Rahayu Saraswati: Fighting in the name of freedom
The Jakarta Post
It is one big, open secret that rogue members of the police and armed forces, as well as dirty politicians, in one way or another, allow human trafficking syndicates to operate freely in many cities in Indonesia.
Many women, men and children are forced, mislead, or entrapped into modern day slavery, employed at (among other places) authority-backed bordellos, disguised as karaoke bars and spas.
Rahayu Saraswati D. Djojohadikusumo, like many Indonesians here, was aware of the huge, yet unattended-to problem. It is estimated that around 100,000 women and children fall prey to human traffickers each year in Indonesia. But only after attending a Hillsong (Church) Conference in London three years ago, did she find her “calling” in the issue of human trafficking.
The young actress — she was 24 at that time — was experiencing the success of starring in (the movie) Merah Putih (Red and White), when she attended the conference.
There, Sara, as she is commonly known, saw a presentation on the issue of human trafficking, and knew that she would have to do something to help.
Sara, who co-hosts the Talk Indonesia show on Metro TV with news anchor Dalton Tanonaka, knew that to fight human trafficking she would have to go up against those who profit from the crime. But that did not stop her from launching an anti-trafficking campaign dubbed “Indonesia for Freedom”, and start an anti-trafficking organization, Parinama Astha.
“There might be some people who won’t like that [the anti-trafficking campaign] at all. I’m not talking about the traffickers, but I’m talking about the public or even the government,” she said.
“A lot of the major clients of this syndicate are part of the government, part of the army and a lot of them are part of the police. We would upset a whole lot of people,” she said.
Sara shared with The Jakarta Post her plans for Parinama Astha. Her plans were ambitious, and some parts, she acknowledged, would be a challenge. She broke down the work into four areas: Prevention, Interception, Prosecution and Reintegration.
The Indonesia for Freedom campaign is part of the “prevention” area, and this is achieved through awareness-raising.
Up and running is a website (id4f.org) and a social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter. And with the support of the Indonesian Association of Shopping Centers (APPBI), an anti-trafficking poster campaign will be held in 76 malls in Indonesia this September.
Her vision for the future is to gradually aid interception and prosecution of trafficking crimes. She plans to work with the police on the interception of trafficking activities, saving people who are being trafficked. Parinama Astha also plans to work with the judiciary in the prosecution of traffickers, and with legal aid institutes in representing the victims. These two parts of the work will be the most challenging, she said.
“I don’t think that people necessarily know the extent of the problem here because it’s never been brought to light. A lot of it has been covered up with our own culture and our own mindset and the fact that the police, even though they know it’s wrong, they can’t really do anything about it because they’re fighting against the whole system,” she said.
While she keeps an eye on interception and prosecution as her long-term goals, she is already planning to open a safe house for victims of trafficking. She envisions that the safe house would provide counseling and provide training to the victims.
Sara has come a long way from her “protected” childhood. When she was a young child living in Indonesia, she described her life as one being lived “in a bubble”. As the daughter of businessman Hashim Djojohadikusumo, Sara is close to the entanglements of power: her uncle, Prabowo Subianto, was then the son-in-law of Soeharto, and was the head of the Indonesian Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus). When she was 12, Soeharto’s authoritarian rule ended after student protests erupted in several cities across Indonesia, and students from Jakarta occupied the national parliament for days.
Sara was spared from the political turmoil by her very protective mother, Anie Hashim Djojohadikusumo. “I mean simply because when I was growing up here in Indonesia, I was living in a bubble. [I had] no idea what the world was going through and everything. That’s what I mean by my mom being over protective,” she said.
“I had no idea about the problems until it became so apparent. And at the peak of it all I already moved to Singapore,” she said.
At the same time as Indonesia slowly began to recover from the crisis, Sara too grew up, living the rest of her adolescent years and early young adult life abroad in Singapore, Switzerland, The United States, and the United Kingdom.
She returned to Indonesia in 2008 and founded an event organizing company called PT. Arsari Duta Semesta, and became the director of production house PT. Media Desa Indonesia, which produced the Merah Putih trilogy.
Returning to Indonesia, she is no longer detached from her family’s political life. She is part of Tidar, the youth wing of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), as deputy of Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality. During the 2009 presidential election, when Prabowo ran as vice president with Megawati, she was the vice chairwoman of the Presidential Jakarta Rally Committee for Gerindra and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
Sara said with a laugh that the right word to describe being part of a very high-profile family was “interesting”. Running the event organizing company which handled a lot of work for the presidential campaign in 2009, she said: “I had to deal with all these people who look to me and look at me as though I have a say in anything that my father or my uncle does.”
“I feel like I just want to make the record straight that they’re [Hashim and Prabowo] their own beings and they’re very strong in their own opinions.”
But despite being involved in Tidar and presidential campaigns, Sara said that she was personally not interested in politics.
For her, she said, politics was merely a tool to assist her own humanitarian work.
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