The purpose of all this rehearsal is to perform at the Internal Concert which was comprised of 20 songs, two costume changes, choreography and standing still in stilettoes for long periods of time. If you survive all this, you’re a life-member of PSM UNPAR.

[caption id="attachment_1145" align="alignnone" width="300"] PSM UNPAR at their Internal Concert, Bandung, 2015.[/caption]

PSM UNPAR taught me invaluable language skills. While I study Bahasa Indonesia back in Australia, it cannot compare to the language skills you pick up in country. When I first arrived in Bandung, I was extremely hesitant about speaking Indonesian because I was shy and embarrassed about making mistakes. However, because all instructions in PSM rehearsals were in Bahasa, all online communication was in Bahasa, and most of the members’ jokes were said in Bahasa – I was forced to absorb informal language structure, vocabulary and Indonesian accents. And when there were things I didn’t pick up, I just became much better at guessing. In addition, all members were extremely forgiving and generous when I tried to speak or message them in Bahasa. Thus through their patience, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the language and build my confidence in my conversational skills.

PSM also gave me valuable friendships. As I’m sure other exchange students have found, the people you meet on exchange influence how much you enjoy your time there. As with anything which is long, difficult and tiring, the group in which you do it with inevitably become your friends. I also believe these friendships are testament to the caring, happy and welcoming nature of the choir members I met. In fact when my mum visited me in Bandung, she commented that the choir members ‘looked much happier than Australian university students!’ Whether they’re more welcoming or not, the choir environment was conducive to making friendships. Because I was the first ‘bule’ (white person) to join PSM and did so alone, it obviously forced me to extend myself and make more friends than I otherwise would have.

To be fair, there a probably other ways to discover what your best experience was. For example if you felt irrationally angry when it snowed in Canberra in July (as I did), you probably thoroughly enjoyed the weather in Indonesia. If you look at Australian food and think everything looks too fresh and vitamin-rich (as I do), you probably enjoyed Indonesian food. If you have downloaded your Indonesian choir’s songs onto your iPod and listen to them every day (as I do), you probably enjoyed your Indonesian choir. Because exchange is a mixed-bag of weird and wonderful experiences, future-exchange students should take-part in every experience they can. While it’s difficult to choose one thing as your defining ‘best experience,’ I think it’s telling that even when a fantastic experience is over and you feel that loss, the memories are so rich that’s it’s almost like you’re back on exchange again. Almost.

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Humans of West Papua

Emma Roberts

Society and culture | Southeast Asia


Emma Roberts documents an eye-opening week in the Baliem Valley of Papua, Indonesia. What she encountered was a place where Melanesian culture is strong but the lives of the locals are also dominated by mosques and Indomie; a place where people live in regions impenetrable by transportation but continue to travel long distances on foot with big smiles on their faces; a place where life is tough but resilience is tougher.

[gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="1072,1071,1077,1073,1075,1070,1074,1093,1069,1078"]

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Politics to what ends?

Alice Dawkins

Politics | Southeast Asia


The executions of nine foreign nationals on death row in Indonesia for drug trafficking has resulted in massive international outcry, especially from one of its closest neighbors, Australia. This group included Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, who were caught smuggling drugs out of Indonesia in 2006.

Earlier this year, in January six people were executed, five of them foreigners, which strained diplomatic relations with Brazil and the Netherlands. These countries, along with Australia, have recalled their ambassadors from Indonesia. Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, rejected all clemency petitions for drug traffickers on death row.

Jokowi argues that Indonesia is in the midst of a national drug crisis and that the execution of drug offenders assists in deterring others, thus reducing the rate of deaths following illegal drug use. This issue has brought the international debate regarding the death penalty great media attention in recent months, and has resulted in diplomatic tension between Australia and Indonesia. This dispute arises largely from:

Indonesia’s claim of its sovereign right to execute drug smugglers,
whether these men received a fair trial,
and international law obligations.

However it has become clear that not only has the trial process been questionable, but also that Indonesia is arguably in violation of international law, namely the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Heightened tensions between Australian and Indonesia are not unusual, and most recently, these have been caused by asylum seeker and spying issues. However, the conditions surrounding this latest diplomatic quarrel could potentially result in more severe repercussions. This is due to the execution of two men who have demonstrated rehabilitation over the last nine years under questionable circumstances. I argue that the executions are not a question of Indonesia demonstrating its national sovereignty amidst international pressure, but a political ploy that is in violation of international law. I am not suggesting that Indonesia should not exercise its own laws, rather that these laws should be carried out with integrity and in conjunction with their international obligations.

The idea that executing drug offenders helps combat the drug problem in Indonesia, as claimed by Jokowi, is supported by dubious evidence. Jokowi recently declared that over four million Indonesians suffer from drug-related problems and that every day around 50 people die from the same problem. According to Jokowi, the application of a blunt, no-compromise approach is essential to combat this national emergency,. However, the statistics he cites that are repeated by various media outlets in Indonesia, are based on studies with problematic approaches and unclear measures. Claudia Stoicescu, from the University of Oxford, argues that the Indonesian government has selected specific figures that provide credibility and justify a futile deterrent but politically effective policy. To begin with, the number of drug victims mentioned above is a result of data extrapolated from a 2008 study jointly undertaken by the University of Indonesia (UI) and National Narcotics Agency (BNN). This number is a prediction rather than an actual estimation of the number of people who suffer from drug-related issues in Indonesia.[1]

