Although the state no longer put up legal and institutional barriers to entry for Indonesians of Chinese descent to fully take part in public life, many are reluctant to open up because of deep-seated trauma from racism.
Hermawi F. Taslim, leader of the influential Chinese Indonesian group Glodok Community, said some Chinese descents were still living in their exclusive community and stuck in their primordial way of thinking.
Taslim, who is also deputy chairman of the predominantly-Muslim National Awakening Party (PKB) said members of the Chinese community were in fact living in a segregated community.
“The wealthy families who live in Glodok, West Jakarta are of course different from those who live in Tangerang, Banten who are dirt poor,” Taslim said.
University of Indonesia historian J.J. Rizal said the institutionalized racism that was reinforced during the New Order had forced members of the community to withdraw themselves from society and to start living exclusively.
On the other hand, Chinese Indonesians were given privileged access to the economy, which turned them into an affluent community that had also incited jealousy from members of majority groups, which led to the murder and rape of Chinese Indonesians in Jakarta and other parts of the country in May 1998, Rizal said.
This trauma was internalized by them, which made them reluctant to come back to public life, Rizal said.
The New Order regime of president Soeharto made discriminatory policies toward Chinese Indonesians, including the requirement of all members of the minority group to adopt Indonesian names. They were also required to obtain a certificate of citizenship (SBKRI), a discriminatory requirement. They had to pay an unofficial price ranging from US$ 200 to $ 700 to obtain the document.
Lately, the government has introduced policies to give better treatment to the Chinese Indonesian community, Rizal said, with multicultural rehabilitation programs, such as putting national heroes of Chinese descents in history text books.
Esther Indahyani, a Human Rights activist who is also of Chinese descent, said the country’s current legal system had opened the door for Chinese descents to fully integrate with society and allow them to join the public sector.
“There are no more obstacles, except for their own fear they could face problems when they enter the public sector,” Esther said in a discussion on Saturday.
Now that legal discrimination is no longer an issue, Esther encouraged Chinese descents to start taking initiatives.
“Don’t only rely and wait on the current government to work for them in creating a better environment,” she said.
Indonesians of Chinese descent make up 3.7 percent of the country’s population of 237 million, based on the 2010 national census.
Former Indonesian ambassador to China, Maj. Gen. (ret) Sudradjat said it was unlikely the country would see a repeat of the May 1998 tragedy, given the legal protection given to the Chinese community.
“The May 1998 tragedy would unlikely reoccur, but the Chinese community should get out of their bubble...,” he said.
The key, he added, was to help realize what he called an open society. “Do not discriminate yourself if you don‘t want to be discriminated against by others,” he said. (rpt)