During colonial times, Sawah Besar, then known as Weltevreden, was a sprawling residential area for the Dutch elite. Today, the subdistrict in Central Jakarta could be described as a drug-trafficking hotspot.
The notorious region was back in the news earlier this month when the police arrested suspects in two drug-related crimes, following a report that a resident had died from a drug overdose.
This has reignited longtime concerns over the burgeoning nightlife in and around the area, which is often cited as a major reason for the rampant drug circulation. One can easily find nightclubs, karaoke bars, massage parlors, cafes and discotheques along the area’s main streets: Jl. Gunung Sahari, Jl. Pangeran Jayakarta and Jl. Mangga Besar, which is one of the most popular red-light districts in the city.
In the past few months, the Jakarta Police have conducted raids to curb drug trafficking in the area. The Sawah Besar Police precinct reportedly confiscated 1,884 ecstasy pills from an unnamed courier riding a taxi on Jl. K.H. Samanhudi in the district’s Pasar Baru region on Jan. 12 at midnight.
Two days later, the precinct arrested dangdut singer Citra Yunitasari while she was having a drug party with a friend at a boarding house in Mangga Besar subdistrict in Tamansari district, which borders Sawah Besar to the east. Police seized several illegal drugs, including crystal meth.
Early in the morning on Jan. 18, 20-year-old Fibina Sabatini, a resident of Karang Anyar subdistrict, also in Sawah Besar, allegedly died from a drug overdose after she was taken to the nearby Husada Hospital. Fibina reportedly worked at a karaoke bar in Tamansari.
Sawah Besar precinct chief Comr. J.R. Sitinjak told The Jakarta Post recently that the arrests of Citra and the ecstasy courier were part of an ongoing citywide operation to reduce crime in Jakarta. The operation, according to the police, was adjusted to the types of crime prominent in each area.
In Sawah Besar, the focus is on drug dealing.
“In and around Sawah Besar, crimes often occur in Mangga Besar, Mangga Dua business district, as well as on Jl. K.H. Samanhudi, Jl. Abdul Muis, Jl. K.H. Hasyim Ashari and Jl. Gunung Sahari,” Jakarta Police operational chief Sr. Comr. Agung Budi Maryoto said.
The police said that narcotics couriers often rode taxis because they deemed it safer than using private cars. “If they ride in private cars when they are arrested for delivering drugs, the vehicle will be confiscated. They won’t have to worry about this when they ride in taxis,” Agung said.
University of Indonesia urban sociology expert Otho Hernowo Hadi said the drug problem was the result of the city administration’s poor urban development management over many decades.
“The apparent lack of any urban planning and society development efforts in Jakarta has evidently turned many once-thriving areas into underbellies in which security and social bonds are greatly threatened,” he told The Jakarta Post.
He cited the areas of Sawah Besar, Senen and Jatinegara as particularly crime-ridden.
“Areas like these tend to develop on their own without any nurturing or monitoring, resulting in wild nightlife that is harmful to their own developments.”
He said that without any effort to change, it was not impossible that these areas would turn into new versions of notorious narcotics hotspots Kampung Ambon and Kampung Bali.
“Grassroot movements must spearhead this effort. Jakartans must take the matter into their own hands to nourish and revitalize these areas,” he added.
Jakarta Police narcotics directorate chief Sr. Comr. Nugroho Aji Wijayanto said recently that the police would conduct more nightclub raids following the horrific accident on Sunday in which a Daihatsu Xenia plowed into 13 pedestrians at high speed. The car’s driver, Apriyani Susanti, was found to be under the influence of alcohol and drugs at the time of the crash.
“We will strengthen our raids on night entertainment facilities to curb drug circulation in the city,” he said. “We have been successful over and over again in arresting drug bookies and dealers [at nightclubs].” ( mim )