The alleged number of people dying every day from drugs is also taken from the same study and was measured using unclear methodology. That number was not actually determined by recorded deaths, but was based on a survey of people questioned about drug deaths. This unreliable data collection methodology is used to justify the taking of human life. These faulty statistics along with Jokowi’s consistently blunt attitude towards not granting clemency demonstrates the underlying political motivations behind the executions.[2]

Jokowi has appeared increasingly weak since his presidency began (a fact his rival, Prabowo Subianto exploited in the last presidential election). His opposition argued that Jokowi would be no more than a puppet within his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI-P), and at the mercy of its leader Megawati Sukarnoputri. Thus, since coming to power, Jokowi has embraced a return to the previously suspended death penalty. Furthermore, Megawati appears to be pressuring him on the issue. This has resulted in humiliation in some cases; for example, he was pushed publicly on the issue at a party conference. Greg Fealy, an Indonesian scholar at the Australian National University, has said

“The politics is that death penalty is extremely popular in Indonesia, Jokowi is slipping in the polls, he’s desperate to turn it around, and of the available issues this is the most available on which he’s looking strong, according to most Indonesians.”[3]

This highlights the largely political nature of the executions and how their use is arguably a response to popularity in Indonesia. The executions also serve as a means for Indonesia to flex its diplomatic might against world powers through demonstrating “faux defiance,” even if it is at the expense of human life. This “faux defiance” was probably best exhibited during the prison transfer of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran to the prison where they were executed. This transfer was accompanied by an outrageous and unnecessary display of force that including commandos and jet fighters. Jokowi is willing to execute rehabilitated human beings as a response to a misconceived sense of his, and more broadly, Indonesian weakness.

This has been exacerbated by pressure from senior government officials and arguments from Indonesian legal academics that claim that Indonesia is simply exercising its sovereign right. According to Arie Afriansyah, a law lecturer at UI, international concern for the use of death penalty in Indonesia is unwarranted. He argues that Indonesia’s tough anti-drug stance should be maintained because it is Indonesia’s sovereign right, and its exercise of the death penalty does not contradict international law. State sovereignty engenders Indonesia with the right to make and apply its own laws without international intervention. This principle underpins international law, and how countries relate to one another. He also argues that Indonesia‘s use of the death penalty is in accordance with Article 6 Paragraph 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states that countries can use the death penalty for the “most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime.” Finally, Afriansyah claims “Indonesia provides all death row convicts equal opportunities to appeal.” However, Sukumaran and Chan’s trials did not follow due process, and drug smuggling arguably does not fall under “the most serious of crimes.”[4]

Don Rothwell, a law expert at ANU, argues that drug smuggling is definitely a serious crime but it does not fulfil the definition of “most serious crime.” It is important to bear in mind here that these men were bringing drugs out of Indonesia, not into Indonesia. The use of the death penalty in the context of the ICCPR is supposed to be a “quite exceptional measure,” not to he handed down lightly. Indonesia, as party to this treaty, should undertake its obligations in good faith. Aside from the fact that the punishment does not fit the crime, the nature of the trial process also contradicts Indonesia’s treaty obligations. Firstly, judges involved in the case have been accused of bribery allegations and secondly, the right to a pardon is supposed to be available to all. This was not abided by due to Jokowi’s “refusal to grant clemency without consideration of their circumstances.” [5]

This blanket approach to the death penalty contradicts Indonesia’s treaty obligations and highlights the political context surrounding the executions. Sukumaran and Chan’s executions were not merely a matter of Indonesia exercising its national sovereignty. Such a blanket approach can be seen as political ploy aimed more at combating Jokowi’s dwindling political position, rather than carrying out Indonesia’s treaty obligations with integrity. Australia is not challenging Indonesia’s sovereignty, but rather questioning whether international treaty obligations have been honoured. Jokowi was asked to use his power of clemency as it was clear that both Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan demonstrated rehabilitation over the last ten years. It is highly tragic that these two men, and others in a similar situation, have been put to death simply to make a political point.


‘Law experts say Indonesian death penalty is illegal’ (ANU Newsroom, 27 April 2015), http://www.anu.edu.au/news/all-news/law-experts-say-indonesian-death-penalty-is-illegal

Hartcher, Peter. “Indonesian President Widodo under corrupt thumb of Megawati” Canberra Times, 28 April 2015

Afriansyah, Arie. “Indonesia does need the death penalty to deter drug traffickers.” The Conversation, 27 April 2015

Stoicescu, Claudia. “Indonesia uses faulty stats on ‘drug crisis’ to justify death penalty” The Conversation, 5 February 2015

Quiano, Kathy and McKirdy, Euan. “Australia lodges formal complaint over Bali 9 transfer,” CNN, 6 March 2015

[1]Stoicescu, Claudia. “Indonesia uses faulty stats on ‘drug crisis’ to justify death penalty” The Conversation, 5 February 2015

[2] Ibid

[3]Hartcher, Peter. “Indonesian President Widodo under corrupt thumb of Megawati” Canberra Times, 28 April 2015

[4]Afriansyah, Arie. “Indonesia does need the death penalty to deter drug traffickers.” The Conversation, 27 April 2015

[5]‘Law experts say Indonesian death penalty is illegal’ (ANU Newsroom, 27 April 2015), http://www.anu.edu.au/news/all-news/law-experts-say-indonesian-death-penalty-is-illegal

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