Sondang, a fiery young man with a mission

Sondang, a fiery young man with a mission

Iqra Anugrah, Columbus, Ohio | Sat, 12/17/2011 3:41 PM

Link: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2011/12/17/sondang-a-fiery-young-man-with-a-mission.html

*Picture created by Budi Winursito

The Arab Spring started when Mohamed Bouazizi, a young Tunisian street vendor, burned himself alive to protest his dissatisfaction with the Ben Ali regime.

Here in Indonesia, the nation was shocked by the self-immolation of Sondang Hutagalung, a 22-year-old university student and activist who set himself on fire during a protest in front of the State Palace in Jakarta on Dec. 7.

Using his body and his life as a medium to convey a message, he expressed his criticism and disappointment with the political elite.

His death and courage soon became a topic in the media and for discussion in the public sphere. Sondang was no mediocre activist. An admirer of Sukarno’s ideas, Sondang was actively involved in various human rights groups and civil society initiatives, such as Kontras, Sahabat Munir and many others. Throughout his life, he helped many victims of human rights abuses receive justice.

And yet, Sondang was also one of us. A bright law student at Bung Karno University who did well in his studies, he had a family, friends, and even a girlfriend.

As an ordinary Indonesian citizen, his concern about the nation trumped the lip service and rhetoric from the political class.

However, the big question is what was the message he was trying to communicate through his self-immolation?

Different interpretations and debates on the meaning and impact of his action have abounded. Was it a symbol of a pessimistic frustration? Was it a call for resistance? Some of us even criticized, labeled and judged his act as “useless” or “not in line with religious teachings”.

Nevertheless, I believe all of those interpretations are wrong. I understand Sondang’s deed differently.

His self-immolation captured the current desperation that we feel as a nation. Despite the fact that we live in a democratic age, formal political channels have been hijacked and dominated by vested political interests, overriding power of capital in our public sphere and ignorance of our own history.

Sondang’s message was not apocalyptic. Instead of pessimism, he shed light and gave us hope, as if he knew that his message would set us on fire to continue his struggle.

What makes his action more honorable is that rather than avoiding death, he embraced it. We may never know what was in his mind. But one thing is for sure: His message is even stronger than ever. As leftist independence fighter Tan Malaka once said, “My voice will be even louder from my grave.”

Linking Sondang’s death to a narrow interpretation of his fate in the afterlife or his attempt to change the political situation will cheapen the real meaning of his message and sacrifice for us.

Likewise, mourning his death excessively or, as many of our politicians are doing, hijacking the message of Bung Sondang while expressing condolences will also distort the spirit of his message.

The heroic case of Sondang is, essentially, a mandate for us to carry on with our lives. It is our duty, who are still alive, to continue his works for a more democratic and just Indonesia.

He who chose to set himself ablaze is a reminder of the importance of life, not the celebration of death, in civic engagement.

After this despair, what we need is a firm commitment and a practical manifestation of the legacy of Sondang.

In the context of our politics, critical attention must be given to human rights abuses, economic and welfare disparities, capital-driven politics and disrespect with lack of rule of law — issues that had been a focus for Sondang.

Moreover, this particular episode in our history reminds us to rethink the relevance of the student movement and its potential to transform our corrupt political landscape.

In the end, the brave attempt of Sondang sent us a signal of a possibility of revolutionary politics. Here, “revolutionary” should not be translated into a radical structural change or a drastic moment of rupture, but rather a gradual process to transform our democracy as deliberatively as possible.

Optimism, albeit cautious, is always better than despair. That, comrade Sondang, you have shown us.

The writer, a graduate of Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan, is pursuing a master’s degree in political science at Ohio University, US.

Mahasiswa Indonesia di Amerika Unjuk Rasa atas Kematian Sondang

Mahasiswa Indonesia di Amerika Unjuk Rasa atas Kematian Sondang

*Yusran Darmawan

Puluhan mahasiswa Indonesia di Ohia Amerika Serikat, Selasa (13/12/2011) waktu setempat, berunjuk rasa soal kematian Sondang yang tewas dalam aksi bakar dir.

Unjuk rasa atas tewasnya Sondang Hutagalung akibat aksi bakar diri tidak hanya berlangsung di Indonesia, tetapi juga dilakukan di Amerika Serikat (AS). Selasa (13/12/2011) waktu setempat, puluhan mahasiswa Indonesia berunjuk rasa di Athens, Ohio, AS, untuk menyatakan solidaritas atas tewasnya Sondang.

