Jakarta’s Poor Not Allowed to ‘Disturb’ Ramadan Prayers

Having lived in London and passed through King’s Cross Station often enough, I arrived in Jakarta many years back with a predisposition to dislike beggars. All too often, you’d see aggressive louts badgering commuters, then see them later in the day the worse for booze, and, knowing that the UK had, and presumably still has, a welfare state with a safety net for all, you’d wonder why these largely fit and able-looking characters didn’t get off their butts and work.

Indonesia, as most are aware, has no serious safety net, and not a lot of work, so once a foreigner figures that out, resentment of begging wears off and you accept that here, at least, the poor are always with us, and you help them out with whatever change you may have in your pocket. Giving a kid Rp.5000 to shine your shoes while you eat at a street-side warung costs you a few cents and provides him with his next meal.

But here we also have a state militia, which sees it as its duty to stamp down hard on these people.

Jakarta’s government will attempt to clear the streets in the evenings to provide a more peaceful environment during Ramadan prayers, a spokesman said. Jakarta Globe 1/8/11   Together with Social Department and Public Order Agency (Satpol PP), the administration plans to step up patrols cracking down on disturbances by buskers, beggars, and street kids after evening prayers throughout the month of fasting.

 A Satpol PP Patrol Vehicle

“We’ll be working and taking action, from the tiniest group to the biggest ones,” administration spokesman Cucu Ahmad Kurniawan said. “None of them will be overlooked.” The Satpol PP spokesman, Darwis, said the operation was aimed at creating an atmosphere in which Jakartans can pray undisturbed. “We know that each year, many beggars come bothering people during prayers,” Darwis said. “Operations in previous years have decreased their numbers. We’d like to decrease them more.”

Should I allow myself a brief diversion on the merits or otherwise of the Satpol PP?

It’s been a while since I reminded readers (and all you new readers may not know the story)  of that incident in Tangerang in 2009, when the bold gendarmes carried out a raid and one little hooker. named Fifi,  tried to escape arrest by jumping into a body of water nearby. Some of those scum stoned Fifi to prevent her gaining dry land and she drowned. None of them thought to help her.

This link is in Indonesian, but Google will translate it for you, imperfectly.


Real social lions, those Satpol PP.

Well, God Forbid, that the less fortunate in society should be permitted to ‘bother’ the devout, who should of course be free to finish their praying by 6.15 pm so they can rush past any beggars not scooped up by the Satpol, to get stuck into the heaping helpings of food served up in the restos. A lot of eateries are providing sumptuous feasts for those pious post-prayer appetites – more grub gets scoffed in the fasting month than at any other time of year. Some locals eat modest fast-breaking meals, but plenty guzzle with gusto.

Which of course may well be true of the Festive Season in Western countries too, but there is no palaver about fasting there!

I have no doubt that many beggars are fake, and that many of these street-kids are used by adults to rake in money, but many more are not. Some buskers on the metro-minis are pushy and obnoxious, but most are not. They are at least making an effort to entertain and not just sitting at home or under a fly-over (often the same thing here) doing nowt to help themselves. They can’t go along to a social security office and get a cheque every week, and if they fall ill their fate is truly horrendous.

As for me, I’ll keep my eye open for ‘my’ beggar who sits at the corner of the lane betwen Pasaraya and the Melawai Mall, at Blok M. I know he’s genuine, since I’ve seen him struggling up the Terminal stairs with his mangled legs.

If you are going that way, please drop a banknote or a coin in his bucket, even if you’re hurrying off after prayers to gorge yourself.