Kusmiati smiled as she lay outstretched across the train tracks, ignoring calls from the nearby station and public order officials to get clear.
She was convinced that her stunt was not only safe, but therapeutic.
“If your body aches, have it cured here. Try it, it doesn’t hurt,” 67 year-old Kusmiati said to a group of amused reporters.
A frustrated railway officer cranked up his efforts: “Go cook for your husband, dress up before he comes home. This doesn’t cure anything; this is dangerous for your heart.”
“If so, then how come someone managed to heal his stroke here?” another woman lying next to Kusmiati replied without budging.
Kusmiati, who said she suffered from asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes, is one of many locals who routinely undergo a unique alternative “therapy” in which one lies splayed out on the railway tracks near Rawa Buaya train station in Cengkareng, West Jakarta.
The “therapy” involves placing one’s hands and feet on the steel rail tracks. By touching both sides of the tracks at once in this manner, one receives a low-voltage electric shock, which locals believe is a potent cure for many diseases.
The locals said the method became popular around a year ago when a taxi driver allegedly recovered after suffering a stroke, by frequently lying on the tracks.
Today, the therapy is attracting more and more people, from locals to people who travel from far away to experience the reportedly soothing effects of the therapy.
“At first I didn’t believe it. I thought they were faking it,” Sunardi, a local trader, said, adding that at first he had been bemused at seeing how people’s limbs involuntarily spasm when they touched the tracks.
“But when I tried it, it actually felt really good,” he told The Jakarta Post.
Their growing fondness for the treatment soon saw them adopt the “therapy” into their daily routines. Every afternoon from around 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. there are typically 10-15 people lying on the tracks.
The activity is a concern for station officials at Rawa Buaya train station, which is located around 300 meters from the spot.
“I’m worried because the danger involved is greater than the benefit,” Rawa Buaya station head Suardi said.
According to Suardi, claims of the therapy’s healing effects could not be taken seriously as it was not backed by any scientific or medical evidence. Meanwhile, the fact that the people lay down on operating railway tracks posed the obvious danger of them being hit by a train.
Suardi said that his team had made efforts to stop such acts by writing letters to nearby subdistricts and by sending officers down to the railway to expel stubborn locals from the area.
Locals, however, chose not to pay much attention to efforts by the station and the local administration to end their healing sessions.
For locals, the “therapy” is not only an effective healing method, but also a cheap alternative to expensive medication. “I have wasted all my money on proper medication. Now I prefer coming here, because it is free,” said 50 year-old Sri, who has been suffering from diabetes and high cholesterol for 13 years.
“If they want us to stop, they should pay more attention to poor people like us,” added Sri, who has been doing the rail “therapy” since last year.
Local doctor Dwi Yani said that there was no official research that had determined the true effects of railway-induced electric therapy. However, he added, the therapy was widely seen as questionable as it did not conform to medical norms.
“The therapy they perform is not suited to any particular disease. One method of therapy is used to cure all kinds of diseases,” said Dwi, who works at the Cengkareng community health center.
She added that bursts of electricity might have harmful effects on vital organs such as the heart and brain. (awd)