No poetic licence

04/06/2012 at 13:51 (berita)

Australia : Majalah Inside Indonesia No. 7 May 1986

The people’s culture

While most allention focusses on well-known figures such as Rendra and Pramoedya Ananta Toer, other Indonesian artists too face intimidation in their allempls to perform in public.

On 9 and 10 December 1985 Indonesia’s best known poet and dramatist W.S. Rendra performed in public for the first time since he was arrested after a poetry reading in April 1978. After his release several months later he was for bidden to perform in public and refused access to venues.

Rendra’s first public re-appearance was interpreted by some observers as the dawn of a new period of artistic liberalisation. The espectation proved false when he was re-arrested and held for 24 hours in January. While Rendra is one of the most prominent poets to face the such intimidation, other performers also are subject to government restrictions. There were at least two other actions against artistic performances in January which were reported in the Indonesian press.

Poetry reading stopped

In Jakarta the poet F. Rahardi was refused permission by the authorities to read a controversial new poetry anthology entitled ‘The Diary of a Corruptor’ (Catatan Harian Sang Koruptor). The performance was to be held at the nation’s primary cultural centre, Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM), in Central Jakarta on 22 January. Ironically he had read the poems at TIM last year without publicity, public protest, or government action.

Various branches of the Indonesian security apparatus justified the ban in different ways. A spokesperson for the Information Section of the Jakarta Military Command (Kodam Jakarta) claimed that the ban was not because of the collection’s criticism of corruption, but rather because it ‘tended to liken God to the Indonesian government’. A police official implied that Rahardi, a Catholic, was producing atheistic poetry. In Indonesia, where one of the fundamental Five Principles of State Ideology (Pancasila) is Belief in God, atheism is regarded as akin to communism, a banned ideology.

One satirical poem in the collection, ‘Motion of No Confidence’ (Mosi Tak Percaya), features corruptors petitioning God to resign but Rahardi defends his satirical approach. He likens his role to that of the Punakawan or comical clown characters in the wayang performance who express their criticism in a manner which evokes laughter and fun.

H.B. Jassin, Indonesia’s leading literary critic and translator of the Islamic Holy Book, the Qur’an, defended Rahardi, saying that it is the corruptors who should be the targets of government investigation. ‘If you want to get angry, get angry at the corruptors, not the poets, he said.

Rahardi, an editor of the agricultural magazine Trubus, told a Sinar Harapan journalist he was surprised at the ban, since a previous reading last November at a gathering of theologians had evoked no unfavourable responses. The audience seemed to appreciate the comical humour in the poems. Rahardi says he is seeking to revitalise the concept of God in the minds of young people, to establish a more intimate relationship to the Almighty.

Authorities in the Jakarta Security Command (Laksusda Jakarta) contacted by Tempo magazine explained the action against Rahardi as saying euphemistically that it was not really a ‘ban’ but a ‘postponement’. They only received a copy of the anthology the day before the performance and had not had enough time to read and approve the material. That material for such public performances should be ‘cleared’ by the authorities in advance is unjustifiable in the opinion of some of the artists and human rights activists who regard it as an infringement of the right of free speech.

Rahardi had had difficulty obtaining permission to perform at TIM on a previous occasion when, in 1985, he intended to bring along a group of prostitutes to assist him in his performance of a poem, ‘The Prostitutes Pledge’ (Soempah WTS). The supervisory body of the cultural centre stepped in and the performance went ahead without the prostitutes.

Rahardi, aged 36, was born in Ambarawa, Central Java, the son of a tailor. At 20 he became head of a village primary school in Kendal, but letter left the government service to move to the capital.

Rather than silence the poet the Jakarta ban has stimulated sales of the anthology. Rahardi intends going ahead with plans to perform in Bandung and other cities. However, Jakarta has not been the only city where atistic performances have been restricted.

Yogyakarta bans short story readings

Also on 22 January Yogyakarta police banned a short story reading at the Yogyakarta Film and Drama Academy (Asdrafi). Students organising the performance were notified only three hours beforehand. Major Mudjiono of the police intelligence unit (Intelpam) told Hari Pramuji, a 25-year old student in the Theatre Institute in Yogyakarta who was to read the stories, that his failure to request permission for the performance had led to police stopping the event.

A police spokesperson contacted by Kompas newspaper claimed that, whereas student did not require permission for internal campus activities, in this instance because they advertised the performance and invited the public to attend, permission was necessary. Major Sriyono, head of the Police information section in Central Java, told Tempo magazine, that the police do not always ban such performances, ‘provided the work to be performed is not tendentious or political’. He explained that usually the police convince organisers to excise any offending material.

Authorities contacted by Sinar Harapan newspaper did not link the banning to the particular stories selected. Langit Makin Mendung (A Darkening Sky) by Kipanjikusmin and Pemilihan Umum (General Election) by Harris Effendi Thahar. Indeed Pemilihan Umum, a fable about elections in the animal kingdom, evoked no noticeable response when it was published in Horison literary magazine in June 1981.

However, Langit Makin Mendung had caused a furore when it was first published in the literary magazine Sastra in August 1968. Some Muslim groups felt it was sacreligious in its personification of God and its portrayal of the prophet Muhammad and the Angel Gabriel. The magazine’s editor H.B. Jassin was given one year’s suspended jail sentence for publishing the story, deemed offensive to Islam. During the course of the trial Jassin refused to reveak the true identity of the author Sudihartono, who wrote using a pseudonym Kipanjikusmin. An English translation and commentary by Christine Deakin has been published in Archipel magazine (Vol. 11, 1976, pp. 85-105).

While the religious references in the material to be presented at both the Jakarta and Yogyakarta performances may suggest that the government is concerned about a reaction from Muslim circles, there is no evidence that religious groups were worried. The government’s  reaction represents yet another constriction on the opportunities of individuals to speak out or perform in public. (Inside Indonesia PAGE 31)

Sources : Sinar Harapan 18 January 1986 and 26 January 1986, Kompas 23 January 1986, Tempo 1 February 1986.

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