May riot victims still traumatized
By Damar Harsanto, Jakarta
The Jakarta Post (May 13, 2002)
Four years have passed, but victims of the 1998 May riots are still imprisoned by their traumatic experiences, which have become the worst nightmare of their life.
"Until today, I am still tailed by pain and sadness as a result of the incident which destroyed my whole life," said Iwan, who like other Chinese-Indonesians, uses a local name.
On May 14, 1998, Iwan, who worked at an electronic shop in Kota, West Jakarta delivering orders and collecting debts, was on his way home in Tanah Tinggi, Central Jakarta, when dozens of unidentified men blocked his way, grabbed him and tortured him.
"Without any clear reason, I was beaten until I fell to the ground, then they started stamping on me with their military boots," Iwan, 43, said. "After that, they dragged me to my motorcycle and poured fuel on my body then set me on fire,"
Iwan was tortured on Jl. Let. Jend. Suprapto in front of STM Poncol vocational school, only hundreds of meters away from his house.
Fortunately, a passerby stopped the mass assault and took him to the Islamic hospital in Cempaka Putih for medical treatment. In the incident, Iwan lost his ears and most of his fingers. Besides a broken leg and hand, Iwan also suffered injuries which have left scars all over his body and face.
After a few days, he left the hospital, but when he arrived home, he suffered even greater pain as he was rejected by his family, who were aghast at his severe wounds.
"Even, my wife didn't want to know me. She called me 'a dog' and prohibited me from seeing my children," he claimed.
Iwan admitted that he has tried to commit suicide several times, but was always saved by people.
During the May riots, hundreds of shop-houses and shopping centers across the capital were looted and set alight. The riots, which were tainted by anti-Chinese sentiment, claimed a total of 1,217 lives, according to data from the Volunteers' Team for Humanity. The team also reported the finding of sexual assaults on Chinese women during the riots.
Until today, no one has been named a suspect or held responsible for the tragedy.
Shirley, 22, another victim of the May incident admitted that she was still haunted by the trauma, though the intensity had faded.
"We become anxious and get ready to seek refuge if the media reports any possible mass riot," said Shirley, who resides at Jatinegara traditional market in East Jakarta with her family.
Shirley's home was looted by a mob on May 13, the first day of the May incident, when she and all her family members sought refuge at a relative's home.
During the incident, Shirley lost her belongings including a television set, a washing machine, and other electronics. Clothes and other basic commodities like rice, detergent and sugar in the storeroom were also taken by the looters.
"At that time, we planned to move to a safer place, but then we decided to stay here although we are still haunted by the trauma," said Shirley, whose family runs a fried meat ball business.
Achen, a resident of Citra Garden in Cengkareng, Tangerang, whose neighbors' shop-houses were burnt down during the incident, revealed that many of the victims have returned to their business.
"Almost all of my neighbors have resumed normal operations," Achen said.
However, she admitted that some victims who suffered massive losses during the riot were still severely affected by the trauma, which prevented them from resuming their business.