Members of the beleaguered minority Shiite Muslim community of Sampang, Madura, were shocked on Thursday when House lawmakers answered their requests for aid with ethnic slurs and indifference.
The Shia, who have been living in a refugee camp after majority Sunnis burned their houses and killed two in August, were at the House to ask lawmakers to allow them to return home after the local government announced it would stop giving the refugees food and water.
“We don’t know how long we can survive there [in the camp]. We are told that we have a government, but we never feel the love of the government,” Shiite leader Iklil Al Milal told lawmakers on Commission VIII overseeing religious and social affairs.
Iklil said that the 176 Shiites in the camp have used their own money for the past two days to buy food and water.
“An officer from the Sampang Disaster Management Agency gave us a warning on Tuesday that the
agency could no longer support us. Please let us go home so we can work and support ourselves,” Iklil said.
Iklil’s emotional plea failed to resonate with lawmakers assembled for the hearing, some of whom were busy with personal business. United Development Party (PPP) lawmaker Hasrul Azwar, for example, was seen talking with a staff member about a cash delivery.
Hasrul’s conversation distracted those at the meeting, prompting chairman Abdul Azis Suseno of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) to reprimand him.
Another lawmaker, Rukmini Buchori of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), indulged in ethnic stereotyping, attributing the violence that befell the Shia to their heritage as coarse Maduran fishermen.
People from Madura were ill-tempered, Rukmini said, which led to the frequent clashes between Shia and Sunni on Madura Island.
“They [Madurans] were once involved in conflicts with locals in Sampit [Central Kalimantan] and Sambas [West Kalimantan]. They now attack each other [in Sampang]. It seems to me that the Madurese can’t pull themselves together. This may have something to do with the fact that they are mostly fishermen. They are used to speaking loudly at sea and they continue doing it on land,” Rukmini said.
The lawmaker then called on the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) to “help” the Shiites renounce their religious beliefs.
“I don’t know for sure, but I’ve been told that the Shiites practice a different kind of Islam. The Shia community must learn to adapt to the norm. I encourage Kontras to help them reform so they can be accepted by their neighbors,” she said.
Another lawmaker, Mahrus Munir of the Democratic Party, said that he suspected that the Shiites had created their problems themselves and that he doubted that local officials were ill-disposed to their plight.
“I know that the government has not done its best. But are you sure that they cut the food and water supply?,” Mahrus said to the Shia community representatives.
Contacted separately, Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi said that he was surprised to learn about the food and water scarcity among the Shia refugees and that he would verify the situation with the local administration.
The minister also said that the government would press ahead with its plans to relocate the Shia refugees by building 70 apartments in a new location.
However, this offer came with a caveat.
“They can use these apartments or other places the government will prepare as soon as all of them, not only some, agree on relocation,” Gamawan said.