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Oct 23, 2002

Stateless Chinese dream of basic rights

Features - October 06, 2002
Emmy Fitri and Hera Diani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Residents of Kampung Pulo in Citeureup, Bogor, and Tegal Alur in Cengkareng, West Jakarta, are not immune from the mass hysteria over Taiwan's TV series Meteor Garden.

Some children and teenagers can be seen walking around wearing T-shirts sporting the picture of the four stars from the series. On the walls of their rooms, or even in their living rooms, are large posters of F4, Meteor Garden's stars, who are also Taiwan's top boy band.

In a corner of the neighborhood, several housewives are caught up in a discussion over the plot of Meteor Garden and other soaps starring the boy band, which are all aired by the local TV stations.

As Asian TV dramas -- not only those from Taiwan but also from South Korea -- begin to flood the country, evidence of the new frenzy can also be spotted in Tegal Alur and Kampung Pulo, particularly as both places have a lot of residents of Chinese descent.

However, the glamor life of the rich kids portrayed in the series does not even come close to the residents of either subdistrict, whose population of Chinese-Indonesians reaches 550 respectively.

Living in small houses, they are far off from the stereotype that Chinese-Indonesians are well-off, as most residents earn below or slightly above the regional monthly minimum wage (UMR). Most work at nearby factories.

Being categorized in the lower income bracket of the economy, however, is not their only problem.

As with many Chinese-Indonesians, they also face discrimination. Worse still, because of their roots, they have difficulty in obtaining legal documents, such as their citizenship certificate and identification card, which makes them practically "stateless".

Their history is a bit complicated as it goes back as far as 1958, when the People's Republic of China claimed that every Chinese person in the world was a Chinese citizen.

The Indonesian government gave those of Chinese descent the option of choosing their citizenship. Unfortunately, not all of them were well informed about it. Chinese ships, which were supposed to carry back those who opted for Chinese citizenship, came only once, leaving many others without citizenship.

The situation became worse with the tense relationship between China and Indonesia around 1965.

Afterwards, the government issued many regulations related to citizenship, which discriminated against the Chinese.

It resulted in creating difficulties for those of Chinese descent who wanted to obtain legal documents.

For the wealthy Chinese, the problems could be overcome by bribing the officials, but not for those with a lower income, such as the residents of Tegal Alur and Kampung Pulo.

To start with, although they were born in this country and have been here for several generations, many do not have birth certificates.

"We also have difficulty in obtaining ID cards. Without an ID card, we can't get married. That's why many of us don't have marriage certificates, because we just throw small parties for our families and relatives. That's it. It's not legalized or anything, but it's common here," Tjan E. Lie of Tegal Alur said lightly.

As a consequence, many children in both places are not recognized by the state. The children have birth certificates, but there is a note saying that he or she is "anak luar nikah" or a child born out of wedlock, and they are their mothers' children.

"My children understand that they are registered as children born out of wedlock. But what can we do? It's because I don't have an ID card or a marriage certificate," Tjan said.

She said it was possible to obtain an ID card if they paid about Rp 25,000. But they would still have to enclose their Republic of Indonesia Citizenship Certificate (SBKRI).

A citizenship certificate is needed to process many other documents, including passports, business licenses, credit applications and even university applications.

The process is endless as the citizenship certificate is also difficult to obtain.

Top Indonesian shuttler Hendrawan, for example, only got his earlier this year after President Megawati Soekarnoputri stepped in to help.

Data shows there are no less than 12 bureaucratic institutions involved in the process of issuing a citizenship certificate before it can be signed by the president.

The institutions are the community unit (RT), the neighborhood unit (RW), the subdistrict office, the district office, the mayoralty office, the gubernatorial office, the police subprecinct, the police station, the city police headquarters, the prosecutor's office, the district court and finally the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

With all the bureaucracy, Tjan and her husband Tju Lu Lian and many of their neighbors simply gave up in the end.

"We are worried that we will get arrested if we are caught in a police raid for ID cards," Tju said.

Another problem arises when they want to get a divorce as their marriage is not even recognized.

In Kampung Pulo, meanwhile, things are a bit more complex as the majority of people are believers of Khonghucu. So far, the state does not recognize Khonghucu as one of the five existing religions officially listed here: Islam, Catholicism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.

Therefore, marriages between believers of Khonghucu are considered illegal, and thus, couples of this faith will not receive marriage certificates unless they convert to one of the religions recognized by the government.

"Many of us have refused to do so because that means we're being a hypocrite," said Tan Im Yang, 55, a prominent figure in Kampung Pulo.

Just like the children in Tegal Alur, many children in Kampung Pulo are then declared as being born out of wedlock.

"I don't understand. We've been here for many generations and you can see that we don't even look so Chinese anymore. Yet, we cannot have simple basic civil rights like owning ID cards. And then they don't recognize our religion.

"It's ridiculous. They (the state) give us the freedom to conduct our religion, but they don't recognize it as being legal," Tan said.

Tan's daughter, Lois Taneri, 17, said she was often ridiculed at school.

"My friends mocked me, asking 'Is there such thing as the Khonghucu religion?' At school, I have to take a Catholicism class. The school administration also stated on my student card that I'm a Buddhist. I then erased it and changed it myself," said Lois, who has just graduated from the nearby Budi Mulya senior high school.

Lois does not really pay any attention to what her peers say, especially since she has graduated, although many other young believers of Khonghucu do.

Tan Im Yang said that many young people were embarrassed about their religion.

"I'm afraid that this will lead to a decline in the number of believers, which has already happened. I don't see why our religion is not considered to be a valid one. We believe in one God, we don't believe in superstition. It's a very realistic religion, so I don't see any reason why I should convert," he said.

In 1971, he said, the Khonghucu congress was recognized by then president Soeharto, who turned up for the event.

"I asked the government officials about it. They can't argue but they don't seem to be doing anything about it either," Tan said.

As for Tjan and Tju, they still do not have ID cards even though they have converted to Christianity.

Tju said that his neighbor, a fellow Chinese, got a card very easily just because they pretended to be Muslim.

"Local officials processed the proposal very quickly and they never got any hassles for doing that even though they are very much Buddhists until today," he said.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Solidaritas Nusa Bangsa (SNB), have been working hard on this matter, but to no avail.

"People in Tegal Alur don't have rights, but when it comes to the general election, for example, their votes are used by political parties," said Candra M. from SNB.

A team at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights is actually working on another draft of the Citizenship Law.

An official from the team, who asked not to be named, said there would be no more discrimination in the drafted law.

"With the law, we don't have to state our religion or our descent on an ID card or other legal document," he said.

He said, however, that discrimination still prevailed, especially at the lower government level.

"Honestly, if I needed an ID card quickly, I would also resort to nembak (bribing an official). It's not a matter of the law, but the matter of knowing the law," he added.

In that case, it may seem that the people of Tegal Alur and Kampung Pulo need to wait longer until they can have their rights, the most basic rights that they are entitled to.

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