Yusran Darmawan, mahasiswa Indonesia yang sedang belajar di Amerika Serikat, melaporkan, dalam unjuk rasa itu mahasiswa membentangkan poster dan menyanyikan lagu perjuangan di depan gerbang utama kampus Ohio University (OU). Mereka dikoordinasi oleh Persatuan Mahasiswa Indonesia Amerika Serikat (Permias) Athens yang dipimpin Yazid Sururi.

Menurut Yusran, aksi ini tidak hanya diikuti oleh mahasiswa Indonesia, tetapi juga beberapa mahasiswa internasional. Beberapa mahasiswa Amerika yang sebelumnya tergabung dalam gerakan Occupy Ohio, yang merupakan rentetan aksi Occupy Wall Street dan kemudian menyebar ke seluruh AS dan dunia internasional, ikut bergabung dengan aksi ini.

Aksi ini juga diikuti dengan pembagian selebaran yang berisikan apa yang terjadi di Indonesia, serta pernyataan sikap agar Pemerintah Indonesia memerhatikan aspirasi gerakan sosial dan mencermati harapan banyak elemen masyarakat yang tidak tersalurkan.

Menurut Presiden Permias Athens Yazid Sururi, aksi ini adalah pernyataan solidaritas bersama. “Kami tidak hendak mempersoalkan metode yang dipilih Sondang, sebagaimana yang dipermasalahkan banyak pihak di Tanah Air. Kami melihat substansi yang dikemukakan bahwa terdapat sejumlah agenda mendesak di bidang hak asasi manusia dan keadilan yang seharusnya direspons dengan cepat,” kata Yazid seperti dilaporkan Yusran.

Ia menuturkan, aksi ditempuh setelah mengadakan diskusi secara intens sebelumnya selama beberapa kali dengan beberapa mahasiswa Indonesia dan mahasiswa internasional yang memiliki perhatian yang sama atas penegakan hak asasi manusia serta hasrat yang sama terhadap keadilan dan kesetaraan.

Menurut Yazid, aksi Sondang ini sempat menghebohkan beberapa elemen gerakan sosial di Amerika, khususnya di kota kecil Athens. Terlebih lagi, aksi tersebut dimuat dalam beberapa media besar, antara lain The Washington Post. Beberapa mahasiswa internasional lalu menganalisis kejadian itu dan membandingkannya dengan aksi bakar diri yang dilakukan seorang pemuda di Tunisia.

Megan Snow (25), warga Amerika yang tengah belajar di Program Pascasarjana bidang South East Asian Studies, juga mengikuti aksi ini sejak awal. “Saya selalu sedih setiap kali mendengar berita tentang pemuda yang bakar diri. Bagi saya, persoalan yang mendesak adalah mengungkap apa alasan yang menjadi motif aksi tersebut,” katanya saat membentangkan spanduk bertuliskan “No More Victim”.

Aksi ini sempat menghebohkan Court Street, tempat dilangsungkannya aksi ini. Namun, aksi itu tidak sampai memacetkan arus lalu lintas sebab tujuannya hanyalah untuk menyampaikan informasi bahwa seorang pemuda Indonesia tewas karena bakar diri demi perubahan sosial.

Beberapa pengguna jalan yang tertarik langsung singgah untuk berdiskusi tentang apa yang terjadi. Sementara itu, sebagian lainnya tetap melintas setelah sebelumnya membaca selebaran yang dibagikan. Beberapa pengemudi kendaraan bermotor juga langsung membunyikan klakson sebagai pertanda dukungan. Ada pula yang singgah dan meneriakkan dukungan.

Senada dengan itu, Lizzy (23), mahasiswa Political Science, juga merasa simpati atas aksi yang dilakukan mahasiswa Indonesia tersebut. Awalnya, Lizzy hanya melintas. Namun saat melihat aksi itu, ia langsung bergabung sebab memiliki keterikatan batin dengan Indonesia. “Saya belum pernah ke Indonesia. Tapi beberapa sahabat saya ada di sana. Saya yakin Indonesia akan menjadi bangsa besar, sepanjang aspirasi pemudanya bisa didengarkan. Ini yang menjadi tantangan bagi Pemerintah Indonesia di masa depan.”

Link: http://internasional.kompas.com/read/2011/12/14/23065228/Mahasiswa.Indonesia.di.Amerika.Unjuk.Rasa.atas.Kematian.Sondang