Thursday, May 20, 2004
Indonesia: Chinese-Indonesians Battle Discrimination
By Marianne Kearney in Jakarta
South China Morning Post (Wednesday, January 21, 2004)
Badminton star Hendrawan gained citizenship only because he is a national hero.
It is only 18 months since Hendrawan, an ethnic Chinese, a national hero and one of Indonesia's most talented badminton stars, received his Indonesian citizenship papers, despite being born 32 years ago in Malang, East Java.
Trying to obtain his papers, it took the personal intervention of President Megawati Sukarnoputri before he was finally declared an Indonesian citizen.
Just after getting the citizenship papers, Hendrawan clinched Indonesia's fifth successive win at international badminton's most famous tournament, the Thomas Cup, in May 2002, making badminton history for Indonesia.
But before he played his winning shots in Kuala Lumpur, Hendrawan, like many other ethnic Chinese-Indonesians, was still considered a Chinese national. He could not apply for bank loans, register ownership of his house, register his daughter's birth or enrol her at school, despite being a descendant of a Chinese-Indonesian family that had lived for decades in East Java.
A raft of anti-Chinese laws, prohibiting Confucianism, the use of Chinese dialects or the printing of Chinese characters, as well as the celebration of Lunar New Year, were implemented after the failed communist coup of 1965, as Chinese-Indonesians along with the Chinese government, were suspected of supporting the communists.
But since the downfall of former strongman Suharto in 1998, restrictions on Chinese culture have begun to lift.
Last year, Ms Megawati declared Lunar New Year or Imlek, as a national holiday, making it the first time that Chinese culture had been officially recognised since the 1965 ban.
Since 1999, Chinese Indonesians have openly celebrated Imlek, shopping malls have been decked out in red and gold lanterns every New Year, several Chinese-language newspapers have hit the streets, and Metro television station broadcasts the news several times a day in Putonghua.
But Hendrawan says, in practice, that many of the old laws discriminating against ethnic Chinese are still operating. Along with 100 other ethnic Chinese professionals, he was meeting the president's husband, Taufiq Kiemas, last night, to demand equal rights for Chinese-Indonesians.
"If I wasn't a star then I doubt today I would even have my citizenship papers," says Hendrawan, citing a friend of his, who because he refused to pay "cigarette money'' to government officials had waited 20 years to obtain his citizenship papers.
"We want to ask him [Taufiq] to eliminate discrimination, because since 1998 in Indonesia we have been talking of democracy and human rights, so if this is not just nonsense, then we should end discrimination for the Chinese."
Although the requirement for ethnic Chinese to obtain proof of their Indonesian citizenship was revoked by presidential decree in 1998, almost every Indonesian government department still demands that ethnic Chinese come armed with their papers before they issue other documents.
As Chinese-Indonesians point out, such requirements are just perpetuating the former colonial system.
"The legal system here is still like the Dutch times, particularly when it comes to registering people's births. We're being segregated on the base of what race you are. The Chinese are still considered as foreign orientals," says Frans Winarta, a well-known lawyer and member of Gandi, an ethnic Chinese group lobbying against discrimination.
Under the draconian Dutch colonial system, Chinese, Japanese and Indians were all classed as "foreign orientals" a class distinction which put them below Europeans but above native Indonesian people.
Taking up the cause of Chinese-Indonesians, a tiny minority of 10 million out of a population of 210 million, is not popular with many political parties because they fear being labelled as pro-communist or as anti-Muslim, Mr Frans says.
A draft citizenship law still requires Chinese-Indonesians to obtain the citizenship papers, but does not make the same requirement for ethnic Indians or Arab-Indonesians, he added.